My Church, My Story
It’s a beautiful place.
Eryka is 13 years old from Halifax. She has worked at the Derry Street Methodist Church for six and a half months. As part of her job, Eryka is starting to give tours of the church, hoping more people in the community will come to visit this historic City of Harrisburg landmark. There is a parking lot beside the church. Located at 1508 Derry Street, call for hours and tour times 717.233.6441.
I’ve been working at my church, The Derry Street United Methodist Church, since the start of March. I wanted to see what it was like to have a job, and since I am a member of the church, I thought it was a perfect place to work. As soon as I started working there, I was assigned to help people understand what’s going on at the church, whether they are volunteering or visiting. When people come to the church, I greet them. If people are at the church and can’t find what they need, I get it for them. When the phone rings, I grab it and answer, “Derry St Church?” and direct them as best as I can. There are many people who have questions about the church’s projects, programs, services, and happenings.
One day while I was working at the church, I saw an old photo of the sanctuary from the mid 1980s or 1990s. I was amazed at what I saw! In the photo, the church’s sanctuary had just been completed and everything looked brand new. I could see the differences between then and now. That photo gave me the idea to do a history report of my church so I could understand all of the changes the Derry Street Methodist Church went through. When I saw the old picture of the sanctuary, I knew it would be a smart idea to pick my church. The best part about this project is to tell other people what I’ve learned and know about the Derry St United Methodist Church.
I kept thinking about my project. Each time I went to my job, I wondered “What was the Derry Street Church like back in the day? Before my time?” I began talking with people about it, and I decided to go to the Dauphin County Historical Society at The John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion because someone told me that they had good resources to give me the information that I needed. My visit to the Historical Society was an incredible trip. There were a lot of old books and photos of Harrisburg dating back to 1857. I researched and got my information from old newspapers from the 1900s and from an old book named Centennial Anniversary of Grace Church United Brethren in Christ by Harry E. Schaeffer.
This is what I found out about my church when I went to the Historical Society:
In the beginning, the Derry Street church started out as a piece of farmland that a pastor bought for $3,000, right outside of the City of Harrisburg. Construction of the church began in 1906. However, on the evening of Tuesday, May 21 1907, the church was destroyed by a fire. The cause is still unknown to this day. Some of the workmen said, “The blaze spread as though fed by oil.” The church was nearly completed when the fire started. Fortunately, construction started again, and the church was completed the next year. On Sunday, July 19, 1908, the church was dedicated to the Brethren Community, with Harry W. Zechman as pastor. Since its first dedication to the United Brethren, the church has been sending the word of Christ to the community.
The Derry St Church’s mission statement is “Bringing Love, Hope, Meaning and Worth as Christ Directs.” That happens not just through the church’s regular services but also in partnerships with many community groups and organizations. The Church hosts programs and events that reach people in and out of the city. It’s a beautiful place. We are giving tours all around the church. Come in during the day and you can have your own tour of one of the City of Harrisburg’s historical places of worship and community.
If you have any questions about the tour, please contact me, and I can try my best to answer them.
Illustration by Jeff Johnson