Harveys Lake History

North Mountain Bible Conference

North Mountain Tabernacle, 1945


There is no universal agreement as to either the founding date or definition of the American "camp ground meeting." There were antecedents in Presbyterian camp ground practices in England and Scotland which were planted by Scots and Scots-Irish settlers in frontier America. Periodic camp meetings by itinerant preachers with songs and music were a form of religious community in isolated rural areas without ordained ministers. The "first planned camp meeting" in America is often cited as Cane Ridge, near Paris, Kentucky, in the summer of 1801 which was conducted by Presbyterian minister Rev. Barton W. Stone. But there were forms of camp meetings in 1786-1787 in S. Carolina, N. Carolina and Georgia with viable claims as the earliest.

The "camp meeting" concept was adopted by other Protestant sects, including Baptists and Adventists, but particularly by the Methodist Episcopal Church. By 1811 the Methodists had 500 annual encampments, and 1,000 by 1820, generally at rural groves and farms. Some of these camp meetings quickly evolved into permanent annual campgrounds.

In 1999 the Hazleton scholar, Kenneth O. Brown (1943-2007), found that 80 campgrounds in the United States founded before 1830 were still active. The four in Pennsylvania were all Methodist. The oldest was Tarentum Camp, founded in 1817, near Pittsburgh.

The earliest settlers in the Wyoming Valley in 1762 were from Connecticut. They were joined by Rev. William Marsh who was killed by Native Americans who drove the settlers out of the Valley in 1763. Rev. George Beckwith, Massachusetts, arrived with new Connecticut setters in 1769, but it was Rev. Jacob Johnson, Connecticut, who became the early Wyoming Valley's best-known "gospel minister" from 1773 until his death in 1795. These settlers were generally Congregationalists-Presbyterian.

Rev. Noah Wadhams was a minister in Plymouth by 1772 and was originally a Congregationalist but later became a Methodist. A sustained Methodist religion in the Wyoming Valley is attributable to Anning Owen, a blacksmith-minister who survived the Wyoming Massacre in 1783. He formed the earliest Methodist class at Ross Hill in 1787-88 midway between Plymouth and Kingston. He preached at homes and schools and at times at groves in proto camp-meetings. The earliest documented camp meeting in a fuller sense in our region was held in 1808 at Chillisquaque Creek near Northumberland. It was in 1809 that the first significant "circuit-wide" Methodist camp-meeting was held in the Wyoming Valley at West Pittston. A significant traditional camp meeting was held in 1825 on the farm of Rev. Jacob Rice in Trucksville.

According to Kenneth O. Brown, the camp ground meeting was the native soil which blossomed over time into several religious movements which include, among others, the Holiness Camp Meeting, the Chautauqua Movement, the Christian Assembly, the Pentecostal Camp Meeting, and the Bible and Prophecy Conference Movement. Examples of the latter are found in our region. In Brown's history of American camp grounds, "Holy Ground, Too," Brown cites 1835 as the founding date of the Patterson Grove Camp Ground in Huntington Township. The late township historian Doris Wiant Harvey noted camp meetings were held at area farm grounds near Town Hill in the 1830s-1860s, forerunners of Patterson Grove. The still-active Patterson Grove Camp Ground was actually formally opened on August 26, 1868.

Other early Bible Conference camp grounds in our region are the Dimock Camp Ground, Susquehanna County, formed in 1862; the Wyoming Camp Ground, West Wyoming, organized in 1874; the Free Methodist Camp in Dallas Township (1902-c. 1995) which was also known as the East Dallas or B. T. Roberts Memorial Camp Ground; and the Montrose Bible Conference formed in 1908 by Congregationalist minister Dr. Reuben Archer Torrey.

The North Mountain Bible Conference camp at Red Rock, at the intersection of Route 118 and Route 487, had its initial day-encampments in 1934-1940, and opened its formal summer Bible conferences in 1941.


North Mountain Bible Conference

Part I

The North Mountain Bible Conference was formed by the brothers, Rev. Robert W. Lancaster and Rev. Arden Allan Lancaster, along with Rev. James C. Ney.

Robert and Arden Lancaster were born in the Wilkes-Barre area to Fred and Meta Lancaster. They were raised in the Parsons section of the city. Fred Lancaster (1873-1936) was born at New Castle, England, and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1885. He was a fire boss and inside foreman with the Lehigh Valley Coal Company at the Mineral Springs colliery in Parsons, and later with the Warrior Run mines. From 1916 to 1936 Fred Lancaster worked for the Prudential Life Insurance Company. Meta White Lancaster was born in 1877 at Hunlock Creek. She had an earlier career as a school teacher. She died in Berwick at age 83 in late January 1941, surviving her husband, Fred, by 25 years.

Rev. Robert W.
Lancaster, 1938

Arden was seven years older than his brother Robert. Both were influenced by revival meetings at the Primitive Methodist Church in Parsons. In 1929 they committed their lives to Christ's service while at a Montrose Bible Conference. Robert W. Lancaster then attended Wheaton College but obtained his divinity degree from Grace Seminary, Indiana.

Rev. Arden A.
Lancaster, 1938

In 1931 Robert and Arden Lancaster founded the Lancaster Brothers Evangelistic Campaign holding Bible study and youth evangelical conferences throughout eastern Pennsylvania. They created a weekly radio ministry "The Evangelistic Hour." In 1951 Robert Lancaster would also develop the WHLM radio program "Morning Meditation," broadcast over 16 radio stations from Puerto Rico to Wisconsin. While Arden Lancaster was also an evangelical minister, he generally handled the ministry's musical programs.

The Lancaster brothers founded three churches. Their earliest church was the Berwick Bible Tabernacle in 1932 which was relocated and renamed in 1956 as the Berwick Bible Church. Expansion and other renovations occurred in 1966 and 2000.

Certain accounts credit the Lancasters as forming a Noxen Bible Church in Wyoming County in 1931. But further research has disclosed the Lancasters held evangelical meetings in Noxen in early 1932 and early 1933 which were well-received. On Sunday, September 24, 1933, a new Noxen Gospel Tabernacle, not a Noxen Bible Church, was dedicated with Pastor Harry E. Rundell, joined by the Lancasters, at the dedication service. Rundell was an established evangelist in the region and earlier served as pastor of the Baptist Church of Curwensville in Clearfield County. In February 1934 Rundell created his own religious radio program for WBRE in Wilkes-Barre.

In the Fall of 1935 Robert and Arlen Lancaster operated a portable tabernacle on Church Street in Sunbury. In September 1935, the Lancasters, led by Rev. J. H. Rhodes, Rush Baptist Church, Elysburg, held a public baptism for 26 people in the Susquehanna River at Danville viewed by an estimated 1.000 witnesses crowded on a bridge and along the river bank. Rev. Josiah H. Rhodes was a regular speaker at the early Red Rock Bible Conferences. The Lancasters' tabernacle in Sunbury was destroyed the following March 1936 in an historic flood.

In Sepember 1939, the Lancasters returned to Sunbury with another portable tabernacle and opened the Sunbury or Community Gospel Center on Island Park. In late 1941 the Gospel Center was relocated elsewhere on Island Park in a permanent building. Rev. James C. Ney was now the assistant pastor. In February 1954 the Center became the Sunbury Bible Church. In July 1957 construction started for an enlarged Sunbury Bible Church on Island Park and the former structure became the Larney Fahringer appliances store. The new Sunbury Bible Church along Route 11 was dedicated on Sunday, March 16, 1958. Robert Widgen, a gospel singer who was a significant presence at the North Mountain Bible Conference, was a special soloist at the dedication. Robert W. Lancaster continued as pastor and Arlen Lancaster as director of music, until their retirements with a farewell service on December 29, 1968. Both, however, continued with their joint ministry with the Berwick Bible Church with Rev. Arden Lancaster retiring in 1972, and Rev. Robert W. Lancaster as pastor until his death in October 1976. In September 1991 the Sunbury Bible Church left Island Park and relocated to a new church along Route 11 outside of Sunbury.

Bible Conference Entrance, 1961

Robert and Arden Lancaster began to offer non-denominational one-day bible conferences at Red Rock in 1934 under the name Red Rock Bible Conference. They were generally on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day and most likely at the site of the future conference grounds. In April 1936, the Lancasters incorporated the Undenominational Bible Association of Pennsylvania, Inc., and in August 1936 their corporation began the acquisition of a series of five land tracts over the next decade which became the site of the North Mountain Bible Conference.

There are few accounts of the Red Rock Bible Conference during its early years. In 1936 and 1937 Prof. Earl B. Chuddy, a biology teacher at Hazleton High School, was a speaker at the conferences. He was frequently a guest at community evangelistic sessions. His view was that no conflict existed between science and the Bible. Another 1937 speaker was Rev. Henry Manganello, known as the Italian Evangelist of Kingston. In 1937, too, Noxen Evangelist Harry E. Rundell was featured. He had become a close friend of the Lancasters. Rundell was well-known in the area including frequent engagements in Scranton including Bible classes at the Scranton City Rescue Mission.

In June 1937 the Lancasters approved construction of a tabernacle at the Red Rock site under the supervision of Rev. James C. Ney. The earliest account of the tabernacle was on Labor Day 1938 when 1,100 guests attended the conference. The principal speakers were Dr. Byron Jackson (1873-1939) and Rev. Charles Ohman (1898-1994) from Montrose. Jackson was a pioneer radiologist and cancer specialist in Scranton. His father, J. C. Jackson, was an early Harvey's Lake resident who once taught at the one-room Red Rock schoolhouse. The school foundation is still evident at the entrance to the North Mountain Bible Camp. Dr. Jackson was considered an authority on the Bible and he devoted considerable time speaking to church organizations. Rev. Charles Ohman was educated at the Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, and at the Theological Seminary of Jersey City. After service in Montrose, Ohman served pastorates in Cleveland for 19 years before relocating in 1962 to Lebanon, PA. His son, George Ohman, and a grandson, George Ohman, Jr., also entered the gospel ministry.

On August 26, 1939, the Lancasters' work was briefly described in Hazleton's Standard Speaker newspaper: "The teaching and ministry of the Lancasters is of a decidedly Biblical character and is accepted by the prominent Bible Schools and Christian colleges of the land as well as the fundamental churches of the east."

Bible Conference Dining Hall

A well to distribute water throughout the Red Rock Bible Camp grounds was created in 1938 and the dining hall was added in the late Spring of 1940.

On July 28, 1941, the Lancasters and Rev. James C. Ney, Sunbury, opened the full-summer North Mountain Bible Conference, described in a too brief July 26, 1941, article in Sunbury's Daily Item:

North Mountain Bible Conference at Red Rock will be officially opened Monday, July 28, with the service in the evening at 7:45.
The Bible Conference grounds are located one mile from the historical Kitchen Creek Falls. For the past year, Rev. James C. Ney and a group of workers from Sunbury have been busily engaged in assisting other workers in erecting a modern dining room, cottages, dormitories, and large tents that will take care of the large group of individuals that are registered for the conference. Registrants are from all parts of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
North Mountain Bible Conference is one of the most beautiful conference sites in America. Situated in the heart of the North Mountains it affords a restful place to spend vacation.
Outstanding Bible teachers and preachers have been engaged for each week. Special musical groups from Bible universities and schools will have charge of the musical program.
The daily program is as follows: Breakfast, 7:45; first morning session, 10:30; dinner, 12:30; afternoon rest and recreation; supper 5:30; evening service, 7:30; lights out, 10:30.
Rev. Ney has moved his large stock of Bibles and books to the newly erected book store for the entire five weeks.
The public is cordially invited to the conference and picnic tables in the large pine grove are free.

The close of the initial year of the formal Bible Conference is described in the Mountain Echo on August 22, 1941:

The North Mountain Bible Conference at Red Rock which has been running continuously since July 28th, will come to a close with the all- day meeting on Labor Day.
The guest speaker for the last week of meeting is Anthony Zeoli of Philadelphia, widely known from coast to coast for his unique heart-searching messages. A capacity audience is expected for the balance of the Conference.
The program at Red Rock through the week is as follows:
9:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., and 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.
Mr. Zeoli will be at Red Rock all day August 17th through Labor Day.
The public is cordially invited to the services at Red Rock. Ample provision has been made for parking. A fine picnic grove is provided for those who wish to spend the day. Meals are served at the new spacious dining room on the grounds.
Special music is provided each day by visiting groups. During the last week the music will be provided by a quartet from the Houghton College [NY].

Rev. Anthony Zeoli,

Rev. Anthony Zeoli, who spoke at the 1941 conference, was also the principal speaker at the Memorial Day 1941 day-session at Red Rock. A Philadelphia native and traveling evangelist, Rev. Zeoli hosted the "Morning Radio Bible Hour," radio ministry for over 40 years on WVCH-AM in Chester, PA.

As a troubled youth he was convicted for several offenses and spent six years in Pennsylvania prisons. He converted to Christ while at the Eastern Pennsylvania State Penitentiary. Rev. Zeoli became one of America's leading teaching evangelists earning the title "The Walking Bible" for his remarkable ability to recite Bible passages from memory.


Rev. James C. Ney,

Rev. James C. Ney

The Rev. James Curtis Ney (1908-1970) is the third founder of the North Mountain Bible Conference. A native of Shamokin, Ney was a store manager for F. W. Woolworth and then Lippat's Furniture until 1933 when he began to sell Bibles in Shamokin. In October 1943 he moved to Sunbury and opened The Bible Depot religious store which he relocated to its present North Front Street location in May 1949.

Rev. James C. Ney became associated with the Lancaster Brothers campaigns in 1933. In 1935-36 the Lancasters were engaged in an evangelistic work in Sunbury. They created a daily religious radio program on WKOK called the Evangelistic Hour. It also aired on WGBI in Scranton. In April 1936 the program became a weekly thirty-minute broadcast under the direction of Rev. Ney which he continued to broadcast for more than 40 years over central Pennsylvania stations. In mid-August 1954, Rev. Ney and Rev. Paul Plack, Williams Grove, PA, created "Paul and Jim," another radio program airing on Saturday nights which continued until Ney's death in 1970.

When a pastoral vacancy occurred in July 1937 at the Boyle's Creek Methodist-Episcopal Church, Lower Augusta Township, in Northumberland County, Rev. Ney assumed the position until February 1938 when the church was able to fill the position. (The church was dissolved in 1986 and the building razed.)

In late June 1954 the Community Fellowship Church, Sunbury, was incorporated and Rev. Janes C. Ney was appointed as pastor. The church was also enrolled with the Independent Fundamental Churches of America. The church held services at 35-37 South Third Street, Sunbury, while a new church was constructed. On Sunday, September 22, 1957, the Community Fellowship Church, Oaklyn, was dedicated. Rev. Ney continued as the pastor until his retirement in 1969. In May 1982 the church was reformed as the Oaklyn Independent Baptist Church.

Rev. "Jim" Ney served as assistant director of the North Mountain Bible Conference for 25 years. He conducted weekly services at the Selinsgrove State School for 36 years during which he received an Award of Merit from the Pennsylvania General Assembly.


North Mountain Bible Conference

Part II

From the beginning of the North Mountain Bible Conference the Lancasters could have drawn speakers from the immediate region. But they designed the summer conference to present nationally recognized evangelists for a regional audience unlikely to have otherwise heard their messages.

An exception to the national and international cast of conference presenters was the 1941 return of Pastor Harry E. Rundell (1879-1949), who, later in life, had simultaneous charge of the Gospel Bible Tabernacle of Noxen, the Outlet Bible Tabernacle at Harvey's Lake, and Greenwood Union Church in Columbia County. A noted Bible teacher and evangelist, Rundell was an early director of the North Mountain Bible Conference. Pastor Rundell officiated at the wedding of Rev. Robert W. Lancaster and Irene Belford on September 26, 1938, in Shavertown.

The five-week summer conference scheduled at Red Rock, with each week guided by a guest pastor, was the template for the following 30 -year history of the North Mountain Bible Conference. The entry of the United States into World War II in December 1941 did not impede the Bible Conferences in 1942-1945. The conferences drew national religious figures and Christian musical talent. Eight months after Pearl Harbor, the conference opened on August 3, 1942, as noted in Shickshinny's Mountain Echo newspaper:

The annual Summer Bible Conference, conducted by the Lancaster Brothers, of Wilkes-Barre, will open at the conference cite at Red Rock. The grounds are beautifully situated along the North Mountain in the midst of one of Pennsylvania's scenic mountain regions, only about one mile from the well-known Kitchen Creek Falls.
The conference opens Monday, August 3rd, and continues through Labor Day, September 7th. Each week the speaker will be a nationally known expositor of the Bible. The program is as follows:
August 3rd through August 9th, Albert Hughes, D.D., well-known Canadian Bible teacher.
August 10th through August 16th, Merrill T. MacPherson, pastor, Church of the Open Door, Philadelphia.
August 17th through August 23rd, Roy L. Laurin, Radio preacher from Los Angeles, Calif.
August 24th through August 30th, Robert Ketcham, D.D., Bible Conference speaker at Waterloo, Iowa.
August 31st through Labor Day, September 7th, Anthony Zeoli, nationally known evangelist.
Each week other special musical groups and missionaries will be present.
Services daily at 9, 10 a.m., and 7:30 P.M. No afternoon session. On Sunday at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.

The 1942 presenter, Dr. Merrill T. Macpherson (1913-2001), was a conservative Presbyterian minister from Philadelphia who in 1936 broke with the modernist leanings of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA). MacPherson and other fundamentalists formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) denomination, and in September 1936 MacPherson opened the Church of the Open Door in Philadelphia. In 2014 OPC had 281 congregations in the United States.

In months when the conference was not in session, the North Mountain Bible Conference sponsored special events at regional churches. These were at times called a Bible Conference Rally and promoted the Red Rock conference. Even after 1941 the conference was still periodically called the Red Rock Bible Conference. In April 1945 the Wigden Colored Singers, a trio from Naples, NY, appeared in Shamokin for a North Mountain Bible Conference rally. The trio included Lawrence Wigden, preacher; Gladys Wigden, pianist; and Robert Wigden, song leader. By 1948 the Wigden Singers became regular guests at the summer conference and appeared there for years.

Robert and Gladys

Rev. Lawrence Widgen (1910-1957) founded the Naples Gospel Tabernacle in 1937. His ministry took him to many foreign countries. His siblings would then continue as a duo in musical ministry. In later years, Lawrence, Robert, Gladys and a brother, Rev. David Morgan, a missionary to Native Americans in the western United States, performed as the Widgen Gospel Quartet throughout the United States and Canada and on national radio networks. Robert Widgen died in 1966. Gladys A. Widgen (1917-2012) also served as a missionary in Brazil. Later, she was a missionary at the Seminole Indian Reservation in Florida.

Other guests at the conference after the war included Emil Gruen, a Jewish missionary; Dr. Clarence Mason, Dean of the Philadelphia School of the Bible; and A. H. Stewart, from the Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, a well-known evangelist not only in the U.S. but throughout Canada. Dr. Emil D. Gruen was born in Germany and came to the United States in 1916 with his parents. Of Jewish heritage he was a Christian convert and graduate of the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and ordained in 1934. Like his father, Rev. Paul C. Gruen, the son, Emil, was a missionary.

Bible Conference Cabins

In 1947 the North Mountain Bible Conference opened a fresh water swimming pool fed by a creek and underground spring. In this year there were guest speakers from Toronto, Canada, Liverpool, England, Los Angeles, and Kansas City.

The weekly fees to rent accommodations at the conference were very modest and all-inclusive including registration and board. In 1947 the accommodations were a cabin with two rooms, each with hot and cold running water, and sharing a shower and toilet ($22); or a cabin with two rooms, sharing a shower, basin with hot and cold running water, and toilet ($20).

Bible Conference Swimming Area, 1954

There were also cabins with two single rooms and hot and cold running water, but adjacent to central rest rooms with showers and toilets ($22); and two-room cabins with hot and cold running water near the central rest rooms ($18); and cabins without any water near the central rest rooms ($16).

With the exception of cabins with two single rooms, the other cabins could fit a crowded 2-3 in each room. Young people had a dormitory with 6-8 in a room ($16). A single person in a cabin room paid an additional cost. Children under eight years of age had especially low rates depending on their age and whether one or two parents were attending. Cots were generally used by younger children. Children 8 or older were charged the adult rate.

Bible Tabernacle Interior

The accommodations did not appear to change over the years, except that the cabin fees rose very moderately throughout the conference's life.

When not in Bible sessions, guests enjoyed simple activities: tennis, zel-ball, badminton, volley ball, shuffleboard, bean-bag, quoits, ping-pong, or reading. There were also conference trails at Ricketts Glen State Park which opened on August 1, 1943.

In 1952 the Bible Conference recorded summer speakers and created a radio program titled "Conference Echoes." A Sayre, Pennsylvania, radio station, WATS, broadcast the speakers in a 35- minute format Saturday mornings during the summer at 6:35 AM.

In these years, Arden Lancaster was the song leader or music director at the conference, and Irene Lancaster (1919-2018), wife of Rev. Robert W. Lancaster, played the conference's Hammond organ.

In 1954, guests included Arnold Siedler, another Jewish missionary, based in Pittsburgh, and Dr. Ray L. Brown, a missionary with the North Africa Mission. Jack Connor, a Marimba and vibraphone virtuoso, joined with Robert and Gladys Wigden for musical presentations. In 1954 an expanded tabernacle was in use, and the dining hall had new lounge and soda fountain.

Jack Connor was a child prodigy on the piano and at age 12 he was regularly performing on the radio. He then became skilled on the marimba and vibraphone. During WWII, Connor toured with the USO. He was also a jazz musician associated with pianist Roger Williams and singer Anita Bryant. But he was best known for his ministry in Christian music which he performed throughout the world.

Bible Conference Pool, 1966

In 1955 the Bible Conference abandoned the 1947 pool and opened a new cement pool also fed by mountain springs. In the mid-1950s, the conference was also showing religious themed movie films.

In mid-August 1956, Arthur Yates, 41, Belmar, NJ, Dale Hess, 27, a Kingston school teacher, and Joseph Sipple, 23, Edwardsville, were killed when their Piper Tri Pacer crashed in the Poconos. Yates, a pilot, and his family were staying at the North Mountain Bible Conference. The three men flew from the Forty Fort airport to New Jersey on a pleasure flight to Belmar. They were returning to attend the Bible Conference when the plane crashed in dense Pocono woods. Dale Hess was a step-son of Rev. Arden Lancaster. Sipple was planning to begin studies for the ministry in September. Yates left a family, wife Ruth, and seven children, ages 5 to 21, who were at the conference when the crash occurred.


North Mountain Bible Conference

Part III

By 1964 the Bible Conference typically opened by July 4 and was seven-weeks long. Each week was led by a well-known speaker with a headline musical group. In 1964 the musical presenters included the Gospel Messengers, Tennessee; the Ambassadors Trio, Texas; and the Capital Aries Quartet, from the Washington Bible Conference; with the Wigden Singers on week-ends.

In 1965 the conference was eight weeks and musical performances were again noted. Included were Johnny Ambrose, "Canada's Gospel Tenor"; Joe and Marion Tally, recording artists; Daniel Bartkow, radio and recording artist; and Bob Beckendort, California, known as "The Voice of the Golden West." Radio broadcasts from the conference were heard each weekday on WHLM Bloomsburg; WPEL and WPEL-FM, Montrose; and WAVL and WPGM, Danville.

In 1968, Miss Mary Baker, Northumberland, spent the entire month of July in Christian ministry at the Bible Conference. A graduate of Northumberland High School, she had recently completed twenty years of missionary work, principally in the Chad Republic of Africa. Her brother, Rev. Chad Baker was a missionary in the Central African Republic.

Rev. James C. Ney and Family
Courtesy, Nicholas Cooper

In late June 1970 Rev. James C. Ney, the quiet backbone for more than two decades of the North Mountain Bible Conference, died at Sunbury. He had retired as a pastor of the Community Fellowship Church the previous year. He was survived by his widow, Iva Yoder Ney, whom he married in September 1928, and by six children, sons James C., David, John R., and Daniel, and daughters, Jane, wife of Rev. Thomas Baker, and Marion Ocker, both of Sunbury.

There are limited accounts of the Bible Conference in its final years in 1969-1971. For two years, Paul Gustine, Berwick, was the director of youth and recreation at the conference. His June 1968 bride, Marilyn Whitmire, was the camp secretary. Gustine was a graduate of the Bible Baptist Conference, Johnson City, NY. He later earned an advanced degree in religious studies which he also taught at various institutions. After 29 years of service, he retired as pastor of the Bible Baptist Church, Northampton, MA. Florence Mae Laubach, 71, Benton, was a summer cook at the conference for several years but died in an automobile accident in May 1969. Donald Marsh, Chinchilla, a member of the Baptist Bible College, Clarks Summit, was a musician at the conference, and orchestrated religious music in New York and Philadelphia. In the summer of 1971, he was in London to orchestrate music for a recording by Rev. Larry Whiteford, known as "The Singing Pastor."

Tropical Storm Agnes in June 1972 caused historic flooding in the Wyoming Valley. But the unprecedented rains also caused severe damage from Elmira, NY, to Harrisburg. Damage was not restricted to communities along the Susquehanna River. Rural areas were also challenged by flooded roads, mountain slides and storm damage.

The North Mountain Bible Conference was to open its 1972 season with the Vic Werner family musical ministry from Longview, Texas. Werner was associated with LeTourneau College in Longview. His wife, Erna, was his organist and arranger. Sons Alan and Arthur were to join the conference. But the 1972 season at North Mountain was cancelled as a result of Agnes, and the Werner family appeared at events elsewhere in Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Rev. Robert W.
Lancaster, 1968

The North Mountain Bible Conference did not reopen after the Tropical Storm Agnes damage.

In February 1969 Rev. Robert W. Lancaster and Rev. Arden Lancaster had retired from their roles as ministers of the Sunbury Bible Church. Rev. Robert W. Lancaster continued to pastor at the Berwick Bible Church, which he founded in 1957, until his death on October 21, 1976, at age 63.

Rev. Arden A. Lancaster died at age 96 on October 20, 2002. He was the assistant pastor and music director of the Berwick Bible Church for 40 years, and had similar roles at the Sunbury Bible Church for 29 years. After retirement in Sunbury, he continued his musical ministry during the summers at the Noxen Gospel Tabernacle which he had dedicated with his brother Robert.


The Conference Ground

The North Mountain Bible Conference property at Red Rock was originally titled by its founders in the corporate name Undenominational Bible Association of Pennsylvania, Inc. In late September 1972, the corporation sold the campground to D. Lamar Enterprises, Inc., for fifty-thousand dollars. This corporation leased the property to famed Bloomsburg University and Olympic wrestling champion "Shorty" Hitchcock, Jr., as a wrestling camp for the summer 1974. The property was seemingly vacant until 1979. Lamar Enterprises defaulted on a mortgage due to the First Valley Bank in Bethlehem. The bank acquired the property at a sheriff sale in February 1978.

In June 1979 the First Valley Bank sold the campground to the Pennsylvania District of the United Pentecostal Church International, Olyphant, PA. For a few years the UPC operated a children's camp at the site but closed after the 1987 season.

In October 1988 the Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board, over protests from Fairmount Township residents, approved the reopening of property as a campground to Charles Remensnyder's Red Rock Mountain Camp Ground, Inc. The campground was described in mid-1993 as having 28 small cabins, 20 RV permanent sites, a general campsite, dining hall, and a 4,800 sq. ft. auditorium. Remensnyder leased the property until July 1996 when the United Pentecostal Church sold him the campground.

In August 1997, Remensnyder, as president of the Red Rock Mountain Camp Ground, Inc., sold the camp to a newly-formed Red Rock Mountain Camp Ground, Inc., owned by private interests.

In July 1998 The Living Word Baptist Church, Huntington Mills, moved to the vacant dining hall at the Red Rock Camp Ground where it conducted services for several years before relocating to its new church on Hess Road along Route 118 not far from Red Rock. The tabernacle and a number of cabins still stand. For years, the tabernacle hosted an interesting site for visitors to scout collectables and miscellaneous merchandise.


Readers interested in more information about the North Mountain Bible Conference should visit Facebook at REDROCKersNMBC where alumni of the camp have posted photos, memories and video history of this special place.

© Copyright February 2021 F. Charles Petrillo