The Gray Clan & White Oak Springs Church, Renfrew, PA

white oak springs Presbyterian church, Renfrew, Pennsylvania

Image from “The Gray Clan” of White Oak Springs Church circa 1896.

Below is a transcript of the information appearing at the beginning of The Gray Clan about the White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church in Renfrew, PA. According to family history, this is the church where our immigrant forefather’s family would have attended.

You will notice in the book they refer to the church as “White Oaks Springs Church.” They also mention Mother Mary’s grave lying next to the old stone steps of the original church close to a pine tree. Descendant Bill Brown visited White Oak Springs several years ago and found Mother Mary’s (Mary James Gray) grave under a pine and quite overgrown.

According to the White Oaks Springs Presbyterian Church website, the following history is given for the church with slightly different dates from the information in The Gray Clan.

“White Oak Springs was organized in 1818 when some members left the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church following a controversy over which version of the Psalms should be sung.

The church gets its name from a grove of white oak trees surrounding a spring not far from where the church now stands.

The first worship services at White Oak Springs were held in a tent in summer and in a barn in the winter months.  A brick church was built in 1820  but was destroyed by fire in 1852, with a new church constructed the next year.  The congregation has been served by 26 pastors over its 194-year history.”

White Oaks Springs Church. Erected about 1862. Picture taken 1896. Bell Tower built 1900. The front faces South, toward the Springs. The Cemetery to the East.

Dunning McNair ‘The Land Jabber’ gave the ground, 10 acres. When William McLeod died in 1804. For church and burial purposes.

Early records of the Monongahela Presbytery show reports from here. Rev. Joseph Kerr was assigned to visit the field. Associate Reformed. However, history records, Francis Williams and Poythress here – Saddle-Bags Preachers, as early as 1796. Also Rev. James McConnell, born Antrim Country, Dervock, Ireland, preached here previous to 1800. Using the slab-seated “meetin-house” and tent below the road. This was the usual place to meet for worship. Near the Springs.

It was during his Pastorate – or period of time there – for as yet, no records of this has been located. We do know that he was there over a period of some years, -that the unusual visitation of ‘the revival which they called “The Falling work” because of the remarkable physical manifestations, which accompanying it, when those under deep conviction of sin, would fall prostrate, and would lie prostrate for hours, in an unconscious state, losing all strength of body and mind. On recovering, it showed no harm to the person, but the whole spiritual outlook was changed.’ (This occurred over to the West, in the section nearer to Nebo.)

McConnel, at the ‘Slab-seated Meetin House’ near White Oaks Springs, resented this and remonstrated strongly. “He told his people. ‘It BE BUT. He CANNA’ mean, HYMNS. Nae Nae. He CANNA mean hymns! (This true incident places the “Falling Work” definitely before the 1800 date.) By 1818, the Pioneers were ready to build a Brick Church (see p. 231) The indentations of this Brick Church are still strongly visible, to the right side of the picture. (which is East or on the Butler side.) The steps were near the old pine tree, standing there now, and Mother Mary’s grave lies close to the old steps.