To stand, as we do today, on the vantage ground of 120 years of earnest Christian toil and steadfast godly piety, is a most gracious privilege.
The inheritance of the consecrated life and faithful effort entering into these years, which has been bequeathed to us, is of inestimable value.
Yet it is not with swelling pride or egotistic boasting we would exult our possessions but in humble gratitude and heartfelt praise to God, the sole giver of every good and perfect gift.
What we owe to the Gospel, in our community, is too little appreciated; its value cannot be estimated.
In the great developments of our mountain state there has never been anything begun so vital to her best interests as when the Gospel penetrated her forest, hitherto silent to this saving message. We are then impelled, by our obligations, to God for the Gospel light and the Gospel message, to magnify and bless His holy name.
It is but fitting, that here, after so many years, we should assemble, if not at the very fount at one of the heads of that stream of salvation that has so beneficiently flowed through our state and spread throughout the world.
From the summit of privilege on which we now stand, by a backward glance, we are filled with amazement at what God has so marvelously wrought in the space of six score years.
It is only within the confines of the years of Moses life; yea, only a generation beyond the childhood days of one of our members present today; but 40 years and less beyond that of four others, and we reach that historic event in time when this church was first established. And now, within the confines of the territorial limits of that first congregation, there are scores of Christian congregations meeting together for public worship. Then that little band of worshippers met together in fear and trepidation because of the Indians that were ever present, but now the white man has spread over the entire land and the Indian has been driven to our western shores and confined to narrow limits.
Then a feeble and impoverished nation was just emerging from the bitter struggle for independence, but now has become the richest nation in the world and a recognized world power.
But in recounting the many blessings of these years, among the things that earth can give us, we must give supreme pre-eminence to the inheritance of Christian lives.
Our minds would first, instinctively, turn to those faithful under-shepherds, now resting from their labors in the fruition of their works, who were the leaders of this flock throughout the past years.
It was with Rev. John Brice that the first regular services began, he being called to the united pastorate of Three Ridges, now known as West Alexander, and Forks of Wheeling, April 1789. He was licensed to preach by the Redstone Presbytery, April 16th, 1788. In the minutes of the Presbytery there is this record:
April ye 22d, 1790. "Three Ridges, One o'clock P.M. The P.b.y. met according to adjournment, U.P.P.S.Q.S. and proceeded to the ordination of Mr. John Brice, and did by fasting, prayer and the imposition of the hands of P.b.y. set him apart to the holy ministry."
As told by a grandson, who received the tale from the lips of his grandmother, the first request came to him to preach, in this place, by personal solicitation of the representatives of the Forks of Wheeling.
The family were aroused one day the by barking of the dog and for fear of Indians the windows and doors were quickly barred, but on looking through a crevice it was discovered that they were white men and the doors were opened and they were welcomed in. They at once asked for Rev. Brice and on his coming from the study they made known their wish, to have him come and preach for them. On asking about a place of meeting, it was suggested that the holding of such services would be hazardous, they replied that they had made such a selection of ground, from which the ground slopes on three sides, by clearing away the underbrush they could not be easily taken unawares. He consented to go, the men indicating the way by marks through the almost trackless forest.
Mr. Brice well knew the danger of such an undertaking, yet, looking on it as a Macedonian call to preach the Gospel, he could not refuse. "A door was opened but there were many adversaries."
In the security and ease with which we now travel we cannot appreciate what it meant to respond to such a call, and we can well do honor to the memory of him, who was faithful to his Master and undertook that dangerous but blessed work.
Taking all possible precaution, traveling with an armed escort to and from his preaching service, worshipping amidst stacked arms, the Lord blessed them in their perseverance. Trusting in the strong arm of Jehovah for protection, we have no record that they were ever molested in their religious services or on their way to and from it.
Warriors have been honored for their bravery, generals have had their names written high on the pillar of fame because of heroic deeds and daring leadership; but none are more deserving of honor and none have exhibited greater bravery than those faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ, who hazarded their lives in order that they might establish the Banner of the Cross in these newer communities.
For eighteen years, Mr. Brice continued to minister to these united congregations, resigning in 1808.
He was man of deep piety and devoted life; a man well suited to direct the thoughts of his people aright in the vital principles of God's Word.
Among his descendents, two entered the Christian ministry, a larger number entered other professions, and a larger number have graced other walks of life by godly living and with them all we arise to call him blessed.
Rev. Mr. Brice was succeded in the pastorate by Rev. Joseph Stevenson, in 1809, whose length of service is the shortest in the history of the church, leaving this charge in 1812, having been called for all his time to the church of Three Ridges where he served as pastor until 1825. He resigned as he states "for the good of the church," yet others thought differently.
He then removed to Logan County, Ohio, where he took up a tract of 1200 acres of land, intending as it seems to be a self supporting missionary. He soon established the First Presbyterian church of Bellefountaine. He is known as the father of Presbyterianism in that community.
He was a man of pronounced Christian character from the very beginning of his profession of Christ. Not making a profession until young manhood he at once felt the responsibilities of the Christian life; giving up a lucrative and increasing business he at once set about to study for the ministry.
He studied theology with his father-in-law, Dr. Marquis of Cross Creek. He had always been a systematic giver, giving a tenth of his income until the last ten years of his life; he thought this not enough and increased his gifts to the fifth.
He was a man of eminent piety and great zeal for the spread of the Gospel spending part of his time, both in this community and in Ohio, in traveling about in the interests of the Bible Society.
The next pastorate was that of Rev. James Hervey, 1812, which was the longest of any in the history of the church, covering that unusual period of almost forty-eight years - giving part of this time to the First Church of Wheeling, where it is said he preached the first Presbyterian sermon in 1812. He also preached part of his time at Dallas.
He was man of trust statesmanship; wisely planning for the future; being instrumental in the organization of the First Church of Wheeling, the church at Dallas and having parat in the organization of the church at Sherrard.
He was a man both thoughtful and studious; while traveling along the road or working on his farm his mind was delving in profound thought. He was recognized for his theological ability and his preaching was that intelligent presentation of truth that meant intelligent hearers, and the treatment of the Word of God was such that they were indoctrinated in the vital truths of the Gospel. His life and teaching entered into the very fibre of the many who were under his ministry and the influence of that life, which was wholly given to this one charge, can never be told until eternity.
One son, intending to enter the ministry, died while pursuing his theological studies and the remainder of the family have maintained the honorable name of their father in their earnest Christian life and zeal in the service of God. Still fresh in our memory is the recent death of Mrs. Flanagan, a daughter of Dr. Hervey, who has been so intimately associated with the women's missionary work of the state of West Virginia.
Just inside the gate of the adjacent cemetery, so near to the sacred desk where he so long preached Christ as the resurrection and the life, is the burial spot of the good Dr. Hervey, marked by a stone erected by a grateful and appreciative people of another generation and decorated today as a tribute to his memory.
The next pastor was Rev. Laverty Grier who so recently has been called to his reward, the 30th of last April.
He was born in Adams County, Pennsylvania, June 4, 1823, being of prophetic succession, his father and grandfather being ministers of the Gospel. He was pastor of the Bethesda, Middle Creek and Bethlehem churches, in Clarion Presbytery, from January 1851 to January 1853, and of Bacon Ridge and East Springfield, Ohio from January 1853 to January 1861; serving two years of this period in the church at Richmond. He began the pastorate of this church January 1861 and continued as such thirty-six years, resigning January 1897, but continuing to serve the church until the following October, when the present pastorate began, when, in worthy recognition, he was made Pastor Emeritus.
From these later years we can discern the wisdom of God in directing the settlement of Mr. Grier at such a time.
It was a time when the passions were easily aroused, especially near the borderland of strife. Those qualities of caution and prudence which he possessed, to such a marked degree, were just the qualities needed at that time. When so many churches were rent in twain during those trying times, peace reigned within these walls; yes, at the very close of that conflict, such unity prevailed that the church experienced one of the most remarkable revivals in history.
He gave himself up to the faithful preaching of the Cross - that old Gospel which had been the food on which this sturdy people had been fed and nourished was that which was relied upon as the power of God unto salvation.
The spirit of benevolence was so developed that the church was recognized for its grace of liberality.
As he said, a little more than a year ago, he thought of this people by day and dreamed of them at night. We know these thoughts were prayerful, may they be abundantly answered.
Years ago he decided that here would be his last resting place and erected a monument, under whose shadow his body now rests, decorated also in grateful memory of his life.
From The Old Stone Church, a 120th anniversary booklet produced by the church in 1907.