St. John’s Church of Farmersville
The sense of worship is innate. From the earliest times, persons have turned to some supreme object, personality of spirit in the act of worship. It is possible to worship God anywhere, for God is everywhere. “The groves were God’s first temples,” Bryant said in his immortal poem, “The Forest Hymn.” However, coming down the ages, the altar, the tabernacle, the temple, the synagogue, and the church have in turn become the place of worship.
Seventy-five years ago and more there crystallized in the minds and hearts of the Christian people in and around the village of Farmersville, PA, the desire for a place of worship. The distance to other churches made it exceedingly difficult to attend divine worship with any degree of regularity. Great inconveniences were experienced on funeral occasions. This feeling became stronger from time to time, until at last a general meeting of the Christian people was called to consider the matter of erecting for themselves a house of worship.
The First Meeting
In response to the call, the first meeting convened in the old school house in the village in January of 1846. Mr. William Transue was elected President, Mr. Leonard Frankenfield, Vice-President and Mr. M. C. Minsch, Secretary. A committee was appointed to draft resolutions expressing the sentiment of the meeting. This committee was composed of the following persons: Simon Frankenfield, Daniel Schnable, Samuel Engler, John Frankenfield, Sr., John Koenig, Abrahan Koch, Jonathan Frankenfield, John Paulus, Jacob Warner, Daniel Koch, John Dewald, Solomon Schnable, Peter Cole, Philip Frankenfield and Jessee Laubach.
After due deliberation, the committee proposed to the meeting for consideration the following resolution: “In as much as it has been for some time the longing desire of the Christian people of this district to have a house of worship in their midst and whereas, the present time being a favorable one to reach the desired end, therefore be it resolved, that we at once make an effort to gather subscriptions and learn if a sufficient amount can be raised to warrant us to proceed with the building of a church and the purchasing of a piece of ground for a grave yard.”
These resolutions were unanimously adopted. A committee was appointed to canvass the community and secure the subscriptions. It consisted of the following persons: William Transue, Peter Cole, Michael Koehler, Leonard Frankenfield, John Dewald and Solomon Schnable. Thereupon the meeting adjourned to meet again at the same place February 14, 1846.
The Second Meeting
Distinct progress was made at this meeting. If convened in the old school house on the day designated, February 14, 1846. The canvass for subscriptions was evidently a success, for at this meeting it was decided to build a church. Simon Frankenfield, John Koenig and Solomon Schnable representing the Lutheran people and W. H. Transue, Jesse Laubach and John S. Oberly representing the Reformed people, were chosen as the building committee and appointed to collect the amounts subscribed. Peter Cole was elected Treasurer.
While the records at hand do not reveal the date of the organization of the congregations, it seems that the organization was effected at this meeting. Two trustees were elected; John Paulus representing the Lutheran Congregation and Anthony Transue representing the Reformed Congregation.
At this meeting, a building site for the church was donated. The Trustees received two acres of land, all that part used as the grave yard and where the church now stands, from Leonard Frankenfield and from David Able (about one acre in front of the church). Some years later, somewhere about the year 1870, the congregations bought another half-acre of ground from Thomas Herman, so that it now abounds to about three and a half acres.
The Third Meeting
A third meeting was held May 21, 1846. From the records it appears that two important items of business were transacted at this meeting; the selection of a date or the laying of the cornerstone and the adoption of rules and regulations for the use of the church and the government of the congregations.
Whit-Sunday and Monday, May 30 and 31, 1846, were chosen for the corner stone laying services. The rules and regulations adopted were as follows: (1) that the name of this church shall be St. John’s Church of Farmersville; (2) that each of the two congregations shall have the church every alternate Sunday to their free and undisturbed use; (3) that neither of the congregations shall have an advantage over the other in title or right, nor attempt to assume it, nor be allowed to disturb the other in its religious worship in any way whatsoever; (4) that no one shall preach in either of these two congregations, or be elected pastor, who is not an ordained minister and a member either of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Pennsylvania or of the German Reformed Synod of North America; (5) that English services shall be introduced as soon as and as often as the members of both congregations shall regard it necessary.
Laying of Cornerstone
As previously arranged, the cornerstone was laid with appropriate services on May 30 and 31, 1846. The ministers present at this occasion and taking part in the services were Rev. J. Becker, D.D., Rev. Marcus Harpel, Rev. Joseph Dubbs, D.D., and Rev. Mr. Reinecke.
Dedication of Church
Eight months later the desire of the Christian people in and around the village of Farmersville, PA, was realized. The new church, erected at a cost of $3,500.00 was completed. There were months of anxious waiting. The foundation wall was made of Jacob Saylor and the brick wall and plastering by Peter Kleckner. The carpenter work was done by John Sigley. However, all had a mind to work and much of the work was done free of charge.
On January 30 and 31, 1847, the new church was formally consecrated to the worship of the Triune God. The following ministers participated in the services: Harpel, Stern, Bomberger and Reinecke.
The first communion of the Lutheran Congregation was held October 21, 1847. Eighty-eight persons received the sacred elements. The Reformed Congregation held its first communion October 31, 1847. Fifty-five persons participated, eleven of whom were then received into the communion and fellowship of the congregation by the solemn rite of confirmation.
Alterations and Improvements
For many years the church served the purpose for which it was intended. No major improvements were attempted until 1887. When Mr. Calvin Bauers was appointed to “On motion ‘it was further resolved that some of the windows be so fixed that the church can be ventilated.’” However, in 1891, extensive alterations were made to the original building. Former things passed away and old things became new. Among the improvements made were the installation of a hot air heating plant, the erection of a steeple proved with a McShane bell, the construction of a new roof and ceiling and the addition of a pulpit recess. New pews also were purchased and the entire interior of the church frescoed. These alterations cost about $8,400.00. On November 8, 1891, the church was rededicated when it was estimated that more than 3,000 persons were present. The following ministers took part in the reconsecration services: Rev. A. Lobach, Rev. A. R. Horne, D.D., Rev. George Lisberger, Rev. W. J. Bieber, Rev. W. H. Wotring, D.D., Rev. D. H. Geissinger and Harvey G. Schnable.
Fifteen years later the church building was again renovated. At an outlay of $1,600.00, the church auditorium was recarpeted, a metal ceiling and walls were installed and the interior and exterior of the entire edifice repainted. The expenses created in the making of these alterations were provided by the day of reopening and reconsecration of the church on Sunday, October 14, 1906. There were three services. The following Pastors took part in the services: Rev. I. W. Bieber, Rev. H. J. Ehret, Rev. V. J. Bauer, the supply pastor for Rev. I. W. Bieber, Prof. Ph. Vollmer, Ph.D., D.D., Prof. G. F. Spieker, D.D., Rev. W. D. C. Kieter, D.D., Rev. W. H. Wotring, D.D., Rev. C. F. W. Hoppe, Rev. P. S. Leinbach, D.D., Rev. G. A Schwedes, D.D. and Rev. J. F. Lambert.
Over time, other additions and alterations were made to the church property as the needs and circumstances required. Among these improvements and alterations are numbered, the construction of concrete walks and steps about the building, the installation of electric lights and the laying of a new carpet. The year 1904, perhaps, was epochal, for it marked the introduction of the envelope system and of stated salaries. Prior to 1904, there were no stated salaries. Pastors and organist served “fuer was fallt.” The deacons collected whatever support was given the pastors and the organist collected his own. However, this was all changed in 1904 and today the pastors, organist and sexton are all paid stated salaries.
The year 1908 was also a year of more than ordinary significance in this history of St. John’s Church. During that year, stated evening services were introduced by the pastors. With the exception of festive occasions, there were no evening services prior to 1908.
In the year 1917, a movement was launched to secure new carpet and electric lights for the church. After a good deal of investigation by a committee appointed for that purpose, it was learned that electricity could only be secured if the church would build its own line from near the Country Club Junction. A campaign to raise funds was authorized during which $1,846.00 was raised. The church was wired and the fixtures installed. Some years later, this line was sold to the local Power and Light Company.
In 1920, another move was made to have the church re-carpeted. Another campaign was authorized at which time $744.00 was raised. The carpet was secured. Both the carpet and the lights made the church a modern structure again and was better adapted for the increased services which are held from time to time.
By the early 1930’s deterioration of the old brick church reached a point where the balcony had to be closed. In 1933, the state inspector determined that the building was unsafe. Cracks had damaged the exterior wall of the church. Something had to be done quickly.
A New Church Planned
On May 23, 1935, a special congregational meeting was called. “The purpose of this meeting was to vote whether or not the Ladies Aid and Sunday school be given the right to build a church on church property.” The vote was 85 “yes” and 4 “no.” In November of 1935, the congregations, with only a total of 46 members voting, took appropriate action in favor of borrowing the necessary funds to erect a new church building.
During subsequent discussions, it was decided to construct a single German-style, stone edifice patterned after a Latin cross. The new building was to be situated to the north side of the William Penn Highway in the triangle between the highway and Church Road.
The contract was signed by Howard Swartz of Bethlehem on April 7, 1936.
On April 19, 1936, ground was broken with an appropriate service. One month later, on May 31, 1936, the new cornerstone was laid in the southwest corner of the church. At a meeting of the board of trustees on June 22, 1936, a decision was reached to move the original cornerstone from the old brick church and lay in the southeast corner of the new stone church.
Dedication of New Church
One year later, the desire of the Christian people in and around the village of Farmersville, Pennsylvania was again realized. The new stone church, erected at a cost of $57,500.00 was nearly completed. The country was recovering from the great depression. The economic conditions of the time necessitated postponement of completion of the present nave and chancel.
On May 23-27, 1937, the new church was formally dedicated and consecrated to the worship of a loving God. Rev. H. J. Ehret, D.D., Reformed Pastor and Rev. J. A. Klick, S. T. M. Lutheran Pastor participated.
Completion of Nave and Chancel
For the next decade, worship services were held in the Church School Auditorium of the Christian Education wing of the church. On June 14, 1948, at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees, a first mortgage was negotiated with the Second National Bank of Nazareth for completion of the nave and chancel. The contract was again awarded to Howard Swartz and work quickly began on completion of an attractive natural oak chancel and nave. The cost of completion was $46,000.00 which raised the total cost of the new St. John’s Church to $103,500.00
Dedication of Sanctuary
The dedication service was held from October 23 to 30, 1949. The Rev. H. J. Ehret, D.D., Evangelical and Reformed Pastor and the Rev. Robert L. Herman, B.D., Lutheran Pastor officiated at the service.
On January 12, 1931 a certificate of incorporation was issued to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Church of Farmersville. This was the installation of our Union Church.
The Lutheran congregation was incorporated on April 26, 1965 with a certificate being issued to St. John’s Lutheran Church of Farmersville which is affiliated with the Lutheran Church of America.
The Reformed congregation was issued a certificate of incorporation on February 7, 1966 under the new St. John’s United Church of Christ Farmersville.
Organizations of the Church
Throughout its history, St. John’s Church has been aided in its works by numerous organizations. One of the earliest organizations was the Ladies Aid Society. It was noted for its many fund-raising projects which included quilting and sewing. The Worthwhile Class was well-known for fund-raising through its superb suppers. Other organizations included the Brotherhood, Women’s Guild, Junior Choir, Senior Choir and Youth Groups.
It seems at first the church was not provided with a musical instrument. For the first years, the congregational singing at divine worship was led by Leonard Frankenfield. Two years later, a fine pipe organ was installed at a cost of $800.00. This instrument was used for 90 years.
In 1904, upon introduction of the envelope system, it was decided to give the organist a stated salary.
With the building of the new St. John’s Farmersville Church, a new Hammond electronic organ was purchased. A special feature of this fine instrument was the electric chimes.
Each congregation has its own choir organization and organist who’s function is to lead the congregation in the worship services of the church.
The United Church of Christ organist, Mary Schatkowski, has organized special musical events besides the Sunday worship service music. Some musical events were “The Performing Arts Series” and special music for Wednesday afternoon Lenten Services.
The Lutheran organist is Karen Keats.
For a number of years prior to 1915, numerous “Sunday Schools,” as they were known, were conducted throughout the parish. Schools were conducted in the Hay, Boyer, Wagnersville, Butztown and Farmersville Public School buildings. In later years the Butztown “Sunday School” built a handsome chapel which is now the property of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. With the organizing of a congregational Church School in 1915, the “Sunday Schools” at the Hay, Wagnersville and Farmersville school houses were “disbanded.”
On Sunday, September 12, 1915, a meeting was held at St. John’s Church at Farmersville for the purpose of organizing a Sunday School to be composed of the members and friends of the Evangelical Lutheran and the Reformed Church in the United States of Farmersville, PA. Mr. James W. Frankenfield, whom had been previously elected Superintendent of the proposed Church School by the two Church Boards on September 4, 1915, took charge of the election of officers. The first officers of the school were Assistant Superintendent Mr. George Hermany, Secretary Mr. H. B. Kelcher, Treasurer Mr. William H. Kepler, Organist Miss Ella Shimer and Librarian Mr. Samuel Heil.
On November 30, 1915, the constitution was adopted as a whole. Article I, Sec. I gives the name of the Church School to be the “Lutheran and Reformed Sunday School of St. John’s Church, Farmersville.”
The first official business acted on was the selection of “Christmas night…, as the permanent date for the Christmas festival, provided the Church Consistories be so agreed.” For many years, the most important events of the Church School were the Ice Cream Festival usually held in June and the Picnic usually held in August. In 1938, permanent dates were set for these two events; the second Saturday in June for the Ice Cream Festival and the third Sunday in August for the Picnic. Other important yearly events celebrated by the early school were the Easter program, Children’s Day program, Memorial Day program and Rally Day program. In 1972, the Church School held an annual Children’s Christmas Vespers on the Sunday evening before Christmas, Memorial Service on the site of the old church on the Sunday morning before Memorial Day, a youth picnic in the summer and Rally Day on the second Sunday morning in September. At this service, pins were awarded to those scholars who had perfect attendance during the previous scholastic year; a custom began in 1930. Also the school began presenting Bibles to those students who entered the third grade. Today, the Sunday School holds its annual Christmas Program the Sunday before Christmas during Sunday School hours. In addition, the Sunday School holds an Easter program, hosts a Strawberry Festival (held in June) and a Vacation Bible School (held the last week in June). At the close of Sunday School in June, awards are given to those that had perfect attendance. Rally Day is held in the beginning of September where bibles are still presented to the third-graders.
The primary function of the Church School is the teaching of Christianity. Today, this includes instruction in basic and advanced Christian principles, Bible history and literature, study of missions, biography of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Church history and the application of Christian ethics to today’s life in today’s world. In September, 1964, the Augsburg Uniform curriculum was dropped and a totally new graded curriculum was introduced. This curriculum had met with great success. In 1916, the average attendance in Sunday Church School was 94. During the early 1920’s attendance averages climbed to a little over 100. Here, it remained for 43 years. At the annual meeting held January 3, 1931, a formal complaint was made that “members of both congregations do not take the interest in the Sunday School which they ought.” In 1964, with the new curriculum being introduced in Sunday Church School, average attendance began to climb steadily upward to 179 scholars in school every Sunday in 1968. The average had declined rapidly during the next two years. The 1996 enrollment was 94 students, nine teachers and four office staff members. The “cradle roll” is still maintained and currently has 46 children enrolled. The curriculum used today in Sunday Church School classrooms is the David C. Cooks Series.
Adequate classrooms were an early problem of the Church School. On October 2, 1923, the school formally petitioned the Board of Trustees to remodel the old church “in such a manner as to provide a modern Sunday School room and apartment for Ladies Aid Society (and) Sunday School assume one third of the cost.” The Board of Trustees turned the school down. However, with the building of the new church, the matter of adequate classrooms again came up. In April 1935, a unanimous vote was cast that the Church School and Ladies Aid Society combine funds for erection of new quarters for both societies. On October 28, 1935, a joint meeting of the Church School and the Ladies Aid Society was held. They agreed to proceed with the building fund and “make themselves responsible for the interest on a $30,000.00 loan.” With completion of the new church in 1937, the Church School had a fine modern Christian education wing and the Ladies Aid Society had its new apartment, now Classroom #204. For the next 25 years, this wing served the school well. In 1962, modernization was again required. By permission of the Joint Board and at its own cost, the Church School remodeled the school auditorium during 1964 and 1965. The balcony was made into two new sound proof classrooms and the classrooms under the balcony were also enclosed and a comfortable Church School office provided. In 1967, the Church School again went to the Joint Board. This time they requested folding partitions for the Church Social Hall to make six classrooms. These were obtained and installed in 1967 (the Joint Board assuming full responsibility for their cost). The Church School then had eight classrooms in the Social Hall, six classrooms on the first floor and four classrooms on the balcony.
The operation of the Church School today is through the Board of Christian Education. The “board” is composed of the two committees of Christian Education, one from the U.C.C. Consistory, the second from the Lutheran Council and the Officers of the Church School (elected by the adult membership of the school). The present officers of the Church School are Superintendent Mike Thomas, Gale Elliott (Asst. Superintendent), Alice Campbell (Treasurer), Lynn Mark (Secretary).
Some Festive Occasions
June 20, 1897 was an eventful occasion in the history of St. John’s Church of Farmersville. On that day the semi-centennial of the church was celebrated with appropriate services. Just why the fathers of those times chose that date for the observance of the 50th anniversary of the church is not known because that date was never determined by the date of the Cornerstone Laying or by the date of the Consecration of the Church. The present writers have determined the date for the observance of the 75th anniversary from the date of the Cornerstone Laying. Whit-Sunday, 1846; three services were held in connection with the Jubilee occasion; a memorial service in the morning, a jubilee service in the afternoon and a service of Thanksgiving in the evening. The records indicate that all of the services were largely attended and that the church was beautifully decorated for the occasion. Rev. G. A. Schwedes, D.D., Prof. M. A. Richards, Rev. James F. Lambert, Rev. N. Z. Snyder, D.D., Rev. D. Levin Coleman and Rev. W. J. Bieber took part in the services.
50th Anniversary of Rev. D. F. Brendle, D.D.
This was a unique occasion in the history of the Farmersville Church. Dr. Brendle became the pastor of the Reformed Congregation on May 23, 1852. It was his first and only pastorate in connection with the other congregations, which then constituted the Farmersville charge. For 51 years he served faithfully and efficiently. In 1902, the 50th anniversary of his pastorate was observed with appropriate services. He continued to serve until June 28, 1903 when he became Pastor Emeritus both by the wishes of the congregation and by the action of Classis, the office of which he continued to hold until the time of his death on November 30, 1906.
25th Anniversary of Rev. I. W. Bieber
Another outstanding festal occasion in the history of St. John’s Church was the 25th anniversary of the pastorate of the Rev. I. W. Bieber. Rev. Bieber was installed as pastor of the Lutheran Congregation, August 13, 1871. The completion of 25 years of service in the ministry was observed at Farmersville, Sunday August 9, 1896, with appropriate services. The following ministers participated in the happy occasion: Rev. T. L. Seip, D.D., Rev. Ph. Pfatteicher, Rev. D. Levin Coleman, Rev. W. D. C. Keiter, D.D., Rev. C. E. Sandt and Rev. J. W. Mayne. Rev. Bieber served the congregation for 35 years and during his declining years, like Dr. Brendle, served as Pastor Emeritus. This was also the first and only pastorate of Rev. Bieber.
10th Anniversary of Rev. J. A. Klick
On July 1, 1917, the 10th anniversary of the Pastorate of the Rev. J. A. Klick was observed with appropriate services. The church was beautifully decorated for the occasion. The morning sermon was preached by Dr. C. C. Boyer of Kutztown, PA and the evening sermon by the Rev. J. W. Koch, a classmate of Pastor Klick. Rev. Klick has been pastor of the Lutheran Congregation for the past 10 years, having been installed on August 11, 1907 by the Rev. J. F. Lambert.
In the fall of 1920, a committee consisting of Pastors Ehret and Klick and Messrs. I. M. Frankenfield, Stephen Bender, W. S. Frankenfield and Charles Buss, was appointed to arrange for a proper celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the church. Services were arranged for Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, 1921. At the Saturday evening service the sermons were preached by the Rev. H. I. Crow, President of the Classis of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Rev. LO. D. Lazarus, President of the Allentown Conference. At the Sunday morning service the sermons were preached by Professor George W. Richards and Professor C. P. Wiles. The Sunday afternoon addresses were delivered by Rev. G. S. Kleckner, Rev. W. H. Wotring, D.D., Rev. V. J. Bauer and Rev. G. J. Laubach. Rev. F. H. Moyer and Dr. J. A. W. Haas delivered the sermons at the closing service on Sunday evening. The church was appropriately decorated for this historic occasion.
50th Anniversary of Rev. H. J. Ehret, D.D.
The year 1953 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Rev. J. J. Ehret, D.D. pastorate of the Farmersville charge. On June 28, 1903 in the old St. John’s Church, Rev. Ehret was ordained to the Gospel Ministry and installed into the pastorate of the Reformed Charge. On July 19, 1953 a very appropriate anniversary service was held. The Rev. A. S. Meck, D.D.L.L.D., President of the Theological Seminary, Lancaster, PA and theRev. F. W. Teske, D.D., then President of the Synod, Easton, were the guest preachers. With this anniversary, Rev. Ehret concluded his pastorate and retired. He continued to serve as Pastor Emeritus until his death March 13, 1955. Rev. Ehret’s service to the Reformed Congregation was a long, pleasant and happy ministry. His portrait (painted by Mrs. Phyllis Wimmer) hangs in the Church School Auditorium.
125th Anniversary of the Church
In the Fall of 1971 a committee, consisting of Mr. Robert F. Heller, supply pastor for the United Church of Christ Congregation, Mrs. George Laubach, Mrs. William Wyper, Mr. Clarence Miller, Jr., Mr. John P. Miller, Mr. Roy Knipe, Mr. Ralph Hay and Mr. Russell W. Erdman were appointed by both congregations to plan three appropriate events to celebrate the 125th anniversary of St. John’s Church, Farmersville, PA.
The first event held on January 30, 1972 (125 years to the date after dedication of St. John’s Church, Farmersville) was a service of celebration.
150 Anniversary of the Church
In July of 1996 a committee consisting of Rev. Peter Unger, June Arnold, Joan Garis, Mary Schatkowski, Ray and Ruth Remaley, Brian and Wendy Siegfried, Warren and Norma Ziegenfus, James and Janet Morrissey, met to plan the 150th Anniversary celebration. The service was held on October 27, 1996. Paster Emeritus Rev. Robert F. Heller delivered the sermon in PA Dutch. After the service a Pennsylvania Dutch dinner was served. Entertainment was provided by Terry Haas who sang many PA Dutch songs. More entertainment followed which included a Barbershop Quartet consisting of the following men: Jim Hvidding, Carl Roberts, Bob Lakey and George Steward. Following the quartet, a beard judging contest was held where some men of the church were given awards for different beard styles. Many women dressed in fancy garb which was popular in the 1800’s. A video presentation was presented showing many of St. John’s U.C.C. avid members expressing their feelings about the history of St. John’s of Farmersville. Following the close of the 150th Anniversary Program, 150th Anniversary Plates and copies of the video were available for purchase.
These are the outstanding incidents as they were available to the writers of the long and honored history of St. John’s Church, Farmersville. No doubt a great deal more could be said of the silent but effective spiritual forces and influences emanating through these one hundred fifty years from the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments on the individual life of the members and on the community in general. We are grateful for the work of the fathers. We appreciate our opportunities for service in this day and generation. We life our eyes to the hills whence our strength cometh in the future. The same God and Father, who has been the help of St. John’s of Farmersville in the years past, is also her hope for the years that are to come.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Beneath the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have swelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone
And our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.”