A church is the building in which God dwells. But a church can also be a group of like-minded people practicing their beliefs together.
In that way, there is also a social component to this concept we call “church.” When we physically share our faith with other humans in the same space, it can be a powerful and uplifting spiritual experience.
That act can also create an incredible, moving force.
In every definition of the word, the Palmyra United Christian Church is a church, and has been since 1895. This year, the Palmyra United Christian Church is celebrating its 125th anniversary – a century and a quarter of impacting the Palmyra community, of seeking to understand God’s word and put it into practice and of stewardship and fellowship.
“I think our role in the community is to be the light Jesus said we are to be, to be the salt that he described,” said Dave Ludwig, pastor of Palmyra United Christian Church. “Just trying to make people’s lives better, making a difference. We want to help people see that there is a God and that He loves them, and that we can be a son or daughter to Him. That’s what we see as our mission and place in the community. We just want to be that place they can look to for love and direction.”
“We love the Lord, and we believe in God’s word, the Bible,” he added. “We believe Jesus Christ is God’s son. He came to provide abundant life to anyone who is willing to accept Him. That summarizes who we are as a church. Anyone is welcome in our church. You don’t have to dress a certain way or come from a certain place. We try to practice God’s words and live it out.”
Located at 133 North Chestnut Street in the borough, Palmyra United Christian Church’s 125th anniversary is a year-long celebration that will culminate with a special service at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 4 . The service will feature special music, an inspirational speaker, and the appearance of some the church’s former ministers.
Although some of the events that Palmyra United Christian had planned to commemorate the milestone throughout the year have been curtailed by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the pandemic has not dampened the spirit of its congregation.
“This is a group of good people, and people who are willing to give,” said Ludwig, who has served as the lead pastor for the past six years. “They’re faithful in attendance and their works. They love the Lord. They want to make a difference. They care about their neighbors. On Sundays, it’s common to have half-a-dozen prayer requests. They care about people. We love serving them.”
“One of the things we feel grateful about is God’s grace and its function in the community,” Ludwig added. “There have been years when we’ve had large attendance, and there’s been years when it’s not been so large and we’ve struggled to continue. God has been faithful and we know He will be faithful, and we’re grateful for that. It’s been interesting working with this congregation. I’ve gotten to know them better over the last nine years. They love the Lord and they enjoy serving.”
The Palmyra United Christian Church was formed near the end of the 19th century by like-minded local residents. The church’s formation may have given rise to the United Christian denomination.
The church devoutly believes the Bible to be God’s word, and that that word should be followed as closely as humanly possible.
“As I understand it, there was a group of individuals who intended to build a church in Palmyra in the early days of the denomination,” said Ludwig. “The date of the Palmyra church beginning would be the date of the denomination beginning. It’s a small denomination here in Lebanon County, and there are eight congregations at this point. We would consider ourselves very evangelical, and in some sense, conservative. We believe in the Bible being God’s word, and it is infallible. Jesus Christ is God’s son. He came to provide redemption for sins. He’s gone into Heaven and He’s going to return again. There will be judgment on earth.”
“We have changed over the years, but just in the sense that we have tried to adapt, without changing the truth that we believe,” continued Ludwig. “We have tried to accommodate the changes of culture and in society, without compromising God’s word. There have been certain changes in the way we worship. I would say our dress has changed with the culture, but we consider ourselves somewhat modest in a respectful way. Probably the way we do our ministry has changed. There are times when pastors do things now that are different than the way they used to be done.”
In response to mitigating initiatives to help curb the spread of the Coronavirus, Palmyra United Christian Church closed its doors and cancelled services from the middle of March through the end of May. Since its reopening, the church has limited its seating capacity, required social distancing, and has encouraged the wearing of masks.
The pandemic has not affected the church in a negative way financially, according to Ludwig. “If anything, we’ve done as well or a little better,” he said. “We’ve had very good contributions and giving.”
“I’m not going to try to pretend to know the mind of God,” said Ludwig.
“This pandemic has shown that we as humans aren’t in control as much as we think we are. Ultimately, God is in control. God knows completely about this pandemic. We’ve been struggling with it for six months, and I’m not convinced experts know anything more than the day it started. There has been so much information, and information that has changed. It’s become politicized, it’s become a financial issue. I believe God has allowed it, for whatever reason.”
“I think we need God now as much as ever did,” continued Ludwig. “Our problems are different, in a sense. We still need God in our lives. What’s changed is our culture and society, it has moved away from the church as a central place in our community and more towards sports, school activities and work.”
“The biggest excuse people give is that they don’t have time, for one reason or another. I truly believe there is no change in the need for God, it’s just that people are distracted by other things. But I think this pandemic has caused people to stop and think about what is happening in the world.”
Those beliefs make churches like Palmyra United Christian Church as relevant today as it ever has been.
It would seem that the church’s future success is based in consistency and persistence.
“As a pastor in the United Christian Church, my role is to preach the word of God,” said Ludwig. “I believe it’s my calling and that God has brought me to this place. I’m not a trained counselor, but I do a fair amount of counseling. I try to share what God is telling me about relationships, how to live and communication. It involves caring about people. It involves planning. We try to do our best. There’s certainly always plenty to do as a pastor. There are always areas that can be improved.
“The future of the church is ultimately in God’s hands,” concluded Ludwig. “Jesus told Peter, ‘I will build My church, and the devil will not stand against it.’ When we talk about the church as the Bible refers to it, it’s for those who have trusted in Christ. The church is world-wide. The future of the church depends on how we continue to look to God. We should walk by faith.”
In that sense, the church is God, and God is the church.
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