A Church United In Christ: 1961 to present
In 1957, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, as a denomination, joined together with the Congregational Christian Church to officially form the United Church of Christ (UCC). This completed an historic circle for St. Paul’s; after splitting from the Lutheran Church in Schaefferstown in 1765, they were reunited with another denomination in 1957. The UCC’s bylaws were ratified in 1961, and its Schaefferstown branch began a new era that year when they welcomed a new minister: the Rev. Alfred G. Sandrock. Originally from Luzerne County, Rev. Sandrock began initiating new programs in the church from his beginning, such as special Thanksgiving and Christmas services and an “Undershepherd” program, which followed a similar tack to the elder Rev. Bachman by dividing the church’s body into districts and assigning each one to a member of the consistory.
St. Paul’s re-wrote and ratified a new church constitution in 1963, further codifying its rules and expectations for members, staff, and clergy. The church also officially changed its name in 1964: from the “German Evangelical Congregation of Schaefferstown” to “St. Paul’s United Church of Christ”, the present moniker. The following year, St. Paul’s celebrated its bicentennial with a variety of special services and events, including the publication of the “History of St. Paul’s Church, Schaefferstown, Penna.”, from which most of our early history information is drawn. At the time of its publication, the church was searching for a new music director, a position filled by Fay Horst beginning in 1965.
Rev. Sandrock continued as the pastor of St. Paul’s until submitting his resignation in October 1969. After a short term by interim pastor Miller Price, Rev. Joseph Gyorke was elected as the new minister in 1970. Like Rev. Sandrock, Rev. Gyorke hailed from Luzerne County, where he had previously served in West Hazleton. When asked, Rev. Gyorke named the maintenance and improvement of the church’s building and property, as well as the maintenance of the church’s “house” (the spiritual health and well-being of its members), as some of the challenging and significant aspects of his pastorate. Rev. Gyorke was also active in the youth ministry, taking charge of that responsibility in late 1976.
The St. Paul’s congregation has a vital and thriving Sunday School program which has been intact for some time. The group often invites guest speakers from within or outside of the congregation to give their morning lessons; notably, Rev. Dr. Joel Singh, a missionary from India, visited the St. Paul’s Sunday School classes beginning in 1983; the church supported Dr. Singh with a freewill offering taken at the end of each month and sent to him to support his ministry.
In 1991, after 21 years of service, Rev. Gyorke retired from St. Paul’s UCC. He was elected pastor emeritus in 1994, an honor only previously extended to one other St. Paul’s minister (Rev. A. R. Bachman). His replacement, Rev. Stephen Ericson, moved with his family from Maine, where he was educated at the University of Maine and the Bangor Theological Seminary, beginning his service to St. Paul’s in May 1992. He had previously served congregations in both Maine and New York before arriving in Schaefferstown.
A major restoration of the church’s Gundling organ was undertaken in 1994; the funds were raised from February to October of that year and it was re-dedicated at the end of the restoration. A second church history book, in some respects an addendum of “History of St. Paul’s Church”, was published in 1997.
In more recent years, St. Paul’s continued to be active in ministries both within the church and the community. Within the church, congregants began a birthday celebration each month, with donations being taken for assorted charitable organzations, such as Domestic Violence Intervention, Bridge of Hope, Habitat for Humanity, the Sexual Assault Resource & Counseling Center, and the Lebanon Rescue Mission. During the Pentecost season, members were asked to provide donations for red geraniums, symbolizing the flames representative of Pentecost, to decorate the sanctuary.
In the community, St. Paul’s played host to soup suppers, provided in conjunction with community devotional services during the Lenten season, the “Vote and Eat” fundraiser during election seasons, and the “Strong Women Project”, which provides for strengthening exercise with light weights and fellowship.
In October 2008, St. Paul’s celebrated the 150th anniversary of the current brick church building, where photos, records and memorabilia were provided by members during a special worship service to share at the reception following.
2009 was a year of change for St. Paul’s UCC. After the 2008 retirements of Fay Horst as music director and Marilyn Yahn as church secretary, Rev. Ericson announced his departure in August of the following year. John Binkley was selected as the interim minister. After a two-year search process, St. Paul’s announced the election of the Rev. Dr. Jason E. Royle, late of Tennessee, as their new minister beginning in September 2011.
Today, St. Paul’s is a thriving congregation with a rich German heritage. We are proud to provide this information to our visitors in hopes that they can better understand and appreciate our long and varied history.
For more information on church beliefs and the faith that shapes us, visit the “Tenets of Faith” page.