Harvey Brunner Musselman

Harvey Brunner Musselman

by Jill Davidson

November 6, 1993

Harvey Brunner Musselman was born February 11, 1868, to Jonas Musselman and his wife, Lucy Brunner. In August, 1882, at the age of 14, young Harvey attended a camp meeting at Chestnut Hill, Lehigh County, PA, where he wrestled with the matter of his spiritual condition and put his trust in the Savior, Jesus Christ. On April 23, 1888, he married Miss Annie M. Baus, daughter of John Baus of Allentown. Together they brought into the world five children: two died as infants, and three sons grew to adulthood. H. B. Musselman was in the ministry of the Lord’s work for fifty-five years, retiring in 1945. He died in1955 at age 86 years 3 months and 7 days,

These are the bare facts of the life of H. B. Musselman. Now let us take a closer look at his life.

In 1847, there was a split in the Mennonite Church in Southeast Pennsylvania. A leader in this was John Oberholtzer from West Swamp Mennonite Meetinghouse in Milford Township, Bucks County, PA, Some of the issues involved were the taking of written minutes at conference meetings, having a written “constitution” for the church, and the cut of the ministers’ coat. Also involved were the attitudes and determination of the two factions. When the Oberholtzer group formed their own conference, they took with them some of the Mennonites in the Zionsville area of Lehigh County. William Gehman, David Musselman, and his son, Jonas Musselman, were of this new group following John Oberholtzer who were known as “New Mennonites” or “the Oberholtzer Group.” Gehman, the Musselmans, and others, seeking further reforms in the organization and service of the church, left the “New” Mennonites and began yet another group, “The Evangelical Mennonites.” Their first meetings were at the home of David Musselman, near Old Zionsville. This was in1858, only eleven years after the Oberholtzer split.

Jonas Musselman was a young man at this time who was married to Lucy Brunner, aunt of a later leader of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, C. H. Brunner. Lucy gave birth to their son, William Brunner Musselman, in 1860. He founded the Gospel Workers Society for women in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ and also the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, Ohio.

The 1860’s were turbulent times. Not only was there local friction in the matter of this new church split, but the country was at war with itself. It was after the worst of these hard times that Harvey Brunner Musselman was born in 1868 to this God-fearing family, “pioneers” in the early days of our church’s history.

Some information from Harvey’s early years comes from a Biographical Sketch written by Sylvester B. Knerr, published in What Mean These Stones? When Harvey was four weeks old, he and his parents and brother moved to a farm in Quakertown. When he was four years old, his brother Allen was born. Allen became a preacher like his brothers but died as a young man. As Harvey grew, he did his share of the farm work. He attended school in the winter months, as was common in that day. Besides being a farmer, his father was also a minister of the Gospel. Harvey’s father, Jonas, is described as a “rigid disciplinarian,” raising the children under “strict rule.”

When Harvey was 13 years old, in 1881, he began an apprenticeship with printer John G. Stauffer, proprietor of the Quakertown Printing and Publishing House. The following year, Stauffer allowed Harvey some time off to attend camp meetings at Chestnut Hill, in Lehigh County, PA. It was there that he considered the claims of Jesus Christ and “had no rest until he settled the question.” He committed his life to the Lord and “left that camp-ground saying, that ‘all seemed new to him,’ even the rain drops seemed to sparkle with the goodness of God’s love, but it was he who had been made a new creature in Christ Jesus, for old things had passed away and all was new. His comrades noticed the change; his life, conduct and conversation all showed clearly that a radical change had taken place, and he never swerved from his purpose.” Indeed, he had a godly character, even at that time in his life. His master said of him at the end of his apprenticeship time: “Harvey B, Musselman served an apprenticeship of two years in my printing office. I must give him the recommendation as a faithful, industrious, obedience [sic] and honest young man. He will deceive nobody. John G. Stauffer” dated June 29, 1883. Harvey was then 15 years old. He was proud of that recommendation and kept it among his treasured possessions.

In the next few years, Harvey remained faithful, preaching the Word to people he met and teaching in the Sunday School at the Quakertown Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. He was elected Superintendent of the Sunday School there and the school “flourished amazingly under his supervision, and he became a general favorite with the young and old.” All this occurred when Harvey was in his late teens. It’s no wonder he was called “the boy preacher.”

Harvey was married on April 23, 1888, to Annie Baus. Harvey was 20, and Annie was 21. They were married at Annie’s home in Emmaus, the ceremony being performed by Harvey’s brother, William, who was already in the ministry.

When Harvey was 21, he was called to the ministry. He had occasion to discuss the matter with “Father Gehman.” Soon after, he was given the opportunity to preach at the Quakertown church. The people and the preachers in attendance ware “amazed and stood in wonderment at the eloquence of the ‘boy preacher.”

Harvey was licensed to preach about 1890 and received his first ministerial assignment in 1891, taking the Royersford Church in Montgomery County, PA, and adding a church in nearby Spring City, Chester County, the following year, becoming their first pastor. He insisted that people use his initials instead of his first name. It was thought disrespectful if a layman addressed or referred to a preacher by their first name.

H. B. served the Royersford-Spring City circuit until October, 1894, when he was assigned to Lehighton and also as the first pastor at Weissport, both in Lehigh County. New convert Richard Woodring was in this new congregation at Weissport. Woodring grew in the Lord and became a pastor in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. In 1897, H. B. was appointed to Bethlehem for two years. In 1899, he was assigned as the first pastor of the Mt. Carmel Church. He was recognized as a fine preacher and strong leader. The churches saw growth under his leadership.

During this decade, H. B. and Annie experienced some personal joys and sorrows. In 1890, Their fist child was born, B. Bryan, who Later went into the ministry himself. Also born to them was a daughter, Mary, born 1893, and a son, Willie, in 1896, both of whom died as infants. Their sons Jensen and Clarence were born in the early 1900’s.

In 1900, H. B. was elected Presiding Elder by the Annual Conference. He was only 32 years old at the time. He was Presiding Elder for five years. He then served the Bethlehem church for two years, 1905-1907, after which he was elected Presiding Elder again and remained in that office until his retirement in 1945. Any memory people might have of him today would be of when he was serving as Presiding Elder or retired.

As Presiding Elder, his duties included attending Quarterly Conference meetings at the Churches under his care. When he visited, he would preach on Sunday and lead a business meeting some time during that day or that week (this varied through the years). Therefore, many people heard him preach. It was also his duty to discuss local problems with the pastor and advise him. He would discuss the pastor with the laymen to discover any problems there. These things were then considered when it was time to make the new ministerial assignments.

H. B. was highly self-motivated and self-disciplined, with a disdain for being “worldly.” Because he was a forceful personality and had great authority in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, he expected the same high standards of other people.

H. B., having been raised in the 19th century, saw no need of graduating from High School, and saw danger in starting children in school if they were too young. He said a child should be seven or eight years old before starting school. A six-year-old was so impressionable that the ideas he got might prevent him from being saved. E. N. Cassel, another pastor in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, accepted this view as did most (or all) pastors. When Willard, his youngest son, was six, he did not start him in school. This was providential in that the Cassels were re-assigned that year. Willard’s first year of School would have been interrupted had he begun school at age six. Byron, the Cassel’s older son, began school at age seven. His older sister had taught him at home prior to that, Because of that help (and God-given intelligence), Byron ended up promoted to the fourth grade by the end of his first year. Later, when the Cassels were living in Allentown, the schools were crowded, so the sixth graders were offered a seventh grade test. Byron passed and was placed in the eighth grade. With these early advances, Byron graduated from high school a month before turning 16. E. N. could not legally take Byron out of school. Nevertheless, E. N. received criticism for his son’s graduation because of the wide-spread adoption of H. B.’s attitude toward that worldly institution.

H. B. had a conservative view of what a person’s appearance should be, Make-up, jewelry, and stylish clothes were worldly and he condemned their use. Keep in mind that he was not alone in this view. Many preachers of many denominations preached against these things in this century, even as late as the 1960’s. He said of wearing make-up that if you were healthy, you would have good color and would not need make up. A quote he wrote in his Bible says, “‘The amount of lipstick used each year by American women would paint 40,000 barns a bright red color’ says a writer in the Brethren Missionary Herald. I would rather see it on a barn; how about you? Evangel 6-5-48.” By the way, H, B. would take his Bible to the Moravians to have extra pages added on which to make notes. His writing was careful and neat.

Ruth Hottel Cassel, a pastor’s daughter, played the organ. On one occasion in the early 1940’s, H. B. was preaching and stopped to point at her, saying she wore enough paint to paint a battleship and enough powder to blow it up. Mind you, this was near the end of his ministry when he was more bold than tactful. It was not unusual for him to single out someone from the pulpit and condemn something about them.

On the wearing of jewelry, he had some things to say. Grace Musselman, as a teenager, was at a camp meeting. She and a friend were heading for the girls’ room when H. B. stopped them. H. B. confronted Grace and rebuked her for her wristwatch. It was too flashy and worldly. It would be OK far her to use it, though, if she kept it covered up with her sleeve. When Henry and Grace Musselman were married in the early1920’s, they did not exchange wedding rings like a bride and groom do today. This was typical of the nearby Mennonites of that day and perhaps other churches as well. However, after they were married five or six years, Grace decided she was going to do what she wanted and bought a ring to wear. No doubt others did the same.

H. B. did not think ladies ought to wear feathers in their hats, though they ought to wear hats in church. Mrs. Florence Deppe wore a Stetson hat with a feather. H. B. said from the pulpit, “You should not spend money on expensive clothes and hats with feathers like that one,” pointing to her. Instead, the money should go to missionaries and to the Lord’s work.” She piped up, “I already paid for this hat and I gave to the missionaries. Now would you please get on with your sermon.

In general, the latest fashions were not suitable for God’s people . That would be too worldly. Also, H. B. felt one had to wear something somewhat “out of date,” and certainly nothing suggestive Like a “V” neck blouse or dress, etc. Even though he had conservative views on dress, he never required women to wear bonnets or the plain clothing like nearby Mennonites.

The movie theater was a place to which a Christian should not go. Movies were of the world and in them women did not dress modestly. How was this known? Conclusions were drawn from the publicity notices for the movies.

Also considered worldly was the matter of voting in public elections, To vote was viewed as being involved in the world. This has been the view of the Mennonite church for years and was no doubt a reflection of the common views held by both groups during H. B.’s younger years. However, later in H. B.’s life, some of his family began to vote and he did not object, When it became acceptable in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, he did not bother to vote or involve himself in the political process; he just wasn’t interested.

H. B. had a strong sense of the imminent return of the Lord to earth. The events of World War I and World War II sharpened that feeling. H. B. (and others) preached that Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy in the 1920’s into the 1940’s, was the Anti-Christ. Adolf Hitler’s persecution of the Jews did not escape their notice. Theologically, the Mennonite Brethren in Christ in H. B.’s day was quite arminian. In a sense, there was the thought that your faith saved you and if you failed, you had to get saved again. This theological view, along with the world events of 1900-1950 led naturally to a great urgency for spreading the Gospel. This, along with H. B.’s forceful personality and strict self-discipline moved the church forward with considerable growth under his leadership.

It has been said, “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” H. B. Musselman was not immune to this. Some people did not appreciate his dictatorial style of leadership, and he may have abused his authority as the years went by.

H. B. Musselman saw Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Beil as perfect for the job of taking charge of the home in Coopersburg. Oliver was a farmer and his wife (first wife), Clara, was a nurse, The Beils turned down the offer saying there would be “too many bosses.” Oliver recognized in H. B. the tendency to control everything rather than delegate tasks.

At annual conference, if someone expressed an opinion with which H. B. did not agree, he would yell for them to talk louder. He would deal with them in a harassing way to rattle them. In this way, he “controlled” Annual Conference.

H. B. was very active when be preached. He would stick out his chest and strut like a bantam rooster. He would get a rhythm going as he preached, fluctuating his volume and stomping his foot. He was quite animated in the pulpit, waving his arms and pointing to people, singling them out for rebuke. In this way, he controlled people’s attention.

At camp meetings, the scheduled preacher would preach for 35minutes, after which H. B. would take 40-45 minutes to explain the preacher’s message. “The people drew it out of me,” he would say. On the first day of camp meetings, an offering was taken for the expenses of the camp meeting. First, he asked for $100 donations, especially if the Wentz brothers, Paul and Albert, were in attendance. The ushers would then collect the $100 donations. Then he asked for $50 donations, then $20, 10, 5, etc. On the last day, an offering was taken for the Presiding Elder, and then one for the Committee, Also at camp meetings, H. B. rang the bell for wake-up time, for meetings, and for curfew. These are some of the ways he controlled things at camp meetings. However, one day someone got the better of him. He tugged on the rope to ring the bell and the rope just fell down. Some boys had climbed the pole and cut the rope.

As stated earlier, H. B. Musselman’s father, Jonas, was described as a “rigid disciplinarian,” raising his children under “strict rule,” it is no wonder that H. B. dealt with people as he did. With his own family, he was strict. His son, B. Bryan, while coming home from high school one day, passed some children playing ball. The ball rolled out to where he was walking, so he picked it up and tossed it back. Someone from church saw him and reported it to his father. Bryan was confined to their yard for a time for playing with “non-Christians.”

As the years passed, and the younger boys, Clarence and Jensen, were growing up, H. B. didn’t put as much time into his family as he did before. When H. B.’s son, Bryan, got married, Bryan’s wife, Cora, taught her young brother-in-law, Jensen, Bible verses and drilled them into him. Jensen said all his Bible knowledge was taught to him by Cora. She “brought the world to him,” explaining to him some things of life. Jensen is the son of H. B. that rebelled. Was it out of resentment for lack of his father’s attention? Was he rebelling against his father’s strict personal standards? Whatever the reason, this “black sheep” in the family was cause for criticism against H.. B. Musselman. Some viewed H. B. as a failure as a father because Jensen married outside the fold and was later twice divorced and married yet a third time. F. M. Hottel was pressing H. B. about his son, Jensen. “You’ve got to do something about him,” he said. The matter was thrown up in his face by others, declaring H. B. unqualified to be an elder because of his prodigal son.

H. B. did some matchmaking for his children. He brought together Bryan and his wife, Cora. He conspired with W. G. Gehman to bring together their children, Clarence and Grace.

When grandchildren came along, H. B. submitted to his sons and daughters-in-law a list of names from which to choose, He did the same when great-grandchildren came.

Not everyone chafed under the dictatorial manner of H. B. Musselman. Madora Patton Shelly, mother to author Harold P. Shelly, was raised in a variety of churches. When she connected herself to the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, she said she was glad to know what she could do and could not do. It took the guess work out of it for her.

As Presiding Elder, H. B, had responsibility for ministerial assignments. Generally speaking, every preacher was re-assigned after three years. This began to change in 1920 when his son, B. Bryan, was assigned to Bethel Church in Allentown. Bryan received his first appointment in 1913 and served two different circuits until 1920. After 1920, he remained in Allentown for over 30 years. A radio station and broadcasts of the services helped to assure the assignment. Some others were allowed to remain in their assignments for more then three years, but not everyone. People noticed that it was H. B.’s “favorites” who got the bigger churches (and thus bigger paychecks and bigger parsonages). The preachers he did not know well or did not like as well got the more remote assignments which were generally smaller and poorer, and often had inadequate parsonages.

As the years passed, more people saw H. B. as a dictator and his son, B. Bryan, as “the King.” The two of them together placed preachers in churches. Pastors were intimidated into silence about the dictatorial attitude. If they spoke, they might get a not-so-favorable assignment.

In the last half of his life, H. B. Musselman had no close friends. Having been Presiding Elder for so many years, people put him on a pedestal, and he made no effort to get off of it. The distance kept between him and the laity was mutual. Even among the clergy, there was a sense that he was a step higher, not on their level, and the preachers generally did not see themselves as his peer. This was true as well of the other Presiding Elder, W. G. Gehman, and others who were of the “inner circle.” When H. B. attended quarterly conference meetings at the various churches, he always ate and stayed at the pastor’s house, never with a layman.

With his wife, he was domineering. He always walked several paces ahead of her. If she was talking with other women, he would come over and butt into the conversation because “man is head of the house and he should have a say in everything.” H. B. is respectfully remembered by his grandchildren. He did not discipline his grandchildren because that was the responsibility of the parents. He was always serious in everything he said and did. He was seen as a man with strong personal convictions and he stuck by them. He was not a hypocrite.

One foggy night, W. B. had to go to Walnutport for a quarterly conference meeting. This was about 1940; H. B. was widowed, in his early 70’s and his grandson, Bud, was a teenager. Bryan sent his son, Bud, and Bill Rapp to 40 with H. B, to drive his car in the dense fog. H. B. wanted to drive himself in his own car, so Bud and Bill were to hang out the windows, looking for the road. H, B. said he couldn’t see a thing, so he sped up the road to get to where he could see. After their hair-raising ride, they arrived safely at Walnutport where H. B. introduced the boys as his assistants.

H. B. loved his car. Every car he bought was his “last.” He bought them from Bill Gehman and he bought them right before campmeeting so the preachers could compare to see which car could make it up the hill. He took good care of his cars. They were always sellable. Grace Musselman remembers a sermon H. B. preached at Mizpah Grove, He said, “Buy your sons a car and send them to Hell.” The next year, his own son had a car.

H. B. was quick on his feet. Byron Cassel had occasion to ask him why there were so many differences in Christians’ points of view. His reply was, “Well, most of us are very dull scholars.”

In his personal habits, H. B. Musselman was careful, self-disciplined and strict. His brother was considerably overweight. So H. B. was determined not to be overweight himself. He was always trim and fit. He did not want to be a big eater. When offered pie (and he was very fond of raisin pie), he would take just a sliver, then another, then another… He liked prunes, but would limit himself to six at a time. One time, his desire for more overcame his self-imposed denial. He ate twelve prunes, but held the other six pits in his mouth so as to not reveal the fact of his exceeding his own limit. When he left, he spit cut the remaining six pits in the garden where his hostess later discovered them.

H. B. said, “You are what you eat.” He would not eat pork, but he would eat lamb.

One day, granddaughter Olivia’s husband casually mentioned that green peppers have more vitamins than everything but parsley. From then on, he regularly ate green peppers, expressive of his interest in maintaining good health.

In his later years, he was advised to take a small glass of wine for his circulation. This idea would be repugnant to a man who lived through prohibition, maintaining a firm position against the evils of drinking. Nevertheless, in the interest of good health, he consumed a small glass of wine everyday. The glass he used was the kind used years ago to measure out 1 cent worth of candy, about the size of a thimble, hardly enough to do him any good or to do him any harm.

When he was young, Bud slept in the same room as his grandfather when they went to the shore. H. B. had a special cloth to tie his jaw in place so as to not sleep with his mouth open.

In 1945, H. B. Musselman was forced to retire. He saw his retirement as a repudiation and a sweeping out of the old regime.

He lived his later years with his grown grandson, Reuel, known as “Bud,” and his wife, Joyce, When their son was small, Bud played a joke on his grandfather. H. B. had a special clock in his room. Bud found another just like it which did not work. One day, as his young son was sitting in the living room playing with great-grandfather, Bud gave his son the clock and gave him a hammer and told him he could bang away, H. B. thought his clock was being destroyed, but would not interfere with that parent-child relationship by speaking up or intervening. Instead, he just quickly got up and went to his room to check his clock which, of course, he found where it belonged.

H. B. Musselman’s mind was clear until the last three months of his life. He developed prostate problems, and with the young girls in the hospital tending to his private parts, his mind snapped. It was too much for a man of strict, self-discipline and high morals. Bud took his Bible to him and would read to his grandfather some of the notes he used when preaching. He responded to same of those things. Here follows some of those notes:

“High cost of whistling – little things. According to ‘Railway Locomotive Engineering,’ the use of fuel, water and energy that goes into blowing locomotive whistles carries an expense of $8,000,000 a year. If the engineer blows whistle for every little thing or twice as long, cost would be $16,000,000.”

“W. J. Bryan: the phrase ‘we may well suppose’ occurs over 800 times in Darwin’s two principal works.”

“If you have kind words to say, say them now; tomorrow may not come your way. Do a kindness while you may, Loved ones will not always stay. Say them now.”

“In a country graveyard: Here is an epitaph in a country graveyard, near Columbus, Ohio: ‘Behold and see as you pass by, as you are now so once was I. As I am now so you must be, Prepare for death to follow me.’ These two lines are added with paint: ‘to follow you I am not content, until I know which way you went.’ Archie M. Erwin, Columbus, Ohio.”

“A cold church, like cold butter, never spreads well.”

“Sympathy is two hearts tugging at one load.”

“Garments of Righteousness never go out of style.”

In summary, Harvey Brunner Musselman was a Godly man, zealous for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In some ways, he was a product of his time. He took away the believer’s liberty in some areas and made it law, all for the sake of the Gospel and the sanctification of the believer. We can learn a lot from H. B.’s example of a well-ordered, self-disciplined life and his zeal for evangelism. We must add to those traits love, patience, and encouragement. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Ephesians 4:15.