Beginnings: spaces for spiritual practice
The year was 1892 when some interested persons formed a “Hazel Dell Union Sunday School”. Hazel Dell is the name of a particular neighborhood on the North side of Ellwood City. This group of interested persons met in homes at first, followed by meetings in the Hazel Dell Public School Building.
Founder: Charles Bell
Charles Bell began conducting worship services on Sunday afternoons as early as 1902, ten years after a home Sunday school had formed in the Hazel Dell neighborhood. That same year, a tiny 40x60 foot chapel was constructed as a worship meeting space. Charles Bell expanded the ministry. He began a Christian Endeavor Society, a Missionary society and organized the Sunday school as well as prayer gatherings. He preformed pastor visitations and care ministries. In 1914, despite resistance from area churches throughout the early years, the Hazel Dell Mission became a self supporting entity with 225 members within the Presbyterian Church. It was named after its first pastor, “Bell Memorial”. The church constructed a balcony with multiple classrooms.
The church boomed in the middle of the fifteen year pastorate of Rev. John A. King. In the Fall of 1928, the 641 members of Bell Memorial Church purchased the lot catty corner from the church building, the Old Hazel Dell School, razed it to the ground, and began construction of a new sanctuary. One year later the Recession hit. Construction slowed to a halt in April of 1933. The building was later sold. The church lost a significant number of members due to this project’s stall and area-wide unemployment.
STORIES FROM 1940-1960: spiritual friendships + spiritual practice
“Before Sunday school, the adults had opening exercises in the sanctuary. My mother played the piano and they sang some hymns and prayed before they went to class. There were a number of Sunday school classes and all of them were big. There was the King Daughter’s Class, the Bell Tower Class, the Men’s Class, and it was in back on the second floor. There were 50-60 men there every Sunday.” - Edwin (b.1939)
“We used to have picnics. There would be kids running around on the front lawn, chasing one another with some random toy. There were ladies in the kitchen making fresh apple butter. There were teenagers over at the youth center across the street shooting hoops.” - John
STORIES in the 1960’s: intergenerational FEllowship
“I remember in the 60’s working with my Mom, Mary Clyde and Penny. We were cutting the craft for the Junior Church. My mother had a flannel graph board with a Sunday School visual all ready to go…. I also remember we had Junior Ushers. Paul Stasick was in charge. Many times, he would have to remind us to start off on the same foot and not to rush down the aisle.” - Terry
“We had three Bazaars that ran for three days… The group of women who attended the King’s Daughters class was in charge of all lunches and dinners sold at the Bazaar. At the door to the Bazaar, you could purchase tickets for a raffle to win a hand made quilt. We had a new quilt give away every day and for three days the Bazaar ran from 9 in the morning to 9 at night…. (The King’s Daughters Class) were also in charge of wedding parties and when they came together they created quite a spread. Cake an punch were served on glass trays and cups and on those trays was a spot to set your punch class. Pastel mints or almonds or other mixed nuts were in dishes on the main table in the front. There were rows and rows of chairs on which to sit and there, with your class try, you could chat with your friends.” - Terry
STORIES FROM 2000 - Present: Compassion + Hospitality
“Marlin did so many things for the people of Bell, but her most memorable blessing was sending cards and visiting homebound members. Even while suffering from an illness that would lead to her death, Marlin made stars for each homebound member. (After Marlin’s death in 2004), Dave called a meeting at Bell to mobilize the congregation to continue Marlin’s vital ministry of sending letters, cards, and visiting homebound members. Dave handed me the letters, I brought them home, read them, and cried. The letters were so creative and I knew that was not me.” - Doris
Mike and Lynda stopped going to their Presbyterian church after a family tragedy in 2002. The loss of a daughter and two grandchildren was catastrophically painful. Their home church was at a loss also. Mike and Lynda felt even more alone when in the midst of their grief, the relationship with the church became fractured. Eight years later, their new four-month-old granddaughter, Delaney, was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack. Mike and Lynda’s daughter Jen, Delaney’s mom, had begun to visit Bell Memorial and as a result of the connection, the pastor of Bell Memorial visited the family at Children’s Hospital. Lynda wrote, “The pastor assured me that God was listening… he invited me to attend Bell Memorial when I was ready”. Lynda did visit Bell Memorial and “immediately felt the warmth and welcoming nature”. Today, Lynda is the Vice President of the Trustees as well as an active member of the Children’s Ministry Team. She thanks God for her “forever friends” at Bell.
“I knew I needed God in my life, but what church would want me? I met with a pastor who listened. He heard my story and invited me nonetheless. I had reservations, but I decided to accept his invitation. I was welcomed. I found a place where I could get connected and was greeted by a community that was willing to see me as I am now, not who I was. They were able to see my future and how the Lord was working in me. This decision was an honest reflection of truth in love. I'm not able to hide my past but I've found a place that will allow me to grow through my adversity; to explore how God is molding me.” -Doug
“After a long hiatus from church, due mostly to business with work, kids, and our youngest son’s complicating medical issues, we decided to visit our neighborhood church. We were greeted by several people as we made our way in the door. They warmly welcomed us, told us about the different rooms and activities available for our kids, and seemed genuine eager to make us feel at home. The people here became invested in our lives outside these four walls. They took a special interest in getting to know our children.” - Katie