Fourth Street Bethel (Church of God)
Hill Station postcard, c. 1809
Presently Gamut Theatre
The Church of God denomination was founded in Harrisburg in 1825 by the Rev. John Winebrenner (1797-1860) who was the former pastor of the Old Salem Church on Chestnut Street. In 1827 a split in the congregation resulted in the founding of the Union Bethel Church on Mulberry Steet. This later led to the erection in 1854 of the Bethel Church on N. Fourth Street which was present during the Civil War. Additionally, it became known as the “Mother Church” of the Church of God denomination. The church building still stands and is now the home of Gamut Theatre.
The ladies appointed to the original Home for the Friendless Board of Managers in 1866 from Bethel Church were Mrs. Mary H. Winebrenner and Mrs. Barbara McFadden.
Further Historical Retrospection
Beginning in 1820, founder, Rev. John Winebrenner, had been pastor of the nearby Salem German Reformed Church on Chestnut Street, and oversaw the erection of that building in 1822. Winebrenner’s embrace of the evangelistic movement in the early 19th Century resulted in a conflict in the traditions of the German Reformed Church.
A congregational split ensued in 1825 with the founding of a new church known as “Bethel”, or sacred place. Winebrenner named his mission the “Church of God,” a heretofore nonexistent name. He and his followers built the first church on Mulberry Street, between Front and Second Streets, near the site of the main entrance to today’s Harrisburg Hospital. Other churches under Winebrenner’s leadership would shortly emerge in communities surrounding Harrisburg and elsewhere throughout Pennsylvania and the United States.
In 1854, the need for a new church was fulfilled through the construction of the present building on N. Fourth Street, which at that time was the largest Church of God denomination and was historically referred to as the “Mother Church.”
From the beginning, Winebrenner saw the need to disseminate church papers to further the faith. Consequently, the Church of God in Harrisburg was one of the first congregations in the United States to engage in publishing. Throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the printing operation was located at several downtown sites until 1920 when the Church constructed the Central Publishing House which was housed in a building that still stands at N. 13th and Walnut Streets on Allision Hill.
Due to a dwindling congregation, the Church closed its doors in 2015 and sold its building to Gamut Theater resulting in an interesting and creative conversion of the Church’s interior for stage productions while respecting the former sanctuary’s stained-glass windows and interior spaces. The Church’s bell was relocated to the Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Scotland PA.
While the denomination’s “Mother Church” had to close, The Church of God continues to flourish with approximately 340 churches across North America.
The Gamut Theatre began a $3 million capital campaign to renovate the space into a permanent home that would meet the demand for Gamut’s growing programs. On November 6, 2015, the Theatre unveiled the beautiful Select Medical Mainstage and Capital Blue Cross Lobby. 170 volunteers donated 7,800 hours to make Phase I of the project possible. In August 2018, Phase II of the project was completed: a renovation of the back half of the building into the Gamut Theatre Education Center, including the Alexander Grass Second Stage, which hosts Popcorn Hat Players Children’s Theatre, Gamut’s Stage Door Ensemble, and numerous student and community performances.
Banner photo of Gamut Theatre, 2023, courtesy Jeb Stuart.