An historic church in an historic town

ucclogoThe United Church of Christ has its origins in many traditions. From the Congregational Christian Churches, members from those original denominations descend from Anglican, Moravian, and Anabaptist tradition, while those on the Evangelical & Reformed side issued forth from Calvinist, Lutheran, and German Reformed schools of thought. With smatterings of Methodism, Presbyterianism, and Baptist theology, the merger of denominations in 1957 created the United Church of Christ.

For more information on the history of the U.C.C., the denomination provides a in-depth history on its website. For the “short course”, follow this link to read more (Adobe Acrobat Reader required to read).

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.

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The Revs. Sandrock (left) and Gyorke (right)

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.

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A cloud reflected in the church’s windows

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.

In June 1878, the Rev. Adam Jacob Bachman became the pastor of St. Paul’s Church. Educated at the Keystone Normal School (modern-day Kutztown University) and originally a resident of the Lehigh Valley, Bachman was a teacher before his licensing for ministry in 1878. The first pastor to use the on-site home as a parsonage, A. J. Bachman organized his charge by splitting the area covered by his pastorate into districts, overseen by different members of the church’s consistory—the body that we today call the Church Council. Some groups farther from the town’s center were organized into independent Sunday Schools by the consistory and Rev. Bachman.

The new pastor was concerned with growing his population and with restoring members who had fallen away from regular church attendance and participation. After several years, the outlying Sunday Schools were discontinued, restoring the church to a singular body. A special effort was undertaken to bring in lapsed members for Communion services in the fall and spring, welcoming residents from as far away as central Berks County who otherwise never attended St. Paul’s.

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A painted depiction of St. John

Language became a schism which divided the church. Members of the church’s council paid little heed to the bi-weekly English services, as many members were still primarily German-speaking, or at the least Pennsylvania German. A second consistory was elected to address the issue, and eventually the German-language services were reduced to one week per month, and finally one week per year until the practice was discontinued in the late 1920s.

Visitors to St. Paul’s will notice the beautiful and ornate decorative paintings adorning our walls and ceilings. The first painting of the church was undertaken by Berthold Imhoff, late of Germany and who would move to the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan ten years after he was contracted to decorate the interior of this German Reformed church. For a cost of under $900 (approximately $22,000 in 2011 dollars), Imhoff created images beginning in 1903 that last to this day, leaving an indelible mark on all members and visitors to visit and worship in the beautified sanctuary. Other churches painted by Imhoff include St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Reading, Pennsylvania; Assumption Church in Marysburg, Saskatchewan; and Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Paradise Hill, Saskatchewan.

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The Rev. A. J. Bachman

The Rev. Bachman was married to the former Permilla Zeller in 1881; he and his wife had six children, including a son, Adam R. Bachman. The younger Adam Bachman began to assist his father with the church’s ministry in 1916, around the same time that the Sunday School classes at the church began to make improvements to their teaching areas, adding rooms for new classes and changing the styles of furniture used.

In the 1920s, the church saw a wide variety of changes and improvements: the parsonage’s first telephone, installed in 1922; a new stone walk and front steps, constructed in 1924; the back porch at the pastor’s home enclosed in 1928; and a renovated steeple, begun in 1929 after it was found to be unsafe and completed in 1930. Also in 1928, the church celebrated the elder Rev. Bachman’s 50th anniversary as St. Paul’s pastor with a series of special services, during which he was presented with a variety of gifts.

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The Rev. A. R. Bachman

After 59 years of service to St. Paul’s, Adam J. Bachman died in February 1937. His son, now a graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary, was installed as the church’s new minister in January 1938, although he continued to fill his father’s position informally in the interim, as he had been growing more active in the church’s ministries as his father aged. One of the younger Bachman’s first contributions was to organize the summer vesper services which still take place yearly in Fountain Park. He also organized and codified specific guidelines for many church events which were previously determined by tradition, congregational vote, or consistorial discussion—for example, the Sunday ringing of the church’s bell.

In 1939, the Easter dawn service, which continues to this day and which many members claim as their favorite service of the church year, was established by Rev. A. R. Bachman. The church’s new organ, purchased from Host Union Church, was installed in 1942, and during this time, the local Girl and Boy Scouts began to utilize the church and the social hall, which had been converted from the old Heidelberg School House attached to the property in 1940.

In 1950, the church re-organized under a new charter to better conform with state guidelines for non-profit organizations; the new charter also gave women the right to vote on church matters. Many more capital improvements to the church building and property were overseen by Rev. A. R. Bachman in the 1950s, such as the installation of a new furnace and the construction of a room to house it, landscaping, and, at the end of the decade, touching up of the Imhoff paintings and murals in the sanctuary by Berthold Imhoff’s son.

In June of 1959, the younger Rev. Bachman took ill and was unable to resume his duties for several months. He attempted to return to his pastorate in September 1959, and was still the church’s pastor on the dedication of its Gundling organ, which was first opened for use in the church in May 1960; this organ is still in use today and was joined at the time of its installation by new music director Margaret Kline Hatt. Eventually, Rev. Bachman was incapacitated by his illness and resigned his position in August 1960. He continued to perform baptismal, wedding, and funeral services, in addition to the provision of Communion after his retirement. Thus ended over 80 years of service by the Bachman family in the ministry of St. Paul’s church. [more…]

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The Revs. Bachman in front of the newly constructed front entrance and stone steps

The original church in Schaefferstown was located on the site of our present parsonage. Originally, the churches met as a “Union Congregation”: members of the German Reformed and Lutheran denominations worshipping together. The history of St. Paul’s German Reformed congregation worshipping as a separate entity traces back to 1765, when the Union Congregation split, with the Lutherans selling their portion of the church land to the Reformed Church and purchasing their own tract further east in the town.

Owing to Schaefferstown’s location, the area was served mainly by circuit riders and itinerant pastors; in its earliest history, the Schaefferstown church was part of a charge including congregations at Tulpehocken, Millbach, and Bethel. During this time, the Heidelberg church was served by the Revs. Zufall, Bucher, and Hendel. When a regular minister was unavailable, such as the period between 1783 and 1784, the church counted on other local pastors, such as John Runkle, to fill their vacant pulpit. Several early ministers who served the congregation on permanent bases left Schaefferstown for a variety of reasons, ranging from popularity with other churches (Rev. Wagner) to language barriers (Rev. Loretz) to death (Rev. Lupp).

Above, a model of the first church building, which was built from logs; below, a model of the second church building, a limestone structure

Above, a model of the first church building, which was built from logs; below, a model of the second church building, a limestone structure

The building originally used to house worship was made from logs and first hosted the entire Union Congregation before the Lutheran departure. The land on which the church stood was purchased by the congregation from Alexander Schaeffer in 1765 and this structure was used as a house of worship and social gathering until 1795, when a second building was constructed facing Carpenter Street, made from local limestone and similar in design to the present-day St. Luke’s Lutheran Church—home of the relocated half of the Union Church.

At the turn of the 19th century, clergymen such as the Rev. William Heister and the Rev. Thomas H. Leinbach served the Schaefferstown congregation, these two accounting for 63 years of service: 28 from the former pastor and 35 from the latter. In 1845, during Leinbach’s tenure as pastor, the church was officially incorporated as a congregation. 10 years later, the limestone church building (pictured at right) was deemed unsafe due to sinking ground on the corner of the property, and the membership met to decide on building a new church or remodeling the old. After a vote to build anew and two years of planning, the cornerstone of the current brick church building was laid on August 18, 1858. In 1863, Rev. T. H. Leinbach resigned as the pastor of the Reformed Church, to be replaced by his son, the Rev. Thomas C. Leinbach, who served the congregation for five years.

During the tenure of Rev. Stephen Schweitzer, a debt of approximately $5,400 (around $75,000 in 2011 dollars) had been levied against the church since the construction of the new building. In 1868, the building was sold at sheriff’s sale, eventually being purchased by the man to whom the debt was owed—a member of the church and its treasurer during the building period. By 1870, the church paid back the debt, receiving the property deeds to the two lots on which its structures stand and closing that chapter of church history.

While the church continued in the German reformed tradition, services also began to be held in the vernacular English in 1872, alternating weeks with worship conducted in the customary Hochdeutsch (High German) dialect; this occurred during the pastorate of Rev. James Schultz. This year also introduced musical instruments to congregational worship, with the purchase of a Bohler organ, constructed in Reading. For more information on music in the church, see the music department’s section of the website. The younger Rev. Leinbach nearly returned to the Schaefferstown charge in 1873, but his election was invalidated and Rev. Aaron Leiss assumed the Heidelberg mantle sometime between 1874 and 1877. [more…]