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History of PA Disciples

Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, was the crossroads for the revolutionary reform movements of four directions. The followers of James O'Kelley and Rice Haggard from Virginia met the followers of Elias Smith and Abner Jones of New York and New England. These two movements converged with followers of Barton W. Stone and David Purviance of Kentucky who met the followers of Thomas and Alexander Campbell in Southwest Pennsylvania and Virginia (now West Virginia).

Although all four movements were suspicious of ecclesiastical organizations, they recognized the need for cooperative efforts to foster the spread of the gospel. Using the Baptist Associations as a model, churches and clergy in various places sent delegates to regional meetings called "cooperations."

The Pennsylvania Christian Conference was the oldest Cooperation in Pennsylvania and the one to which the contemporary biennial Regional Assembly traces its origins. On September 11, 1834, ministers and lay delegates from ten churches and four counties met in Lewisburg to organize an annual conference.

For more than 50 years that Conference met annually to:

  • Examine and certify ministers,
  • Review the condition of each church,
  • Discuss social issues,
  • Support colleges, seminaries and journals; and
  • Edify one another.

The Pennsylvania Christian Conference first sought contact with Alexander Campbell's Reformers in 1844. Although the initial contact was rebuffed by Campbell "Christian" ministers found their way into more and more "Reformer" pulpits.

Finally in 1883 at the semi-centennial meeting in Scranton, the following congregations were recognized: Scranton (Providence), Plymouth and Benton.

Meanwhile, the Reformers were first recorded in cooperative efforts in the records of the Tri-State Cooperations Conference in Bethany in 1842 and Smithfield, Ohio in 1843.

The first National Convention of 1849, the annual meeting of Disciples in Western Pennsylvania, led to the development of congregations in Somerset, Allegheny City, Connellsville and Philadelphia and the call for a state convention on November 16, 1849.

At the Annual Convention in Allegheny City in 1863, the Pennsylvania State Missionary Society was established. The purpose of the Society was to evangelize Pennsylvania. Within a year there were four evangelists in the field.

The scattered location of new congregations, divided by the mountain ranges, led to the creation in 1884 of the separate Eastern and Western Pennsylvania Christian Missionary Societies.

The two Societies continued to exist separately for almost 50 years. On September 28, 1929 in Altoona steps were taken to consolidate the two Societies into one. On January 14, 1930, the Pennsylvania Christian Missionary Society was chartered. It has been succeeded by the Association of Christian Churches in Pennsylvania in 1960 and in 1968 by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Pennsylvania.

Thus from 1834 to today, there has been a gathering for cooperation in ministry among the Christian Churches in Pennsylvania.

The history of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Pennsylvania is a story of believers gathering around the Lord's Table each week in remembrance and thanksgiving, giving of their substance to support the mission of the wider church at home and globally. It is the story of congregations calling their own pastors, approving and subscribing their own budgets, ordering their own priorities, responding to human need in their own communities and far away. But they have also sought to be joined in mission and witness throughout the Commonwealth and world through the Regional and General Church of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Disciples share a common heritage, a firm belief in Jesus Christ as head of the church and a common conviction with Thomas Campbell (an early denomination leader) that, "The Church of Christ in earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one."

For further information about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada check the link:

 For information about our ecumenical partners, visit the following links:

The Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Christian Associates of Southwest PA