FROM:   Karen Bernhardt Toolan  for the Clifford Township Historical Society

 image002 CLIFFORD TOWNSHIP PA — There is something extra-special about spending the Christmastide in the country, especially for those of us living in the North East. Here, winter’s snows generally brighten everything in sight, smiles seem a bit friendlier, hugs a bit warmer, and church bells seem to resonate just a bit more clearly as they lead followers to share the Christmas story.
At the nearly 200-year old Clifford Baptist Church, located on Church Street, this building is one of three local sites organized by the Clifford Township Historical Society (CTHS) that is open to the public to visit and enjoy and help folks learn about some of the township’s vast history. While open to monthly tours from Spring through Fall that are led by CTHS docent and congregant Barry Searle, the Clifford Baptist Church shares weekly Sunday worship services at 10:00am throughout the year. But Christmas is an especially joy-filled time to visit. The welcoming nave is brim-filled with bright and cheery poinsettias, scripture lessons regale followers with the long-ago tale upon which Christians continue to build their faith, and congregants’ lyrical voices fill the air with prayer and favorite seasonal hymns. And as one sits in an original hand-carved pew and gets wrapped up in the warmth and inviting presence of the church and its followers today, the many ancestors who originally built this lovely country church continue to silently share their history.

Founded by ancestors of the Adam Miller family who first settled Clifford in 1799, “the Clifford Baptist Church draws its lineage from the First Regular Baptist Church of Clifford,” Searle said. “Early Baptist meetings were initially held in the fall of 1802 in the cabin of Amos Harding, great-grandfather of our 29th President, Warren G. Harding. In 1826, with a mere pledge of $19 that was payable in cash, labor, and maple sugar, Adam Miller’s son, Charles, constructed a meeting house, which is the center of the current sanctuary. The final cost of this section was $1,200. But it was originally built without doors and windows, so it was used only during the summer months; winter meetings were held in Amos Harding’s barn.” It was not until 1835 that the pulpit and sanctuary were completed for year-round worship services. And in 1881, the spire and narthex were added to the front of the church, along with a bell tower to house the 500-lb. bronze bell that still calls its followers to worship. A lecture room was also added, which now serves as the Sunday School room.

Enhancing the early Romanesque style and reflecting the different styles of the next two centuries, natural additions and upgrades were made to the original meeting house, as symmetrical doors and windows and a rounded Roman arch were added to the front. It was not until the Christmas service of 1926 that the church and original gas chandelier were electrified. And despite the rock ledge upon which the church sits, the basement was dug by hand a year later. The stained glass windows were added in 1933, each of which features a centerpiece of particular significance: a ship’s anchor in the narthex to symbolize the church’s stability, the lamb that is most frequently used to represent Jesus, as well as the vine and grapes, the crossed keys that generally symbolize Peter to whom Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom, and the lamp that represents wisdom and enlightenment.
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“To the right of the pulpit is the ‘Amen Corner’ where the church elders sat,” noted Searle. “When the preacher made an important point, the elders would shout ‘Amen Brother!’” Close your eyes, and today you can almost hear them… Anywhere you look throughout this old church, the history of its predecessors can truly be felt.

Moving forward to the modern-day era, Clifford Baptist Church continues to be a Christ-centered Bible-based American Baptist Church. And since its constitution in 1817 as part of the Abington Association, it is the second oldest church in the association. A very community-minded congregation, Searle added that “As a body, we have taken to heart James 2:17 that ‘faith without works is dead.’” Today, the parish regularly supports the Susquehanna County food bank and Trehab and the Samaritan Purse programs, along with fundraisers for the Red Cross and American Baptist Missions worldwide. It also houses the Clifford Baptist Nursery School that is available for 3-4 year-olds (for school information, please call 570-222-9361).

“Throughout its long history, this church has been led by many notable individuals from throughout the area, and many of their ancestors continue to worship with us,” said Searle. “If you are looking for a place that will give you a friendly-family welcome, support your spiritual needs, and give you purpose in assisting others,” he invites you to come, listen, and follow the church bell as it chimes and welcomes you home for Christmas. Christmas Eve services will be held on December 24th at 7:00pm.

For additional information about the Clifford Baptist Church, please call Pastor Deborah Loessy at 570-848-2684, or contact cliffordbaptistchurch@gmail.com For information about the Clifford Historical Society and its activities and events, please contact mswilmot@nep.net.

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