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First Assembly Of God Celebrates Centennial Jubilee

November 10, 2016 GMT

First Assembly of God Church conducted its 100th year anniversary celebration on Oct. 8, marking 10 decades of growth spanning three church sites, from a small group meeting in a home in Ashley to the congregation’s current site on Stanton Street in Wilkes-Barre. Over the years, the church hosted several noted evangelists and served as a catalyst for other Pentecostal churches in the Wyoming Valley, Back Mountain and Hazleton. The celebration banquet was attended by 184 members and friends, and 222 attended the anniversary service. Welcome and invocation were offered by Pastor Ron Swanson. Acknowledgement of special guests and former pastors was by Glen Burridge. After dinner, a 100-year perspective was offered by Cheryl Hashagen. There were pastoral remarks and recognition of long-standing members by Glen Burridge. Among those recognized were the church’s oldest member, Joanne Hashagen, who was born in 1935. Her mother also attended the church. Bette James, who attended since 1955, was also recognized. Speaker was Dr. Stephen Tourville. A music medley and benediction by Pastor Ron Swanson rounded out the celebration. The First Assembly of God Church began in 1916 as a group of Pentecostals meeting in the home of William Matthews on Manhattan Street, Ashley. The first congregation, which would later be called the “First Pentecostal Assembly of God” in Wilkes-Barre, placed a free will offering box in the home to support efforts to build a permanent church. On Nov. 13, 1916, the congregation signed an agreement with George T. Ecker & Co. of Blackman Street, Wilkes-Barre, to build a church at 280 Parrish St., Wilkes-Barre. The lot cost $1,450 and the cost to erect the building was $6,525. William Matthews, a blacksmith by trade, was the first pastor. He attended Bethel Bible School in Newark, N.J., for four years and returned home on weekends for church services. The church grew in size and became the catalyst for several other local Pentecostal churches in the area, including Harveys Lake, Plymouth, Berwick, Luzerne, Nanticoke, Hazleton and Shickshinny. Several noted evangelists conducted services at the church, including Smith Wigglesworth, William Black and Floyd Cramer. Byron Jones, a graduate of Wyoming Seminary, became pastor in 1927. A Friday morning radio program originated from the church during that time, and from the church sanctuary, a live radio program called “The Church of the Lighted Cross” was broadcast on WBRE at 10 on Sundays. Jones was Maranatha Camp director for many years and was also on the board of Eastern Bible Institute (now known as the University of Valley Forge) where he laid the cornerstone in the new wing in 1950. The church celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1966 under the ministry of Pastor D.J. Paglia. The congregation purchased the former South Main Street Elementary School, 784 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, that year for $12,000. With average Sunday attendance between 130 and 150, the congregation had outgrown the Parrish Street building. Ground was broken on South Main Street in 1970 and the congregation moved in 1971. During the Agnes Flood in 1972, the church was used to house and feed army personnel and as a haven for those seeking refuge during the Agnes disaster. The congregation continued to grow during the ensuing years, with 250 attending services. The church celebrated 90 years as a congregation in 2006, and the following year, purchased its current site on Stanton Street. The congregation moved into the Stanton Street building in 2008. Former pastors of the First Assembly of God and their work during their tenure at the church were acknowledged during the celebration, including William Matthews, 1916-1927; Byron D. Jones, 1927-1954; Albert Lazar, 1954-1965; D.J. Paglia, 1965-1974; Kenneth Kashner, 1974-1986; Merv Horst, 1986-1996; Kenneth E. Wiggins, 1996-2002; Chad Stoecker, 2002-2010; Jason Gornicz, 2010-2015, and Ron Swanson, current pastor. Swanson is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God and has served as senior pastor in two churches and as an associate pastor of youth and worship. He also served as an assistant Presbyter and Sectional Youth Rep, and served as the Penn-Del Western Church Development Coach (LDR coach). He recently earned a master’s degree from Southeastern University in the area of Ministerial Leadership. Current and returning pastors who attended the 100th anniversary celebration of the Wilkes-Barre First Assembly of God, first row, from left, are Pastor Amanda Gorel, current youth pastor; Pastor Jeff Dean, former youth pastor; Pastor D. J. Paglia, and Pastor Sandy Piccone. Second row: Pastor Ron Swanson, current lead pastor; Pastor Jason Gornicz, Pastor Ken Kashner and Pastor Merv Horst.