The History Of Kutztown Bible Fellowship Church
Through the air, over the rows of sparrows perched on the telephone wires above Kutztown, there rises this Sunday morning the sound of voices singing,
“Great is the Lord,
His mercy endures,
Forever and ever. “
It is the Kutztown Bible Fellowship Church, and they know that what they sing is true.
In February of 1981 Randall Grossman had come to Kutztown with a vision for a community church with a focus on welcoming students and professors. Saved at Kutztown University himself, he believed students should have a real church, not just a campus fellowship, when they attended college.
He went to the other BFC pastors of Berks County, and they decided that if all their churches agreed to plant a BFC church in Kutztown, it would be taken as God’s will. All the churches approved, and on the first of February, 1981, Pastor Grossman and his wife, Nancy, moved from Hatfield to Kutztown. A month later, they began to hold evening services in the Kutztown Fire Hall.
Easter of 1981 the first morning service was held in the fire hall. A Wednesday night Bible study in private homes and a Sunday school were also started that year. Pastor Grossman says this church was God’s will and God’s plan, carried out by different people, but always His.
In his earlier years, when he walked through the quiet cemetery, Pastor Grossman could see a little stone chapel. “I used to think, isn’t that a neat place?” he remembers. “Sometimes God gives us our dreams.” (Pastor Randall Grossman. Personal Interview. January 18, 2002.)
The Assembly of God Church meeting there at the time moved into a larger building and Pastor Grossman asked the owners if the BFC congregation could rent the chapel. He was told that they weren’t interested in renting, but selling. The congregation bid $30,000, and it was accepted. In March of 1984 the purchase was completed.
The congregation was received as a particular church into the Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church in October of 1 985. Pastor Grossman was installed as its first pastor in February 1986. In 1988, after completing three support-free years, it became a full-fledged BFC church.
During this time, the church bought the parsonage at 231 E. Main Street, one mile from Gonser Chapel, and entered into an agreement to rent a room in the basement of the Victory Christian Center (today the Lehigh Valley Chinese Christian Church) across the street for the adult Sunday school class.
In July of 1990, Pastor Grossman accepted a call to Grace BFC in Reading. “I didn’t want to leave, but as far as God was concerned, my work in Kutztown was finished,” he remembers. (Interview) Osborne Buchanan was called to be interim pastor during the pastoral search process.
A friend of Pastor Grossman’s in seminary, John Studenroth, called and spoke to Nancy Grossman. With a burden for college students and faculty, and a wish to pastor a church in a college town, he asked to be considered in the pastoral search, although he was told Pastor Grossman had found less and less time for the University under the growing demands of being pastor.
Six months of silence went by, and then he received a call. Was he still interested?
So it was that on February in, 1991 he stood on the porch of 231 E. Main Street, with a toddler and a baby, and the parsonage welcomed its new pastor and family. Having engaged him as stated supply in January, with the intention of calling him as pastor, the Kutztown Bible Fellowship church installed him as their second pastor in October.
Pastor Studenroth compares the years of his ministry to that of Ezra. With no vision for great building projects, as Nehemiah had, Ezra “devoted himself to the study and observance of the law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws to Israel.” (Ezra 7:10 NIV) It was a time of sifting, settling, and maturing, and growing in grace and wisdom, not numbers.
“People came, but people left too,” he says. “I forced them to think more deeply about God and His word; a few people couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with that. But for those who stuck with it, the Lord matured His flock (hopefully in His image, not mine!) as they grew in grace, love, unity, and their knowledge of God.” (Pastor John Studenroth. Personal Interview. January 16, 2002)
In the mid ’90’s the church took a spiritual gifts survey. Among many various gifts, it was found that the congregation as a whole scored high on the gift of mercy.
In October of 1998, Pastor Studenroth announced his resignation in order to become the BFC chaplain to the secular colleges of Berks and Lehigh counties. He continued to pastor the congregation until another pastor could be found.
Allan Vivona had been in the “new pastors’ orientation” for the Bible Fellowship Church with Pastor Studenroth in 1991, and was currently pastoring the Harrisburg Bible Fellowship Church. He says he was attracted to Kutztown because he saw the people were committed to learning and keeping God’s truth.
On March 1, 2000, Pastor Vivona became the Kutztown Bible Fellowship Church’s third pastor. Since then the new Women’s Ministries Committee has hosted several evangelistic banquets, and weekly Bible classes have been started. Pastor Vivona says his vision is for a larger building, and for Kutztown to grow large enough to start a daughter church.
And so, in different voices but the same truth, the music rises above Kutztown,
“Great is the Lord,
His mercy endures,
Forever and ever. “
Dates in The Formation And Growth of The Kutztown Bible Fellowship Church,
by George Monroe. Unpublished document, 1992.
Personal Interview with Chaplain John Studenroth, January 16, 2002.
Personal Interview with Pastor Randall Grossman, January 18, 2002.
Personal Interview with Pastor Allan Vivona, January 23, 2002.
Personal Interview with Mrs. Phyllis Monroe, February 17, 2002.
Personal Interview with Mrs. Laura Studenroth, February 18, 2002.
The Holy Bible (NIV).