Early Church History: 1765 to 1877

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…]

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