Clarence Presbyterian Church:
Growing with Clarence in the 1950’s

by: Julie Ottaway Schmit

This is the second in a series of three articles about the history of the Clarence Presbyterian Church.

    In the 1950’s, the lot east of the Clarence Junior-Senior High School was empty -- except for a “For Sale” sign and over 5 acres of weeds.

    All that changed when the Clarence Presbyterian Church congregation agreed to build their new church on that very lot, at 9675 Main Street, where the church stands today.

    In 1953, Reverend Harvey Jenkins announced that the church had a membership of 202, which represented a 90% increase in 3 ½ years, an increase that reflected the population growth in Clarence at the time.

    After more than 100 years at the landmark church on Salt & Main Road in Clarence Hollow, he suggested that a new, larger church be considered, so the church could continue to grow along with the community. Worship, fellowship and missionary work have been important throughout the history of the church --the oldest in the community-- and more space meant reaching out to more people.

    Designed by architects Shelgren & Whitman, the new church was built to seat 300 people, with meeting rooms located upstairs near the sanctuary, and educational facilities located in its basement.

    Like the Presbyterian Church built before it, members (and church youth) pitched in to help build the structure in which they would worship..

    The cornerstone of the church, dated 1844, was removed from the original church, and was placed in the new church in 1956. The cornerstone holds interesting artifacts, including an 1840 coin picturing a log cabin and William Henry Harrison’s campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.” Also, a copy of the New Testament published in 1871, and copies of local newspapers from the first week of September 1879, including the Amherst Bee, the Courier, and the Buffalo Express. The church had been remodeled and rededicated in 1879, which might explain the items dated later than 1844.

    The price tag on the completed church was $158,000.00 (roughly $156,000.00 more than the previous church, built in 1844).

    When the church opened on Palm Sunday, April 14, 1957 (Reverend Wallace E. Easter at the helm), Milton Schoch, Jr., served as Church School Superintendent, Mrs. Wilson Greatbach was Secretary, and Wilson Greatbach served as a Church School teacher.

    The original bell from the former Clarence Presbyterian Church was transferred to the new location in 1956, and still rings in the church today. Unlike modern bells, which can ‘Ding!’ with the flick of a switch, this traditional bell tolls only when a person pulls (hard!) on the attached rope.

    In keeping with its mission roots, the Clarence Presbyterian Church congregation is proud to be home to the Clarence Community Food Pantry. The Food Pantry, founded by former Clarence Citizen of the Year Nancy May, in 1980, has been located within the church since its inception. Another community service, the Clarence Co-operative Nursery, founded in 1957, is also at home within the church.

    The ‘fellowship’ theme rings true throughout the history of the church, and thousands of coffee hours have been held in the church following Sunday services. In this building, countless friendships have been cemented, and many ideas have been formed and implemented.