The idea of congregations coming together to gain strength, support and resources from one another is not a new concept. Witness the experience of the Sheshequin congregation and its congregational neighbors.
Founded in 1808, the “Old Sheshequin Church”, located in Northeastern Pennsylvania, just south of the New York border, was an early pioneer of Universalism in this rural and conservative region, said by some historians to be the “mother church” to six other Universalist congregations it helped to plant in the area.
But beginning in the great depression of 1870, the church began to struggle. In fact, church records from 1884 lament that “the society is dead and has not enough vitality left to get up a respectable funeral.”
But just a few years later, the church began collaborating with other congregations in the area, most notably Athens and Towanda. From 1895: “There has been quite an awakening from the Rip Van Winkle sleep of the Society, and some young blood has been added, which it is hoped will redound to its good. Bro. G. A. King, aided by Rev. G B Russell of Athens and Rev. Leonidas Polk of Towanda, held a series of meetings during the winter which resulted in increasing membership and interest. Twenty nine persons were baptized and received into full membership in January.”
Whatever came out of those meetings helped to revive the Sheshequin Society and, in 1896, the church record indicates that “our prospects are favorable for success.” The congregations in this area continued to collaborate and share ministers over the years, as part of an alliance called the “North Branch Association.”
Today, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Athens and Sheshequin, located in Athens, PA, stands as a proud religious community “dedicated to service, spiritual growth, and ethical living.” It is also a testament to the power of congregational collaboration.
Historical information provided by Rev. Darcey Laine.
Mark Bernstein is a member of the Multi-Site Midwife Team and believes that in an earlier life, he attended several meetings of the North Branch Association.
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