The congregation of the First Presbyterian Church in Bergen is celebrating its 200th Anniversary this year. A special celebration is planned for Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1. The public is invited to attend. Photograph by Kristina Gabalski.

Marker in Mount Rest Cemetery in Bergen at the original site of the First Presbyterian Church. Photograph by Kristina Gabalski.

Bergen First Presbyterian Church celebrates 200th

Everyone is invited to join in the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church of Bergen on the weekend of June 30 and July 1.

Eunice Ely, a descendant of some of the early members of the congregation and a life-long member of the church, is chairperson of the 200th Anniversary Committee. She said the event gets underway on Saturday afternoon, June 30 with a "Home Talent Concert" at 2 p.m. Ely said the idea for the concert came from a program held at the church in 1914 or 1915. The concert includes church members performing instrumental and vocal music selections, poems and drama. After the program, there will be special displays of arts, crafts and hobbies of congregation members in the fellowship hall. Ely said displays include photography, woodworking and card making. The church is also selling mugs and note paper with an image of the church building on it as a memento of the anniversary.

The celebration moves outdoors at 4 p.m. with a free ice cream social and music provided by a blue grass band in a tent behind the church.

The tent will also be the site of a special worship service on Sunday, July 1 at 10 a.m. as the celebration continues. Ely said the service will be a reinactment of the Bergen Tent Meetings. The featured speaker will be Stacy Cline and the Song Leader will be Ray Walker, a Bergen native.

The Joyful Noise Ensemble will also perform. Ely said the ensemble is made up of "talented instrumentalists from the congregation." "We encourage people to come," Ely said. "It is open to the public."

Ely grew up in the congregation and has seen many changes over the years. The church and fellowship hall were connected in the 1950s, during the church's 150th anniversary. In the 1980s, the church's basement was deepened to provide a nursery and Sunday school rooms and the fellowship hall was renovated in the 1990s. Ely said the church has an excellent Sunday school program and several programs for young people.

She also pointed out that women have done much to keep the church going over the years. Early-on, the ladies earned money through sewing bees and socials and then by hosting church dinners and fashion shows in the 1950s.

The First Presbyterian Church of Bergen was the first church organized west of the Genesee River by emigrants from New England. Ely said a group led by Levi Ward set out from East Guilford, Connecticut on June 1, 1807 and arrived in what is now Bergen on June 22. They were "sent off by their pastor with the blessing of almighty God," Ely said.

Ely said the tankard for the communion was presented as a memorial gift by the First Congregational Church of E. Guilford, Connecticut. Historical accounts say the congregation held meetings for 20 years in homes and a school house before building the church on a hill in what is now Mount Rest Cemetery on the southwest corner of the intersection of Routes 262 and 19 in Bergen. The church building was moved and enlarged in 1854 because the railroad had come through a mile to the north and that is where new homes and shops were springing up. Church members recorded that it was rolled on logs to its new location, where it now stands at 38 South Lake Street in the Village of Bergen.

It is also said, according to historical accounts, that some families who were members of the congregation in 1854, picked their burial plots in Mt. Rest Cemetery to be in the spots where their pews had been when the church building stood there. A special monument in Mt. Rest now marks the spot where the church stood.

The First Presbyterian Church of Bergen was sanctioned on December 8, 1807, and Ely said church members will hold a special congregational dinner later this year on December 9 to mark that occasion. At that time, 40-year members of the church will be recognized.

For information, call the church at 494-1251.

June 17, 2007