Members of the Coldenham-Newburgh Reformed Presbyterian Church and visitors from local congregations gathered at 3 p.m. on October 15, sang psalms and reflected on history in celebration of the church’s 225th anniversary.
While the church’s congregation was formed in 1798, its timeline technically begins with James Rainey, an Irish immigrant who moved to Pine Bush with his family in 1748. Rainey learned Reformed Presbyterian doctrine from a Philadelphia family and would serve as an elder for the Wallkill Valley region’s “Society of Covenanters” with William Wilkins in 1753.
When Coldenham’s congregation formed in 1798, James’ son, David Rainey, served as a pastor with Robert Beattie and Robert Johnson. A year later, the congregation built its first church from logs, and in 1838, it would construct its second, current building over the original. In 1975, the Coldenham congregation merged with Newburgh’s congregation, an idea that was originally considered during the 1930s.
Over the last two centuries, the church has provided support and faith for the local community and beyond, especially in times of tragedy. One such instance was the East Coldenham Elementary School tornado incident in 1989, in which a collapsed wall killed seven children and injured numerous more.
“It was a major event; I remember at the time, my wife and I were serving as missionaries in Japan, and I read an article in the local English newspaper in Japan about the events in East Coldenham in New York. And I just filed that away, never suspecting that we would end up living in that community,” said Charles Leach, a member of the congregation who served as pastor from 1995 to 2013.
“For that kind of reason, people pull together and often look to God for comfort, for encouragement, for direction…there was a kind of spiritual need at that time that people were sensing, and occasionally I would talk to people in the community that reflected that having been through that,” he continued.
Similarly, many first responders in Orange County and New York State sought faith following 9/11 and joined Coldenham-Newburgh’s congregation.
“In 2001, we had the tragedy down there in New York City. And we, in this area, got an influx of firefighters and policemen who were given permission to live farther away from Manhattan, though they worked for FDNY or NYPD, and many of them located in Orange County,” Leach said.
For October 15’s program, Pastor Philip Shafer recounted the church’s history and unity while David Coon, the Pastor of the White Lake Reformed Presbyterian Church, conducted the psalms. Member of each visiting congregation also got the opportunity to pick their favorite to sing. The program concluded with refreshments and members enjoying each other’s company and conversation.
“We have good friends over the last 28 years that we’ve been here…we raised our children here, and this is a really nice community to live in. It’s not the city, it’s not the country; it’s kind of a pleasant, quiet area,” said Susan Leach, another member of the congregation and Charles’ spouse.
“Over the 28 years or so that we’ve been here, we’ve seen people come from fairly long distances to worship with us. We’ve had members coming from Wappingers Falls, across the river, coming down from Gardiner, up in Ulster County…so it’s not been primarily a local community church,” Charles said.