Chapel celebrates 60 years

MILLERSTOWN – Shirley Hockenberry and her two daughters have a special place in their hearts for The Village Chapel.

The church near Millerstown is celebrating 60 years of ministry in October.

Hockenberry’s late husband, Jim Strawser, of Richfield, was the minister of the church from its beginning days in 1953 until he passed away in 1997. He also led the church’s radio program which is in its 60th year.

The building, located in the village of Donnally Mills, was built in 1884 and was originally an Evangelical church and later became a secret lodge, Hockenberry said.

A man by the name of Orville Delbaugh purchased the building in July of 1953 with hopes of the building once again becoming a church.

Strawser became the pastor, and services began on Oct. 9.

Hockenberry was attending the church as a single young woman when the church began. She recalled it being “dark and dingy on the inside, with two wood stoves and was lit with two kerosene lamps.”

Two years later, Hockenberry married Strawser, and the couple raised two daughters, Ann and Eileen.

The radio broadcast, “The Village Chapel Hour,” began Nov. 7, 1953 on WKVA radio, Lewistown. Years later, it moved to WJUN 1220 AM, Mexico, where it still is today.

Strawser led the Sunday program until 1997. Tom Hetrick, of Richfield, later took over the station, and Strawser’s daughter, Eileen Hoffman, also of Richfield, now leads the show on Sundays.

The church and the radio program became the life of the Strawsers, said oldest daughter Ann Hoffman, of Richfield.

Strawser had also pastored the St. Peter’s Independent Church in Troxelville, near Beaver Springs, beginning in 1962. Some Sunday mornings he would serve one church and Sunday evenings in another church. Then there were prayer meetings, Bible studies and the radio program.

Hoffman said, “We were in church about every night.”

The family of four would sing together and visit other churches throughout the week, too.

Many revival services were held at the Village Chapel. Services were so full, Hockenberry said, “We had to open the windows so people could hear that were standing outside.” The crowds were beyond what the tiny chapel could hold.

Hoffman recalled times when singing groups would come to the church and she and other children would have to sit on the platform around the group so there would be enough room for the adults.

Every part of the chapel, Hockenberry said, has a story. She recalled how a lady of the church asked a man from Duncannon to paint the picture of Jesus at the front of the church. Years later, she was killed in a train accident.

The steeple was made available to the church by a man from Orbisonia who listened to the radio program. He was a builder who was praying to help a church build a steeple. He was surprised to learn The Village Chapel needed one.

For Hockenberry, the most important memories come from the altar.

“We had our children dedicated to God here. And we saw our children and most of our grandchildren come to this altar” her voice trailed as she recalled their decisions to have faith in Jesus Christ.

The church, as a body of believers, was shaken when Strawser died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 64.

Many pastors temporarily filled the pulpit for the first two years. Guy Hockenberry became the pastor and served 1999-2008. He passed away earlier this year. He wed Shirley Strawser Hockenberry in 2004.

George Sheaffer, of Richfield, was ordained at the Chapel and became the church’s pastor in 2009 and serves there today.

A special Rally Day service is planned to celebrate the 60th anniversary. The service will begin at 9 a.m. Oct. 13 with Pastor Max Bingamen as special speaker and the Black Creek Quartet will be performing. The group will sing again at 2 p.m. during an additional service.

Hockenberry said although there is no longer a need to open windows because of a crowd, the 25 people who are attendees of the church are content.

“They preach the sound Gospel here,” Hockenberry said, “We’re a friendly little church.”