Join us for Sunday morning worship at 9:30 a.m.
1333 Freeport Rd
, Natrona Heights
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Grace United Methodist Church dates back to 1877, to a series of prayer meetings held in the home of Samuel R. Montgomery, Sr. Out of these meetings came plans to establish a regular place of worship in the community.
E.J. Pugh, one of the original group, owned an old lime shed “across the creek” in Pleasantville, a village laid out in 1870 by him that also bore the name “Pughtown.” Pleasantville remains a community of several houses in the valley behind the Pittsburgh-Tarentum Campgrounds and is accessible from Burtner Road at the Allegheny Valley Expressway exit—the shortcut to the hospital.
The shed was cleaned and benches made from rough planks were installed. Brackets were nailed to the walls for lamps, which the members of the congregation carried from their homes on each meeting night. With the increase of interest and the growth of attendance, another place of worship was needed. Mr. Pugh owned astoreroom and living apartment a short distance up the creek from the lime shed, and an addition to the storeroom was given by him for a place of worship. Seats were made, oil lamps were furnished, a discarded bee hive, when reconstructed, served as the pulpit desk, several kitchen chairs were obtained, and a large round stove was installed.
Through revivals and other means of growth, the church increased in numbers until a suitable church building became necessary. A small building was erected in Pleasantville in 1894, and the congregation was dedicated a Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1901 the church was added to the local circuit, and the Pittsburgh Conference appointed the Rev. Mr. Cupps to serve the congregation. The church had significant growth.
The nearby Campton community, off the Campgrounds, became the center of population, and a new site in that section was sought. Mrs. Elizabeth Bender donated two lots at the corner of Keystone and Second streets, and a building was erected there and dedicated on Aug. 30, 1914. In Grace’s tradition, the congregation paraded the half-mile from their old home to the new while singing, “We’re Marching to Zion.” The Pleasantville facility became the home of the Pleasantville Free Methodist Church and remained standing until the mid 1960s.
With the growth of the community toward the Freeport Road, another move was deemed wise, and the site of the present church was secured in 1922. The first phase of the current facility, which was designed and built by Clyde Andre, Joyce’s grandfather, was dedicated April 5, 1925, at which time the church’s name was changed to “Grace.” The congregation worshiped in the Social Hall until the sanctuary was added. After the cornerstone laying on July 10, 1927, the building was completed in 1928 and was dedicated Aug. 12 of that year. Many members of the church spent long hours in its construction.
The defining moment in Grace’s history was the appointment of Dr. Robert Harlan Cairns as pastor in 1943. From 1901 until then, 25 pastors had been given the assignment, including one who refused to serve, one who lasted 20 days, and one who resigned after three weeks because of ill health. Early in his tenure, the Rev. Dr. Cairns rallied payment of $85,000 in mortgage debt. Sacrificial giving on the part of the congregation—some of whom listed their homes on the mortgage as collateral—was described by the bishop as having “the aspect of the heroic.” The mortgage was burned on June 6, 1948.
The 38-year ministry of “Doc Cairns” included phenomenal growth in the post-war baby boom years, requiring an expansion of facility. To accommodate this need, adjoining properties were purchased in 1953 and 1957, and on June 3, 1962, ground was broken for the education wing. The building was dedicated in 1963, and its $615,000 cost was paid by 1978, at which time Grace became debt free. “Doc” retired in 1981 and was succeeded by the Rev. Jack F. Emerick, who served until 2000.
Pastors of Grace Church