Written by Eric Conner, Church Historian
Tangible reminders – what the ancient Israelites called ebenezers – help us to remember the Lord’s power, protection, and provision. While we eagerly look to the future of Westminster’s ministry and excitedly anticipate what God has planned for this congregation, it is important to recognize and remember the concrete milestones that visibly mark God’s faithfulness and blessing throughout our past.
One such milestone in this story is the purchase of the land on which this facility now sits.
When Westminster Presbyterian Church formed in 1968, there was no question in the minds of the congregation that the Lancaster School of the Bible (now Lancaster Bible College) was just their temporary home. They needed a permanent location to better serve their growing ministry. As early as the fall of 1968, potential building sites were considered including a location in East Petersburg and a then-vacant parcel in the 2100 block of New Holland Pike.
After months of ardent prayers by the congregation, God answered by leading Albert and Eleanora Landis to approach Westminster Presbyterian Church and offer to sell the newly formed church approximately 5 acres of their historic ancestral farm along Oregon Pike. The sale of this property was completed on May 29, 1969 – exactly 50 years ago this week.
Providentially, the Landises insisted that the sale price ($30,000) be paid in annual installments of $3,000 per year rather than a lump sum, thus relieving some financial strain on the small, but growing congregation. The land was finally paid off on Reformation Day 1978. Since the initial purchase in 1969, the Lord has presented Westminster Church with several more opportunities to expand its footprint on Oregon Pike – each with its own remarkable testimony of the Lord’s provision and how He presented the opportunity to the church. Today, Westminster Presbyterian Church owns a total of 18 acres.
(To read more about the historical importance of the noted Snavely-Landis farm on which Westminster now sits, see page 11 of Soli Deo Gloria: The Story of a Good Work.)
The 49-year-old, white fiberglass steeple of Westminster Presbyterian Church, rising 100 feet in the air, has been an iconic symbol along Oregon Pike since its installation in October of 1970. The spire is topped with a two-foot long copper fish, a symbol chosen to honor the early Christian church. It may be the only steeple in Lancaster County adorned with such a symbol.
The half-dozen sections of the steeple arrived in Lancaster on a flatbed railcar at Penn Central Railroad’s Lancaster depot on October 20, 1970. Rev. Wilbur Siddons received the shipment at the station when it arrived. The steeple’s sections were then transported from the train station to the Oregon Pike property where they were assembled and installed.
A small crowd gathered on a cold, rainy morning in late October to witness Anson “Skip” Loose ride in a crane’s bucket to cap the steeple’s spire with the now-famous fish. Later, Mr. Loose climbed up inside the spire to the pinnacle and placed his business card as a remembrance of that day.
While much of the interior of the building still needed considerable work at the time, the installation of the steeple in late October 1970 served as a symbolic capstone to the exterior construction. Less than two months later, the facility was dedicated.
Replacing the old steeple has been in the works for several years. While it was repainted a couple of years ago to temporarily extend its life, a full replacement was still needed. In deference to the golden anniversary last year, the replacement was postponed until now. The design was chosen to match (as closely as possible) the original.
On the cold, snowy afternoon of March 8, 2019, Skip Loose, with help from Michael Ploutz, ascended to the top of the steeple to retrieve the nearly half-century-old copper fish so that it could be prepared for installation on the new structure. (After spending 49 years in the air battling wind, rain, snow, sleet, and sun, the fish remains in remarkably good condition.) Seven weeks later, on April 26, 2019 the new steeple arrived from Texas – this time on a flatbed truck.
When the old steeple is dismantled this week Skip Loose’s business card, which has remained inside the spire since 1970 will be retrieved, and the first several feet from the pinnacle will be cut off and saved for historical purposes.
When the new steeple– a symbolic ebenezer if you will – is installed, it will be almost 50 years to the day after God orchestrated Westminster Church’s first purchase of land on Oregon Pike. Charter member Skip Loose will once again ascend to the pinnacle to place the unpolished, original, and iconic copper fish. As a tangible connection to the past, the new spire will also house Mr. Loose’s original 1970 business card. More importantly, however, as we look to the future, the words of Philippians 1:6 – the unofficial “life verse” of Westminster Presbyterian Church and the theme of the 25th and 50th anniversaries – will also be placed inside the spire to remind the next generation that God’s good work continues and that He will faithfully bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Should the Lord allow, it is anticipated that this steeple will grace the Manheim Township skyline for the next 50 years.
Soli Deo Gloria!