Cross Roads BIC History
Cross Roads Brethren in Christ Church has a rich and deep history in Lancaster County, PA.* Formed out of the migration of Swiss-German settlers with an Anabaptist heritage, Cross Roads began as a group of River Brethren. They were hard-working, peace-loving, and committed to one another as a body of believers. Jacob (Yokeli) Engle became the pioneer leader of the movement known as the Brethren in Christ. Earliest records indicate that 1813 was the beginning date for the congregation known as Cross Roads. His grandson, Jacob (Yacob), presided as the bishop in what was known as the Donegal District when the first "meetinghouse" was built in 1877. Cross Roads consequently became the first such place of Brethren in Christ worship in Lancaster County.
Brethren in Christ people in Pennsylvania were typically conservative and slow to accept both the cultural and theological changes that came over them like a tidal wave in the latter part of the 19th century. This was true of the church's attitude about Wesleyan holiness, which was sweeping the Kansas BIC churches like wildfire in the latter 1800s. Cross Roads for many years remained resistant to this as well as other denominational transformations in the mid-twentieth century. Theological changes were always modified by what was best for the community of believers at the church. They did come, but much more slowly than what was happening outside the congregation.
Three national gatherings, known as General Conferences, took place on the Cross Roads property. Many people met, worshipped, fellowshipped and grew in their faith and love for one another at these events. It cannot be overemphasized that the fundamental core value of Cross Roads, along with the rest of the Brethren in Christ movement, was close fellowship. Leaders were raised up and chosen from the fellowship. Children were parented and instilled with love and values and beliefs of the fellowship. The fellowship determined what was believed and taught. While such fellowship kept family bonds and community ties lovingly close, it posed a big problem for change.
One such change came in the form of Sunday schools in the early 1900s. Cross Roads established a Sunday school for children in 1906. To "safeguard" the school from the culture (the "world") a careful plan of election and organization in the 1930s dictated who would teach and what dress would be appropriate. This legalistic time proved difficult for many. However, the Sunday school became a regular, institutionalized part of the life and ministry of the church.
Community service and help came through special groups such as the "Sunshine Band," a group of women who faithfully raised money and provided other means of assistance to those in need. Missions concerns also grew in the early 1900s. Missions to foreign fields was enhanced by missions at home to orphans. Messiah Children's Home (1925-1981) began in the Harrisburg area and in 1925 was relocated across the road from the Cross Roads church building. While the church did not have the administrative responsibility for the home, it provided a strong support base for the overseers and children. Additionally, many students from Messiah Bible School (now Messiah College) drove to the Cross Roads services adding youthful richness and variety to the services.
The congregation steadily grew in the 1970s under the leadership of Pastor Roy Peterman. An active visitation ministry along with yearly evangelistic meetings as well as a midweek children's club program increased the rolls of the church community. Pastor Allon Dourte led the congregation in adding on a large multi-purpose room in the latter 1970s. Pastor Dale Engle further advanced Christ's Great Commission at the church in starting community Live Nativity scenes in the church parking lot as well as adding a second service to the Sunday morning program. He was quite active in the local ministerium. His passion for reaching the lost with the gospel came with his leaving Cross Roads in 1998 to pastor a brand new neighboring church plant, Harvest Church. Rick Mailloux, then served as pastor from 1998 to 2011. Doug Bender, our newest lead pastor, came to Cross Roads in the fall of 2011 and continues to advance the vision of a missional, community-involved church.
Cross Roads was always guided in matters of faith and practice by the decisions of an annual General Conference, which served all the scattered fellowships across the United States and Canada. Although cautious about change in practice, the Cross Roads fellowship gradually embraced emphasis on the implications of the Great Commission, till it became a missions-minded church which it has remained to this day. Sharing and nurturing a "putting-into-practice-faith" in its home community, it also sends its members and supports many others on Christian witness and ministry across the world.
The history of Cross Roads Church reveals a church steeped in Brethren history and traditions, committed to one another in love and hope, and concerned about serving their neighbors in the community and helping the cause of Christ here and around the world. Cross Roads continues to embark on change and slow and steady growth as it prepares to add a new worship addition, classrooms, parking, ball fields and an amphitheater in the years ahead.
*Much of this material comes from The Cross Roads Story: A Brethren in Christ Community Living at the Threshold of Tomorrow, by J. Wilmer Heisey, The Brethren in Christ Historical Society and Cross Roads Church, 2004.