Looking Back Over 60+ Years
of the Church in Elmira
Editor's Note: This reflection on the history of the Southern Tier Church of Elmira was compiled by Jim Paul. This memorializes what has already occurred at STCOC and serves as inspiration moving forward in the work. What a difference just one faithful person relying on
God can make!
In the fall of 1957, Clara Vandevelder, a Christian living in Lakeland, Florida had a niece, Helen Bailey of Binghamton, NY who passed away unexpectantly. Clara had been corresponding with Helen's husband, Don Bailey via letters through the mail, trying to offer comfort and share the gospel from long distance. She also had a nephew whose name was Robert who lived in Elmira. Robert had a wife and her name was Jackie. Clara had also been corresponding with Jackie via the mail and was sharing the Good News with her as well.
Clara had heard that there was a young man who had recently graduated from Midwestern School of Evangelism, Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1957. That young man was Fred Miller. That same year, he established a mission starting new churches in New England. At that time, he was ordained as an evangelist in the North Clarendon, VT Church of Christ led by Evangelists John VanVoorhis and Sheldon Stoner. Clara wrote to Fred and John asking them if they could travel to Binghamton and talk to Don Bailey because she felt that he was very interested in becoming a Christian. John and Fred agreed to go to Binghamton and see Don Bailey. When they arrived in Binghamton, they discovered that Don had gone to Elmira to visit his relatives there. They decided to go on to Elmira since it was just another hour west of Binghamton. They asked for the address of Don's relatives and they went to Elmira and came to the residence of Robert and Jackie Paul looking to meet up with Don. Well, Don had already headed back to Binghamton and as they visited with Bob and Jackie, they discovered that Jackie was also searching. Fred returned to Binghamton hoping to meet up with Don while John remained in Elmira teaching Jackie. That night, Jackie decided to give her life to the Lord. There was only one issue. John didn't have access to a baptistery. They checked with the YMCA but they were told that they would have to wait for the Y to open in morning. So, the next morning, Jackie Paul was baptized into Christ in the swimming pool at the Elmira YMCA. Thus, began the church in Elmira. Acts 2:47 states: And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
John VanVoorhis and Fred Miller were determined not to leave Jackie without any Christian fellowship and support. They began taking turns driving every other weekend from Rutland, Vermont to Elmira to hold services with Jackie and her children. That is a drive of about 285 miles each way. What amazing dedication and commitment these men and their wives had to be willing to give their weekends to drive great distances so that one family may have fellowship and hear the truth taught. John and Alice VanVoorhis (pictured left) moved to Elmira with their family in the Spring of 1958 and stayed for two years before moving to Philadelphia and then on to Northboro, MA.
In December of 1963, Harry and Yvonne Brock (pictured above) moved to Elmira with their family to help with the church. Dorcas Bridge also moved to Elmira with the Brocks. The Brocks lived in Elmira until August of 1976 when they moved to Eaton, Ohio. Dorcas also moved with them to Ohio.
Fred and Charlotte Miller (pictured above) moved to Elmira with their family in 1960 and bought a house at 527 W. First Street. Fred stayed for three years.
Sheldon and Naomi Stoner (pictured left) moved to Elmira along with their family in 1965. Sheldon labored here from 1965 until his passing in 2006. Some of their children, grand children and great-grand children remain in the church in Elmira today. You probably know some of them.
In 1972, Vaughn and Margaret Elliot (pictured above) decided to move on from the work at 10th Street Church of Christ in New York City and they moved to Elmira in June of that year. Ironically, they bought the house at 527 W. First St. not knowing that Fred had owned that same house year ago. Right after the Elliott's bought the house, Hurricane Agnes came through Elmira and flooded much of the city including W. First St. That was how the Elliott's were welcomed to Elmira. Many members of the church pitched in and helped them clear the mud out of their house. After some time the Elliotts felt called to work with Spanish speaking people and they moved to El Salvador and spent many years there until a civil war forced them to return to the States. When Vaughn and Margaret moved to El Salvador, they sold their house on First St., to their son and daughter-in-law, David and Lois Elliot.
David and Lois (pictured left) were key figures in the church before they too were called to minister to Spanish speaking people and they moved to Costa Rica in 1983 to spend a year immersed in the culture and language so Lois could become fluent in Spanish. Following that, they moved to Puerto Rico and worked with the church in Bayamon before returning to the States and moving to Lawrence, MA to work with the church there. When they left Elmira in 1983, they sold 527 W. First St. to Jim and Becky Paul who lived there for 9 years before moving to Breesport. There are others in this church who at one time or other rented an apartment in that house. Many have said, “The Lord owned that house.”
Although at one point in the church’s history, we did own a building on Lackawanna Ave. in Elmira Heights, but that was a temporary situation. For many years, the church rented the Horseheads Grange Hall (pictured right). The members of the church had grown tired of renting the Grange for many reasons and were eager to purchase property so that they could establish the church in this community.
In 1997, an opportunity arose for the church to purchase the property now known as 351 E. Thurston St. The previous owner owed back taxes and was willing to sell the five parcels of property he owned for just the cost of back taxes. At that time, the lots were overgrown with bamboo and it was a place for people to dump their unwanted items. That year, John Stoner heard that Fred Miller, at that time living in Claremont, Florida was organizing a group from that church, headed up by a man named Jim Turner as well as Martin Miller, no relation to Fred, to go to Fryberg, Maine and build a building for the church there. John asked Fred about the possibilities of the Claremont church helping the church in Elmira build a building. Fred turned to Jim Turner and said, “It looks like this will become our ministry.” In the summer of 1998, a team of workers from the Florida church came to Elmira for two weeks and raised up the building that the church now meets in.
For many years, the men of the church stood in the gap and shared the duties of preaching the word. There have been others along the way that have contributed to the work here. Men like Stuart Merrill and Ron Bergquist who at times would come once a month to teach and preach. Ron moved to Elmira and spent the last few years of his life here. In June of 2008, STCOC celebrated 50 years of existence here in Elmira. That same weekend, John Stoner, Phil Stoner, and Jim Paul were set apart as elders over the congregation. But they knew that if we were to grow, and that the spreading of the gospel was to be the central focus of the church, we needed to have someone who could devote their full time and energy to that purpose.
In the two weeks that the men from Florida were here, the shell and roof deck of the building was built. After the group from Florida left, a church in Akron, Ohio, a church that contacted us through Jim Turner, sent a team headed by a man named Ron Tadlock, to put siding on the building. We are grateful to these men and woman who gave of their time and talents to help us build the structure that we are privileged to have as our meeting place. The building project was completed by the men, women and children of our local congregation over the next three years and the certificate of occupancy was received in September of 2001.
In October of 2012, Justin and Sheena Coffin (pictured below) of Woodward, Oklahoma were invited to come to Elmira to see if there would be a mutual interest in having them move to Elmira for the purpose of Justin becoming the Evangelist of STCOC. In March of 2013, Justin, Sheena and family arrived in Elmira to begin the next phase of the history of this congregation.
God has blessed this congregation in many ways. Over the last six years we have seen growth in individual’s spiritual lives as well as growth in the number of people who attend each week. The future seems bright and if “everyone does their part, it causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:16 (paraphrased)
Jackie Paul was a faithful Christian and walked with God and though it took many years, God granted her the one request she desired to see fulfilled before she left this earth. She was able to see her husband, Bob Paul baptized into Christ just five days before he died in August of 2004. Jackie would soon join him as she passed away just five months later in January of 2005.
Fred Miller was a man with a heart for God. He established the London Mission where Alan Marshall now labors in England as well as being instrumental in establishing churches in New England and Florida. He wrote several books.
One that stands out- Revelation: A Panorama of the Gospel Age should be in every bible students library. Fred passed away near Atlanta, Georgia in February, 2018.
John VanVoorhis was a respected Evangelist who established a prison ministry in his later years. John went on to his reward in 2015.
Sheldon Stoner went on to his reward in April of 2006 while his wife Naomi passed away in February of 2014.
The Brocks now live in Royalton, Illinois.
Vaughn Elliott now lives in Northborough, MA. His wife Margaret, passed away in 2015. Vaughn is the author of a very informative book - Nobody Left Behind-Insight Into “End Time” Prophecies.
These were the church pioneers who laid the foundation of what today is the Southern Tier church of Christ. We all should be thankful for these men and their wives who devoted their lives to sharing the gospel with others.
Isaiah 6:8 (NKJV)
8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
“We must be sure that the legacy of faith received from the pioneers who came before us is never lost.
Let their heroic lives touch our hearts, and especially the hearts of our youth, so the fire of true
testimony and unwavering love for the Lord and His Church will blaze brightly
within each one of us as it did in our faithful pioneers.”