Bobbie Atkinson • Heritage Committee Member

Rev. Ira Reed, Rev. William Sheldon Blair and Rev. John Corbin participated in a service dedicating Derry Church’s new sanctuary in January 1966.

During this “modern era” from 1924 until the present, Derry Presbyterian Church has seen immense changes in buildings, staff and in congregational members. In 1924 the Chapel (without the eastern transept) was the main worship area along with a cemetery and the Session House (not yet enclosed in glass). Reverend Robert Hayes Taylor (Pastor: 1916-1932) was the minister and he and his wife and five children became the first occupants of the recently built manse. By 1927, Derry no longer needed support from the Presbytery to maintain the church and minister and by 1932, the community of Hershey was growing and so was the church with a membership of 157 and Sunday school attendance at 211.  

Reverend Taylor resigned in 1932 and was promptly replaced by Reverend John Corbin (1932-1940) who was ordained and installed in 1932 and served Derry until 1940. During Reverend Corbin’s tenure Derry added a financial secretary to the staff, adopted a new handbook and reestablished the  distribution of a newsletter. A church organ was installed and dedicated in 1933. That year the Sunday school celebrated 50 years of active involvement (1883-1933). In 1935 the Chapel was remodeled and the east transept was added, all without a mortgage. Derry assumed partial support of several missionaries during this time and the portable Estey folding organ which we have recently resurrected was purchased in 1939 to be used during Sunday evening services on the front lawn.

Reverend William Longbrake (1941-1950) was installed in 1941, the same year that Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War II. In 1942 the church basement was used as an emergency first aid station.  In 1944 Derry recognized 53 church members in the armed services and hung a service flag with 53 stars in the church.  In 1949, when Derry celebrated its 225th anniversary, the church family included 500 members. 

Reverend Sheldon Blair (1950-1959) assumed leadership in 1950 and oversaw the construction and dedication of the Education Building in 1951. He was also responsible for the planting of many of our magnificent oak trees on church property. Derry continued to grow with 220 new members joining the church during Blair’s tenure.  

Reverend Ira Reed (1959-1987) was installed in 1959 and by then the church membership was getting too large for the Chapel. A new sanctuary was built and dedicated in 1966.  In addition, offices, classrooms, a board room and lounge were added.  In 1971, staff was increased by adding Directors of Music and Christian Education. Prior to Dr. Reed, Derry’s leadership consisted of Trustees, Deacons, and the Session. Under Rev. Reed, the boards were consolidated with the Session absorbing the responsibilities of the Trustees and Deacons. Dr. Reed has the distinction of being our longest serving senior pastor, leading Derry for 28 years.

After several interim pastors (David Birch and William Dando) the Reverend Dr. Richard Houtz (1990-2015) was installed in 1990 and with him came a more relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. The sanctuary was remodeled in 1993-1994 with the addition of two trancepts, a narthex, Fellowship Hall, new offices, a nursery, choir room, lounge, elevator, and courtyard. Membership grew and new staff positions were added including Parish Associate Pastor, Rev. Dr. Marie Buffaloe, in 1997.  New missions, church programs and a preschool program, Derry Discovery Days, began under Rev. Houtz and the board of Deacons was revived. The interior of the Sanctuary was updated in 2014 towards the end of Rev. Houtz’s 25 years with Derry. 

2017 brought Reverend Dr. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker and his family. We have seen positive changes in our worship services with the augmentation of streaming technology, and our church Vision and Mission statements have been reviewed and revised. The newest member of Derry’s pastoral staff, Rev. Pamela Meilands, the Associate Pastor for Youth and Families, began work in August 2020 and will be installed on May 18, 2021.

Please join the Heritage Committee on Sunday, April 25 during the Sunday school hour to learn more about the ministers of the last 100 years.