By Eleanor Phillips
The Rev. Robert S. Cocks, Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Northumberland from 1949-76, wrote in his 1986 book, “175th Anniversary of the Presbytery of Northumberland,” that “tracing the beginning of Northumberland is like asking where does a river begin? In this spring or some other?” The early missionary endeavors, preaching the gospel to the Indian Nations and the settlers as they moved west across Pennsylvania, established Presbyterianism. The missionaries had the power to organize churches.
David Brainerd, the great missionary to the Indians, visited the Susquehanna Valley about 1745. The Rev. Philip Vicarn Fithian was licensed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on Nov. 6, 1774 and received an honorable dismissal to labor outside the boundaries of the presbytery. Records show he traveled up the Susquehanna as far as Bald Eagle (Mill Hall).
On May 20, 1794, the General Assembly ordered, and on April 14, 1795, there was organized “all ministers and congregations occupying the central part of Pennsylvania and now comprised within the limits of 15 counties, a new organization called Presbytery of Huntingdon.”
As the frontier further opened, settlers pushed north and west along the rivers. “As early as 1807 a proposal for a new presbytery was made,” Rev. Cocks reports. “Four years later, on May 6, 1811, by a resolution of the Synod of Philadelphia, five ministers and the twelve churches they served were set off from Huntingdon to become The Presbytery of Northumberland.”
The Revs. Asa Dunham, John Bryson, Isaac Grier, John Patterson and Thomas Hood, and their respective charges and vacant charges made up the presbytery. The approximate membership was 884. The churches included Sunbury, Northumberland, Buffalo and Washington, Chillisquaque, Warrior Run, Mohoning, Derry, Lycoming, Great Island, Muncy, Briar Creek and Pine Creek.
The organized Presbytery of Northumberland met Oct. 1, 1811. The Rev. Asa Dunham was elected Moderator and The Reverend John B. Patterson was Stated Clerk. The Revs. Isaac Grier and John Patterson were to inspect the credentials of traveling ministers and make their appointments.
The first church established by the new Presbytery of Northumberland was Milton, established in November of 1811.
In 1954, Warren L. Marsh recorded in his writing, “History of the Presbyterian Church in Lycoming County, PA” the following: “Around this nucleus other pastors and churches were gathered until in 1867, The Presbytery of Northumberland numbered 31 ministers, 44 churches and 3,903 church members.”
Immigrants coming into the Presbytery of Northumberland wished to have church services in their known language. The Slovic Associate Presbyterian Church was formed in 1866 in Mt. Carmel. The Rev. Rabal was the minister. The Synod of Philadelphia sent missionaries to the Berwick area, and in 1907 The Presbyterian Italian Mission was founded. A church building was built in 1920, and in the 1950s the Italian Church Membership no longer needed a church service in Italian and joined The Berwick Presbyterian Church. The Hanmaum Korean Presbyterian Church was established Feb. 28, 1988 in Trout Run. The Rev. David Lee was the pastor. In 2002, the Rev. Nom Gill Roh became the minister. Rev. Roh retired in 2015, and the congregation was dissolved.
The Rev. William Knudsen, former Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Northumberland, stated that in 2016 there were 3,422 members and 39 churches.