Pam Whitenack • Chair, 300th Anniversary Committee

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18 

If you haven’t already heard or read about it, next year Derry Church will commemorate 300 years of being Presbyterian and witnessing to our faith in Christ. Planning has been under way for almost three years now. It is my hope that we will not only look back, but also celebrate who we are today and what we aspire to be in the future.

To that end, 2024 will be filled with opportunities to celebrate, to explore our history, and to fulfill our mission to proclaim God’s word, share God’s love, and practice God’s justice. The year-long celebration will feature events and educational opportunities to learn more about Presbyterian history and Derry Church’s past, special musical performances, church family gatherings, special mission projects and a rededication of our church cemetery, established in 1734.

Derry Church has a rich and sometimes uncomfortable history. To help us better understand our past, each month we will be sharing an essay in the weekly eNews that explores different aspects of our history.

Sadly, many of Derry Church’s earliest records were destroyed in a fire. At that time Derry did not have a pastor, the old Derry sanctuary had been torn down the preceding year and the Chapel was under construction. The church records had been moved to the attic of the Paxton Presbyterian Church manse, which caught fire on August 24, 1894. Without those records, it would be difficult to try and write a formal church history. Instead, our goal with these essays is to put Derry Church in context with a broader history of the region and the state.

Once a month our worship services will include a heritage moment focused on the monthly topic. On another Sunday each month, a heritage moment will focus on a profile of one of our saints buried in our cemetery.

An important part of the anniversary year will be the rededication of our cemetery. During the past two years, the cemetery has undergone a major restoration. Two of the cemetery walls were rebuilt, gravestones were repaired and straightened, and volunteers cleaned gravestones. The cemetery was regraded and reseeded. Plans are underway to rededicate the cemetery as part of our Homecoming Sunday celebration that will be held next fall.

The Adult Education sub-committee has developed a series of classes to explore the history of Native American and European settler relations during the 18th and 19th centuries. A series of five classes, one held each month as part of the Issues class, will be presented.

A learning tour to Lancaster County is planned to explore parts of our history that we might not know regarding Presbyterian and European settler relations with Native peoples. It is our hope that these opportunities to learn about our past will help us to ask questions about how we might respond to this history. 

Pastor Stephen and his wife, Courtney, will offer classes to explore the Scottish and Irish origins of Presbyterianism and why Derry’s founders chose to settle here in Central Pennsylvania.

There will also be an opportunity for all Derry members to join together in reading a special book. Authored by Reverend David Latimer, A Leap of Faith: How Martin McGuinness and I Worked Together for Peace, is a memoir of how two men stepped out of their comfort zones to work together towards change and reconciliation in Derry, Northern Ireland. A variety of discussion groups will be created to explore this book. Reading and discussing the book will be a wonderful opportunity to prepare for the arrival next fall of the author, David Latimer, Derry’s homecoming weekend special guest.

Derry Church children are already exploring our church history through the growth and development of the church campus over the past 300 years. Through artwork and writing, the children are creating a Derry Church history picture book that will be available for sale in the fall of 2024. Monies raised will be directed towards mission as decided by the authors and artists. A group of 11 Derry teens will travel to Northern Ireland next July to participate in a week-long program at the Corrymeela Community to build peacemaking skills.

The 2024 Arts Alive season will feature a variety of concerts and performances. Of particular note will be a performance by the Paloma School of Irish Dance on April 7. On March 17, our Director of Music Dan Dorty will present a Hymn Festival, conducted by Linda Tedford, director of the Susquehanna Chorale. The year will conclude with the annual Christmas concert.

Music is an important part of Derry in worship and outreach. Derry Church has commissioned David Gambrell, a noted hymnist, to write a hymn in recognition of our 300th anniversary. The hymn will be added to the pew hymnals and be introduced on Heritage Sunday, April 28, 2024.

While friends and former members of Derry Church are always welcome, a special Homecoming celebration has been scheduled for the weekend of September 21-22. The Homecoming celebration will be an opportunity to invite  past members, staff, and ministers to come and join in the celebration.

On Saturday night, September 21, a more formal ticketed dinner will be held with a keynote speaker and special program.

Sunday, September 22, 2024, will feature a special worship and homecoming reception following the 10:30 am service. Our special guest will be Reverend David Latimer, retired pastor of 1st Presbyterian Church, Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Reverend Latimer will be the keynote speaker for the  Saturday evening event and will preach on Sunday.

Mission is at the core of Derry Church’s mission statement as we share God’s love and practice God’s justice. When we began making plans for how we might celebrate this significant milestone, the Anniversary committee asked the Mission & Peace Committee to propose a mission project that would reflect Derry’s commitment to serving others and sharing our abundant resources. In response, the Mission & Peace Committee proposed not one, but two projects: to support homeless veterans by funding the construction of a tiny home in a new community being created to support homeless veterans in Harrisburg, and to fund the construction of a new classroom for Logos Academy in Harrisburg. These two projects will allow Derry Church members to practice God’s justice and share God’s love, not only by sharing our financial resources but also participate in the construction. 

At previous anniversary celebrations, a variety of commemorative items were created: plates at one time were very popular. For the 275th, a beautiful large print of the church was commissioned and a replica of a communion token was created. For this anniversary, we turned to blacksmith and former member, Mark Smith. As he has done for several years, Mark will create a Christmas ornament that will serve as our anniversary keepsake. Mark will use copper from downspouts and gutters that were replaced on Derry Church’s building. The ornaments will be offered for sale beginning next fall, with the money continuing to fund scholarships for students at the Sargodha Schools in Pakistan.

I hope everyone will be able to participate in one or more of the opportunities planned to celebrate and honor this significant milestone in our church’s history.