Our History


The first meetings of what would become the Van, New Life Community Chapel were held in Joseph Weaver’s barn and grove and in the old Dodson School during 1875 and 1876. In 1877, it was officially converted into a Free Methodist Church. The school was then moved about a mile and a half eastward over the hill, to a location on what was then known as the Tionesta Road.

Mr. Weaver was born in Penn Valley, but moved to Venango County at the age of 12 years, and remained here until his death in 1885. Converted in pioneer days of the Evangelical Church, and became a minister travelling successfully through the Clarion, Jefferson, Sugarcreek and other circuits.

When the Free Methodists first came to Oil City, Mr. Weaver began to attend their great revival meetings, united with them, brought them to his home and let them hold meetings in his barn and grove and then in the school building (which he had bought) during 1875 and 1876. This building known as the old Dodson school house was officially converted into a Free Methodist Church in 1877. Since the property was started by the Weavers and built on his property, it was called the Weaver Free Methodist Church and later named “Eagle’s Nest.” The newly formed church was on a circuit with West Home, Coal Hill and Walnut Bend.

The church was completed in 1878 and it was used on that location until 1923. At that time, the new church was built on a new location along Route 322, and until recent, the church was known as the Van Free Methodist Church. The new church, a commodious structure with ample Sunday School rooms was erected during the pastorate of Rev. J.T. and Mary McNaughton, who solicited a great deal of the money outside the church.

The second newly built Free Methodist Church along Route 322, held its dedication ceremony on March 14, 1926. Rev. M.B. Miller of Franklin, officiated at the service and was assisted by its pastor, Rev. J.F. McNaughton. Over $2,500. in cash and pledges was realized at the dedication service.

Speaking on the text, “I speak concerning Christ and the Church,” Rev. Miller delivered a forceful sermon. The church was filled and the ceremony was successful. At the Evening service, Rev. R.W. Weston of the Brookville Free Methodist Church spoke. He talked on the subject, “The nature and work of the Holy Ghost.” One man was converted at the Evening service.

The church, though small, was pretty in appearance and well built, costing between $5,000 and $6,000. The plan for the building was made by Myron Ziegler, of Cranberry, who was chairman of the building committee. Rev. J.T. McNaughton was pastor of the church.

In 1973, during the pastorate of Rev. Elwood Brant, the society began to investigate possibilities of expansion due to overcrowded Sunday School facilities and deterioration of the building. When it was decided to build a new structure rather than an addition to the existing building, the new building was situated in such a way as to take advantage of space already owned, rather than to buy more land. The new building of cement block and brick measures 36′ x 64′. The sanctuary will accommodate 150 and there is Sunday School space for about 100. The new structure is now the present building and was dedicated on Sunday, September 5, 1976. Rev. Wayne Sawyer was the Pastor.