People attending the 100th anniversary event at the Palm Schwenkfelder Church take in a display of church memorabilia including audio-visual displays, newspaper articles, Sunday school certificates, treasurers’ books, and trophies from the church’s softball and bowling teams in the social hall.
It has been a long and storied past for Palm Schwenkfelder Church, which celebrated its 100th anniversary Sunday.
The church, which is rooted in the beliefs of Poland-born Caspar Schwenckfeld, a 16th century Reformation leader, can trace its heritage in this country back to 1734. That year the largest group of Schwenckfelder’s followers fled religious persecution and came to Philadelphia on the ship the “St. Andrew.”
They settled around Philadelphia. Members of the “Upper District” of upper Montgomery, Berks and Lehigh counties met at one of three meetinghouses in the area for worship, on a rotating basis, starting in 1790. Prior to that they held religious services in their homes. The first meetinghouse still stands on Treichler Road in the village of Hosensack, anniversary committeeman Ed Bieler said.
Bieler said the second meetinghouse, built at Palm Hill, Kutztown and Schwenkfelder roads in Washington Township, was constructed the following year. The building was taken down in 1911, but a cemetery and monument still remain at the site.
The third meetinghouse was built in Kraussdale on Kraussdale Road around 1815 and also still stands.
All three buildings were used as education centers as the Schwenkfelders had a passion for education. They first established a log schoolhouse at the site of the Hosensack meetinghouse back in 1765.
But by 1909, space in the meetinghouses was insufficient and church leaders decided a central church would be built in Palm. Church officials at the time included Rev. Oscar S. Kriebel, pastor of the Upper District, and building committee members Josephus Gerhard, Erwin N. Schultz and Owen K. Schultz. Church member Oscar S. Schultz documented the project both in writing and through photographs which still remain today on their original glass plate negatives.
After much negotiation, a two-acre parcel of farmland was purchased from Thomas H. Gery for $522.81 off what is Route 29 today. It used to be a turnpike.
The church was erected at the site, thanks to the tireless labor of members, who performed much of the work themselves. They used horse and buggy teams to haul 191,631 pounds of granite from the Seisholtzville-area Walker Granite Company for the church façade. The horse sheds at each of the three meetinghouses were disassembled by a father and son of the congregation and a new horse shed was built using those materials at the Palm church. A Haskell pipe organ was purchased from Philadelphia and slate for the roof was purchased from E.N. Schultz of Chapel. The new church was dedicated on Sept. 24, 1911.
An education wing was added to that structure in 1964.
For the past year, the congregation has marked the 100th anniversary of Palm Schwenkfelder Church with a number of occasions. Back in October, they installed a new Allen organ to replace the church’s 40-year-old version. They purchased new pew Bibles and the deacons sponsored a food drive for The Open Line of Pennsburg. With a 100-bag goal, members recently surpassed that by donating 120 bags.
A display of church memorabilia, including audio-visual displays, newspaper articles, Sunday school certificates, treasurers’ books and trophies from the church’s softball and bowling teams adorned the social hall. A time capsule was also compiled and will be opened at the 150th anniversary celebration in 2061.
The congregation also had a 100th anniversary anthem commissioned by Joseph Martin, one of the top contemporary religious songwriters in the nation. They also had two hymns written specially to mark the occasion with original text by the church’s pastor, Rev. Nicholas Pence, Jr. and church members.
But most importantly to many members of the congregation, a book was made for the occasion entitled “The History of the Building of Palm Schwenkfelder Church.” The book, written and photographed by Oscar S. Schultz, contains vivid period photos of the church’s past and personal accounts of its members.
On Sunday, the church held two services, one a regular worship and one a special anniversary celebration service held in conjunction with a “Gedachtnestag” service marking the arrival of the Schwenkfelders in Philadelphia. Former Palm Schwenkfelder pastor Rev. Dr. Martha S. Kriebel, the first female pastor in the area beginning in 1959, gave the sermon at that service.
A special luncheon was held after the first service where the church family had cake decorated with photos of the three original meetinghouses and their current church, as well as other refreshments.
The church family also had a celebration marking the Gedachtnestag event, with traditional apple butter and bread after the second service.
“It was a good time of celebration,” said Rev. Pence, noting couples came from as far away as South Carolina to be there Sunday.