The Mount Carmel Story
by Alva C. Cassel
“The what church? Never heard of it. It used to be on 4th street? Oh, you mean the Mennonites!” Some things take a long time to die. And likely in the minds of some of the old timers in this area, we are still Mennonites. Today it seems that most people refer to us by our first name Bethany.
Mount Carmel is located in Northumberland County in the midst of the great anthracite coalfields of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The town was founded back in 1770 as white settlers
moved in among the Indians. The town officially became a borough in 1862. Founders of Mount Carmel were Lawrence Lamberson, Richard Yarnall, Brooks Wilkerson, and a man known only as Cartright. The first plan of the town of Mount Carmel was laid out in 1848.
The prosperity of the town was based upon the coal trade. In 1890 the Mount Carmel boasted a population of 8,345. In the “30’s” when Coalwas King, the population soared to a high of 17, 963. In the 1960’s King Coal did not die, but he was fighting to survive, the population reflected the decline in the use of coal. In1960, the number of people had dropped to 10,780, and by 1970 it was 9,317. As the demand for coal lessened, the community’s population decreased. The decrease was also felt in the churches. A group of Bethany’s people, Snyders, Malicks, Kreishers and others moved to the Lancaster area. It was our loss and Lancaster’s gain. Today Mount Carmel has a population of about 7,100 people.
On November 17, 1883, The Edison Electric Illuminating Co. of Mount Carmel was founded. It was the first isolated electric plant in the world. Thomas Alva Edison conducted his earliest experiments in Mount Carmel. We were told that his shop was close to where the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church was located on Fourth Street and Grape Alley in Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel was the first town in the world to be lighted by electricity; 38 Arc lights and 50 incandescent lights were erected in the downtown business district.
The area is 85% Catholic. Other churches are of mainline denominations and a few independents. A number of churches in the town have closed over the years, both Protestant and Catholic. The days of religious contention seemed to be over, no more chasing one another on certain streets. Mount Carmel is a nice place to live. It is an example of small town life. On Friday nights the town sort of shuts down and goes to the Silver Bowl to watch our Red Tornadoes play. They are the pride and joy of Mount Carmel.
In 1894 a new voice spoke for God in Mount Carmel. The Gospel Workers from Cleveland, Ohio, at the direction of W. B, Musselman, their president, came to Mount Carmel and established a mission which met on the 2nd floor of a building on the corner of Fourth and Oak streets. Depending on whose records we considered, this new mission in Mount Carmel remained under the Gospel Worker auspices until 1899.
Dear Readers of the Banner. -My soul crieth aloud. “God bless the truth.” It is his word that makes us free. I praise God that he ever sent the despised Gospel Workers to Mount Carmel, who came and gave us the milk of the Word. I was a professor of Christ; more than a professor; sometimes happy and sometimes doubting. Now I can rejoice in a full salvation. I am glad for the blessed Holy Ghost, the Comforter. I do praise His dear name for the Healing power. I used to take a great deal of medicine, but for two years I have not taken a drop and I mean to trust my God for all and rather die “in the faith.” Bless His holy name! He is so dear to me. I praise God that there are some shepherds who will take care of the sheep and feed them with the best meat in due season.; and the lambs he even carries. We have some sheep and some lambs, but he takes care of us all. Praise the Lord that He ever sent us such a pastor. We are indeed a happy family. Come and see us, as it will do good to such as can come. You can find us worshiping above the post office. I praise God for His goodness toward me and I mean to go through for Him at any cost. He put such a love in my soul, and my only cry is to be more like Jesus. Yours in the love of Jesus.
Early Gospel Workers in 1896 were Dora B. Rote, Band Leader and Annie Weutzel, Christian worker. Two other co-workers were added in 1897, namely A.C. Spellman and M. E. Caskie. Although not assigned to Mount Carmel, Christa Hopson, a local girl, later left Mount Carmel to serve the Lord with the Gospel Workers Society.
From the tenor of the letters to reports sent to the Gospel Banner, the Gospel Workers blitzed the coal region. The following reports were listed in the November 24, 1896, Gospel Banner:
Women’s Home Mission Work in Pa. Coal Region—
The work in general under the auspices of the W. H. M. of M. B. C. Church is nicely advancing. God is working marvelously. The forces are well united. Three halls are opened so far, and we feel very much encouraged. We have stand-bye of the best stamp at all the places-yet not so many at some as at others. The district leader has great interest in the work there, and many have been converted, sanctified, healed, and also baptized. Victory is here, and greater victory ahead.
Women’s Home Missionary Society’s Quarterly Conference in Pa..—
The W. H. M. Quarterly Conference convened at Ashland on Friday, November 6th, and was closed on Monday, November 9th. A good deal of business was transacted and rules and regulations laid down, and God led in power. One Sunday we had feet-washing and communion for the first time in the Pa. Coal regions, and a wonderful time it was. We suppose about 40 or more took part in feet-washing, and 50 or 60 in breaking of bread. God truly manifested Himself amongst His people, and a lasting impression was made, we feel assured..
There were twenty-four persons immersed at Mount Carmel. Wonderful, wonderful! early all were so filled that they had to be carried out of the water. Great manifestations. Yet through it all not a slur was heard from the crowds on the bank; and such attention and respect as were shown we seldom see. Mount Carmel is a town with lots of foreigners, yet it is so well regulated that all sects can worship God unmolested, and is a model town of free Americanism. All classes come in our large commodious P. O. S. of A. hall every night. R. J. Rote, B. L., has a good influence over all classes. Some of those who were baptized were from Ashland, Pa.
In 1899, it was reported in the Gospel Banner that H. B. Musselman was assigned as the first pastor of the fledgling Church. It was Pastor Musselman’s second charge. He would stay one year and later become one of the heavy hitters in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ movement.
On Saturday, March 18, H. B. Musselman, a latter day “go through”‘ with his wife who is an expert singer will move into the hall in Mount Carmel. This has been the Gospel Worker’s hall for nearly two years. They are glad to see H.. B.’s coming. Remember H. B. Musselman is not the president of the Gospel Workers but a brother to him.
In the next addition of the Banner, 3/28/99, H. B. Musselman submitted the following report.
Dear Readers of the Banner: –Since I have my last report, the words, ‘come with….look from the top,’ (Cant 4:8), were brought to my remembrance. The Lord has been pleased to send us to this place to work, and be used of Him. So we stored some of our furniture and are now living on the third story of a hall, where we are holding meetings every night. We left the dear ones of Bethlehem, under the tender and loving care of dear Bro. Woodring, whom we are sure is loved by all, and also found a kind and loving people at this place, as well as a spiritual little band. Our hearts have already been drawn together, and we are expecting great things from him who is abundantly able to do far exceeding above all that we can ask or think of asking. The meetings have been well attended every night-the hall being well filled- and the people have a mind to work. Our early meeting every Sunday morning at 5:30 is most glorious, and well attended. It is indeed a hallelujah breakfast. A number of unsaved even come out to this early meeting. We hold four regular services every Sunday, besides an open-air meeting before the evening service. We are greatly encouraged in the work. The Lord has indeed been good to us in every way, and is wonderfully providing for us in all things. Blessed be his dear name. May the dear Holy Spirit guide us continually. Yours for the Master, —H. B. Musselman Mount Carmel, Pa., March 19th, 1899
At this time Ebenezer Mennonite Brethren in Christ was a growing and developing church. In 1900 the following statistics were filed:
Total gain- 44
Total loss- 5 Increase- 9
Decrease- 0 Members- 50
In statistical reports dated 1901-1915, we can ascertain that the church was making an
impact for God in Mount Carmel.
total gain- 19
total loss- 11
total gain- 4
total loss- 9
total gain- 2
total loss- 4
total gain- 10
total loss- 18
The Gospel Banner reported in the 1/3/1899 edition the following report:
Mount Carmel is also very bright. The Lord has a people there. They too favor Him, and are getting to be more like Him in their ways. The workers at both places are lifting the Banner up in the name of Jesus. The Lord is very good to us in Girardville. He gives us wonderful victory. This place has had its tests in the past, but thank God, He never forsakes: Spiritually speaking of the family, we can say we are all well and abiding in Him, waiting for his coming. A few have a severe cold that may lead them to consumption if not cured. But the Lord says, I will come and heal you, Amen! His only, Bertha L. Snyder in charge of District.
The church was called Ebenezer Mennonite Brethren in Christ. The cornerstone reads:
Ebenezer MBC 1902. The church building was erected on the corner of 4th Street and Grape Alley. If our records are correct, R. L. Woodring was the pastor at that time. The edifice was valued at $9,000 and the parsonage along side the church was valued at $1,000. An educated guess suggests that the name Ebenezer was dropped at the time that conference changed it’s name from Mennonite Brethren in Christ to Bible Fellowship church. We then became Bethany Bible Fellowship Church of Mount Carmel. The new church was built in 1981 and the parsonage was built in 1975. The church property consists of 8 ½ acres of ground in Mount Carmel Township. The facility includes the church, the parsonage, a ball field and volleyball court along with ample parking. We are “the church on the hill,” a testimony to God’s faithfulness. The membership of the church as of 1999 is 95 and our Sunday School is around 100.
The role call of Mount Carmel pastors, 24 in number brings to us men that we knew and some are just names to us. All played an important role in the development and building of what we have today. Five pastors who served at Mount Carmel are alive today. One Pastor, Herbert Hartman died while serving the Lord at Ebenezer Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church (Bethany). Pastor Hartman was loved by his church and was greatly appreciated in the community.
1899 H. B. Musselman
1900 W. G. Gehman
1902 R. L. Woodring
1905 J. G. Shireman
1908 E. T. Schick
1910 F. E. Fry
1911 M. H. Kline
1913 G. F. Yost
1917 R. Bergstresser
1925 E. E. Kublic
1932 V. H. Reinhart
1933 C. L. Miller
1937 W. W. Hartman
1945 E. J. Rutman
1948 R. H. Gehman
1954 H. H. Hartman
1957 W. Hottel
1962 F. B. Hertzog
1966 P. Zimmerman
1967 To be supplied
1968 C. Spackman
1971 P. Zimmerman
1974 A. Cassel
1982 To be supplied
1984 W. Graybill
1986 A. Cassel
Current Pastor Alva C. Cassel writes: “It has been a privilege and joy to pastor our church here in Mount Carmel. The people are loving and generous. The people are the church and as I reflect on my years of service here, names like Weller, Snyder, Maurer, Williams, Camp, Estock, Lee, Shupter, and Hartman remind me that time passes and so do people. ‘”They died in the Faith” -Heb. 11:13 “Not having received the promises.” In 1999, some of the names have changed. Begis, Black, Aurand, Broda, Cassel, Catino, Darrup, Estock, Fetterolf, Fodor, Haupt, Jones, Kahler, Malick, Marshalek, Martello, Mauer, Michener, Pensyl, Peters, Scott, Shutt, Skocik, Snyder, Suchocki, Wary, Weller, Williams, and Yeager. These people are still at their stations today and are a vital part of Mount Carmel. These folks walk together for the glory of God and helped in the building of His church. One of the most enjoyable blessings for the pastor has been the good spirit that is exhibited among the church family.
Bethany, (formerly Ebenezer) currently has few older people. As a result we do not have many people to draw upon for glimpses of yesterday. Our current oldest member did not attend Bethany when she was a young woman. The Church is unique in it’s attitude toward former Pastors with little if any criticism. Not perfect men, but men whom their people loved. As we said, reflections on the earlier days of ministry here at Mount Carmel are not readily available. The Gospel Banner has served to fill in some of the gaps.
Dear Banner Readers.- I praise the Lord from the bottom of my heart for saving a sinner like me, and for putting such peace and joy in my soul. The Lord is indeed precious to my soul and keeps me day by day, and I never can praise Him enough for what He has done for me. I love to speak for my Savior, and to let the world know that I am saved. We are having grand meetings her in Mount Carmel. The Lord is leading His children wonderfully. The open air meetings are good; we are having victory through the blood of Jesus. Your brother, saved and waiting for the coming of the Lord, James Manney, Jr.
H. B. Musselman was a prolific writer and regularly reported on the work here at Mount Carmel. He wrote of great Spiritual things, and of great practical things as is evidenced in his report to The Gospel Banner in April 1899.
Dear Bro. Hallman:– “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord, the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.” I can say with David: ‘”Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makes me dwell in safety” Ps. 4:7-8.
Just now there was a loud rap at our door, and upon opening, we were agreeable surprised with a ham, a bag of sugar, canned tomatoes and corn, butter, and eggs. Surely the Lord always knows just what we needed. We were better supplied with eggs then we were when we owned chickens- Father’s chickens seemingly never go on a strike. Today, Friday, we have already preached twice, (this morning at the Holiness Christian church) and expect to preach again to-night as usual. We had a glorious waiting upon God this afternoon. We believe the tide is rising higher-the Lord is separating His chosen ones unto Himself. See Ps. 4:3. The Gospel Workers need not be ashamed of the work at this place, and we are asking the blessed Holy Spirit to use us and make us a blessing to the dear ones, in leading them into the deeper things day by day. He alone is our sufficiency. He enables us to speak everynight with unabated strength. Deut. 33:25; Ex. 15:2. We have found dear fathers and mothers, as well as brothers and sister, who are standing by us, and kindly caring for our needs. Praise His dear name. The promise of Isa. 33:16 I.c. has again and again been verified. May the blessed Holy Spirit abundantly bless, and uphold the pilgrims at this place, as well as His chosen ones everywhere. May the dear Lord also bless the editor and the entire Banner family. Yours in His name, H. B. Musselman Mount Carmel, Pa., March 31st, 1899
Evangelism was a vital part of the church as the Mennonites endeavored to reach out into the community. A Sunday school was started as H. B. Musselman reported in The Gospel Banner 6/6/99
We organized a Sunday-school a few weeks ago, and it is getting along nicely. Bro. N.A. Habenstine is the appointed superintendent and is well liked. We also have good, spiritual teachers for each class. Meetings are good, and well attended, considering the warm weather. Our hall is right in the heart of the place, and the streets are almost always filled with listeners at the corners outside. We expect to keep the meetings open right along every night. Of course, the saloons are open too every night during the week at his place.
One of our ladies, Shirley Estock, told me of starting to come to the church in 1933. Her grandfather, Francis Klinger was the class leader. Later when she was about 7 years old, during special meetings when C. L Miller was pastor, she went forward and trusted Christ as her Savior. During the years two radio ministries were sponsored by the church. E. J. Rutman ministered over the radio from 1945-1948. The theme song of that program was “We Dream of a Place That’s Called Heaven.” C. L. Miller was also involved in radio ministry. Over the years the church experienced two times of sustained growth. Under he leadership of C.L. Miller, the church was filled and then some, as chairs were placed in the center aisles for more seating. Brother Miller pastored in Mount Carmel from1933-1936 and eventually went to Africa as a missionary. Brother Miller was a great communicator and made a real contribution to the ministry in Mount Carmel. The other time of sustained church growth came in the years of 1974-1982. Alva C. Cassel was the Pastor. He was contacted by Harold L. Snyder Jr., who was the church delegate for annual conference. Paul G. Zimmerman who served as Pastor at Mount Carmel both in 1966 and 1971 had recommend to Mr. Snyder that Alva C. Cassel would be suitable to be considered as a pastor in Mount Carmel. During those years God blessed in a unique way. Souls were saved and people were added to the church. A new spacious parsonage
was built and when the old church building down town could no longer handle the people that came, a new church building was also put up. During that time, the Sunday school eventually rose to close to 200 people. Worship service, evening service, and Wednesday night prayer meeting were all well attended. For the first time in a long time we were seeing people of the Catholic persuasion coming to Christ, being baptized, and joining the church. During that time there was a spiritual fervor and an expectancy in the church as Sunday after Sunday God blessed us. In 1982 Pastor Cassel left Bethany to become the director of Pinebrook Bible Conference. He returned to Mount Carmel in 1986 and currently serves as the Pastor. Sad to say, that in 1984 and 1985, the church went through a hard time due to internal strife. Over those years, ½ of the congregation left and the church was reduced to less than 100 people. However, those who were left were survivors and did not give up, but rather went on, and are going on with the Lord today.
With far less people, the financial challenges were met, and the ministry increased. The areas of ministries of Bethany today include regular Sunday services and Wednesday night services, an active youth and children’s program, Sr. Saints, adult choir, a prison ministry, a nursing home ministry, and home Bible Study. As we have already noted, in the early formative years of the church, Christa Hopson left home to work with the Gospel Workers in Ohio. Years later in 1941, Arthur Shutt went to work with the Gospel Herald Society. A young women by the name of Theresa Chatto, who lived on the Marian Mountain outside of town gave her heart an life to missions as she married Paul Chapponier. C. Lesley Miller eventually moved his family to Africa to serve the Lord there.
In recent years a number of Bethany people have responded to the call of the Lord to Christian Service. At least four pastors, George Lee Jr., Scott Fetterolf, David Ziegert, and Dana Weller, who serves as the executive secretary of the Bible Fellowship Church Board of World Missions, have pastored churches. Missionary families from Bethany include Dr. Richard Gehman and family, African Inland Mission; Art and Vicki Reyes and family, The Evangelical Alliance Mission; Scott and Brenda Fetterolf, and family, Wycliffe Bible translators; and Tony and Joanna Murrin and family, New Tribes Missions. In other Christian ministries, Ben Scott is involved in Teaching and Administrative duties at Dallas Theological Seminary. Neil Skodjal is a teacher at Trinity College in Florida. Laura Z. Cassel teaches at Meadowview Christian Academy in Paxinos Pa.
God has been good to Mount Carmel. He has kept us in spite of the onslaughts of Satan and the world around us. The Scriptures say of a steward, that he is to be found faithful, we are trying to be faithful. Much of the thrust and message of the MBC and the BFC centered on the return of Christ. We want to be faithful until he comes. In closing, I share the words of H. B. Musselman printed in the 4/24/1899 Gospel Banner.
The Holy Spirit is showing the dear ones at this place the necessity of stepping out in order to possess the land-be ready for the Bridegroom. Our meetings are very spiritual, and many hearts are being melted. We are being sawed, chiseled, planed and hammered in order to be “fitly, framed together” into one building for the speedy coming of the Lord. -H. B. Musselman