Those either partnering or considering partnering in the Valley Cities church planting may be interested in knowing why this Bradford County site was selected. The site was targeted back in the 1990's, when the elders of the Kittanning church in Kittanning, PA made the decision to undertake a church plant. The Kittanning congregation was the result of a church planting that began in 1977 when Clarence and Eileen McDowell moved to Kittanning to start a congregation in Armstrong County under the oversight of the Wood Avenue church in Florence, Alabama. After developing elders and deacons, that congregation determined to imitate Wood Avenue and take the church to other counties lacking a congregation of the Lord’s church.
Brother McDowell - who was also serving as one of the elders - secured a copy of the 1990 U.S. Census report for Pennsylvania and compared it to the listings in Where the Saints Meet. This revealed a cluster of four counties in Northeast Pennsylvania contiguous to each other and having no congregation of the Lord’s people. Further research determined that the tri-city area of Athens & Sayre, PA and Waverly, NY might be the ideal site within those counties. Additional examination of that area supported that assessment for the religious mix and demographics resembled that of Kittanning, which was one of the reasons the McDowells elected to move there.
Working with the leaders of another congregation in Central Pennsylvania and locating an accomplished evangelist willing to move to Bradford County, they began raising funds to finance the work and had $2500 pledged toward monthly support when the evangelist changed his mind about moving. Unwilling to go forward without an evangelist with a proven record of evangelism, the project lost momentum and the pledged funds were deployed to other needs as the respective elderships evaluated them.
Fortuitous Events or the Providence of God?
After the McDowells moved from Kittanning and brother Larry Krause became their preacher, brother Roy Johnson & wife, Brenda, began worshiping with them. He was involved in the Boy Scouts of America and eventually moved to Alabama to take leadership of the Lads-to-Leaders program with central office based on the campus of Faulkner University in Montgomery, AL. Don Myers, a faculty member of Faulkner University, had long desired to be involved in church planting and was challenged by Brenda Johnson to consider Butler, PA. This resulted in Dr. & Ms. Richard Trull, Brenda Johnson (& son) and Don Myers making a survey trip to Butler, PA. Sister Johnson’s initial recommendation of Butler, PA as a target for a church plant had been considered by the McDowells prior to their move to Kittanning in 1977. Don Myers (also preacher of Elmore Church of Christ in Elmore, AL) recommended his elders consider a vision, which has since come to be called The Antioch Initiative. Upon learning that the Elmore leadership was interested in planting a congregation domestically, Roy & Brenda Johnson put them in contact with Larry Krause and the Kittanning church in Kittanning, PA.
When the Elmore church leaders contacted Larry Krause to set up a meeting regarding planting a church in Pennsylvania, Larry invited brother McDowell to meet with them. Brother McDowell had left retirement and was preaching again in Uniontown, PA. When he attended the meeting with the Kittanning and Elmore leaderships, he told them of the research he had done and recommended that they examine the four county area that had been targeted earlier. It was agreed to travel to Bradford County, PA. In July of 2013, Elmore elders (Terry Carlisle with wife, Winni, and Jimmy Davis) along with Don Myers, Clarence McDowell, Eileen McDowell, Roger Rives (Elmore deacon), Larry and Dianne Krause made a trip to Sayre, PA to “spy out the land.”
That trip resulted in their thinking that the area looked even more inviting than it had more than 15 years earlier. The Marcellus Shale gas industry has the area burgeoning with economic activity and everyone who had ever participated in house-to-house evangelism agreed that the communities had the characteristics of places where evangelism normally met with success. Brother McDowell, who had felt somewhat guilty for not moving there when he left Kittanning, considered that perhaps God had answered the prayers of the 1990's by telling us to wait for the prosperity that He was about to bring to that four county area.
Hence, the Antioch Initiative developed the vision of planting congregations in each those four counties of Northeastern, PA (Bradford, Susquehanna, Wyoming and Sullivan).