St. John’s United
Church of Christ
IA Synopsis Of St. John’s United Church Of Christ History
(Formerly the Evangelical & Reformed Church)
Beginning in the 1720s, many members of the Reformed and Lutheran churches left Germany and migrated to Pennsylvania. The German Reformed people settled in Berks County along the Tulpehocken Creek. In 1725, John Philip Boehm, a school teacher & pastor at Falkner Swamp, PA, prepared a constitution for the German Reformed Church and is considered to be the father of the Reformed Church in the United States. In 1793, the 1st Synod of the German Reformed Church in America met with 178 congregations representing 15,000 members. The Berks county Germans were a part of this new-found Reformed Synod.
During the 18th century, the Reformed people living in Berks County worked the soil, plied their trades and reared their children. But after several generations had passed, many of the young people had no firm attachment to the adopted land, and when the Ohio country opened up, they prepared for a westward journey. Twenty-four families living in Tulpehocken Township sold their property and prepared to move to Ohio.
They began their trek in the spring of 1804 driving their wagons over poor roads and rough terrain to Pittsburgh. They secured flatboats, loaded their wagons and floated down the Ohio River ending in Cincinnati in June. After staying in Reading for two weeks, they heard favorable reports on the Miami Valley area and headed their wagons north. Philip Gunckel, their assumed leader, explored the surrounding area for a suitable location for settlement. He chose Big Twin Creek for the site of his grist mill. August 1, 1804 marked the end of their weary journey. One year before their arrival, in 1803, Montgomery County had been platted and the area around Twin Creek was identified as German Township.
Once they were established, these new residents were soon joined by many other German American immigrants and land began selling for the then high price of from twenty-five to fifty dollars per acre. Three to four hundred German-speaking people were living in the valley by 1806 and by 1810, at the taking of the first federal census for the Township, the population numbered 1,256. Those of Reformed & Lutheran heritage were meeting & worshiping in homes with itinerate preachers conducting services. By 1809 both congregations were ready to build a “union” house of worship. On July 30, 1809, a “Kirchenordnung” or “Constitution of the United Congregations of German Township” was prepared and signed by leaders of both congregations. The Constitution, written in German, provided for rules for construction of the log church, maintenance, services and graveyard. The church was completed in 1810 and stood a few yards southwest of the present Lutheran Church at 30 W. Warren St. During this period, the spiritual needs of the Reformeds were served by (1) Rev. John Jacob Larose and (2) Rev. Thomas Winters who served Germantown and the congregations of nine other churches in the area. Rev. Winters trained young men at his home at 21 W. Center St., Germantown (the residence no longer exists) which was called “Rev. Winters’ Private Theological Seminary.”
By 1820, the log church became too small for the burgeoning congregations. So Philip Gunckel, still the proprietor of the settlement, agreed to build a large brick church at the west end of Market St., i.e., the southwest corner of Market and Walnut Sts. Construction of the building was begun in 1819 and, for some unknown reason, was not completed until 1828 at which time it was sold to the two congregations for $600 each. Services were then held in the new building and the log church was abandoned.
During 1830, a misunderstanding arose between the Lutheran congregation and Judge Gunckel in regard to payments on their portion of the cost of the building. Consequently, the Lutherans returned to the log church and the two congregations no longer continued as a “union church.” Their joint interests in the 1828 church at Market & Walnut and the graveyard on W. Warren St. were not resolved until 1879 when the Lutheran Church agreed to pay to the Reformed Church the sum of $100 for their one half interest in the grave-yard and to give them, in addition, a quit-claim of any right or privilege they might have in the Reformed Church property.
By 1866 the old brick church built by Judge Gunckel in 1828 fell into a state of disrepair and was removed by the Reformed people in favor of an elaborate structure similar in design to the present Lutheran Church. This larger two-story building was erected in 1867 at the same location, Market & Walnut. At the main entrance were stairways leading to the second floor. Insufficient funds delayed the use of the second floor until 1879 when $3,000 was raised to complete the building.
On April 7, 1907, a tornado struck Germantown with the greatest damage being sustained by the aforementioned 1867 Reformed Church. The roof was destroyed and the walls weakened which led to the inevitable decision to build anew at a cost of $31,000. Through the remaining months of 1907 and into 1908 a beehive of construction activity took place at the corner of Market & Walnut. During this time worship services were held at the Town Hall. On October 4th 1908, the grand opening of the new Reformed Church was held with services at morning, afternoon and evening. Because the total cost of the building had not been fully paid or pledged at the time of opening, the formal dedication was delayed until June 1st, 1913. This is the third church building to be erected on this site.
Major Activities & Events Since 1913:
1921 – April 17 mortgage burning services for the 1908 church building. Final cost: $37,000.
1934 - The congregation observed its 125th Anniversary during the pastorate of Rev. Earl F. Schottke.
1957 – The Evangelical & Reformed and the Congregational Christian churches united to become the United Church of Christ.
1959 - During the pastorate of Rev. Paul F. Berkenstock, the 150th (Sesquicentennial) Anniversary of St. John’s congregation was observed jointly with Emmanuel’s Lutheran Church.
1962 - September 2nd St. John’s UCC congregation dedicated the new Christian Education Addition. This addition was the result of extreme overcrowding in the children’s Sunday School rooms and was the culmination of months of planning by the Building Committee. The total cost was $97,164.55. Dr. Burlin Brombaugh was Chairman.
1974 - A Church Improvement Committee under the chairmanship of Kenneth Miller, was formed to improve the physical appearance of the Sanctuary. Changes included enlarging the stage, new chancel furniture and new carpeting.
1976 – Love Is A Hug officially moved from Wesley Methodist Church to St. John’s United Church of Christ.
1977 - The Katherine C. Brombaugh Memorial Pipe Organ was given by the Burlin Brombaugh family in memory of Katherine Brombaugh.
1984 - The 175th (Centseptuaquintennial) Anniversary of St. John’s was held during the pastorate of Rev. Mark L. Williams with several events enjoyed with Emmanuel’s Lutheran Church members.
1989 – St. John’s Food Pantry was initiated and is now under the direction of Julie Peck.
1990 – The Sanctuary Organ underwent a total restoration by the Toledo Pipe Organ Co. at a cost of $33,000.
1996 – The Shelter House was built and funded by the Burlin & Harvey Brombaugh families.
2000 & 2001 – Two major changes were made to the church: (1) an Elevator and two restrooms were incorporated into the church; (2) the area under the Sanctuary was excavated to provide for two additional classrooms and was funded by the Brombaugh families.
2007 & 2008 – Four major projects were undertaken and identified with the acronym CPR meaning new Carpet for the church, Parking lot resurfacing, Pew cushions, Painting the church interior, and a new Roof for a total cost of $94,966.72.
Our forebears of the last 200 years would be more than satisfied with the way we have maintained this church property at the corner of Market and Walnut Sts. But of even more importance to them would be the spiritual well-being of St. John’s members. Beginning this July 30, 2009, may we, our children, and grandchildren continue the spiritual journey in the sure belief that the God of our Fathers, who has been with us throughout history, will continue to bless us and direct our lives as we meet to worship, sing hymns of praise, receive forgiveness of sins and enjoy the fellow-ship of kindred souls.
St. John’s United Church of Christ Bicentennial Committee
Rev. Mark Williams – Chairman
Delores Smallwood – Assistant Chairperson
Orion Smith - Historian
October 21, 2008