On July 4, 1869, a church building on the northeast corner of West Third and Maynard streets was dedicated by its original Third Presbyterian Church members.
Tomorrow, at 10:17 a.m., the GAP Fellowship of Williamsport will celebrate its first year of existence as it launches a new ministry in the city's Historic District in the same building.
"We started a year ago, on Super Bowl Sunday, with three couples. For the first couple of months I wasn't sure the church was going to succeed," Pastor Gary Runtas reflected recently. "But some time in May we seemed to develop more of a solid base group. God began to speak and move and work as far as bringing people together and at that point, in my heart, I thought this really has potential as far as moving forward and developing."
After two decades as a senior center, the church building at 312 Maynard St. again serves as a church.
While the group continued to meet Sunday mornings in the rented fellowship hall of the former St. Mary's Episcopal Church on Almond Street, part of GAP's growth process can be attributed to occasional Sunday evening cookouts throughout the summer in the Runtas' backyard, as a means of encouraging fellowship among attendees.
"We began to pull the group together and become more visionary of who we are and how we can reach out to others," Runtas said.
Building gets new life
HISTORY of 312 MAYNARD ST.
Special to the Sun-Gazette
In the 1860s, the center city of Williamsport was established and bustling. In search of more room and land, entrepreneurs started expanding into the outlying areas.
Peter Herdic was one such man. He bought large areas of land and developed neighborhoods. In 1866, he purchased a tract of land that contains the church of today.
In 1869 and 1870, Peter and Encie Herdic sold land to the Trustees of the Third Presbyterian Church of Williamsport.
The church and parsonage were worth $25,000. The sanctuary could seat 350 people. There were 75 members, 250 Sabbath school scholars (in those days, Sunday school attendance was more frequent and important than church itself) and 23 teachers. The superintendent of the Sabbath school was Hiram Mudge (he was the secretary of the Susquehanna Trust and Safe Deposit Co. among other endeavors) and the pastor was The Rev. A.D. Hawn.
From "History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania" by John Meginness (1892):
The Third Presbyterian Church was formed as a mission church, under the auspices of the Second Presbyterian Church, and was organized May 3, 1869, with an enrollment of 16 members. The second church dismissed 12 of its members to form it and contributed largely to the construction. Hiram Mudge and P.W. Bentley were the first elders. A church building was erected in 1869 on the corner of Third and Maynard streets and dedicated July 4 of that year. Hawn became the first pastor on Dec. 20, 1869. In the summer of 1870, a lot adjoining the church was purchased and a parsonage was
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built. For pastors the church has had, in addition to Hawn, the reverends John Burrows and Adolos Allen. The later resigned early in 1892, and was succeeded in the latter part of May by Rev. Elliot C. Armstrong, who was unanimously called. In 1892, there were 160 members, 120 Sabbath school scholars and the Sabbath school superintendent was P.W. Bentley.
In 1909, the church had 260 members, 208 in Sabbath school and 26 teachers. The church was now erecting a new building on Fourth Street opposite the Park Hotel. The name was changed to the Central Presbyterian Church of Williamsport. (Covenant Central Presbyterian Church of today.)
In May 1910, the building was sold to the First Church of Christ Scientist. Lucy Evans was the reader. This sale reserved all movable furniture, draperies and the pipe organ. These were probably moved to the new building. The sale was for $6,500. The pews, cushions, lighting fixtures and heating apparatus were left in the building.
In the 1990s, the building was sold to Alfa Enterprises, which then sold it to Community Action Realty Inc. and STEP. The parsonage had been sold earlier resulting in a lot that had 75 feet of frontage on West Third Street and 125 feet along the alley extending east from Maynard Street. The front of the church faces Maynard Street.
From 1990 until last September, the church was used as a senior center and in more recent years as a meeting place of the Unitarian-Universalist congregation. It was purchased by the GAP Fellowship of Williamsport on Sept. 28.
God's hand in the ministry became even more evident in August when an opportunity came, seemingly out of nowhere, for the group to purchase a building at 312
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Maynard St., Ye Olde Church, which served as a STEP Senior Center for the past 20 years.
"Within a few weeks, everything fell into place with the Realtor, and God provided the finances not only for the purchase but for some of the interior renovations that have taken place since," Runtas said. "The building has been reborn - brought back to life as a church."
In addition to a thorough cleaning, new chairs and some fresh interior paint, what had been one large meeting room in the rear of the building has been split into two rooms, one for Sunday school class (Sunday school begins at 9 a.m.) or meetings and the other for use as a nursery-toddler room. Future plans call for the renovation of part of the basement for youth and children's ministry use and exterior repairs to the handicap ramp.
The facility can seat up to 245 people and the property includes a small parking lot, although additional parking is available along West Third Street.
"Tomorrow, we'll have an open house for people to come and see. There will be refreshments and finger food. It will be a celebration," Runtas said, noting that the church's starting time of 10:17 is in reference to Romans 10:17, which says, " faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ." (New Living Translation)
"We have a relaxed, come-as-you-are atmosphere. We're a little bit more contemporary during our worship time. There are children's ministries going on as well. We believe that God is getting ready to explode, to take off.
"We're trying to develop a more interactive service where it's not just me preaching but attendees can be involved by asking questions or making comments during the message. Questions are asked of them and they can interact and respond back so they feel part of the message," Runtas said.
The church's worship team is led by Josh Billings and in recent weeks the group has grown to four members. Others continue to be sought, especially a keyboard player.
"Leading every week, Josh is developing as a gifted worship leader with a great sense of a spiritual discernment during worship and a sensitivity to the moving of God's spirit," the pastor said.
"I consider our music a 'wow' factor of worship. It's not off the wall, and it's not slow. There's an openness to express yourself," Runtas said.
"It's an ideal location. If you're on Routes I-180 or 220 from either direction you get off on the Maynard Street exit and we're two traffic lights and less than a mile away. It's easy access, but even more is availability. We want this place to be available and we want to minster to people who are wondering, trying to find meaning and purpose, acceptance and love in life. We want to partner, come in to be a part of, and then to reach out to other people too," the pastor said.
"We're going to work with the Expectations Women's Center, which is next to us, and across the street are two transitional homes for ladies who have shown an interest in attending. We want to develop an openness (with the neighborhood) and with students from Pennsylvania College of Technology as well. It's exciting what God is doing," Runtas continued.
"We live in a society where people are looking. There are a lot of seekers. We are a 'seeker-sensitive' service, but we are a church. We offer the Gospel. We offer something spiritual. We are a church that offers the only true hope of Christ," Runtas said.
"We want people to say this was inviting, this was friendly, this was welcoming, I was comfortable, I wasn't threatened in any way and I can be who I am and let my own spirit develop in the way God wants me to develop," he said.
"We want to be a church of doers. Yes, we have a leadership team that deals with the nuts and bolts and the administrative aspect, but we want people to be involved and do what God has called them to do."