Peace in the Valley
The Story of Salem Bible Fellowship Church
by William H. Bartron
1893 was a rather unremarkable year historically. It was a year between eras, a historical “breather” during some of the world’s great events. A financial panic began in 1893 which lasted four years. The United States was establishing itself as a world power having only a few years earlier celebrated its centennial anniversary as a nation. Ellis Island opened as an official immigration depot the year before. Thomas Alva Edison was preparing his “kinetoscope” (motion picture machine) for demonstration to the public on April 14 of the next year. The Sino-Japanese War and the Spanish-American War were about to break upon the world scene. Dwight L. Moody’s ministry was coming to its final phase. There were no such things as the Panama Canal, Communism or the Ford Motor Company.
God was not asleep or silent In 1893. In Lehighton, Pennsylvania, He was renewing His work begun many years ago. Between 1741 and 1743 Count Nickolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf visited the American colonies. He was involved in mission work and an attempt to unite Protestant Christianity in the colonies. While his plan of union failed his visit was in other ways quite profitable. The establishment of a Moravian settlement on the banks of the Lehigh River in what is now the southern part of the Borough of Lehighton was a shining example of his successes.
Zinzendorf organized the Moravian congregation in Bethlehem in 1742. According to the history of Lehighton, Zinzendorf made a trip up the Lehigh River “with two friendly Indians who had been converted to Christianity as interpreters and held a conference with the dwellers by the Mahoning.”(1) The land for the Moravian settlement was not purchased immediately. “The land, 120 acres, was bought in 1745, and a town laid out upon it, which was called Gnadenhuetten meaning ‘tents of grace’ or more literally translated, ‘mercy huts.’ “(2) This was, apparently, the first White settlement in what was to become the Borough of Lehighton.
The settlement was not exclusively Caucasian since it included many Native Americans who had been given asylum by the Moravians in Bethlehem. The Moravians were having some difficulty maintaining the Indians and at the same time developing the community in Bethlehem. The Indians were moved to a location near the confluence of the Mahoning Creek and the Lehigh River. The early accounts number “500 souls” comprising the “congregation of Gnadenhuetten.”(3) This appears to have been a mixed congregation with Indians owning their own plots of land and farming them. There seemed to be a real spirit of neighborliness in the community. The following account sounds remarkably similar to the first Thanksgiving in New England:
On the 18th of August, 1746, the missionaries and the Indians partook of the first-fruits of the land and of their toil at a love-feast and gave thanks to God for the blessings that He had bestowed upon them.(4)
It is evident that the Gnadenhuetten community was not founded simply to relieve overcrowding in Bethlehem It was also a mission station for the evangelization of the Native Americans. It had a unique religious cast to its daily life.
Morning and evening the sound of song arose from the little forest hamlet and the work of the day was invariably begun and concluded with devout prayer. Discourse was delivered every Sunday by the Missionaries and several portions of the Scripture, which had been translated into the Mohegan language, were read whenever the congregation was assembled. The Holy communion was administered to the communicants every month. This day was called by the Indians, ‘the Great Day.'(5)
This commingling of Indians with the white settlers in a village was a cause of discontent among other Indians. They took it upon themselves to teach these people a lesson they should not soon forget. The account of the attack upon Gnadenhuetten goes like this:
Late on the evening of the 24th of November, 1795 the mission house on the Mahoning was attacked by the French Indians, burnt, and eleven of the inhabitants murdered.”(6)
In response to the attack on Gnadenhuetten Governor Morris dispatched troops under the direction of Colonel Benjamin Franklin in December, 1755, to erect a fort for the defense of the area. A description of Fort Allen, as the fort was named, can be found in Franklin’s autobiography. The fort was used actively for only five years (1756-1761). The fort was situated on the eastern bank of the Lehigh River in what today is known as the Borough of Weissport which is surrounded by Franklin Township. A state historical marker identifies the location. It was only a few blocks from where, over a hundred years later, the first meetings of the “Weissport Mission” of the Mennonite Brethren In Christ would occur.
Little is known of the church of Jesus Christ in the Lehighton area from that time on. What historical evidence exists is sketchy at best. Land was donated by Colonel Jacob Weiss and a church building erected in what is today known as Weissport around 1837. There is some evidence that there was a Lutheran influence in the reconstructed meetinghouse at Gnadenhuetten that became part of the Reformed congregation at “Jacob’s Church” in Weissport. Later (1841) the Lutherans removed themselves from the union forming St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Weissport. Both of these congregations are active today. Methodists had been in the area by 1840. Some key dates for the beginning of churches in Lehighton are: 1859, Presbyterian Church; 1868, All Saints Episcopal Church; 1869, St. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church; 1872, Zion United Church of Christ; 1894, Bethany Evangelical Congregational Church; 1898, Church of the Nazarene (now Assembly of God); 1903, Grace Lutheran Church.
In the 1800’s Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Olewine moved into the Lehighton area where Mr. Olewine found work at a slaughterhouse. This slaughterhouse may well have been the Joseph Obert Company which for many years was a leading industry in the area engaged in slaughtering cattle and hogs. Apparently by local invitation the Gospel Workers Society organized tent meetings in Lehighton. The Olewines worked diligently for the success of the new mission even housing the unmarried Rev. W. G. Gehman when he served at Lehighton as the mission’s fifth pastor. Oscar and Maria Olewine’s names occur frequently in the early records of Salem. Their legacy of vision and faithfulness helped establish and maintain a strong witness for the gospel in the Lehighton area.
The introduction to What Mean These Stones? recognizes a great debt to the concerns of C. H. Brunner for the preservation of the history of the Bible Fellowship Church: “Unofficially he was our first church historian, and because of his writings we have a record of our beginnings.”(7) The same can be said of Brother Brunner for Salem Bible Fellowship Church in Lehighton.
The text of his historical note is included as “Appendix B” of this paper. A brief exposition of that note is provided here. This record was made while he served as Salem’s first pastor. The note is, apparently, in his own hand. According to the first quarterly conference of the Mennonite Brethren In Christ of Lehighton and Weissport on December 12, 1893, he was instructed to “get a suitable minute book for the quarterly conference proceedings. He shall insert a brief history of the organization of the Mennonite Brethren In Christ Church of this place.” This meeting was led by Presiding Elder W. B. Musselman, an abbreviated title for “Missionary Presiding Elder” which was the fuller title.(8)
It bears the simple title “Historical” and begins:
The organization of the congregation of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ of Lehighton and Weissport was due to the leading of the Holy Spirit…
On Sept. 9th 1893 C. H. Brunner accompanied by his wife and sister Dora B. Rote under the directions of the Presiding Elder held a tabernacle meeting on the corner lot (belonging to Mrs. J. M. Obert) on Third St. just above the School Building. Lehighton.(9)
The larger part of this lot is still vacant and to the best of the knowledge of this writer lies diagonally across the Intersection of Third and Iron Streets from Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. If this is indeed the location of the tent meetings these meetings could have been construed as a direct challenge to the ministry of that already-existing church which had been built there twenty years earlier. There is no indication in our history that there was any kind of problem between the two churches. As the record below indicates this arrangement did not continue long into the future.
Brother Brunner writes,
These meetings continued until Oct. 13th when the storm blew it (“the tabernacle”) down the second time. They were special seasons of refreshing. God’s power and the Holy Spirit being sensibly present. The attendance was good, and members of almost every denomination were present, many taking active part.(10)
There is no record of when the tabernacle first blew down. The tabernacle meetings were apparently attractive to people of most of the churches in the area. Evidently there was a spirit of unity among the churches of Lehighton for many years. Salem at one time could participate in pulpit exchanges and an annual Sunday School Convention conducted by the churches of Lehighton well into the Twentieth Century.
The tabernacle was abandoned after this second collapse. The next item recorded in Brunner’s record starts on the day after the tent collapsed for a second time: “From Oct. 14th to 17th we had very precious meetings in the vacant store room of Dr. Thomas on Main St.”(11)The location of this storeroom is unknown other than the general reference “on Main St.” Main St. may have been the name for what today is First Street. It was apparently a good interim measure until another meeting place could be secured.
The venue of the meetings changed once again. Brother Brunner writes:
On Oct. 18th we had feetwashing and communion in Laury’s Hall, Weissport, when the Lord laid it upon our hearts to rent the hall for all winter and sister Dora Rote and sister Lizzie Christman continued the meetings every night until Dec. 18th with C. H. Brunner in charge until the Annual Conference.(12)
The Annual Conference mentioned here must have been the one in Terre Hill on “the first Friday in February, 1894.”(13) Brunner was listed as a “probationer” at this conference.(14) During the conference he was assigned to the Royersford and Graterford circuit and H. B. Musselman was moved to Lehighton, Weissport, and Pleasant Corners mission.(15)
Brunner’s record continues:
The results of the meetings thus far are as follows:
Conversions 22 18
Sanctified 23 9
Baptized 29 8
Admitted 5 7
On Oct. 8th a class was organized in the tabernacle (Lehighton) with 8 members.(16)
This is the first reference to “Laury’s Hall, Weissport,” in the history of Salem Bible Fellowship Church. Further investigation of this note may give some additional light to a statement made in Sylvester P. Knerr’s “Biographical Sketch of Rev. H. B. Musselman.” Knerr writes of Brother Musselman, “In 1892 he extended his labors to Spring City, Chester County, and was so successful at this place,… as to he able to build a church the same year.”(17)
According to the record, Brother Musselman labored in Spring City three years beginning in 1892. Church records at Lehighton indicate he began his labors there in 1894. Brother Knerr’s account of Brother Musselman’s leaving Spring City indicates that “he was sent to Weissport, Carbon County, by the sitting of the above named conference, in 1894.”(18) His name first occurs in the minutes of the Lehighton / Weissport Mission at the time of the first quarterly conference conducted in Laury’s Hall, Weissport on March 24, 1894, when he was appointed secretary of the conference.(19)
Knerr continues his account: “When Rev. Musselman took charge of Weissport, it was a comparatively small mission; the membership was small, and great opposition prevailed, and knew nothing but Christ and Him crucified. The language of his heart was : ‘The Lord will provide.’ Sinners were converted, backsliders reclaimed and believers sanctified, …As a result of his first year’s labor, a church edifice was erected in Weissport and a mission opened in Lehighton. The foundations for a church were laid in Lehighton the same year but not completed until 1895.”(20)
Brother Knerr’s statement, “great opposition prevailed” is hard to understand from the local quarterly conference records. The “great opposition” does not appear to have come from within the ranks of those who made up the mission. Knerr’s observation may have been in reference to those outside the church who opposed the gospel or the formation of a church in the area. However, there is no evidence of opposition in the local record.
Knerr’s references to a “small upper room” and “the old ship Zion” were not just figurative. The first meetings of what was generally known around conference as the “Weissport Mission” were held in a second-story meeting place called Laury’s Hall in the rear of the building that today houses Reed’s Market in Weissport. It was on the main street of Weissport and only a short walk from the railroad station. The reference to Zion probably had reference to the name of the Weissport Mission, Zion Chapel, Mennonite Brethren In Christ, as the mission was later named.
The “good ship ‘Zion'” was not to meet much longer in its “small upper room.” At the first quarterly conference on March 24, 1894, the following direction was given to H. B. Musselman, “8 (sic) was the advisability of erecting a house of worship taken into consideration, and a resolution passed to the effect, that the pastor in charge should try and collect money and build where he can best raise funds, as the Lord may direct.”(21)
The second quarterly conference of that year met on June 16, 1894, at Laury’s Hall. The third quarterly conference met on October 6, 1894, at “the gospel tabernacle in Lehighton.” The minutes from this conference contain a detailed list of building supplies for the erection of a building. Total expenditures for the building were $1032.91. There is record of a “balance due note in bank” of $129.00 and “money outstanding to collect” of $265.50. (22) The final note of this meeting above secretary H. B. Musselman’s signature was: “Resolved that the next quarterly
conference be held in Mt. Zion Chapel, Weissport, Pa.”(23)When the word, mount, became part of the name of the mission is unknown. The name is certainly appropriate considering the location of the property In the Union Hill section of Franklin Township high on a hill affording a grand view of Lehighton and the Lehigh River below. It was indeed a very appropriate wedding of name with location.
There is no record of a fourth quarterly conference for 1894. However the first quarterly conference of 1895 met on March 8, 1895 “in Mt. Zion chapel, Weissport.” (24) Salem Church has preserved the cornerstone of the building in a monument on the grounds of its property with the following inscription: “Mt. Zion Chapel; Mennonite Brethren In Christ; 1894.”(25)
All quarterly conferences were conducted in the newly constructed Mt. Zion Chapel on Union Hill until the first quarterly conference meeting on March 21, 1896, when the first recorded use of the Cypress Street, Lehighton building was made. There is no record in any quarterly conference meetings of the consideration of or approval for building plans of the Salem building. The first indication of a building is entitled “Account of Lehighton Church.” Under this title, appearing evidently as part of the Fourth Quarterly conference on December 12, 1895, this sentence occurs: “To Mr. Israel Kern for contract for Building (28 x 44) complete painting same, frosted glass, slate roof, plastering &c. $800.00.”(26) Under that sentence is a list of items used in the construction of the building and the price for the items.(27) The first hint in the record that there was to be a building for Salem Mennonite Brethren in Christ occurs as the last item of business for the quarterly conference immediately preceding the aforementioned one: “Resolved that the next quarterly conference be held in Salem Church, Lehighton, PA.”(28)
The building on Cypress Street was to be the home of Salem until 1980. Many modifications were made to it to make it more accommodating for a growing congregation including digging out a basement by hand to house Sunday School classrooms. A parking area was constructed to the west of the building. In time the church bought a double house near the corner of Fourth and Cypress Streets which housed classrooms on one side and the parsonage on the other.
The second quarterly conference of 1894 was noteworthy for yet another milestone in the life of the fledgling congregation. The tenth item of business “was a delegate elected to represent this charge at the annual conference to be held in next February at Reading. Bro (sic) W. H. Brown was elected.”(29)The minutes of the February 19, 1895, meeting of the Twelfth Annual Conference at Faith Chapel in Reading list – “W. H. Brown” as present among the delegates between the names of John Weiss and C. J. Shelly.(30) Brother Brown was the first Annual Conference delegate from the Lehighton area.
But Pastor Musselman and Delegate Brown were not the only people from the Lehighton area who had business at the Twelfth Annual conference in Reading. Dora B. Rote had been faithfully serving the mission for over a year now having arrived in the Lehighton area on September 5, 1893, with C. H. Brunner and his wife as noted above.(32) She apparently had been granted a quarterly license prior to her arrival at Lehighton since the first quarterly conference renewed her quarterly conference license.Sister Rote advanced to receiving an Annual Conference License through the following procedure. The Fourth Quarterly Conference meeting on December 12, 1894, at Mt. Zion chapel passed a resolution with following wording: “Was Sister Dora B. Rote recommended by this conference to the Annual Conference for Annual [Conference] License.” Her scores in the reading course were noted in the Annual Conference proceedings(33)and the following action was taken: “Brother W. K. ZiegIer and Sister Dora B. Rote having been recommended by their several Quarterly conferences to this conference then expressed the nature of their call and were referred to the Committee on Traveling Elders.”(34)
The minutes of the Eleventh Annual Conference are the first Annual Conference minutes to mention the name James L. Boyer. Here the name is listed with the score he received on his reading course examination.(35) Later in the same minutes he was stationed as a helper with Wilson Steinmetz in the Lower Siegfried and Walnutport Mission.(36) The first meeting of Annual Conference was “closed with singing and prayer led by Brother James L. Boyer.” (37) Apparently Boyer was constrained by time to leave Annual conference early and the record reads: “Since Brother James Boyer from Lehighton is a candidate for the ministry and because of personal circumstances, cannot continue to be present, he gave an explanation of his calling and was examined by the Committee for Local Preachers.”(38) Boyer’s name occurs several times again in the minutes of the Twelfth Annual Conference in Reading in 1895. He is listed as a Probationer and was appointed as assistant secretary by the secretary, C. H. Brunner and, as before, Boyer’s reading course examination scores were published.(39)
James L. Boyer energetically served the fledgling Lehighton Mission from its inception. He was one of the first officers “appointed” for the mission when he was assigned the task of steward.(40)In that historic first quarterly conference Boyer “an applicant for the ministry, [was] by recommendation of his class, examined and recommended to the Annual Conference.”(41) By the time of the second quarterly conference on June 16, 1894, he had become “helper” and was to receive a stipend for his services.(42) His name occurs for the last time locally in the minutes of the fourth quarterly conference on December 12, 1894. Apparently he served in Lehighton as well as serving in Lower Siegfried and Walnutport as helper during the months between the Annual Conference for that year and Annual Conference for 1895 when he was reassigned.(43) Shelly assigns the date of 1895 to the beginning of J. L. Boyer’s ministry in The Bible Fellowship Church.(44) Boyer went on to serve various Mennonite Brethren In Christ churches. He served in the following places:
Spring City 1895-1897
After Erwinna his name does not appear in the Record of Appointments of Pastors.(45)
Richard Lewis Woodring’s name first occurs in quarterly conference minutes on a page entitled “Statistical Report: January, 1895,” where he is listed as Superintendent of the Sunday School at Weissport. He is listed as “R. J. Woodring.” Later in the record he is listed with the same misspelling and the “J” written over with an “L.”(46) He was born in Washington Township in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1873.(47) He married the former Clara Ziegenfuss. John J. Ziegenfuss served Mt. Zion Chapel as a Trustee and is listed in the same statistical report with Brother Woodring. Whether there was any family relationship with Mrs. Woodring is unknown. The best that can be ascertained from the record is that Brother Woodring was married, living in Weissport, running a blacksmith business, had recently come to faith in Christ, became a member of his church, and was Superintendent of his Sunday School by the age of 21.
The first public record of Brother Woodring moving in the direction of the pastoral ministry is recorded in the third quarterly conference on September 14, 1895:
Whereas Bro. R. L. Woodring, being recommended by the class at Weissport to this quarterly conference for a licence [sic] to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and after having given the nature of his call – this conference after due investigation granted Bro.
R. L. Woodring a quarterly license as per his request until the Lord opens the way for him to go forth.(48)
That license was renewed at the next quarterly conference.(49)
By the first quarterly conference of 1896 (March 21, 1896), Woodring was no longer Superintendent of the Sunday School at Weissport and was now listed as helper.(50) He continued to report to quarterly conference as helper until the first quarterly conference that met on April 15, 1897, where the following record is found: “Moved and seconded that Bro. Woodring should have permission to work under the direction of the Presiding Elder instead of the Quarterly Conference.”(51) He was then commended by the quarterly conference to Annual Conference for licensure on January 11, 1898, which he received from Annual Conference on March 5, 1898.(52)
According to the 1934 Year Book Brother Woodring “held tent and hall meetings
at trout Run, Ralston and Roaring Branch some twenty miles above Williamsport.”(53)
Having been ordained at Reading on September 16, 1900, he served at the following places:
Mt. Carmel 1902-1904
Allentown (Salem) 1911-1913
Nazareth 1924 to his death.
His son Allen served Annual Conference as a pastor for many years and daughter Dora married Rev. Rudy H. Gehman of Chester, Pennsylvania. Brother Woodring “passed away peacefully in St. Luke’s Hospital, Bethlehem on June 10, 1934, aged 60 years…”(54)
The names, Agnes Messinger and Alfred Deppe, were both associated with the beginning of Mt. Zion Chapel and Salem M. B. C. Agnes Messinger held a quarterly conference license.(55) Her name occurs in the minutes of the Twelfth Annual Conference as an assistant to Wilson Steinmetz on the Coopersburg, Quakertown, and Springtown circuit.(56) She was involved with the mission from its founding. The first four names in the Lehighton Class list includes hers after Oscar and Maria Olewine and before James L. Boyer.(57)
Alfred and Delilah Deppe had been associated with the mission early in its history. He served in various capacities including holding a quarterly conference license, helper, auditor, and Annual Conference Delegate until the time he moved from the area. His granddaughter Doris Deppe Wire notes in her history of Bethany Bible Fellowship Church of Whitehall, “In 1906, Alfred (1866-1917) and Delilah Deppe and their children moved from Lehighton to Cementon…”(58) Quarterly Conference records from Weissport Lehighton refer to this move as well. The following note occurs in the September 8, 1906, minutes of the Weissport and Lehighton Mission’s quarterly conference: “Whereas Bro Alfred Deppe who has been a quarterly licensed member of this quarterly conference has moved to Northampton and his name has been transferred to that class.”(59)
The organizational structure of the work in Lehighton and Weissport remained essentially the same for many years. The Lehighton part always seemed to be dominant in terms of attendance patterns in Sunday School. In the 1920’s Mt. Zion chapel closely rivaled Salem M. B. C. in attendance. The average attendance at most times was roughly fifty per cent of the enrollment In each place. Separate records of Sunday School attendance were meticulously reported at each quarterly conference with separate officers and apparently teachers as well. The pastor served both places. A pattern emerged in which the quarterly conferences were almost always held in the Cypress Street, Lehighton, location whereas the earlier pattern was to alternate between buildings from conference to conference.
From 1909 until 1913 average attendance at the Weissport Sunday School began to decline. Almost every report showed a downward trend in attendance during that period of time. A person reading the verbal reports of the work without reading the statistics would think everything was fine. In the quarterly conference in which the Weissport work showed its lowest ever average attendance in Sunday School of eleven, the pastor “reported victory and the Lord is leading and the meetings are grand as well as the open air meetings…” The report of the Sunday School Superintendent for Lehighton was equally encouraging when she reported, “victory and good prayer meetings.”(60)
By the time of the December 6, 1913, quarterly conference, Sunday School average attendance at Weissport was at eight with three teachers. The following resolutions were passed at that conference
Resolved that all the members of the Weissport class be transferred to the Lehighton class and that there only be one class namely the Lehighton class for the present.
Resolved that the Trustees of the Lehighton Class have charge of the Church Property at Weissport.(61)
From that time on separate Sunday School statistics were maintained for the two places but the Weissport work had no Sunday School Superintendent, Stewards, nor Rent Collectors. All Lehighton officers seemed to function on behalf of Weissport as well. On paper it appeared as a branch of the Lehighton work. The fourth quarterly conference of September 16, 1923 reported names in those positions for Weissport for the first time since the above 1913 resolutions were passed. There is no indication in any minutes that action was taken to restore these positions. The names simply appear on the record.
There has been a long history of cooperation between Calvary Bible Fellowship Church in Walnutport and Salem. The Lehighton and Walnutport classes met together for quarterly conferences from the first quarterly conference on September 22, 1935, until the fourth quarterly conference on December 20, 1938. This arrangement was renewed at the first quarterly conference on September 3, 1947, when Lehighton was listed alone. Cooperation between the congregations has continued until the present with joint mission conferences, Thanksgiving Eve Services, and Good Friday services.
The first quarterly conference meeting on December 28, 1918 passed the following resolution:
Resolved that we authorize and empower the Trustees to purchase the property at 438 Cypress St. Lehighton, PA. for a parsonage and execute a Mortgage for twelve hundred dollars ($1200.00) at 5% interest payable semi-annually.
This served Salem pastors as home until 1966. In a Special Congregational Meeting on June 26, 1966 the congregation voted 29 – 0 to purchase the property of William D. and Shirley E. Stein at 135-137 North Fourth Street, Lehighton. The securing of this property immediately adjacent to the existing church property proved to be a great asset for expansion of Salem’s ministry. One half of the double house was used for Christian Education and Youth Ministries and the other half, after the sale of 438 cypress Street, served as the parsonage.
The second quarterly conference on March 2, 1948 passed two important resolutions. The first was a milestone in that it represented the closing of the ministry of Mt. Zion Chapel. “Resolved, that the Weissport Church be sold by the Executive Board to Ernest E. Bauer…”
The second resolution was a resolution to support action taken at the previous Annual
Conference meeting on October 15-20, 1947, incorporating the Mennonite Brethren In Christ Church of Pennsylvania.
Now therefore, be it and it is nearby [sic] resolved that the action taken by the Minister and Delegate Of this Church in supporting said incorporation, is hereby ratified, approved and declared to be binding upon the membership of this Church as a part of the said Corporation.
As a member of the Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church Salem has taken action in concert with that body on different occasions reflecting the changes that were occurring on the Annual Conference level over the years.
The renaming of the Mennonite Brethren In Christ was on the mind of Annual Conference and choices were laid before the third local conference on May 7, 1958. Here is how Salem Bible Fellowship Church chose:
United Bible Church 4
Bible Fellowship Church 5
Menn. Breth. In Christ 2
The official changing of the name of Salem Mennonite Brethren In Christ to Salem Bible Fellowship Church occurred in the Fourth Local conference on August 19, 1959, with following resolution:
Whereas, Our denomination has changed its name as of June 23, 1959, to be known as the Bible Fellowship Church, therefore
Resolved, That we as a local congregation of Lehighton, Pennsylvania, be known and operate as the Salem Bible Fellowship Church beginning this nineteenth day of August 1959.
The congregation voted to have the church incorporated according to the laws of the State of Pennsylvania on January 4, 1961. Salem was officially incorporated on March 1, 1961. The Trustees reported to the congregation: “…The Trustees have completed the process of incorporation as directed by the First Local Conference. The name of the local church shall be ‘Salem Bible Fellowship Church of Lehighton, Pennsylvania.'”
Salem had developed some serious questions as to the status of men who have been divorced holding a leadership position in the church. At the Seventy-ninth Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church an article had been proposed for inclusion in the Faith and order the wording of which was questioned by some at Salem. At its fourth local conference on August 21, 1963, a petition was approved for presentation at the coming Annual conference in October. In 1966 at the Eighty-Third Annual Conference the first reading draft of the proposed article on divorce was rewritten in almost exactly the form in which it appears today.
Another petition was taken to annual Conference in 1967 which read:
We, the congregation of Salem Bible Fellowship Church in Lehighton, Penna., petition the 84th Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Churches convening On Monday, October 9, in Allentown, Penna. that this church be recognized as a station, self-supporting, with all the rights and privileges thereof.
The petition appears on page 77 of the 1967 Year Book as being received by the Committee to Examine Local Conference Minutes. Page 8 of that year’s Annual Conference proceedings contains the following: “Resolved, the petition of the Lehighton Bible Fellowship Church be granted and that their delegate be seated in the Stationing, Boundary and Appropriating Committee.”
The people of Salem have always conscientiously maintained their properties and buildings. Quarterly and local conference decisions reflect this concern. On February 24, 1954, the “second local conference” authorized refurbishing of the Cypress Street church building with two resolutions.
Resolved, that the Board of Trustees be authorized to renovate the church according to the plans presented to the local Conference, and further,
Resolved, that the Board of Trustees be authorized to borrow whatever funds are necessary for this purpose.
On September 21, 1960, the congregation authorized a major renovation of the church building on Cypress Street with the following resolution:
Resolved that the trustee board be authorized to spend $7,000 for the renovation of the church. The approx. prices being
$2,495.00 furniture and pews
2,300.00 wall to wall carpet
100.00 change platform
200.00 asphalt tile for basement
400.00 window sash
200.00 window panes
300.00 window installation
250.00 oak paneling for walls
Resolved that the trustee board be authorized to make a loan not to exceed $4,000.00 for the proposed renovations.
In 1976, during the ministry of Kenneth Good, Salem bought six and one-half acres of Mahoning Township land on Frederick’s Grove Road. This proved to be a most valuable move on the part of Salem. First, the obvious problem of lack of space at the Cypress Street location both for building growth and parking was resolved, But a second reason emerged in the years after the land purchase. The Route 443 corridor soon became the fastest developing section of Carbon County. Today hundreds of cars pass both Salem’s sign on Route 443 and its property on Frederick’s Grove Road.
On March 25, 1979, following the Evening Service a Special Congregational Meeting was held in which the members of Salem authorized negotiations with Andrews Enterprises, Inc. of Kennebunk, Maine, to build a church building on the property on Frederick’s Grove Road. Pastor Bernard Coble served tirelessly as the on-site supervisor for Andrews Enterprises, Inc. in the construction project. While the trusses were being placed, before they could be tied together and secured a hard wind came up and blew the trusses down. Some workers as well as church members working at the site were spared serious injury by God’s grace. Pieces of those trusses can still be found around the property.
At 2:30 P.M. on Sunday, April 20, 1980, a Dedication Service for the new building was conducted with former Pastor Bert N. Brosius preaching and Pastor Bernard N. Coble leading the service of Dedication. Mr. Spencer Andrews, the general contractor, presented the keys to the building to Mr. Paul Flickinger, Building Committee Chairman.
The pastor’s residence was to change again. On July 11, 1982, the congregation voted to authorize the construction of a new parsonage on land where the new church building had been erected in 1980. Occupancy came in 1983. Pastor Larry Carpenter and family moved from 137 North Fourth Street to what was later to become 1089 Frederick’s Grove Road. The contractor was Curtis J. Bailey of New Ringgold, Pennsylvania.
So the story of Salem Bible Fellowship Church continues. Over the years since the last major construction in 1982 Salem has made many thousands of dollars worth of improvements to its property. But the most important construction to be done is being done by the Lord Jesus Christ in building His church. May He continue unhindered to bring people to Himself and build His people up in the faith. This is the kind of construction that has the substance of eternity.
1. The Lehighton Story, p. 9.
2. Ibid. p. 9.
3. Ibid. p. 10.
4. Ibid. p. 10
5. Ibid. p. 10.
6. Ibid. p. 12.
7. What Mean These Stones?, p. 1.
8. Shelly, The Bible Fellowship Church, p. 174; note 33.
9. Minute Book: 1893. No pages are cited when this book is used since there are no page numbers.
13. Verhandlungen, pp. 221, 226.
14. Ibid. p. 226.
15. Ibid. p. 232.
16. Minute Book.
17. “Biographical Sketch of Rev. H. B. Musselman.” What Mean These Stones? p. 86.
18. Ibid. p. 86.
19. Minute Book.
21. Minute Book.
22. See Appendix C: Construction Costs.
23. Minute Book.
25. That building is still in Salem Bible Fellowship Church family serving as the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Bauer. Mrs. Bauer, the former Vivian Flickinger, is a granddaughter of Mrs. and Mrs. Oscar Olewine who were instrumental in the beginning of the mission in both Weissport and Lehighton. Mrs. Bauer’s brothers Paul and the late Raymond Flickinger were also very active in the church at Lehighton.
26. Minute Book.
27. See Appendix C: Construction Costs.
28. Minute Book
30. Verhandlungen, p. 236.
31. See above, p. 4.
32. Minute Book.
33. Verhandlungen, p. 237.
34. Ibid. p. 238.
35. Ibid. p. 228.
36. Ibid. p. 232.
37. Ibid. p. 227.
38. Ibid. p. 227.
39. Ibid. pp. 236, 238.
40. Minute Book.
43. Ibid. See Also Verhandlungen, pp. 232, 243.
44. The Bible Fellowship Church, p. 162; note 8.
45. 1952 Year Book, p. 116.
46. Minute Book.
47. Background on R. L. Woodring is compiled primarily from the quarterly conference records of the Lehighton / Weissport missions and from the article “In Memoriam” from the 1934 Year Book of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, pp. 29, 30.
48. Minute Book.
52. 1934 Year Book, p. 29.
53. Ibid. p. 29.
54. Ibid. His daughter, Dora Naomi Gehman was the mother of missionary Rev. Dr. Richard J. Gehman, who served as a Bible Fellowship Church missionary with AIM International in Kenya, East Africa. “Memorial Service for Dora Naomi Gehman,” church bulletin, April 15, 1992.
55. Minute Book.
56. Verhandlungen, p. 243.
57. Weissport and Lehighton Classbook, p. 4.
58. Bethany Bible Fellowship Church: 1893 – 1993, p. 19.
59. Lehighton and Weissport Quarterly Conference Records, p. 39.
60. Ibid. pp. 184, 185.
61. Quarterly Conference Records, Lehighton, p. 4.
PASTORS OF SALEM BIBLE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH
1. C. H. Brunner 1893-1894 (1)
2. H. B. Musselman 1895-1897 (3)
3. 0. S. Hillegas 1898 (1)
4. W. J. Fretz 1899 (1)
5. W. G. Gehman 1900 (1)
6. R. D. Driesbach 1901-1903 (3)
7. J. F. Barrall 1904-1906 (3)
8. W. J. Fretz 1907-1908 (2)
9, C. W. Stine 1909-1910 (2)
10. E. T. Schick 1911-1913 (3)
11. J. C. Roth 1914-1915 (2)
12. E. E. Kublic 1916-1918 (3)
13. N. H. Wolf 1919-1923 (5)
14. V. H. Reinhart 1924-1925 (1)
15. J. C. Roth 1926-1943 (18)
16. E. W. Bean 1944-1952 (9)
17. J. B. Layne 1953-1959 (7)
18. Bert N. Brosius 1960-1966 (7)
19. M. Leslie Campbell 1967-1968 (2)
20. Arthur H. Frable 1969-1971 (3)
21. Terry N. Tareila 1972-1974 (3)
22. Kenneth L. Good 1975-1976 (2)
23. Bernard N. Coble 1977-1981 (5)
24. Larry N. Carpenter 1982-1985 (4)
25. Mark W. Solt 1985-1986 (2)
26. William H. Bartron 1987-Present
HISTORICAL NOTE BY REV. C. H. BRUNNER, 1893
The following historical note is found on the first pages of the first minute book of Salem Bible Fellowship Church entitled Minute Book: 1893 and is written by Salem’s first pastor, 0. H. Brunner.
The organization of the congregation of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ of Lehighton and Weissport was due to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
On Sept. 5th 1893 C. H. Brunner accompanied by his wife and sister Dora B. rote under the directions of the Presiding Elder held a tabernacle meeting on the corner lot (belonging to Mrs. J. M. Obert) on Third St. just above the school Building Lehighton.
These meetings continued until Oct. 13th when the storm blew it down the second time. They were special seasons of refreshing. God’s power and the Holy Spirit being sensibly present. The attendance was good, and members of almost every denomination were present, many taking active part.
From Oct. 14th to 17th we had very precious meetings In the vacant store room of Dr. Thomas on Main St.
On Oct. 18th we had feetwashing and communion in Laury’s Hall, Weissport, when the lord laid it upon our hearts to rent the hall for all winter and sister Dora Rote and sister Lizzie Christman continued the meetings every night until Dec. 18th. with C. H. Brunner in charge until the Annual Conference.
The results of the meetings this far are as follows:
Conversions 22 18
Sanctified 23 9
Baptized 29 8
Admitted 5 7
On Oct.- 8th a classwas organized in the tabernacle with 8 members.
On Sunday afternoon Oct. (blank) we had the first baptism when 20 were baptized in the Mahoney (sic) Creek witnessed by over 3000 people. This was undoubtely the first baptism ever held in the place.
SCHEDULES OF CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL COSTS FOR BUILDINGS
Schedule #1: Building Materials For Mt. Zion Chapel; Union Mill, 1894
CHURCH BUILDING REPORT
Stone and Mason Work 86.00
Rough Lumber 123.55
Slate and tar paper 71.25
Carpenter Work and labors 156.95
Butting on slate on roof 11.00
Heater and fixtures – put up 29.00
Planing Mill work 239.00
Putting on hard oil finish 10.00
Per chairs & table 20.79
Hess & Bro. benches $2.75 each (20 Bykness ) [sic] 55.00
Altar railing poplar 13.00
Per lamps 12.85
Paint, Hardware, Nails, etc 44.51
Miscellaneous expenses 41.01
Total Expenditure $1 ,032.91
Balance due note in bank 125.00
Money outstanding to collect 265.50
H. B. Musselman
Sec’y for Board of Trustees
Schedule #2: Building Materials For Salem Bible Fellowship Church, 300 Cypress Street, Lehighton, Pennsylvania
ACCOUNT OF LEHIGHTON CHURCH
To Mr. Israel Kern for contract for Building (28 x 44) complete
painting same, frosted glass, slate roof, plastering etc $800.00
Mason work for foundation wall J. C. Ziegenfuss 117.50
Lamps and fixtures 13.45
28 pews – 12 ft. – Hess & Bro. Hellertown 88.20
Layman – oiling seats etc 12.00
Freight on pews 4.60
Altar railing Maple – 15.25
Hardware, grates, -labor & coal 27.80
Carpets & freight 27.80
Wain coating – extra 17.22
Extra inside Carpenter work – Kern – 11.60
Int. on note 4.00
Building permit – recording deed 4.15
Heater and fixtures 60.00
Per small table 5.00
Varnish and dedication expenses 20.00
Extra chairs 17.50
Digging cellar & hauling 13.15
Miscellaneous fixing up outside etc. 17.03
Amount covered by subscriptions
Amt. outstanding to collect up to date between five and six hundred dollars.
H. B. Musselman
PETITION TO THE EIGHTIETH ANNUAL CONFERENCE, AUGUST 21, 1963
“The following is a petition composed by the official Board at its monthly meeting on Sunday August 4, 1963. This petition is being presented to this local conference to ratify so that it may be presented from this congregation to the Annual Conference.
“Whereas, we are aware of the fact that Annual conference of the Bible Fellowship Church is in the midst of writing the Articles for the moral standards of the church, and
“Whereas, the article on divorce which has passed one reading will be presented for second reading at this Annual Conference which then if passed will be the official standing and ruling of our denomination, and
“Whereas, this local congregation is aware of the fact that the former statement on divorce was interpreted differently by various District Superintendents and pastors on [sic] the district, which led to many heartaches and problems which could have been and should have been prevented, and
“Whereas, this local church is concerned about the problem of divorce, but it is also aware of the limitless grace of God which causes us to be in disagreement with the third paragraph of the article on divorce as it passed the first reading, therefore
“Resolved, that the congregation of the Salem Bible Fellowship Church of Lehighton, Penna. meeting at its 4th Local conference on August 21, 1963 petition the 80th Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church convening on Oct. 14; 1963 at Bethlehem, Penna. to present a clear statement on the issue of divorce. We suggest the following:
“1. That consideration and study be given to present a uniform basis for determining who is the innocent party in a divorce, since the Lord certainly makes clear the exception clause and our article includes it.
“2. That ways and means be established to enforce the standing of the church whatever it may be, so that the trend of the past which led to various and sundry interpretations of the divorce issue by different pastors and Dist. Supt’s [sic] may be eliminated.
“3. That a study of the standards and qualifications for deacons and elders as presented in I Timothy and Titus be studied to determine whether or not the scriptures really do prohibit what we are trying to prohibit in the article which has passed first reading, and if we do not have definite scriptural evidence for our stand, we would like to know the basis on which men, whether in the local assembly, or on the denominational level are able to prohibit that which God’s Word does not prohibit, or permit that which God’s word does not permit.
“4. That a study be made to determine the scritural [sic] basis of denying the ‘guilty’ party in a divorce the right of holding office in our church if they give evidence of repentance and divine forgiveness, also whether or not such can be used in any capacity within the church such as teaching and ect. [sic]”
This petition was recorded in the minutes of the Eightieth Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church convening at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the 1963 Yearbook, pp. 25, 26 under the “Report Of the Committee on Examination of Local Conference Minutes.”
The Eightieth Annual Conference’s response is found in the same Year Rook on page 28:
“Whereas, we have before this Conference a second reading of our statement on divorce, and
“Whereas, we have also a petition from the Salem Bible Fellowship Church, Lehighton, Pa., seeking clarification and further information relative to our stand on divorce; therefore,
“Resolved, that we refer this article on divorce, and the petitions from the Salem Bible Fellowship Church of Lehighton, Pa., to a study committee composed of five ordained ministers elected by this Conference which shall report to the next Annual Conference.”
As of the Eighty-first Annual Conference in 1964 the petition had been referred back to “The Committee To Study the Problem of Divorce.” There is no record of a report from this committee in the minutes of Annual Conference that year (See 1964 Year Rook, p. 40.).
At the Eighty-second Annual Conference the full report of the study committee was received. The report covers twelve pages of the recorded proceedings of that conference (1965 Year Rook, pp. 48-60) and is the official Annual Conference response to the 1963 Lehighton petition (1965 Year Book, p. 60).
The impact of the study was to send the original first reading of the article on divorce back to committee for revision:
“Whereas, The article on Divorce in the Moral Standards which passed first reading at the 1962 Annual Conference is not in accord with the present study on divorce, therefore,
“Resolved, That the Divorce Study Committee be asked to write an article on Divorce, based on the study submitted to this conference.” (1955 Year Book, p. so)
“The Divorce Study Committee,” as it was renamed, came back in 1966 with a revision of the original 1962 article that remains today as the Bible Fellowship Church’s article on divorce.
Buck, Leonard N. What Mean These Stones? Coopersburg, Pennsylvania: Bible Fellowship Church Historical committee, 1983.
Hontz, T. Hamlet (ed.). The Lehighton Story. Lehighton, Pennsylvania: Gnaden Huetten Massacre Bi-Centennial Committee, 1955.
Shelly, Harold P. The Bible Fellowship Church. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Bible Fellowship Historical Committee, 1992
Taylor, Richard E. Verhandlungen: 1859-1895. Coopersburg, Pennsylvania: Bible Fellowship Church Historical Committee, 1989
Wire, Doris Deppe. Bethanv Bible Fellowship Church 1893-1993. Whitehall, Pennsylvania: Bethany Bible Fellowship Church, 1993.