A Brief History of the Fourth Reformed
Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA.
[The following account is located in Box 327, File 26 at the PCA Historical Center. This box contains records of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod and the account is a typescript appearing on the letterhead of Jean M.G. Cathers, a Real Estate and Insurance agent, 629 South 52nd Street, Philadelphia 43, PA. The text below is reproduced as written, without correction of occasional grammatical errors; photographs have been added to this account and these are taken from the Memorial Volume prepared upon the death of Pastor David Steele. Dr. Steele pastored the Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia from 1862 until his death in 1906.]
February 28, 1962.
Dear Rev. Brauning:
The enclosed information was found in a book belonging to our mother by my sister.
I did not have this information, nor did I know of some of these things before this time.
Very truly yours,
Jean M.G. Cathers
The Philadelphia Presbytery [of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod] was composed of the Philadelphia Churches and the Church in Duanesburg, New York.
Philadelphia Churches, listed with first Ministers.
First Reformed Presbyterian Church, located 19th & Federal Street, Pastor Dr. Boice. He also was the head of the Seminary.
Second Reformed Presbyterian Church, located 20th & Vine Streets. Pastor Mr. Barnes Henry.
Third Reformed Presbyterian Church, located at Hancock & Oxford Streets. Pastor Rev. Matthew Gailey.
Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church, located at 19th & Catherine Sts. Pastor David Steele.
Fifth Reformed Presbyterian Church, located Front above York Sts. Pastor Rev. William Gailey.
There was no 6th Reformed Presbyterian Church.
[Editor's note: Sixth RPC, organized May 1861, had merged with the Fourth RPC on November 1862.]
Seventh Reformed Presbyterian Church, located 23rd above Christian. Pastor John Parks.
Rev. James Steele was pastor of the Duanesburg Church. He was Dr. Steele's son.
|The Fourth Church was a large flourishing church. It was a Psalm singing church with a presentor to lead the singing. It was not customary to have instrumental music in the church. We had a body of very devout men who were called the Session or the Elders. They were a very strict body of men who ruled with absolute authority. Then we had a Board of Trustees who took care of the financial end of the church work and in taking care of the repairs necessary to be made.||
Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church,
(the old building) at 18th & Filbert Streets
had Communion twice a year, the first Sabbath of May and the first
Sabbath of November. Our communions were very strictly conducted.
We had Preliminary services for communion were held the evening of
the Sabbath previous on Thursday evening, Saturday afternoon at which
time tokens were distributed. Communion night and the Monday night
after communion at which time the Communion were concluded and the
elders were dismissed. The elders were in service through all these
services. Our elders always dressed in a manner of honoring the day
of communion. They wore stiff white shirts, black bow neckties, black
frock coats. They looked very dignified and carried themselves well.
We had a large congregation and on communion it was the custom to walk from the church auditorium to the Sabbath School Room. The congregation sang as they walked going towards the front of the church and entered the Sabbath School room which was situated beside the church auditorium. Windows were raised between the Sabbath School room and the church while the communion service was in progress. The tables were arranged as long narrow tables with pure white line tablecloths on the tables, the chairs were placed close together and there were about five long tables. This was the first table, only so many of the congregation rising to go to the table. There were as many as three sets of tables served before all the congregation was served.
At the first table it was usually Dr. Steele who fenced the first table. After this the bread was broken and after a prayer blessing the bread & wine, the bread was passed to the elders who gave it to the first person at the end of the table. It was then passed from one to the next one, the elders receiving the plates of bread at the other end of the table. The wine was served in a single cup and was passed from one to the next. The elders bringing the cup towards the front.
After a few remarks this group of people rose and went towards the back of the church and another group from the church came by the front of the church. Both groups singing as they went. This was the same for the third table. On Communion Sabbath the service lasted from 10:30 A.M. until sometimes it was near 3 P.M. when all were served and the service was closed. On this Sabbath we had no Sabbath School. You may see that I have used the word Sabbath, this was a must in both the Fourth and Seventh churches.
Dr. David Steele, Pastor of the
Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA, from 1862 to 1906
Any applicant about to join church met with the pastor about three months in advance and the catechism (shorter) was explained and the answers heard. On the last night the applicants met with the pastor & elders. Any one could ask a question and the applicants generally were able to answer it immediately. Dr. Steele was very strict in the answering of certain Bible verses which were required to be learned.
The church service was conducted from 10:30 A.M. to noon. Sabbath School was from 2 P.M. to 3:45 P.M. Afternoon church was from 4 P.M. to 5 P.M. The only evening services in the church were on Communion Sabbath.
Prayer meeting was held on Wednesday evening from 8 to 9 P.M. The leader might be one of the elders or one of the Theological students who usually attended the Fourth Church as Dr. Steele was very active in the Theological Seminary. So was Dr. [James Y.] Boice of the First Church.
In the Sabbath School prizes were given for reciting Bible verses, for shorter and larger catechism, for attendance, for bringing in new scholars who continued to come.
At that time we had a Christian Endeavor Society which was very active.
The only amusements we had as young people were in the having of entertainments and plays that were censored by the session. We had many good times and there were no radios nor televisions. The people always seemed to be drawn closer together in church.
The pastor and one elder visited each member or his family, this was done twice a year before Communion. It was more difficult to visit then as there were no automobiles nor many telephones that could be used in an emergency.
The church continued to grow until Dr. Steele died. A minister by the name of Rev. Countermine came to preach. He was a man who was used to having music in the church and he worked hard. The question of having music in the church aroused much unpleasantness among the members. It finally came around to having a congregational meeting to decide the matter. As a result that the majority wanted music. We had a small organ installed. The majority member were very disagreeable to the minority members and as a result the minority decided they would withdraw from the church. Of course there was a financial question arose who would get the church. The two factions soon decided that they would both withdraw from the church building and establish somewhere else and sell the building. It was sold to a colored congregation. The minority established a church called the Seventh Reformed Presbyterian Church at 23rd & Christian Streets with the Rev. John Parks as minister. The majority settled in West Philadelphia. I have forgottent the exact location. Rev. John Baird was to be their pastor. (The Rev. John Parks and the Rev. John Baird were brother-in-laws).
Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church,
(the new building), 19th and Catherine Sts.
was divided with the majority getting the larger portion. The minority
bought the little church on 23rd Street. This church did succeed for a
number of years. After a time Rev. Parks was called to the Fifth Reformed
Presbyterian Church. We then had Rev. James Chestnut who only stayed a
short time and then returned west to his home. Then Rev. Robert Chestnut
came from Duanesburg where he had been preaching. Dr. Chestnut was pleased
with the increase in salary that he was receiving but unfortunately he
was unable to stand Phila. climate. He had to carry salt in his pocket
so his mouth would have some moisture. After a severe sickness he decided
to go back to Duanesburg Church which still was without a pastor.
We then had as a pastor Rev. Robert Montgomery. He preached for us until his death. After the death of Dr. Montgomery the church membership began to decrease and it was hard to get money when the Rev. Sproule came. Some of the elders decided to pay Rev. Sproule out of the Buchanan Estate which was left decidedly for use in Foreign Missions. My husband, Samuel Cathers, refused to allow this. The question was carried on and my husband decided to leave the Seventh Church and to go to the Fifth Church. The elders were so angry at my husband they sent us withdrawals made out in blank not knowing to which church we would go. The question was taken by the Philadelphia Presbytery to the Philadelphia Courts.
The attorney who took the case had a number of questions which had to be answered before he could fight the case in court, so my husband although very sick decided it was his duty to get them answered. So he had my daughter May drive his automobile around I do no know how many places to secure the answers. One day he started out without my wanting him to go as he was very ill. He got his report into the attorney's hands and then on January 3, 1936, he died. He died happy that his mission was accomplished and the majority could not take the money into the Presbyterian Church where they had gone.
The case was tried in the Philadelphia Courts. Rev. Wray and Rev. Chestnut attending the hearing as members of the Philadelphia Presbytery. They took the stand in behalf of the Philadelphia Presbytery. The Judge decided that the money had been left for Foreign Missions of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and could not be used for anything else. It amounted to $52,000. The Court appointed the Provident Trust Company to handle the money in such a manner that this money could not be used for any other purpose. The Seventh Church soon disbanded after that. It is too bad that differences have to arise and that they cannot be settled without losing members and most of all having the church to close. Both the Fourth and Seventh Churches were successful while there was no trouble. We have been members of the Fifth Reformed Presbyterian Church since 1934.
[signed, Jean M.G. Cathers]
[Additionally in Box 327,
File 26 is this transcript, with further details about the building and
congregaton of Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church:]
Taken from Program of the Fortieth Anniversary
of the Pastorate of Rev. David Steele, D.D., LL.D.
Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church, 19th & Catherine Sts., Phila. June 9 & 10, 1901:
Those who took part in the program.
Rev. William S. Steen
Mr. Robert Johnston, Sup't.
Mr. Samuel G. Scott
Thomas A. Hoyt, D.D.
Rev. W. H. Gailey
Rev. J.Y. Boice, D.D.
Rev. Albert B. Henry
Rev. William Sterrett, D.D.
Rev. W.W. Barr, D.D.
Rev. Prof. M. Gailey
Rev. Peter H. Milliken, Ph.D., D.D.
Rev. T.P. Stevenson
Rev. Mr. Taylor
Fourth Reformed Presbyterian congregation organized 1848.
The church building at Eighteenth and Filbert Streets opened for worship 1850.
First pastor, Rev. Samuel B. Crawford, D.D., succeeded by Rev. Samuel P. Herron, D.D.
The Sixth Reformed Presbyterian congregation organized May, 1861. Rev. David Steele ordained and installed pastor of the Sixth Church, June 6, 1861.
The Sixth and Fourth congregations united November, 1862, with Rev. David Steele as pastor.
The ground rent of $4000. on the church at Eighteenth and Filbert Streets paid off 1883 by the congregation.
Rev. Charles G. Scott ordained as a missionary at Eighteenth and Filbert Streets, 1889.
The church at Nineteenth and Catherine Streets erected 1889-90 at a cost of $63,000.
Congregation entered the new building, October 1890.
During the present pastorate fifteen young men have entered the ministry from the congregation.
The ruling elders of the congregation at present are messrs. James Ramsey, Thomas Getty, John C. Williams, Richard Wall, Christopher Teent. Trustees, Messrs. David A. McClelland, Robert Harris, Samuel J. Curran, Anthony McClean, William K. Wilson, John A. Wilson, Alexander Davidson.