I have long been drawn to the people who make up the Bible Fellowship Church and its history. I am not sure I could tell you why if you asked me. For the most part, they are pretty normal people with pretty ordinary abilities. They were never found much in the headlines. Like the churches they built, they were often find on the side streets. They were not perfect people but they loved God and did not seek the limelight. They could be counted on. Loyalty and dependability can be seen in them as they went about the day to day business of doing of God’s work.
In this issue, you will be introduced to three people.
The first is William F. Heffner. Ardis Grossjean has done her normal great job of pulling together information and presenting it in a way that makes it interesting and highly readable. You will enjoy meeting Pastor Heffner and learning about his life and ministry.
The second is Elizabeth Gehman, wife of W. G. Gehman. You are introduced by her step daughter, Mildred Gehman Henry. I used to make it a point to go by Millie’s apartment home in Allentown for a visit. A visit with her is almost indescribable. She was given to nearly non-stop conversation. She was bubbly, bright, and, as you will see, full of opinions on almost any subject. She writes like she talked. I can hear her voice in her writing and remember how full of life she was. She has gone on to be with the Lord but left a number of her ramblings for me. It just might be that you are meeting not only Elizabeth Gehman but Millie Henry as well. Her memories of her mother will come in two parts, the second of which will come in the next edition. If you knew Millie, you know she adored her father. She can’t avoid talking about him and all the special parts of the man that we called W. G. but who she knew as “Dad.”
The third person you will meet is Rudy Hollinger Gehman. His son Richard Gehman has written a tribute to him. You will find that Dick has done his homework and opens the events that led this Pastor Gehman to serve in the MBC. What Dick has written was too long for this publication. What does not get printed will be on our website (www.BFCHistory.org – look under What’s New.)
The Heffners Who Came from Fleetwood: Two life-long servants of the Lord (and a glimpse into the “silent years” of the Fleetwood congregation)
Ardis Grosjean Dreisbach (one-quarter Heffner)
Some mysterious “Fleetwood People
Lately the Fleetwood BFC has come into focus. At the Historical Society’s annual meeting in October 2006, James E. Mortland spoke on the topic, “130 Years in Fleetwood”. His talk has been distributed to Historical Society members, along with Dick Taylor’s “Fleetwood Addendum. Daniel Koch”.
At the end of his article, Dick has added a section called “Fleetwood People”. Here are names of persons appearing in the church steward’s account book for the years 1906 and 1907. Some of these people could be found in census data. One such is Morris Heffner. Dick found him in the 1900 census, described as an apprentice stone polisher, living in Richmond Township (where Fleetwood is located), a son of Daniel Heffner. However, another man with the same family name, one George F. Heffner, could not be satisfactorily identified in the census records, though in the church account book he appears as a trustee!
The identity of these men is not really a mystery. Nevertheless, apart from a few Heffner family members, there cannot be many people in the Bible Fellowship Church who can place Morris and George Heffner. As we shall see, this pair did not have long careers within the church, yet they lead us straight to two of their siblings who were life-long servants of the Lord – one a pastor and one a Gospel Worker. In fact, the lives of Christian service of this man and woman can be seen as a direct result of two conversions that took place in the 1890’s in Fleetwood, in a congregation that at that time was not a part of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. Let us look first at the two Heffner brothers, for brothers they were, who were listed in the 1906-07 Fleetwood church accounts.
First, the elder of the two, Morris Faust Heffner (1883-1908), whose time on this earth was brief. He was born in 1883 on a small farm near Fleetwood and was the eldest surviving child of Daniel and Andora Heffner. Morris would have been about seventeen when the census recorded him as working as a stone polisher in 1900. In 1906/7, at the time of his appearance in the church account book he was twenty-three or twenty-four, and already a married man. His wife also appears in the accounts as Lillie Heffner. She was the former Lillian Foose. Morris had only a short time left to live, and at the end of 1908 he died of typhoid fever, leaving not only his widow, but also a little daughter. Morris Heffner was only twenty-five when he died.
George Faust Heffner (1884-1974) was the next-born after Morris. His life was varied and eventful and he lived to be almost ninety. George was talented in music and art, he was handsome, and he had a penchant for being photographed. There are several pictures which show him looking quite dashing in his Gospel Herald’s uniform. In 1906-1907, when he was listed as a church trustee, George was twenty-one. He was, however, of a wandering nature, and in 1908 he left home (it is not known when he left the Gospel Heralds), travelling first to California, then doing odd jobs in various states in the western U.S. Hearing that Morris had died, he returned to Berks County for three weeks, and then left again for the west. After a year in California (there is a splendid photo of him in a top hat), he went to Australia. Returning after three years Down Under, he then lived and worked in various parts of North America. Finally, in 1929, he married Bessie Millard who came from Australia to join him, and they settled down in the Pocono’s at Scotrun. Eventually his widowed father Daniel Heffner left Fleetwood and came to live with him. George stayed on in his cottage in the woods after the deaths of his wife and his father until he could no longer maintain his independence. Having started his adult life in what was then the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, George Heffner came full circle and died in the church’s home in Nazareth at the end of 1974.
Heffner conversions in Fleetwood
Berks County, and especially Richmond Township, has been home to numerous Heffners, many of whom were and are Lutherans. Yet we need look no further than the family of Daniel Heffner of Fleetwood to find the origins of several generations who have been faithful members of the Bible Fellowship Church. Daniel Adams Heffner (1856-1945) was the first in his family to experience conversion. He was not a likely candidate for a conversion experience. Daniel excelled on the fiddle, played in the town band and was in demand to play for dances. He and Andora Faust (1860-1897) married young and they eventually settled on a small farm just outside Fleetwood. In addition to farming, Daniel worked at the ochre mines above his farm, and was also a stone-mason. Thus it is not surprising that son Morris was listed as a stone polisher in the 1900 census.
Dick Taylor, in his “Fleetwood Addendum”, has described the beginnings of the Fleetwood congregation. In 1869 William Gehman, one of the founders of the Evangelical Mennonites, began meetings in Fleetwood. As early as November 2 of that year, the Conference minutes speak of a congregation in Fleetwood. An early convert of substantial means, Daniel Koch, built a brick chapel in which the congregation met. In the 1870’s and up to 1887, Daniel Koch was the Fleetwood delegate to Annual Conference. Conference minutes give the names of the many preachers assigned to Fleetwood – a different one every year from 1874 through 1889. Then, for a decade, Fleetwood inexplicably disappears from Conference records.
Apparently the congregation, or part of it, lived on, calling itself the Church of God. Indeed, it was here that Daniel and Andora Heffner met their Savior. In two letters written in the 1970’s, Daniel’s younger daughter Annie Heffner (1888-1983) describes events in the family that occurred in about 1895:
“My parents were genuinely saved in a little Fleetwood church called: The Church of God.”
“Dad took good care of us, he worked hard, I must say. Also he loved the Lord. He was saved when I was about 6 or 7 years old, I still remember the family worship that started up. Mother was saved the day after father was saved (what a happy family we were).”
In early 1895 Andora gave birth for the ninth time. Three children having died in infancy, there were now six: four boys and two girls on the Heffner farm. Then, two and a half years later, Andora Heffner succumbed to a heart attack and was called home. Looking back in 1975, when she was 87, Annie wrote, “My mother died, gloriously happy, when I was 9½.”
Annie has described how she and her elder sister Lizzie kept house for their father and brothers. “Lizzie and I baked about 40 pies and cakes every week, cleaned the house every week, washed clothes for us all – and that was by hand on the washboard, not a machine, we milked 2 or 3 cows, by hand, every morning and every evening, churned butter once a week, kept the garden weeded, fed the pigs, chickens, horse, dog and cat, twice every day, many other chores, etc. but we thot we had a good, nice life.”
The return of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ to Fleetwood
We can assume that after the parents’ conversions, the whole Heffner family walked the mile or two into Fleetwood on Sundays to worship in the Church of God on North Richmond Street. As we have seen, this church group was a continuation or perhaps a surviving remnant of the original Mennonite Brethren in Christ congregation begun in Fleetwood as early as 1869, but since 1890 no longer recognized by the M.B.C. Annual Conference.
What was at issue in 1890? Why did Fleetwood suddenly disappear as a circuit congregation from the Annual Conference records? Some sort of difference or split must have occurred, for instead of petering out, at least part of the congregation continued under the name, the Church of God. This must have been a church that had a sufficiently vibrant witness to induce lasting changes in the Heffner family. Father Daniel, the hard-working head of a growing family, was converted, followed by his wife. Family worship was instituted. Their younger daughter never forgot the new, happy state of family life on the Heffner farm.
A few years after the Heffners’ conversions, efforts were begun to re-introduce or revive M.B.C. meetings. James E. Mortland and Austin P. Shelly have described how, in the late 1890’s, meetings were started again by a Brother and Sister Wenz who rented a hotel room for this purpose. This new Fleetwood undertaking is not mentioned in either the 1898 or 1899 Conference Proceedings, where the strictly defined organizational reporting of what went on at Annual Conference had no categories for information on such grass-roots activities. By 1901, however, Fleetwood had managed to get back into the Conference records. It is now listed as part of the Schuylkill Valley District, and is one-third of a circuit, together with Blandon and Athol, to be served by E. N. Cassel. Earlier that year, Brother and Sister Wenz had donated land on Elm Street; very soon a tent was set up, followed by a building erected for meetings, and by October of 1901 Annual Conference was ready to reinstate Fleetwood and provide it with a pastor.
Annie Heffner has not said how it came about that her family moved from the Church of God to the re-established M.B.C. congregation. She did write in 1978, however, “I think my brother Morris and brother George and also … Lizzie had joined, before I was saved (at age 19)“. Annie, having been born in 1888, was saved in 1907, the very year of the church steward’s account book. The two Heffner men, Morris and George, who appear in the accounts are clearly her elder brothers. Annie thus supplies confirmation of the early involvement of members of this Heffner family in what is today Fleetwood’s Faith Bible Fellowship Church. Morris soon died, however, and George went off on his wandering way. Why give this family so much attention? Some of those reading this may be smiling. They can surmise what is coming
The Heffners leave Fleetwood
If Morris and George Heffner are listed in the Fleetwood congregation’s account book in 1906-7, why are other members of the family not found there? The answer is that major changes were taking place which led to most of the family moving to the city of Reading. In 1906 Lizzie Heffner (1886-1917) married Jim Musser from Lancaster and set up housekeeping in Reading, where they were life-long members of Grace Church at Tenth and Oley Streets. Father Daniel Heffner, five years a widower, remarried in 1907 and he and his new wife moved to Reading where they stayed until 1911. He had with him his two youngest sons, William and Harry. In the 1910 census the brothers are shown as being 17 and 15 and living at home. William is listed as a painter. Within four years he would be married and a fledgling preacher. In 1907 Annie came to Reading too, got a job working in a clothing factory and lived with her sister Lizzie and Jim Musser – but only briefly. Annie’s conversion soon worked a dramatic change in her life.
Annie leaves Reading
The Heffner sisters, Lizzie and Annie, whose mother had died when they were ages ten and nine, had always been close. It was not surprising that in moving to Reading Annie chose to live with her sister rather than her father, step-mother and two brothers who in any case lived in the same part of Reading. Though Morris, George and Lizzie had begun their walk with Christ in Fleetwood, it was not until Annie was living and working in Reading that she met her Savior and became active in Grace M.B.C. church. Lizzie and Jim Musser had a little girl, Erma, born in 1908. Annie wrote in 1973, “I lived with them until (Erma) was 2 years old. I used to almost maul her to pulp with affection. You can imagine what my “Call of the Lord” meant to me at that time, but I’m so glad that I chose to follow His leadings, I don’t know where I’d be today if I had taken my own way.”
Where did her “Call of the Lord” take Annie Heffner? To Cleveland, Ohio and the Gospel Worker Society. In 1906/7 W. B. (William Brunner) Musselman, founder and president of the Society, had moved the Gospel Workers and their printing establishment, The Herald Publishing House, to Cleveland. In early May 1910 Annie boarded a train and travelled to Cleveland. She entered the Gospel Worker Society on the thirteenth of that month.
Then followed seventy-three years of devoted service to her Lord, most of them spent in the stress of the composing room, which Annie supervised for more than twenty-five years. Annie later told her family how, when printing deadlines loomed, the Gospel Workers were at their linotype machines almost round the clock, some of them staving off exhaustion by snatching a quick nap on the floor next to their machines. It was not unusual to start the working day at 8:00 A.M., stay at the machines until 4:00 A.M. the following morning and then start a new day of work at 8:00 A.M. There were also open-air meetings to conduct in downtown Cleveland, and mission work to be done in Youngstown and Pittsburgh.
The publishing house changed its name to the Union Gospel Press, and Annie continued to set type for Sunday school material, the Gospel Herald and other Christian literature. At age ninety-two Annie Heffner was still alert and still on the Board of the Incorporated Trustees of the Gospel Worker Society. It was about this time that she wrote, “I am not sick, as a rule I feel quite well but do get, I guess it’s called heart spasms—which you never know what it will do to you, but my Lord and I are on good terms and He will take care of me.” In 1983 it was Annie Heffner herself who looked out from the cover of the Gospel Herald. Having lived to be ninety-five, she died on April 23rd and, at a publishing pace she would have been proud of, she was immediately commemorated in the magazine’s Spring quarter number with a full cover photo and a three-page article.
William gives up house-painting
Young William Franklin Heffner (1892-1975), living with his father and step-mother in Reading and working as a house-painter, also dedicated himself to a life of Christian service. The present writer has only one letter written by Rev. W. F. Heffner, as he was later known, and regrettably it contains no information on his early life. In 1911 his father and step-mother moved back to Fleetwood, but William stayed on in Reading. There, at age twenty, he married Anneda Shearer in April 1913. Their first two children each lived only one day, dying in August 1914 and April 1915. It was a serious time for the young man who, in addition to working, became a Quarterly Conference Licensed Missionary in 1914. This meant that he was licensed to preach in his home congregation, but not to travel about as an evangelist. In 1916, as a member of the Gospel Herald Society, he became an Annual Conference Licensed Preacher, and could now preach wherever Annual Conference chose to place him. Conference stationed him in Nazareth with responsibility for Plainfield (both in north- eastern Northampton County). William was now twenty-four, he was titled “W. F.” in true M.B.C. preacher style, and was on the way to becoming an ordained minister.
Though not ordained until 1920, W. F. Heffner was already given the “charge” of Quakertown and Hatfield in 1919. The Heffners arrived in Quakertown with baby Ethel, born in Nazareth, and during their six-year stay in Quakertown, Donald, Helen and William (Bill) were born. There was also little Melvin, who did not live to see his first birthday.
In 1925 W. F. began ten years of service in Graterford and Harleysville. One spring day in 1931 the author’s parents drove down from Allentown to Graterford in a borrowed automobile to be married by W. F. Heffner. They were Austin Dreisbach of Allentown and Erma Musser of Reading (the very one who had almost been mauled to a pulp by her affectionate aunt Annie Heffner). It was in the parsonage dining-room that Erma’s ‘Uncle Will’ performed a simple wedding ceremony in which his wife Anneda was the witness and the four young cousins were curious observers.
Then followed ten years in Harrisburg (1935-1945). In 1936 death visited the family for the fourth time, and Anneda Heffner was called home. The new pastor in Harrisburg was now a widower with four children between the ages of 18 and 12. W. F. remarried, and his children later wrote a tribute to their step-mother, Miriam Parker: “Dad made a wise choice when he married Miriam Parker, who became our “2nd mother” and was married to our father for over 38 years. She was an excellent “mom” to us and lovingly cared for dad to the last days of his life”.
W. F. Heffner continued his long years of pastoral service at York (1945-1954), Shamokin (1954-1955) and Lebanon (1955-1960). At age 68 he and Miriam retired to Harrisburg, where he lived for fifteen years. W. F. was described by his children as being “the most wonderful Christian father children could be blest with. … He had a host of friends from the various pastorates he held and was the means of blessing to many people. He taught us the things of Christ and set the example before us.” A grand-daughter remembers him as “the dearest grandfather anyone could have“. Called home in 1975 at age 83, W. F. not only lives on in the affections of his descendants, he has passed on the musical genes he inherited from his father to his own children and to their children in turn. They play horns, they play the piano, they sing. Another grand-daughter writes, “We never got together for family reunions (and we got together for any excuse) that there wasn’t singing – lots of it. I grew up thinking all families were like that“.
A summing up. We have seen how two Heffner conversions that came about in a small Fleetwood congregation during an interim period, with no organized presence of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, led in various ways to the two lives of service we have just outlined. We have seen, at the beginning of the 1900’s, Heffner membership in what was to become Faith Bible Fellowship Church in Fleetwood. We have followed the Heffners to Reading and Grace Church. We have followed Annie Heffner to Cleveland and W. F. Heffner to his various pastorates, and got a glimpse of his musical legacy. There are other, ‘hidden’ Heffners. They may bear various surnames, as in the case of Pat Musser, now known as Mrs. LeRoy Heller. Of all of them it can be said that their spiritual heritage, at least in part, can be traced back a hundred years or so to Fleetwood and to a little group of dedicated believers there.
Tribute to Elizabeth Tyson Gehman
1st My Aunt
2nd My Mother
by Mildred Gehman Henry
In these days when sin is increasingly rampant, not covered up or secretly done but openly flaunted and there seems to be no moral code by which most folk live—we at times may think our country is “going to the dogs,” it is heartening to know that God always has His own true and faithful ones who love Him and keep His commandments, When one out of two marriages divorces, it is good to get an insight into one good Christian marriage that has endured till death. There are many many more but it is of this one close to home about which I write. Who, I ask, if one were able to foresee the future, which God in His kind providence withholds from us – would have the courage and venture to be joined in marriage to a widowed minister with four little girls ages seven to two, when only 24 years of age? This is what Elizabeth did—we were not strangers to her, she was fond of the children of her sister Emma. I was five years of age when my mother died, and my father being very distraught, what with the death of his wife and baby boy, had thought of putting us out to different homes, as he was a Presiding Elder at this time and had to travel constantly, by train, but on second thoughts he decided to keep the home together by getting in folk to take care of us. The first was our cousin Ursula Heist daughter of his sister Hannah, but that proved to be too heavy a burden for her 17 yr. old shoulders, so next he chose Howard and Mary Shelly of Coopersburg who had just been married and they moved into our home at 517 N. 8th St. Allentown, Pa. I have the most happy memories of them—Howard being full of fun and a clown, was just what I needed to furnish my emotional makeup the excitement I needed. One morning when I was nearing 7 yrs of age, Dad called Grace and me into his bedroom and asked us how we would like our Aunt Lizzie to be our mama. This was a weighty subject for young children, but am sure we nodded our heads in the affirmative. I can still see the long nightgown Dad always wore and which were in vogue in those days. And one morning Dad and I walked down Hamilton St. to the station to catch the train for Spring City—it was in the early dawn, and this was a courting trip to our aunt but of course, I did not know the score. I remember her taking me up to her room. She with W. S. Hottel, wife and Mabel – had lived in home of Charley Yerger’s before but due to a fire th lived ere, the Hottels took her in. It may have been around Easter time as she gave me a pretty cardboard Easter egg which one could take apart – it was such a treasure to my hungry heart that I kept it fondly for a great many years. As recently as when Mother was in Nazareth, she told me she could not imagine why Dad hung around so late at night, but she was soon to learn the reason for his visit. That was likely the extent of their courting, as in those days the ministers did not make a production of it—everything of this nature was very secret and no one knew until the news came out that they were married. I will tell of her marriage now and later in the story tell what I know about her childhood up until she became Dad’s wife in 1910. I think it was the month of August. H. B. Musselman, the other P. E. performed the ceremony up in the 2d floor study of my father’s. I was 7 years old now and we children still called her “Aunt Lizzie” and H. B. said, “Now you must call her mama, not Aunt Lizzie any longer.” Soon we moved to 1503 Lehigh St. Easton, as he headed the Easton district, hence his choice of this address. If Elizabeth never had excitement before, she was to have it now—marriage, four children to mother, and then moving, and next a baby in 9 months. This was Vivian, and five years later twins blessed the home – Alma and Beatrice – the latter to die at one month – it was a Sunday and in AM she would not take her mother’s breast and by suppertime she was dead on mother’s lap. I do not know the diagnosis. I do vividly remember the funeral in the front living room – P. J. Musselman was the pastor at our Nazareth church and it was he who conducted the service. I can still see the small casket covered with velvet brocade pansy design.
Oct. 8 – Elizabeth’s funeral, we girls were questioning where Beatrice was buried, as I often through the years wondered – none of us knew – but it must have been that the undertaker took her to the Zionsville cemetery and buried her. None of us can picture any grave service, so only Dad and undertaker may have made that trip. There’s no marker for her. How well I remember how heartbroken I was. I went out on back porch and sat on long bench and cried copiously. “We learned very young the stuff Life is made of joys and sorrows, laughter and tears. Life and Death. The house on Lehigh St. was very large to accommodate the expanding family, and without any conveniences at all, but when one has never had them or anything they do not miss them…but it was more than adequate for “hide and seek” and all the wild games we could play when it was not fit to be outdoors. Doors and doors and halls, and upstairs and down we raced in these games. It is a wonder the whole house did not crash down—Elizabeth’s nerves had to be made of steel, but it was not all fun there but hard hard work.
We had a huge kitchen, with a big black coal stove, chrome trimmed, a pipe went up into the bedroom where we mostly froze, seems it was Saturdays when we had to shine the stove till we could see our faces in it, and polish the chrome, but O, how I hated the daily chore or taking out the ashes box and sorting out any tiny piece of unburned coal, no waste in this German family, and to go down into the ground cellar [I can still smell it, lizards, spiders had a great time down there] and bring up buckets of coal from the bin. Every job was dirt – dirt. Now if we had a bathtub, we could have tolerated it, but no. Saturday night was the big night for the weekly bath—in came the huge round galvanized tub and Grace got in it first (had to bring all water in from the outside pump, then heat on stove) and I got in next. Of course we could not have clean water for each kid. So as I also got plenty of handmedown clothes, I was the 2nd to get in the bath, then likely a change or water and so on. It still makes my stomach turn over as I remember how I was repulsed by it. And no deodorants in those days, they must have been smelly ones, however the fun we had likely overcame everything.
I would like to write a book just on Lehigh St. I was at that inbetween age 7-13, the awkward klutzy age, when no one understands us and we feel no one loves us – the metamorphosis in our bodies accounts for this. Anyway I was not mature or responsible very much, but my wildest memories of happiness and fun are in this house. What evenings we had as we made our own fun – kids today with their puss glued to the TV know nothing of the satisfaction of making their own entertainment–we learned as Mother read to us, the while I liked to fix her hair in the fanciest styles, those prohibited in our Puritan culture (this pride is in heart of every mortal) and she would fall asleep on me. Small wonder after all the hard work or a long day. We had taffy pulls, roasted slices of raw potatoes atop the stove, salted them and gobbled them. Potato chips had not as yet been invented. “When it snowed and we had the real doozys back in those days (how I wished for big blizzards so they’d close the schools, or wish the school would burn down and we could be out of prison). We took big bowls and went out and gathered the snow while it was falling, not too much pollution in those days and bring” it in and put atop confectioners sugar and vanilla and Yummy Yummy. And Mother taught us all the feminine skills. We embroidered, learned to make our clothes at about 15 or 16 years of age. Ma read good books, no trash—how I suffered about Eliza in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. I pity the poor souls who think that learning can only be obtained in liberal arts colleges. No, if you want to be a learned person, just poke your nose continually in good books and you will really be literate and finished. And the education one gets with their hands in the vocational schools – I cannot enough sing their praise. Kids must be left to follow their aptitudes. Many college grads are forever misfits. Back to Lehigh St.
There was a potbellied stove in the living room . I can still see flames dance merrily as I looked through the isen glass windows. What dirt on the carpet as we took out the ashes, and every 6 mos. we had the general housecleaning. I mean the insanity as we took outdoors everything that was not nailed down. The carpets had to be slung over the wash line and the living daylights beaten out of them. More than dirt flew away – lots of the carpet too. How I hated to come home from school and jump into this dreamy artistic work. And another pipe went up to Dad’s study from this stove, not that it did much good, but everyone lived in this style.
Don’t let’s forget the outhouse. We lined up at night before retiring. In winter it was the worst, and Sears Roebuck catalog was our tissue as the “don’t squeeze the Charmin” had not yet been invented. Dad had a great love of animals and he saw to it that we always had one animal or another to enjoy, even goats to butt you over with their hard heads. And you should have seen the yard – not a blade of grass. Between us and the animals beating everything down, the yard was like brown cement. That didn’t matter to us, we were having fun. And the wooden washer on the back porch with a long stick which we pulled back and forth hundreds of times and each taking her turn, and hanging wash on the line all winter, even if it was brought in at suppertime as stiff as an ice cube, just for the good smell. Now I like good smells, get me right, but I can easily dispense with this agony and torture.
Which brings me to the refrigerators nobody yet had. It was the day of “the iceman” refrigerators. Leftovers could easily spoil, but I guess with our hungry crowd, there was no such thing as a leftover. Goody! The chamber pot under the bed and the turns we took to empty it in the outhouse. What fun! The front bedroom upstairs where the three babies were born, was also the guest room. How well I can see that large china basin and pitcher and a towel beside it, and it was there our Aunt Lillie visited us. How my worldly soul “digged” her. She wore big hats with feathers and flowers atop and lacy fancy blouses and dresses and she went to Atlantic City (hush hush) I so wanted to be like her and she was pretty too, but am sure she gave the pastors and presiding elders a very hard time as they tried to reform her. When she visited us she always brought each of us a gift. To me was given a sewing outfit, green ribbon with everything tied to it, needed for sewing, thimble, pincushion, scissors, and guess I was past grown up when I still kept it. We were poor and every little thing was so precious to me. But all the good food mother made for us made up for all these seeming hardships. And she was a good cook. English are reputed to be the world’s worst cooks. Just take the most expensive cut of meat and cover with water and bring to a rollicking boil and cook the daylights out of it to make it nice and tough.
Well, Elizabeth had training in the best cookery by Mrs. Fairheller who ran a boarding house. What great pies Ma made. Always a huge can of lard from fresh slaughtering, was used. And a Monday night meal of boiled cornmeal mush with butter and milk atop – I loved it and then what was left over was sliced the next AM and served with molasses atop. We had hearty food for our strong bodies, and sometimes for a meal a huge bowl of cooked macaroni in center of the table and we ate sugar and milk with that. While some of the residents complained about this food, not I, as with all my drive, zeal, energy I had the matching appetite for any food that would stoke my red hot fire within me. Times surely got better as I can see Dad and mother go downtown every Saturday AM to the market and always on Saturday we had the most delicious beef roast. Then Sunday we did not do too extensive cooking as we near lived in church – AM service, Sunday School at 2 PM, and then evening service. I say, a dose of some of this kind of living, the togetherness, would do kids of today some good. Ma made lemon sponge pies, floating island, pan dowdy, the latter made the whole supper meal—pots of ham and cabbage, beans and ham, stews, hashes, I can still taste them…and fried potatoes with eggs broken in them. True hospitality was extended to all in our home to any who happened to come as we were eating or about to eat – come join us in our meal. At our Lehigh St. home a dressmaker came regularly. I don’t remember how often but with 6 girls and lots of white petticoats, there was need of a seamstress. I can’t think who it was. Could it have been Sister Bergstresser? Fill me in. Each one of us had to do our own ironing. Don’t let’s forget the sad irons, and SAD they were. Heated on the coal stove, we had to have on the board a heavy cloth with lots of wax on it to rub the iron back and forth to make sure no black was on it. This was no guarantee about that though, and count on it, the iron was either too hot or cold, never the right temperature. It would try the saintliest of saints, and I am sure we were not turned out in Parisian finesse, but then everyone “was in the same boat.” Now ironing is for the birds and I am so thankful those sad irons are retired into oblivion. How the pendulum swings! Today’s young housewives have so much spare time they do not know what to do with it. That will be the day for me. I must live 77 more years to get all done I plan to and God knows that and will time it right. One exception today, I have met one or 2 fanatics who like ironing so much they do the underwear and Turkish towels. I say they lack imagination and also a creative makeup.
It was at Lehigh St. that Dad purchased a Model T Ford. One was thought to be well situated to afford a car in those days. And how proud Dad was to take his chicks and Lizzie out for a ride of a summer evening – down the river road toward Philadelphia. The canal boats ran along side us and he would go to a farm down there and stock in on fresh fruits and vegetables – always was he a good provider – he loved to eat as he was a very hard worker. And he took us on many long trips. There was absolutely nothing like fear or it can’t be done in him. We went to Cleveland, to UGP [Union Gospel Press] when there were no highways as we know them today, the Lincoln highway would be a laugh to you who live today, but we always got through no matter how many times we were stuck and needed help. He was his own help – too proud to ask for others – and he took us to N. Y. city to educate us, while, I say, he alone was a great education to anybody. And he was ever restless, ambitious, always wanted to better himself and us and keep on the move and so it was that the next move was to 1846 Fairview Avenue, a spanking new 11 room house. Not content, he had to have the Brosius’s from Sunbury to come and build a sun room on second floor rear and a two story garage – the first floor for 2 cars and the second to raise Flemish giant Belgian hares, guinea pigs, etc. He raised carrots for the animals. They had not yet come into style to be eaten by humans as we now do. While there, Will was born. I was 15 years old at the time.
1914-18 the First World War raged and terminated Nov. 11, 1918 – 28 million died like flies, chiefly because we had no antibiotics as yet. In this pretty home we did not stay too many years as I was 19 when Clarence was born. That would be the year 1922, and this was at 1136 Northampton Street. This old cavernous house Dad saw the greatest possibilities if completely building one over is one. Anyway he bought this from a Doctor, and inside rooms was wainscoting and the darkest gloomiest of wallpapers, and a ground cellar with a hanging cupboard where the old-timers put their pies and cakes on the one day that was baking day. How they ever kept the bugs and spiders from them has always remained a mystery to me. Nothing daunting he again had the Brosius’s and the Gospel Heralds to come and help as he made it over (of course with all of us girls it was exciting when the Gospel Heralds came,) but what cooking Ma had to do. She was near always running a restaurant. The Brosius’s built 2 huge chicken houses. Dad always had 100 chickens which furnished fresh eggs and meat when company came down the road. Only thing, this was all on the main street of Easton – nothing like this would be tolerated today, and the house on Pine Street which was to be the bookstore on first floor – Geo. Reinbold and Clay Elijah and Rosie Witt the workers there. How mother took all of this or lived with Dad is a great marvel, and any incompatibilities between them, they were all in secret, which is the greatest marvel of self control. But it was LOVE, and that is the only thing that endures. Her quiet was just what he needed.
Dad’s ideas were the ruling order in this home and also somewhat H. B. Musselman contributed. At Fairview st. I well remember how we copiously munched lettuce sandwiches, and Dad had all the know how as did the Indians of everything growing which was of medicinal value and many a concoction of teas, etc were not exactly delicious, but “drink it, it will make you well.” In those days the ministers were not for going to doctors. As I reflect, that is not altogether a mistake. At 77 years of age I thoroughly believe that the body has wonderful recuperative powers if we would eat sensibly, and live simply, and let Nature have a chance at healing. I am certainly not for this daily taking of drugs. Much illness is psychic and in our minds, but there are times for drugs for quick relief, but as for me, not for a daily diet – popping all kinds of pills in my mouth every day is not one of my hobbies. But thru our long life we had need many times of a doctor, so we do not attempt to denigrate them.
While living at 1136 Northampton st I well remember our grandpa Daniel Kinsell visiting us. I can still see his bald head just ringed with plenty of hair. Just wonder what he thought of Lizzie’s Will, probably what a go-getter he was, so many children and such a big house, and so prosperous. Sorry I do not have the date of his death. Can anybody advise me? By 1925 the children were beginning to get married and the house was too big so that Dad began to make apartments to rent. But we, when married, had many happy times coming home for special occasions.
Our next move was to 2651 Northampton Street. I never lived there, do not know exactly what year Dad and mother moved out there, seems they only lived there several years when Dad passed away, Nov. 26, 1941.
Let’s now go back to Elizabeth’s beginning. She was born May 1, 1886 to Daniel and Emiline Tyson Kinsell (In moving I was looking through the journal of Isaac Tyson, born 1804. I came across the black bordered funeral announcement of Emiline W. Kinsell, born 1839, died Sept.1898. First service at the late residence in Mingo, Pa. Second at the Mennonite Temple, Royersford. This was not our Mennonite church. Bruce Musselman told me Dad built our Royersford church. This Emiline is the mother of Emma and Elizabeth. She was only 59 years old at her death from typhoid fever. She was 47 years old when Lizzie her 6th and last child was born. Dad’s mother was same age when he came into the world. So you see both of our parents nearly did not get here. I was shocked into insensibility when I found this in the journal, the more so as this had been my possession since Ma broke up at 2651 Northampton Street. I did not find it till Oct. 13, 1980, Lizzie having been buried on 8th. I have note in my file that the stones for the Royersford church which Dad built, came from the Kinsell farm. This from Bud Spedden July 23, 1975. He just passed away Oct. 17, 1980).
When mother-broke up at 2651 Northampton Street she gave me two journals, the one by her grandfather and one by our Dad when he was teaching school, both in yellow leather which is falling to dust, but the funeral announcement was finely in tact due to no air having reached it. Ma seemed to sense my makeup and that I loved this old old history, while others in family may call it junk. Anyway I am wealthier than anyone can imagine. These things are just priceless. I was at the right place at the right time and am I lucky! This announcement is 82 years old.
Elizabeth must have been born at the Royersford homestead as the last of six children. First, my mother Emma, born 1874, same year as Dad, next Sam, Eva, Isaac, Lillie (Lydia) and Lizzie. On the death of their mother Emiline 1898, Emma was 24 and Lizzie 12. Emma kept the home for the children and the father until Dad at 27 years of age came to take her for his bride, 1901. Times must have been hard in this precious home, as I recall that Emma took in men’s tailoring to do in the home, all this valuable education for the brood she was to soon mother. [Continued in the next edition]
A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER: PASTOR RUDY H. GEHMAN
by Richard J. Gehman
On a hot summer’s day on August 17, 1961 I was “trapped” in the sultry oven of the Wheaton College library. The previous year I had completed my course work for the MA in New Testament. During the summer of 1961 I was diligently researching and writing my MA thesis. The library had been built for air-conditioning so none of the windows could be opened. But that summer the air-conditioning malfunctioned. As a result on the second floor in my carousel I was completing my thesis in an undershirt and feeling most uncomfortable.
Late on the afternoon of 17th August the librarian notified me that someone was on the phone wanting to speak to me. When I answered, I heard my mother’s voice speaking from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The sound of her voice indicated some problem. She then informed me that my father had just died in his “study” at home!
What a bomb shell. “My father is dead?” I asked in unbelief. Yes, he had just fallen over and was gone to glory. Everything was dropped immediately and I returned by airplane to Lancaster. Horace Kauffman and Dick Matthews, both elders in the Lancaster Bible Fellowship Church, picked me up at the airport.
That last week my father was conducting Vacation Bible School in the Lancaster Bible Fellowship Church. The theme of the Vacation Bible School was “Living by God’s Time.” Clocks were the motif throughout the week with topics of study including: “The great timekeeper,” “The gift of time,” “Now is the time,” “Wasted time,” “Prayer time,” and “The test of time.” The theme Bible verse for the week was Psalm 31:15, “My times are in Thy hand.” Another verse to be memorized was Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to number of our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” This biblical truth was God’s Word for me at that time of grieving to remind me that God makes no mistakes and that his hand was in this time of sorrow.
The night of the 17th was the closing exercises for Vacation Bible School. My mother was upstairs in the bedroom preparing for the big occasion when many parents of the children would join together for the recitations and presentations of the closing night. My father was down stairs in his “study” also preparing. He had gathered many clocks from a jeweler to display as a visual object lesson of the theme for Vacation Bible School.
Suddenly, my mother heard a thump on the floor downstairs, so she called down to my dad, but there was no answer. She went downstairs to see what had happened. To her dismay she found him lying on the floor dead. Shortly thereafter my mother’s brother, Allen G. Woodring, retired pastor of the BFC, and his wife, Hilda, arrived at our parsonage from their home in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, unaware of my dad’s sudden death. They were coming to attend the closing exercises in our church in Lancaster. My cousin, Leonard Woodring, a medical doctor from Wyomissing, was then called. For my father there was no suffering, no hospitalization, no anticipation of death, only a sudden translation from this life to glory. But for my mother and her son, there was the shock of disbelief and sorrow.
I had always loved, admired and respected my dad who was my great role model in childhood and youth. However, we soon moved on after his death, finishing my education, getting married, and serving the Lord in Kenya for thirty-six years. My mother moved to Reading to be near her brother, A.G. Woodring, and after his death she went to live with Hilda Woodring until she moved several years later into the Bible Fellowship Church Home in Nazareth, PA. Though not forgotten, we might say that my dad was in the back of my mind without much studied thought given to him.
Now in retirement, forty-five years later, I wish to offer a tribute to my dad.
When reviewing the last sermons that my dad preached, I found a separate piece of paper tucked between the sermons with an “Epitaph” he copied with his own hand writing, presumably to be used in his last sermon.
“Pause here my friend as you go by, As you are now so once was I. As I am now, you soon shall be
So prepare my friend to follow me.”
A passerby added this: “To follow you I’ll not be content until I know which way you went.”
To know “which way” he went, this tribute will point to his life and ministry so that we might be prepared to follow him. To understand my father one must understand his roots, his life and ministry, his preaching and teaching and his character.
MY FATHER’S ROOTS
Family Background of my Dad
Who was my father? What was he like? To understand him better we must understand his parents and his childhood rearing. Because my grandfather Gehman died when I was eight years old and my grandmother Gehman died when I was twelve, I do not remember many things about them since we visited them only once a year. But my older cousins, who had lived near my grandparents in earlier years, knew them much better. On several visits with them in 2006 they were able to share many things that they remember. Much of the following is attributed to them.
My grandparents: My dad’s father, Joseph (“Joe”) H. Gehman, also known in the family as “Pappy Gehman, was born August 19, 1866. He was tall and thin. Whenever people shook hands with him his hands were cold, but he would say, “Cold hands but a warm heart.” Pappy was of Swiss German stock and a descendant from Mennonite immigrants. He married Barbara Hollinger who was born on February 26, 1863. Both Pappy and Mammy Gehman were quiet but Pappy was the dominant figure in the home.
Mammy Gehman was “very quiet” in the words of my cousins. She did not talk very much. In her old age she sat on a rocking chair in the front room in Denver with her head down. She was more quiet, reserved and less assertive. Earlier on she had spent time quilting and made a patched quilt for each of her 37 grandchildren. Though quiet, she could be forthright and fearless when younger. To prepare a meal she would go to the pen with chickens, pick one out, then grasp it and swing it around to make it dizzy. Then she would put the hen on a block of wood to cut off the head. After a meal with the guests, she would say, “Isn’t it time to wash the dishes?” Following a custom, all of her children were given her maiden name, Hollinger. So my father was named, “Rudy Hollinger Gehman,” known in our church circles as “R.H. Gehman.”
My grandfather as an entrepreneur: Pappy Gehman was preeminently a business man of the first order. He was a ‘go getter.” Whenever he tried something, it worked. He was engaged in many things; he was a business man who pushed ahead. Pappy was always on his heels. “Let’s go to the garden,” he said to his grandson. He scratched around in the hole where he had buried apples in the ground over the winter and had the apples ready to eat in the spring.
At first Pappy and Mammy Gehman lived on his father’s farm near Adamstown, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, living with his parents where their first child, Lizzie, was born. When Mammy was about to deliver, Pappy quickly ran across the field barefoot in the month of September to call a doctor because Lizzie was about to be born; but in the process he froze his feet. Pappy was quick to do things.
Later he moved to a farm near Bomansville in Lancaster County and worked as a farmer on “The Brossman farm.”
But Pappy had a vision and was an entrepreneur. He saved enough money to buy a large farm of 120 acres nearby with a farmhouse and a barn. When Lizzie, his first born, got married, Lizzie and Peter lived together with her parents in the farmhouse for one year, while Pappy Gehman built another house and barn nearby within sight and calling distance. When completed, the Gehman family moved to the new house where my dad lived for twelve years. Pappy then rented the old farmhouse and barn to his son-in-law, Peter Martin, for 15-20 years. After many years, when Pappy got older, he subdivided the farm into two and sold the two properties.
After selling the farm, he operated a shirt factory at Bomansville from 1916-1921. There were 21 employees, including Pappy, a daughter and my dad. In 1921 Pappy Gehman moved to Adamstown for one year where he and my dad operated a feed mill.
Then in 1922 Pappy bought a red brick building with two stories in Denver, PA. On the ground floor he developed and managed a flour mill for 25-30 years. The flour mill was located alongside of the railroad tracks so that the flour could be easily shipped far and wide by train. This “Gehman Flour Mill” still thrives today, enlarged and prospering with the original red brick building still visible today alongside of the railroad track. Today there are large silos to store the flour and nearly a dozen tanker trucks into which the flour is poured instead of filling the sacks by hand. In Pappy Gehman’s day they put the flour into sacks and my uncle, Wayne Gehman, would throw these 100 pound sacks around quite easily. Not today. They use labor saving devices.
As Pappy began to age he could not tolerate the dusty air in the flour mill so he moved to the second floor of the mill and built furniture for sale. He took a great interest in different kinds of wood. He cut walnut wood, stacked it to dry, and made furniture from it. Across the street from the flour mill he had a store to sell furniture and the picture frames he made. In my office in Florida I have two well crafted pieces of furniture that come from his hand.
Wayne Gehman, his son, first managed the business. The other two brothers, Monroe and my dad, also worked there. But one day Wayne fell backwards during work and fractured his back. He failed to get proper medical help. They tried to nurse him at home for a year. Eventually, when he returned to the doctor he was sent to the hospital where they discovered that he had cancer. He died at the age of 39.
As my cousin said, “Pappy was no dumb head. He was not afraid to grab hold of things. He watched carefully. He was a businessman who pushed ahead.” He was also a keen observer. When Wayne, the manager of the flour mill, suddenly passed away at the age of 39, his brother, Monroe, took over. Pappy watched carefully. He said to Ervin, my cousin, “This thing won’t last very long because Wayne is not here. Monroe is not doing as well.”
Pappy also had initiative. He dealt with problems. Mammy used to bake pies and set them on the window sill to cool off. Then they began to disappear. So Pappy went to the barn below, called the workers together and warned them never to steal again. The pies never disappeared after that.
But he was also a friendly person. Everybody in Denver knew Pappy Gehman. “Hello, Joe,” people would say. All my cousins agreed that Pappy was a friendly and likeable person.
My grandfather as a Christian: Pappy Gehman was a devout Mennonite Christian. At first he and his family were members of the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Church, eventually worshipping in the Bomansville Mennonite Church. But Pappy would often say, “You got to have revival meetings.” He later left the Lancaster County Mennonite Church (the “Old” Mennonites) for reasons not clear and joined the “New” Mennonite Church which was also in Bomansville, and which was known as the “Pine Grove Mennonite Church.” My cousin said that Joe Gehman with others “began” the Pine Grove Mennonite Church. In what sense he “began” the church in the 1920s is not clear. In contrast to the “Old” Mennonite Church, the Pine Grove Mennonite Church was a congregation of the General Conference of Mennonites of North America which had been founded in 1847 when John Oberholtzer was scorned and rejected by the bishops of the Franconia (PA) Conference of Mennonites because he did not want to wear the clerical collar; and because he pushed for a written constitution and written minutes. The conservative bishops objected, saying, “We never did this before and there is no reason to change now.” So Oberholtzer formed the “New Mennonites” which were far more open to change.
Some have observed that Mennonites often divided over legalistic questions of whether a Christian should wear shirts with collars and buttons, or whether they should use cars, radios or have Sunday School in church. Most people are prone to tradition and Mennonites are no exception. My cousin, Lester, remembers that when something new developed, such as a car, the radio or TV, they would ask, “What next?” “What else?”
Pine Grove Mennonite Church was first founded in 1854 over a dispute about schooling. When Pappy Gehman joined the Pine Grove Mennonite church, it may have been in decline, my cousins suggested. The Bomansville Mennonite Church had no Sunday School. Perhaps Pappy wanted Sunday School. Charles Martin says that possibly the Pine Grove Mennonite Church was about to fold up and Pappy with a group of Mennonites gave new life to it. Charles said, “That is what I think happened. Knowing Pappy, it would not surprise me that Pappy would do that.” In various ways Pappy Gehman had a hand in developing the New Mennonite Church in Bomansville.
In 1924 the Henry Unruh family moved to a farm near Bomansville. One Sunday he attended the Pine Grove Mennonite Church when Rev. Allen Fretz was scheduled to conduct worship services. At that time worship services were held once a month. When some friends encouraged him to begin attending that church, he declined because it had no Sunday School and he had determined that his children should attend Sunday School. Permission was then granted to Henry Unruh to begin a Sunday School. The members who gave their “full support” to this effort were the Groff family, the Musser family and the Gehman family. When the Sunday School was organized, Katie Gehman, my dad’s sister, became the teacher for the young people’s class; she was also chosen as the Sunday School Secretary. One year later my dad served in this church as the pastor and was ordained to the ministry by Rev. Fretz.
These New Mennonites laid aside many of the traditions or customs of the Old Mennonites. Lizzie learned to play the piano and was the first one to play the piano in the Pine Grove Mennonite Church. Pappy Gehman wanted Revival Meetings and was not happy with the required dress code of the Old Mennonites. As one cousin said, “He was not exactly a one-church person. He was instrumental in starting other churches.” But the New Mennonites were not as “new” as people are today. Jacob Weber, a second cousin, remembers attending the Pine Grove Mennonite Church with Pappy Gehman. There were two entrances: one for men and the other for women. Girls and women went in one side and sat on that one side, while the men sat on the opposite side.
Some years later when they moved to Denver, PA, and developed the flour mill, Pappy and some of his adult children attended the Trinity United Brethren Church founded in 1900 (now the United Methodist Church). Pastor Brenamen was a very fundamental preacher and loved the people. But the next pastor had a problem with adultery so the Gehmans decided to move to the Bible Church in Denver with my Aunt Katie and Uncle Harry Wealand and Aunt Anna Gehman. The Bible Church in Denver was founded in 1937 and Pappy Gehman and his family played a part in its founding. In order to buy a building they needed landowners to sign. Anna Gehman, an unmarried daughter who cooked for some wealthy people and was the secretary in the Gehman Flour Mill, was one of those landowners who signed.
Following German Mennonite customs, they would bow their heads and quietly pray before the meals without anyone praying aloud. But unlike others, he read the Bible with his family and taught them while they were seated in a circle. When they prayed they would get on their knees to pray. My dad would recall that one of the songs Pappy liked to sing was, “Will the circle be unbroken when we meet in the sky?”
My cousins remember staying with Pappy. At times when they visited my grandparents at Christmas time, they would have a service. They had an organ in the house and they would sing hymns and read the Scripture. They would have Scripture reading and prayer before going to church service. My cousin, Ervin, observed that Pappy Gehman was “a quiet man except on religion. Then he had strong convictions. He was not quiet about his religious faith.” Another cousin remembers him standing in the Bible Church to give a testimony. He seemed a bit nervous, was a little shaky because he was not used to speaking in public.
In many ways Pappy was a growing Christian, moving from the Old Mennonites to the New Mennonites, then to the United Brethren Church and finally to the Bible Church. Living faith was evident in their home.
My grandfather’s Christian legacy: The faith born in the home of Pappy Gehman became evident in the life of his children. They distinguished between tradition and true faith. When Lester, my cousin, saw some women without a prayer head covering, he asked his mom, “Are they Christians?” My Aunt Tillie turned around and firmly said, “Yes!” In the home of my Aunt Tillie and Peter Martin they bowed their heads in silent prayer before the meal but never prayed aloud. This was the German Mennonite tradition. Although Lester does not remember them reading the Bible or praying together in family worship, he does remember his mother reading the Bible many times. When Lester turned twelve years of age, his mother said it was time to join the church. All Lester could think of was wearing plain clothes. He asked, “Does that mean I must wear plain clothes?” She turned toward him and said firmly, “No!” So he agreed to join the church. But he didn’t know the Bible; neither did he know the Lord. He married at the age of 20 and soon thereafter began auditing the evening classes of Lancaster Bible College. Through that instruction he was converted and was assured of his salvation.
In a remarkable way this Christian legacy of Pappy and Mammy Gehman carried over to the next generation. All their children knew and served the Lord. In this paper we shall not develop the Gehman legacy further except to say that nearly fifteen of Pappy and Mammy Gehmans children, grandchildren and great children became ordained ministers, career missionaries, or trained Bible College teachers. Many others served in the churches in various capacities of lay leadership. My loved and esteemed Aunt Katie was a remarkably intelligent and devoted woman who conducted Good News Clubs, and taught the Bible lesson to the children and youth for 34 years in Camp Lou San. Vital Christian faith permeated all the families.
Pappy spoke in Pennsylvania Dutch (Low German) most of the time. As a boy he could speak in High German. One cousin remembers him singing the following in German, “My brothers are already there in Jerusalem; my sisters are already there in Jerusalem.”
The character of my grandfather: “Pappy Gehman was a quiet man. Mennonites were quiet people of the land.” Every year my father would take me and my mother to visit his one living brother and four living sisters. Aunt Lizzie, as long as I knew her, was an invalid who was either in bed or seated on a wheel chair with blankets wrapped around her legs. The home of Uncle Peter and Aunt Lizzie was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. When talking with Aunt Lizzie there would be moments of total silence before anything more was said. The same was true in the home of my Aunt Tillie. She was very quiet and markedly slow in all her mannerisms. Boisterous or loud talking was unheard. Quiet peace prevailed.
But the picture formed of Pappy Gehman in the mind of Anna Wivell is of a strong willed and decisive person. He was rather serious minded with no joking. His word was to be followed. On one occasion he said to his grandson, Ervin, who was ten years old, “You Ervin, follow me.” He took tobacco from a box and put it in his pocket. He said, “Don’t you ever start this.” Apparently, Pappy was addicted to the chewing of tobacco and believed it was wrong but could not stop.
On another occasion Pappy wanted one of his daughters, Hettie, to sing in church but she did not want to. Pappy was always forceful and with strong convictions. Hettie did sing in church.
He ruled the roost in the home; he was in control. Pappy would tell Mammy what to do. When they were in old age, Clayton Gehman, my cousin, visited them for a meal. Pappy got up for the meal but Mammy could not get around so well. So Pappy called her and told her to move faster.
Pappy did not believe in higher education. His last born, Katie, loved school and did well in elementary. So she determined as a child that she would grow up to be a teacher. To her dismay when someone in the shirt factory had to leave, Pappy Gehman pulled her out of school and asked her to work in the factory. Several times she wanted to return to high school but that never came to pass. She then decided to go to Moody Bible Institute but Pappy did not want her to go. He did not believe in higher education. Eventually, she was able to take correspondence courses from Moody.
But Pappy was also a kind man. Jacob (Jack) Weber worked for his uncle, Pappy Gehman, during one summer. He was ten or twelve years old at the time. In return for his work that summer he received one silver dollar. “I have nothing but good to say about Joe,” he commented. “He was a man of few words. He was a quiet man, not very outgoing. But he was kind and never lost his temper.” Pappy Gehman would hold his grandchildren in his lap and try to teach them German. He had white and pink mints and would give these to the children whenever they came. On occasions Pappy would get up and offer pieces of candy to the children. He would give it, and then pull it back to tease them. Other cousins remember the same thing; Pappy always had candy.
On one occasion, his own little eleven year old granddaughter (Anna Gehman) got her hand in a meat grinder and lost three fingers. When she ran into the house she did not cry, but Pappy did. They wrapped the hand in a handkerchief and went to the hospital. He drove so fast that the speedometer never worked after that.
Later on he took Anna Mary Eckenrode into their home and cared for her. She was a ten or twelve year old girl from a broken home and he took her under his wings and provided a place of love and refuge for her. He cared for her many years. When the biological mother wanted her back years later, he took the matter to court. Someone said, “He will win because he has the money.” He was well set financially.
Pappy was an honest man. Jack Weber, who is now 101 years old and knew Pappy Gehman as a boy, said “He was as honest as one could be.” Another cousin remembers when he was eighteen years old and needed some money. He went to borrow money from Pappy to set up business in the Reading Farmers Market. After Pappy withdrew the money from the bank and gave it to Charles, Pappy said, “Now I want to say this! You must always remember that sixteen ounces is a pound, not fifteen ounces. Always remember that pennies make the dollars.” This became a help for him to get into the meat business.
Other memories include the time a grandson by the name of Clyde came running and said, “Look what I found!” It was a Copperhead snake that had bitten Clyde. Pappy ran and threw a stone at a chicken, got it, then cut off its head and put Clyde’s hand inside the chicken. This sucked out the venom.
The area in which Pappy Gehman lived and worked was in a small circumference of the northeastern part of Lancaster County, next to Berks County. He was born on a farm near Adamstown and lived there until his early married life. He then bought the 120 acre farm near Bomansville where they also attended church. The shirt factor was located in Adamstown. Bomansville was just eight miles from Denver where they moved to develop the flour mill and where Pappy and Mammy retired. As we shall see, this is the same area where “The Lancaster County Christian Gehman” settled when he emigrated from the old country.
Different traits: The different personalities and appearances of the parents were reflected in the children. Emma (Gehman) Martin was like her father, a little emotional and quick. She was “fiery.” Instead of walking across the room, she would literally run. When she ironed, she did it fast with quick movements. In contrast Tillie Gehman, who married Noah Martin when Emma died, was slow. Tillie was a “Hollinger” while Emma was a “Gehman.” Wayne who died at the age of 39 from Hodgkins’s disease, was six foot tall and a strong person. Wayne was very much like his father with a good business sense. He had bought more than eight burial plots in the cemetery before his sudden death. But his brother, Monroe, lacked business acumen and was a bit dour and reserved. Whereas Pappy was somewhat outgoing and friendly, Monroe was shyer. Hollingers were very easy going while Gehmans were more emotional and fast. Pappy was a “go-getter.”
Into this home my father was born, sharing characteristics of both parents. His face was more like a Gehman with his nose and forehead, while the Hollingers had a small chin. He was more on the quiet side and somewhat reserved and shy like the Hollingers.
Relationship of Rudy H. Gehman and “Father” William Gehman
“Gehman,” of course, is a legendary name in the history of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church (MBC). The Zionsville (MBC) Bible Fellowship Church cemetery is filled with Gehmans. William Gehman, a pastor excommunicated by the Mennonite Church because of his enthusiasm after his conversion, his desire for Sunday Schools, Revival Meetings and Prayer Meetings, founded the Evangelical Mennonite Church which ultimately became the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church through various unions of other like-minded Mennonites; and later evolved into the Bible Fellowship Church. William Gehman’s son, W.G. Gehman, became a prominent leader as a Presiding Elder and the leader of the Gospel Herald Society for many years. Another son of “Father” William Gehman was Allen M. Gehman who was a prominent layman in the MBC, serving as the Treasurer of the MBC conference. Allen M. Gehman also happens to be the father of Ruth N. (Gehman) Hilbert, the mother of my dear wife, Florence A. Gehman. Flo and I are not only related by marriage on July 25, 1964 but are also related by blood through one common ancestor more than four hundred years ago.
In summary we lay out the first four known generations of the Gehmans:
Martin Gouman (born about 1555; married to Anni Berger)
Nicholas Gouman (born 9 June 1588; married to Catherina Gouman)
Hans Gouman (born 3 March 1616; married to Barbli Gfeller)
Christian Gouman (“the elder”) (born 20 April 1643; married to Madlena Keller)
Christian Gouman “the elder” became the first known Gehman to make a public confession of Anabaptist faith. He was called a ‘hardneck” because of his refusal to give up his Anabaptist faith and was imprisoned with his son, Christian “the younger,” on 29 September 1710 in Bern, Switzerland. Later they were imprisoned together on the island in Bern because of their Anabaptist faith.
Christian Gouman “the elder,” four-hundred years ago, is the first common forefather of Rudy H. Gehman and “Father” William Gehman.
Christian Gouman “the elder” had two sons pertinent for our genealogies: Christian Gauman, born 28 November 1706, the forefather of William Gehman; and Benedict Gauman, born 7 January 1687, the forefather of Rudy H. Gehman.
In outline form the succeeding generations are as follows:
Christian Gouman “the younger” (born 1 March 1678; married to Catherina Streit)
Christian Gauman (born 28 November 1706; married to Magdalena)
Jacob Gehman (born 19 October 1753; married to Anna Maria Fretz)
George Gehman (born 30 July 1788; married to Sara Swartz)
William Gehman (born 22 January 1827; married to Anna Musselman)
Allen M. Gehman (born 30 September 1866; married to Permelia Snyder)
Ruth N. Gehman (born 23 December 1904; married to Kyron Hilbert)
Florence A. (Hilbert) Gehman (born 11 April 1940; married to Richard J. Gehman)
Benedict Gauman (born 7 January 1687; married to Anna Giessbuhler)
Christian Gauman (born 3 February 1707; married to Anna/Anne Berger)
Daniel Gehman (born about 1741; married to Veronica/Franica Gehman)
Daniel Gehman (born about February 1779; married to Elizabeth Bowman)
Joseph Gehman (born 10 June 1810; married to Esther Bowman)
Henry Gehman (born 29 May 1844; married to Fanny Horning)
Joseph H. Gehman (born 19 August 1866; married to Barbara H. Hollinger)
Rudy H. Gehman (born 19 November 1898; married to Dora N. Woodring)
Richard J. Gehman (born 24 December 1935; married to Florence A. Hilbert)
Forefathers of “Father” William Gehman: Christian Gouman “the younger” (born 1 March 1678) was from Oberthal, Grosshochstetten, Canton of Bern, Switzerland. He was called an Anabaptist at the baptisms of their children in 1706, 1708 and 1710. He was called “Christian Gauman the younger of Signau district” when he was imprisoned in the city of Bern on 27 July 1710 together with his father. He was led out of Switzerland in 1711 with his wife and four children. He probably lived in Germany in the Hasselbach area.
Christian Gauman, born 28 November 1706 in Grosshochestetten, Canton of Bern, Switzerland, was the son of Christian Gouman “the younger.” He became known as “The Berks County Christian Gehman.” He is the forefather of “Father” William Gehman and Flo (Hilbert) Gehman. He first immigrated to the Netherlands and then settled in the Palatinate area of Germany. He with other German and Swiss immigrants from the Palatinate area of Germany left Rotterdam on the ship Samuel and arrived in Philadelphia, 11 August 1732. He acquired 300 acres near the headwaters of Perkiomen Creek in Hereford Township in Berks County, PA. About 1767 he built a substantial house that became known as “The Christian Gehman Homestead.” Since there is no record of any indentured labor on his part, it is assumed that he had accumulated money during his stay in Germany to purchase this large piece of land of 300 acres.
Forefathers of Rudy H. Gehman: Benedict Gauman, born 7 January 1687, had a son by the name Christian Gauman.
Christian Gauman, born 3 February 1707, was born in Grosshochstetten, Canton of Bern, Switzerland. He became known as “The Lancaster County Christian Gehman.” He emigrated directly from Switzerland from the Jura Mountains out of the bishopric of Basel, to the United States, landing in Philadelphia 1 October 1754 on the ship Phoenix. He settled in Brecknock Township, Berks County. Though he originally settled in Berks County, close to the border of Lancaster County, he later moved to Adamstown in Brecknock Township, Lancaster County and most of his descendants live in Lancaster County, so he became known as “The Lancaster County Christian Gehman.” He is the forefather of my dad, R.H. Gehman.
It is of interest that Pappy Gehman, my dad’s father, lived and worked in areas surrounding Adamstown, Bomansville, and Denver, very close to the area where “The Lancaster County Christian Gehman” lived. Through persecution Christian Gauman, born on 3 February 1707, and his family, fled from the bishopric of Bern to the bishopric of Basil where they rented little farms and worked on estates of noblemen. From there they immigrated directly to the United States in 1754. Hence “The Lancaster County Christian Gehman” was probably poorer than “The Berks County Christian Gehman” who emigrated from the Palatinate in Germany in 1732.
While William Gehman and W.G. Gehman were “movers and shakers” in the MBC, my father was a quiet servant of the Lord, ministering faithfully in the places of God’s appointment. One older ministering brother, David Thoman, observed that my dad was “a very quiet man. I cannot remember him speaking at Conference.” Then he added, “Of course in the early years no one expressed their own opinions at Conference because H. B. Musselman and W.G. Gehman were the dominant voices.” My father and mother were humble and submissive; they both had deep respect for H.B. Musselman and the MBC leadership. Never once in my memory do I ever remember a word of criticism or complaining about the denominational leadership. Perhaps a bonding relationship grew earlier on when R.L. Woodring, my mother’s father, began serving as a young pastor under the care of H.B. Musselman. Who knows what words were spoken by H.B. Musselman that led a young Gospel Herald by the name of Rudy H. Gehman to date the daughter of R.L. Woodring? Though that is speculation, we do know that matchmaking did take place and there was mutual respect. For some reason I found in our family possessions an old Bible which had belonged to H.B. Musselman. How my parents received it, I do not know. I can only assume that this gift was an indication of the mutual respect that both H.B. and my father had for each other.
What is apparent is that God had granted the gift of denominational leadership to “Father” William Gehman and his son, W.G. Gehman; and to my father God granted the gift of pastor-teacher as the pastoral leader of particular churches.
MY FATHER’S LIFE AND MINISTRY
Early Years of Formation for Ministry
My dad was born on 19 November 1898 “in an old-fashioned Mennonite home” on a farm near Bomansville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The farm was known as “The Brossman Farm” because of the owner, Rudy Brossman. Rudy Gehman, my dad, was named after him along with another young man by the name of Rudy Oberholtzer. The Brossmans had no children of their own. When Mr. Brossman died, both Rudy’s were remembered in his will, each receiving $50.00 which at that time was a sizable sum.
Rudy was one of nine children; there were three boys and six girls. Lizzie, the first born, was nine years older. My dad was the second youngest and always seemed closest to his younger sister, Katie, born on 27 March 1905, seven years later. Pappy was “very strict in disciplining the children.”
When my dad was six years old, Pappy Gehman bought a 120 acre farm nearby where my dad lived for twelve years. In my dad’s picture album showing the farm where he grew up he wrote the caption, “The place where I got my start.” He grew up very close to his Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Peter Martin and their children who lived in shouting distance from the place where my dad lived.
Dad was a real boy. One evening after supper, so the story goes according to Aunt Katie, “while his sisters were doing the dishes, Rudy was also in the kitchen, shoeing a horse. Who or what represented the horse [Katie] does not know. But it seems the horse kicked. Rudy quickly stepped back right in the path of his sister who was carrying a stack of plates. Neither boy nor horse suffered from the collision, but the plates didn’t do so good. I think only two survived unbroken. Mother wasn’t exactly pleased, you may be sure.”
Dad loved climbing trees of which many could be found on the farm including apple and cherry trees. Aunt Katie wrote, “Now if trees weren’t made to climb, what are they for? Anyway, this was one of Rudy’s games. One tree had, several feet from the ground, a broken branch, part of which was protruding with a sharp, jagged point. When Rudy came down, he slipped, catching his knee on the branch, resulting in a severe cut.”
Aunt Katie continues, “Now in those days one did not consult a doctor for every ‘little scratch.’ So, very likely, the wound was thoroughly cleansed with cold water, several lily leaves applied as bandages… and that was that. This however left a permanent scar. The lily leaves? That was one of our home remedies. The petals of the Madoma lily were placed in a small jar, filled with whisky and kept on the medicine shelf. There must have been medicinal value, for this remedy for cuts was widely used.”
Dad attended White Oak, a one room school house. Schools were not graded as now. Students advanced by Readers, beginning with a Primer, then First Reader on through Fifth. The latter would compare today to eighth grade. He was probably 13 or 14 when he quit school. Katie writes, “We walked to school of course, down a long lane or during winter months we could cut across the fields. Once, when there was a deep snow with a hard crust, Rudy, Tillie and I were on the way to school. I in first grade had difficulty breaking through the crust. The other two took longer steps than I could manage, so I was fussing. After awhile Rudy said, ‘We’ll fix you tomorrow morning. We’ll put you on the sled.’ So taking our homemade sled, which was against the school’s rules, we started off. At first it was fine where the field was level. But then there was a slope. The sled was coming faster. Rudy couldn’t run fast enough and he fell. The sled went to one side over the snow and I went the other way, ending up with multiple scratches on my face and hands. I had to go back home.”
“Life on the farm was, by today’s standards, not very exciting. There was to be sure plenty of work of all sorts. There was the care of the animals – cows to be milked and fed, feeding and grooming of the horses. There was work in the fields, planting, cultivating and harvesting. Rudy of course was part of all this.” There were many chores associated with the care of hundreds of chickens and many pigs. When Jacob Weber was at the farm one summer, he remembers that Tillie and Anna used to milk the cows.
Pappy Gehman went to the Reading Farmer’s Market twice weekly, on Tuesdays and Saturdays. “Consequently, Monday and Friday were ‘getting ready’ days. Immediately after breakfast, father and boys would go to the truck patch, gathering radishes, beets and whatever was ready. These were brought by wheelbarrow to the ‘shanty,’ a large room adjoining the summer house. The floor was concrete with running water available and two large wooden wash tubs set on boxes. Here the vegetables were washed. Two of us would be working in one tub. It wasn’t difficult to ‘happen’ to splash your partner. Depending on his mood, it was either fun or a fight. We had great times, believe me. Following the scrubbing, the ‘stuff’ would go to the cutting-bunching table, then packed in crates and stacked, ready for the truck. Sometimes we sang, sometimes we fought, but by late afternoon, all was finished.”
There was a day when the young Gehmans were weeding the garden. Their subject of conversation was their ambitions of what they would be when they would become adults. Each one expressed their opinion. Aunt Katie says, “It would be interesting to know what they were but I don’t remember because I was not yet born. Rudy was only seven years of age. However, after the others were thru, Rudy pulled himself up, standing straight and tall and announced, ‘I am going to be a preacher.’ They probably laughed, never dreaming it would come true.”
However, life on the farm was not all work. One form of diversion in the evening, especially during the winter, was singing. Aunt Katie writes, “We gathered around the little organ singing hymns and gospel songs. We sang until the rafters rattled almost. Loving music, Rudy must really have enjoyed all of this. There were games – checkers and fig-mill cards, that is, Flinch and Old Maid. These were all home-made. The checker board was the design drawn on the back of a calendar. After playing, the calendar was placed on the wall. The ‘men’ were corn kernels – one whole and one half kernels.” Katie wrote, “I definitely remember playing these games with Rudy. He was usually the winner.”
After Pappy Gehman left the farm, he operated a shirt factory in Bomansville from 1916-1921. Various members of the family joined their helping hands. As a young man my dad began working in the shirt factory with his brothers Wayne and Monroe. In 1921 Pappy Gehman moved to Adamstown where for one year he and my dad operated a feed mill. Then in 1922 they moved to Denver where Pappy bought and managed his own business which became known as “The Gehman Feed Mill.”
Soon after this my dad left the work with his father and went for training and into the ministry. Under a picture with the shirt factory employees, he wrote, “Them days are gone forever.” This was written no doubt after he had decided to leave and go into the ministry.
During that time Aunt Katie led my dad to the Lord in her bedroom when he was 21 or 22 years of age. He told Kathryn Dietz how he was saved in his sister’s bedroom. “I felt so light,” he said. ‘Ichvesis, ichvesis,’ meaning ‘I know it, I know it.’ He knew that he was saved.” It was soon after this that he went off to Bluffton College Academy for two years.
Preparation for Ministry
My dad went off to Bluffton College Academy for approximately two years, presumably to supplement his elementary schooling gained in the one-room schoolhouse. The day he set off for Bluffton, Ohio, must have been a great day for this Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite young man who knew only the Pennsylvania counties of Lancaster and Berks. My dad wrote just before he left for Bluffton, “What a day!” In the summer of 1924 he painted “the new farm buildings” Pappy Gehman had built. The first sermon that he preached is dated January 4, 1925 when he spoke in Denver, PA. He then set off on his safari to acquire some biblical studies by attending Moody Bible Institute, January through April of 1925. He took many pictures of his friends at Moody including one captioned, “A good looking group of Mennonite students at Moody Bible Institute.”
Although we know little of his studies at Moody, we did find among his sermon notes a four page paper that appears to be a talk that he had given at Moody Bible Institute, based on II Timothy 2:15. He begins the talk by saying that II Timothy 2:15 is “a good motto of the M.B.I. and for every Christian worker.” Under the point of “Study” (“Study to show thyself approved unto God…”), he comments: “The teacher in school or the minister has to study hardest. People and children soon can tell. It requires our best effort.” Under the third point (“A workman that needeth not to be ashamed”), he comments, “This reference is to mental labor, study about God and his Word. It is to become our delight…It requires effort. It is easier to keep at physical labor than mental. It requires more will power. It is easy to have day dreams but it’s hard to think, so mental suffering is harder than physical.” The purpose of this study is so that we might not be ashamed at Christ’s coming. Prayer is needed to “rightly divide the word of truth.” “To know to what people the writing refers, by whom it was written, why it was written, when it was written. These will help us to divide it. It will not help by reading a chapter here and there. We ought to study earnestly and systematically. It is good to have a concordance or look up many references in the Bible.” We gather from this that he developed the foundations of disciplined study for sermon preparation at Moody Bible Institute.
Why he limited his Bible studies to one four-month term is unknown. With Pappy Gehman’s opposition to higher education he may have lacked courage or conviction to pursue a diploma at Moody over his dad’s displeasure. Pappy had opposed Katie’s desire to attend high school and then prevented her from attending Moody Bible Institute. She only achieved her dreams through Moody Bible Institute correspondence courses. But his thirst for knowledge and his desire to prepare for ministry drove him to do some study. Aunt Katie also suggested that he may have taken Moody Correspondence courses like she had. She further commented, “Although his education was limited, he was a student and read a lot.”
Preacher in the “New Mennonite” Pine Grove Mennonite Church
Following his brief training he began to preach in the “Pine Grove Mennonite Church” in Bomansville from mid July 1925 through October 2, 1927, the very same “New Mennonite Church” which his dad was so instrumental in helping to build up. The picture of that church from 1925 is totally different from its appearance today. The building was originally made of stones, cemented together and with two windows on the outer sides which were closed with shutters and two separate doors in the front where the men and women entered separately. Today those doors have disappeared and the building is plastered over and painted white with a very large church sanctuary built onto the rear of the old church; it is also graced with a church steeple. It is no longer the “Pine Grove Mennonite Church” but “The Pine Grove Church.” The cemetery in the rear contains some very old stones that are illegible.
He was first ordained to the Gospel ministry by Rev. A.M. Fretz of Perkasie, PA, on January 24, 1926. The very next Sunday he preached as the pastor of the Pine Grove Mennonite Church. The very first sermon registered in his ledger of sermons is dated February 7, 1926. It would appear, therefore, that in his mind this was the beginning of his official Gospel ministry.
Since the services in the Pine Grove Mennonite Church were bi-monthly on Sunday mornings only, he would visit other Mennonite churches, often preaching in evangelistic services. According to his preaching diary, he preached in Denver, Mechanic’s Grove, Greenville, Ephrata, Adamstown and Allentown. On July 27, 1925 he conducted a funeral. Aunt Katie frequently accompanied him on those trips. Often people thought she was his wife. Katie writes, “It was probably during those years that we became closely associated. He was definitely closer to me than either of my other brothers.”
In February, 1915, Menno Myers was sent by Rev. A.M. Fretz, the elder/pastor of “The General Conference of Mennonites,” to hold evangelistic services at the New Mennonite Church at Bomansville. There he met the Gehman family and eventually married my dad’s sister, Hettie H. Gehman. Soon after their marriage they began calling her “Esther” instead of “Hettie.” Menno Myers later had an abbreviated ministry with the Gospel Herald Society.
Preacher in the Gospel Heralds
My dad was then led from the “New Mennonites” of Oberholtzer’s Church, namely, the General Conference of Mennonites, to the Gospel Herald Society and the other “New Mennonites” of William Gehman’s Church, namely, the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. He began serving in Jersey City, New Jersey in October 1927 with his first recorded sermon dated October 14, 1927.
Presumably, my dad became connected with the Gospel Heralds through his brother-in-law, Menno Myers, and his sister, Hettie. In the fall of 1921 M.M. Myers and Hettie (Esther) were sent to Lebanon, Pennsylvania to take charge of the work there. Lebanon was known as a “hard field of labor” but they labored together for eleven years and laid the foundation for the MBC/Bible Fellowship Church in Lebanon. My dad has a picture of Menno Myers dressed in a Gospel Herald uniform, “selling colportage books” in Lebanon in 1926.
Hettie shared the ministry with the Gospel Herald mission in Lebanon. “On a Saturday morning she took the Gospel Herald paper through one farmers’ market, and in the afternoon, through another. Then many times in the evening she went up and down the main streets in the business section and in stores and saloons to sell the Gospel Herald, a very wonderful religious paper. She also witnessed for Christ every opportunity she had.”
In November, 1932, Menno and Hettie Myers were transferred to Camden, New Jersey, to serve in the Gospel Herald Mission. So we may assume that through this connection my dad found his way to the Mennonite Brethren in Christ.
In October, 1928, the MBC Annual Conference considered the question of recognizing my father for ministry. Upon examination, they recommended that he be granted an Annual Conference License.
And thus my dad became officially recognized in the ministry of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. Thereafter, he served as a “Probationer” for seven years before ordination. His Gospel Herald Society appointments are as follows, according to the dates in his sermon diary.
Jersey City, New Jersey 14 October 1927 to October 1929
Camden, New Jersey 28 November 1929 to 29 October 1932
Chester, Pennsylvania 1 December 1932 to 11 October 1935
The Gospel Heralds with whom he worked and who are pictured in his album include: Paul E. Baer, C.L. Miller, Eugene George, Wilbur Hartman, Herbert Hartman, E.B. Hartman, E.W. Bean, “Brother Wieand,” and Arthur Sprock. These were all single, young men who cared for all their personal needs. Pictures show them washing and hanging up their wash on the top of flat roofs within urban settings with the captions, “Washday” and “Housework.” As young men we may assume they joked and played around. There is a picture of Herbert Hartman on the top of a flat roof with a rope tied around his neck and with the appearance of being hung. Another picture shows C.L. Miller lying down precariously with his arms flung up in the air at the edge of a precipice eight hundred feet high overlooking the Hudson River and acting as if he were falling over the cliff. A classic picture was made with my dad’s sister, Katie, superimposed on a picture with Paul E. Baer, made to look as though the picture was taken of them both together as a couple.
Throughout my dad’s picture album he made comments full of dry humor. A group of six men got on their hands and knees to form a pyramid, three on the bottom, two above them and my dad on the top. The inscription reads: “How light I feel! What happened in the evening?” We will never know. On the next page is a picture of “The Bluffton College Girls Glee Club” with the words, “How they did sing!” He obviously enjoyed himself at Bluffton. Under a picture of “The Lincoln Hall, Bluffton,” he wrote, “The girls envy us now. 1923-24.” In the same series of pictures he shows four young men including himself with the caption, “Happy? Well some!” Right next to that is a picture of a young girl and the caption, “Adeline, she sent a cake, but too late.” What does this imply? A picture of my dad dressed in his Gospel Herald uniform has the caption, “When I was a priest.”
But most of the pictures are of Gospel Herald ministries. They had many tent meetings. Mending the large tents, assembling and erecting the large canvas “tabernacles” were all part of their work. Large gatherings of people are pictured with the tents in the background. Groups of fifty children appear in front of a tent for their photograph. Pictures show the Gospel Heralds with their congregants and friends.
A major part of the week’s ministry was devoted to the selling of the Gospel Herald magazine. Every morning, for five days a week, they were required to do colportage ministry. David E. Thomann would introduce himself as a Mennonite missionary. Many Gospel Heralds did not like this aspect of ministry. It not only was a means of distributing Gospel literature and opening doors for witness; it was a source of income. My father sold anywhere between 12 and 30 Gospel Heralds daily, according to his scanty records.
Many baptisms of new converts are also shown in the pictures. According to his records he baptized 45 by immersion in the Delaware River during his three year ministry in Camden. Of these, 19 were between 20 and 50 years of age; and another 9 people who were between the ages of 14-19.
During his three year ministry in Chester, PA, he baptized nineteen, including ten who were over 23 years of age, one being 60.
Life was not easy on the side of finance. The MBC appropriated $15 to $20 monthly for each couple. The offerings from the small missions were added, together with the little profit earned from the sale of the Gospel Heralds. From this the expenses of the mission were first paid. Whatever was left over was distributed to the Gospel Heralds. W.G. Gehman would come every month for ministry and a report.
Menno Myers describes his experience when serving in the Gospel Heralds in the Camden, New Jersey mission. “Here our faith was often severely tested. We received no salary, only free-will offerings and a small profit from the sale of Bibles and literature. It was during the years of depression. Our cupboards were very often empty, but God supplied our needs.”
On one occasion, “when we had nothing in the house to set on the table for the evening meal, except maybe a crust of bread, Esther was cheerful and I believe she had faith that God would supply the need in time. She set the plates, etc. on the table. Esther, myself and the three boys sat down around the table with nothing before us to eat. We returned thanks to God, and when we had done that, thanks to God the doorbell rang. One of the boys ran to the door, and believe it or not, there was a large box full of all kinds of groceries, a great deal more than could be used up in one day.”
Before becoming a Gospel Herald, my father had life-insurance. This he surrendered when joining the MBC because of the church’s stand against life insurance. In 1896 the MBC conference passed a resolution, recognizing the “great evils around us of life insurance,” and recommended that instead of life insurance churches should care for the poor of their classes through “some benevolent principles, such as supporting and visiting the sick” and the use of deacons to look after the “poor of their class.” “Whenever a class is unable to support their own poor, the deacon shall apply to the Poor Committee for assistance. In case the treasury is empty, the Poor Committee shall collect for this purpose from the various circuits.” It is of interest that in 1960 the BFC sought ways to provide insurance for pastors.
My dad was truly a humble man, full of patience and forbearance which enabled him to endure such deprivation. Pastor R.C. Reichenbach said to me, “Your father was one of the gentlest people I know. He would never lord it over you but was gentle. Whatever he said to you was very fatherly, gentle and kind. Your mother was also very sweet and quiet. She never spoke much. In the Gospel Herald Society your dad was a very sweet person to be around. His attitude was one of graciousness. He was not outspoken. He was one of the quiet men. Even in the Annual Conference he was a quiet individual. But he was faithful in serving his people.”
In October 1931, after serving in the Gospel Heralds since October 1927 and being a probationer for three years and having completed his three years’ Reading Course “creditably,” and believed to be a “sincere, conscientious and promising young man,” the MBC delayed his ordination, along with E.W. Bean and A.M. Sprock, for more experience to prove himself.
My dad continued to serve faithfully and patiently.
Marriage of Rudy H. Gehman and Dora N. Woodring
Some time during my dad’s service in Jersey City or Camden a friendship developed with my mother, Dora Naomi Woodring, daughter of the Rev. R. L. Woodring of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church in Nazareth. On 6th August 1931, Pastor R. L. Woodring married my father and mother in the Nazareth parsonage where my grandparents lived at the time. My dad was living in Camden. This beautiful Marriage Certificate of my parents, measuring 12 inches by 18 inches, is beautifully framed and graces my office in full view as I write this.
R. L. Woodring became a pastor in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church in 1896 when he was listed in the MBC Annual Conference minutes as an Assistant to H. B. Musselman serving in the Weissport and Lehighton Mission. R. L. Woodring had established a blacksmith business in Weissport where he was converted to Christ through the ministry of Dora Rote, a Gospel Worker in the MBC. In 1917 his son, Allen G. Woodring, was examined by the committee of C. H. Brunner, W. S. Hottel and W. G. Gehman who found him satisfactory and recommended he be granted the Annual Conference License. Thereafter in 1918 A.G. Woodring became a Probationer and ordained to the ministry in 1920.
So when my dad married, his father-in-law and brother-in-law were already seasoned ministers in the MBC. One year after marriage, my parents moved to Chester for a three year ministry before being transferred out of the Gospel Heralds and graduating into the Pennsylvania Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. My parents often spoke fondly of their time in Chester and the many faithful believers there.
As we have seen, my father had previously been ordained on January 24, 1926 in the Mennonite Church. The time for his ordination in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church came in October, 1935, when he was admitted into the Conference Bar. The Report of the Committee on Ordination, comprising of B. Bryan Musselman, P. T. Stengele, E. N. Cassel, stated,
We have examined Probationers R. H. Gehman and A. M. Sprock and have ascertained that they have passed the reading course with credit and have had charge of Gospel Herald Society Missions for a number of years, and have showed themselves consecrated, devoted and obedient workers, adhering to the teachings of the Scriptures and being sound in Faith, we therefore recommend that they be ordained on Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, his father-in-law, R. L. Woodring, had suddenly passed away on June 10, 1934, so he did not have the privilege of witnessing the ordination of his son-in-law. Both of his children were now in the ministry.
Delayed ordination in order to be proven in ministry was good MBC/BFC discipline. Some could not bear the test of extended probation. M.M. Myers, the husband of my father’s sister, Hettie, began in the Gospel Heralds in 1921 and was a probationer for three years, 1933-1935, according to the Annual Conference records. But he gave up after that and disappeared from the MBC. Perhaps he also became discouraged with the lack of financial income for Gospel Herald workers. Or perhaps there was a combination of reasons for his departure from the MBC. He later became the pastor of “The Non-Sectarian Gospel Tabernacle” in Camden, NJ.
First Church Appointment: Graterford and Harleysville, Pennsylvania, 1935-1945
My dad was assigned to the Graterford/Harleysville circuit in October 1935. The first sermon he prepared for Graterford was December 21. Being conceived in Chester, Richard Joseph Gehman was born three days after that sermon on the day before Christmas at 12:30 A.M. in the River-view Hospital in Norristown, PA in the dead of winter with snow on the ground; it was a white Christmas with much joy. My names relate me to both my grandparents: Richard L. Woodring and Joseph H. Gehman.
Circuits of churches: In those days there were many circuits. They were convenient for two reasons. Many churches were too small to support one pastor. When combined, they could give adequate support. Furthermore, the pastors to shepherd the congregations were few. My uncle, A. G. Woodring, pastored a circuit of three churches for twenty years (Fleetwood, Blandon and Terre Hill) and even had surplus energy to commence a fourth meeting point in Kutztown. When Berean Bible School was founded in 1950, it began to provide greater numbers of candidates for ministry. Thereafter, the circuits began to dwindle in number and eventually disappeared.
Members of the churches: The ministry in Graterford and Harleysville was a happy experience for my parents. Though Graterford was a small town, most of the members were farmers who drove in from the rural area surrounding the town. Abraham (brother of Pastor E.W. Bean) and Sarah Bean and Chris Wismer and family were farmers across the Perkiomen River near the State Prison. Raymond W. Rawn, father of Olive Rawn, had a farm nearby. Elmer and Ella Detweiler were farmers several miles away. Other mainstays in Graterford included Isaiah and Lizzie Copenhafer, Bill and Sarah Gaugler; also the Hartzel’s, Bergey’s and Hoffman’s.
M. M. Ziegler was a farmer in the Harleysville area and a frequent MBC conference delegate. His large family with their spouses became a sizable core of this growing congregation. Robert Ziegler and his wife, Earnest Ziegler who married Eleanor Detweiler from Graterford, Earl and Clara Ziegler, Elva (Ziegler) and Lloyd Gepard, Mabel (Ziegler) and Norman Apple, Pearl (Ziegler) and Stan Hackman, Jean (Ziegler) and Roger Deitweiler (from Graterford) and Homer Ziegler – all became the backbone for the Harleysville MBC Church.
Other members of the Harleysville congregation that we recall were: Kathryn and Clayton Dietz, Moyers, Noah Tyson, “Rose Jelly” Jake and Arlene Moyer and his parents, Joseph Shueck, May Swartley with her husband and son, Gerald, whose clothes were passed on to me as he grew out of them.
Continuing attachment after many years: Over the years much of the support that has come to us as missionaries has come through those whose lives were touched by my dad, even beginning in this first church appointment. Kathryn and Clayton Dietz, whom my father married, followed our ministry at Scott Theological College faithfully. Many times Kathryn, as the President of the Women’s Missionary Society, directed a sizeable contribution for student scholarships at Scott.
Earl Ziegler, a son of M. M. Ziegler, was not the most faithful Christian. In fact, he had a drinking problem. His wife, Clara, was deeply troubled by his drinking. My father frequently counseled her and tried to help them in their marriage. Clara Ziegler continued to follow us in our ministry when she moved with her daughter to Walnutport, PA. She would frequently send us contributions through the A.I.M. When she died, we were surprised to be included in her last will and testament. I am certain that this was directly related to my dad’s touch on her life during the years of 1935-1945.
Chris Wismer, a farmer and the delegate from the Graterford/Harleysville circuit, was present in the MBC Conference held in Bethlehem, PA, where my dad was assigned to Graterford and Harleysville. Seventy years later his daughter, Perma, and her husband, Stanley Hipszer, whom my father had married, still live and send occasional gifts to us.
Mennonite aspects of our churches: In many ways the MBC could be characterized as “New Mennonites.” MBC members bought cars and used radios. Men and women blended into society with their clothes, not following the Old Mennonite dress styles. Nevertheless, the MBC eschewed the fancy and clung to the plain. Our two churches in Graterford and Harleysville were small and plain with simple straight back pews. No steeples adorned the building. No crosses or other Christian symbols were found inside. Nothing fancy adorned the walls; stained glass windows did not “distract” from their simplicity.
The Graterford MBC Church was located by the side of railroad tracks and at the end of a dead-end street without easy access. Because of its location, you needed to search for it if you were to worship there. The Harleysville MBC was perched on top of a steep embankment along a major road. Though we ate in the basements of these churches every quarter, when the Presiding Elder visited our churches for communion, the washing of the saints’ feet and the quarterly business meeting, those basements were not plastered, finished or furnished.
The pastors in those days, unlike the former custom, wore a coat and tie without a turned collar. Likewise the weddings were simple, almost always conducted in the parsonage with only a best man and bridesmaid. No traditional wedding gown was worn except for Perma Wismer. Many couples, mostly from Harleysville, were married by my dad during those years. He also married his sister, Katie, and Harry Wealand.
Pastoral support: During the first half of my dad’s stay in Graterford, we were still feeling the effects of the depression. Most of the members were farmers. Others were blue collar laborers in factories; for example, Isaiah Copenhafer worked in the flag factory. No white collar, professional men could be found in the congregation. The members were basically lower middle class farmers and laborers.
We always had enough to eat with a limited diet. Every fall the churches would celebrate a Harvest Home festival for the pastor, meeting at the parsonage. The members brought all kinds of food stuffs, canned as well as perishable. During those years I came to love Pennsylvania Dutch foods which my mother or Aunt Estella would prepare. (Estella was the younger sister of my maternal grandmother, very close to the family, who would often come to stay with us for a time.) Sausages, scrapple, schnitz and gnep, sour kraut with pork were always favorites. Beef was a rarity, chicken more common. Going to the farms and picking apples, peaches, cherries and various berries was always a treat. But our income was limited.
Whether as an avocation, or as a means of supplementing the food, my dad always had a large “truck patch” in Graterford where he grew tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, turnips, corn and other vegetables. We also had fruit bearing trees. We stored certain foods in an underground cellar in the backyard during the winter.
In 1935, when my dad went to Graterford and Harleysville, there were 62 and 60 members respectively. The yearly pastoral income from the churches was $472 and $420 respectively. Other ministerial contributions totaled $213. That was a total of $1,105.00 for the year or $92.00 per month. MBC pastors were supported not through a budget but through voluntary contributions given each month to the “Steward,” one in each of the churches. So the monthly support was not uniform or guaranteed. (To jump ahead two decades, one Steward in another church confided to my dad in that particular church that one well-to-do member chose not to contribute that month. His explanation was that my dad, who loved to do woodwork in the basement as a hobby, had come to pick up some cuttings and scraps of wood which he had from his construction business. Since my dad had received those odds and ends of wood, that was this contractor’s contribution to my dad’s monthly support. So many factors went into the monthly contributions.)
Ministry of my father: My dad had a Plymouth which he used to visit members and travel to the Harleysville church, paying for its purchase and maintenance from his monthly income. There was a mid-week prayer meeting in Graterford and one in Harleysville. So we attended two prayer meetings in the week. One church arranged to have Sunday School before the morning service and the other church had Sunday School afterwards. That would enable my dad to drive from one church service where he led and preached to the next where he also led and preached. In those days the pastor led the entire service, reading the Scripture, praying, leading the singing and preaching. Alternating joint evening services were held in each church.
My dad, like all pastors in that era, served the people as their shepherd. Visitation was paramount. He made 391 visits on average per year for ten years. Preaching was also a primary responsibility. The highest number of sermons he preached in a year was 167, the average being 127.
Prayer meetings in those days were quite a contrast to these days. They were conducted by Class Leaders who led in singing, prayer, the reading of the Word with appropriate remarks, followed by “a season of prayer” and concluding with testimonies. During the prayer, we all got on our knees and began to pray audibly but quietly all at the same time. Some led in prayer more loudly. The length of time for prayer depended on when the last one finished. The praying began with a gradual crescendo with some leaders praying quite loudly. When I prayed as a child I would pray softly enough so that no one else could hear me. Prayer ended when there was silence.
Some people have thought this manner of praying was a strange babble – everyone praying audibly at the same time. But history offers many examples and I have heard first hand reports in Africa of the Holy Spirit falling upon a people during times of revival when the believers feel constrained to pray at the same time and with audible voices. The MBC grew out of the Great Awakening of the mid nineteenth century. It is very possible that this phenomenon was known and experienced in the early days of the MBC. My own opinion is that our way of praying was a relic left over from those days of revival. The days of revival had passed but several forms and practices that had their roots in the Great Awakenings continued as forms without the spiritual power.
Testimonies were opportunities to tell of something new that happened, some answer to prayer, some spiritual struggle with eventual victory, some problem or need for which prayer was requested, or some witnessing experience. A few testimonies were stereotypical but most were not. One young lady I well remember in a later church used to testify without variation each week, “I’m glad that Jesus saves, keeps and satisfies and I want to live and shine for him until he comes.” However, most prayer meetings had some fresh and encouraging word from the believers.
These testimonies were punctuated with “Amen” and interspersed with the singing of choruses. Choruses were lively and experiential of the living reality of the Lord. Recently I tried to list the various choruses that we sang in Graterford and Harleysville. Many were taken from the MBC Rose of Sharon hymnbook. I cannot remember using that hymn book in Graterford but we did sing choruses of various hymns taken from the Rose of Sharon hymnbook. In my possession is a copy of the hymnal with my dad’s signature in it. For the record sake, these memorable choruses, which made our prayer meetings so enjoyable, are placed in the endnotes.
These choruses are highly experiential and not very theological. But a Christianity that has no heart or personal relationship is a religion not worth living or preserving. Sung from the heart, these choruses were a rich contribution to the time of personal testimony.
My dad’s impact on my life: Those years in Graterford were my own formative years, 1935-1945, ages 1-10. My parents presented the gospel to me in family worship at a tender age of five years when I expressed a desire to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior. For some reason my dad wanted me to wait until Sunday night in church to receive Christ. Later in life this seemed like a strange thing to me, but I suspect that he wanted this event to be memorable in my mind. If so, his desire was accomplished. That Sunday night in the Graterford MBC Church on February 2, 1941, at the age of five, he gave the invitation. Another girl and I went forward to the altar. After dealing with the other little girl he came to me on his knees and asked if I had received Christ as my Savior. I replied that I had not, that I had no idea what to do. He then proceeded to explain the gospel message and asked me to pray. I remember very clearly that I sincerely spoke with the Lord, confessed my sins and asked Christ to be my Savior. Since that day I have never doubted my salvation.
Then for another strange reason he did not baptize me right after my conversion. He wanted me to wait for some years. Once again I suspect that he wanted me to be old enough to understand the meaning of baptism and what I was doing. According to his own diary account, he baptized me in the Perkiomen River by the Loux Bridge on July 8, 1945, when I was nine years of age. According to the record, I was the only person who was baptized on that occasion. I well remember that day as the pictures help remind me of that occasion.
My dad conducted Daily Vacation Bible School for two weeks during each summer. In those days one had to do a lot of the work in preparation, like pasting the flannel on the back of cut out figures for the flannel graph board. I remember going to members’ houses, like the Bill Gaugler’s, and working together with other church members to prepare instructional materials. Nothing do I remember about those DVBS meetings except one thing. During one such summer we were taught the following song: “Pray, pray, pray, the Bible says to pray…; Give, give, give, the Bible says to give…Go, go, go, the Bible says to go to every land that every man and boy and girl should know, that Jesus died on Calvary’s tree to bring to all salvation free. Oh who will go? Oh will you go?” Strange, isn’t it, that I cannot remember the full verse for the “Pray, pray, pray” or the “Give, give, give.” But I can remember clearly the one on “Go, go, go.” Though I do not have any recollection of a desire or call to “go,” I believe the seed was planted that was watered in the years to come.
Flat growth during the decade: But the Graterford and Harleysville MBC churches did not grow over that period of ten years. Membership remained essentially flat. During those ten years 40 were baptized and 34 taken into fellowship. But for various reasons there was also a similar exodus of members. Total Sunday School average attendance rose from 143 to 149 in ten years. This disappointed me when my research was done, though it is not contrary to my impression.
But then I compared the growth rate in the MBC conference. I discovered that maintaining a plateau during the decade was the norm. The Annual Year Book shows the MBC growth rate for that decade was only 293 members for the entire conference, which is a 7% increase.
A closer look is a bit more shocking. Numerous churches lost significant numbers over the ten year period. Bethel in Allentown lost 44 members, falling from 419 to 375. Reading lost 19. Nazareth dropped from 84 to 49, Philadelphia, Salem dropped from 271 to 217. Many held their same level of membership, while others dropped slightly with only a few gaining. Most of the 293 additional members in that decade came from four new churches which grew out of the Gospel Herald Society, namely, Lebanon, PA, Chester, PA, Newark, NJ., and Staten Island, NY.
Sunday School attendance also was mixed. In Bethel, Allentown, average Sunday School attendance declined from 376 to 285; in Bethlehem from 443 to 337. Average Sunday School attendance throughout the 33 conference churches in 1936 was 4663. By 1945 the average declined in the 38 churches to 4360.
What could the explanation be for this lack of growth? Was it because of the years of depression and economic hard times, or World War II which sapped their energies? Was it the aging MBC leadership and their inability to adjust and adapt and grow during the changing culture? Had the fire gone out of earlier evangelistic fervor? Could it be that the educational level of the pastors was adequate for a rural settings and a lower middle class laity but was unable to attract an increasingly better trained laity in their communities?
The circuit system of pastoring more than one church surely did not help. While it may have been financially feasible, dividing one’s attention between two or three congregations would certainly inhibit. In 1936 there were eight circuits with a total of 32 churches. Two circuits had three churches each. By 1946 the number of churches had increased to 37 but the number of circuits had increased to nine. One pastor cared for Staten Island in New York City together with Scranton in Pennsylvania. My dear uncle Allen, (A.G. Woodring) pastored Fleetwood, Terre Hill and Blandon during that decade. In 1935 the membership for all three congregations was 218. One decade latter the membership was 222 – essentially flat. Circuit riding, however, seemed necessary because of the size of the churches and because of inadequate numbers of pastors.
During those first ten years, when my dad was stationed in a conference church, he also served in various capacities at the conference level. He was an active member, attending every one of the Annual Conferences. For seven years, 1936 to 1942, he was a member of the Finance Committee. In 1943 they placed him on the Committee on Examination of Presiding Elders and he remained on that committee for many years thereafter. He was also a member of the Committee on the Examination of Local Preachers, Evangelists and Missionaries in 1943. He offered the benediction several times, and opened and closed the business meetings with prayer. In 1936 he gave a twenty minute address Friday evening. So my dad was active in the annual conference, though not on the powerful boards and committees.
Second Church Appointment: Newark, New Jersey, 1945-1948
The first half of the 1940s marked momentous times for the MBC with the changing of the leadership. W. G. Gehman, the Presiding Elder for the Easton District for thirty-seven consecutive years and the influential head of the Gospel Heralds, had unexpectedly fallen asleep in Christ in 1941. By 1945 B. B. Musselman, H. B.’s son and influential pastor in Bethel, Allentown, had left the MBC in a cloud and devoted himself to the radio station he had started. In 1945, when H. B. Musselman stepped down as Presiding Elder, T. D. Gehret and P.T. Stengele were elected as Presiding Elders. After 43 years of “faithful and efficient service” as Presiding Elder, H. B. Musselman was elected Presiding Elder Emeritus.
Neither the church nor pastor had any determining voice about the posting of pastors in the MBC. Each church did send a lay delegate and they were consulted, but the final determination of appointments rested with the Presiding Elders.
During the early years of the twentieth century, when they called the roll of the pastors, they responded whether or not they “submitted themselves unconditionally to the conference.” Most responded “unconditionally,” but a surprising number responded “conditionally,” including C. H. Brunner and William Gehman. However, after H. B. Musselman became well established as the Presiding Elder, we find that everyone “submitted to the conference unconditionally.”
On that basis the Stationing, Boundary and Appropriating Committee was read aloud. At that moment each pastor, seated in the pew, learned where he would be serving the following year. That moment was one of high drama during each Annual Conference. In 1945 they resolved to determine, “Who are the preachers who are willing to minister this year, according to the direction of the Conference and our Discipline, and what is their number.” Thirty-one men answered, “Yea,” and no one answered “Nay.”.
When the Stationing and Boundary Committee was read, R. H. Gehman was sent to Newark, New Jersey and T. E. Turnbull, the pastor of the Newark congregation, was assigned to Graterford and Harleysville. From the Pennsylvania Dutch rural area of Graterford and Harlesyville, my dad was sent to a newly established conference church in the heart of the New York metropolitan area. He was being transferred from a circuit with the membership of two churches being 115 to a small “mission” church with a membership of 40. Newark was first admitted into the conference in 1942. Numbers of older pastors at various times have expressed to me surprise and dilemma over this assignment, but to my knowledge, whatever were his thoughts, my dad never expressed anything but positive acceptance.
Over a period of ten years in Graterford, we had accumulated many things. All our possessions in our Graterford two story house with an attic and basement, accumulated over a ten year period, together with all our things in a barn to the rear of the house were squeezed into this enormous moving van with pieces of furniture hanging onto the rear exterior and held secure with ropes. The truck driver expressed doubt whether those things could possibly fit into the second floor apartment in Newark. Amazingly, they did. My grandmother had one bedroom, parents another and mine was in the front of the house where the buses continually stopped and started on the busy Avon Avenue. Instead of quiet darkness outside my window at night, there were street lights with the noise of traffic. One room was my dad’s office. Altogether, a large pantry, kitchen, dining room and living room, storage room plus four bedrooms provided spacious living quarters. During Christmas we removed the dining room table and placed a large platform for my Lionel train. One Christmas my aunt and uncle Woodring came for a visit along with my cousin, Leonard and Frances with their little daughter, Jo Ann. We were crowded to say the least with one sleeping in the bathtub, I believe? Probably not. But the apartment accommodated all our needs. It was just a major change from the world of Graterford.
It was city-life, living in an apartment. Noise easily carried downstairs to our neighbors below us. On one occasion I was helping my father by stamping some tracts. With one hand I pounded the stamp on the ink pad, then stamped the tract, back and forth as fast as I could. “Stop bouncing that ball” came a voice from downstairs.” “We’re not bouncing a ball,” we replied. “Stop bouncing that ball,” she persisted. Obviously, there were restrictions we faced living in an apartment. Neither did we have a front porch or land to cultivate. I’ll always remember some time after moving to Newark that we took a “pleasure ride” to the countryside. It took about thirty minutes to leave the concrete jungle and reach the farm pastures. When I saw a cow, my heart leaped for joy. I never had any dealings with cows but somehow the sight of a cow made me feel at home. How much more must my parents have felt that way? Moving to Newark, New Jersey, was indeed a culture shock, at least for me.
Fortunately, there was a small piece of empty land fenced in behind the church which we could see from the kitchen window. My parents utilized that to the full with flowers and vegetables planted.
The church building was purchased by the MBC in 1942 and was not a traditional Mennonite meeting house. It was a beautiful little church structure with a steeple, stained glass windows, a pipe organ and cushioned seats – all on the older side but nevertheless quite attractive and un-Mennonite. My mother loved to play the pipe organ, including sheet music with Handel’s compositions. When my dad officiated the marriage of four Italian sisters they were dressed in elegant wedding attire. Rachel Yacovelli’s veil was six and a half yards long. My mother played “Indian Love Call” and “I Love You Truly” on the pipe organ. The MBC was metamorphosing.
We had faithful members who supported the ministry quite well. In 1936 the 40 members contributed a total offering of $4,950.99 compared to the $7,110.34 contributed by the 115 members in the Graterford/Harleysville circuit. However, my dad’s total annual support in 1946 was only $1,282.25 or $106.85 per month. From the vantage point of 2006, it is difficult to imagine how they survived in the New York metropolitan area. My dad actually went out doing colportage ministry again on the streets of Newark, near our church, selling the Gospel Herald. No doubt this was a throwback to the Gospel Herald days when Gospel Herald magazines were sold both for ministry and income.
Camp Meetings in Shamokin and Allentown left an indelible mark on my mind and heart, even as a small child before World War II. I well remember the remorse I felt when Camp Meetings were canceled during World War II because of gas rationing. How thrilled I was when the MBC Annual Conference in October 1946, decided to conduct two Camp Meetings in July 1947. All pastors were required to set up the tents the week before Camp Meeting began and then to dismantle the tents during the three days following the last camp and store everything away for the winter. Pastors were also given administrative responsibilities to manage the camps. It was during our days in Newark, New Jersey that Camp Meeting began with two weeks, each week extending over two weekends, and five days in between for people to vacate their tents and others to occupy their tents. Because of popular demand, these two weeks were extended to three weeks of Camp Meetings with 300 tents occupied. For me this was a highlight of the year, for I spent nearly seven weeks at Mizpah Grove each summer. To connect with other youth from the Conference was inspirational, especially since the churches my father pastored were small with few youth my age who attended Sunday evening services and prayer meetings. We heard from every pastor in the MBC when they preached. Mizpah Grove Camp Meeting was a unifier for the MBC because we connected with people from every church in the denomination. Through the nightly youth meetings conducted in the large “circus” tent, strewn with straw on the ground; and the hour of missions which was held every morning, and the Friday evening service directed toward the youth, I was profoundly impacted toward missions. My parents made all this possible by arranging for me to stay for the whole summer camp season.
My father labored faithfully during those three years in Newark. He preached an average of 123 sermons each year and visited an average of 382 each year. He baptized ten and took into membership six. Apparently, there were inactive members in Newark when my dad came in 1945. Because he dropped twelve members from the membership roll, by the end of three years the membership had dropped from 40 to 39. However, the attendance increased. The Sunday School attendance increased from 33 in 1945 (prior to my dad’s arrival) to 51 in 1947. Contributing to the loss was the transfer of members to the suburbs. In the ensuing years the membership gradually rose to 46 but by 1947 it was down to 38 members. When we lived in Newark, our neighborhood was all Caucasoid with numerous Jews. But as African Americans moved in and the neighborhoods became unsafe, the whites moved out to the suburbs. By 1958 the Newark church ceased to exist. At least five Newark families moved to Denville and formed the nucleus for the BFC in that place today.
Third Church Appointment: Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania, 1948-1954
In 1948 my dad was assigned to Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania, in the anthracite coal regions with many eastern European immigrants with Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Churches predominating. My parents loved this appointment. The same Plymouth we had in Graterford carried our family from Newark to Mt. Carmel in October, 1948, for our first Sunday there. Our three story row house, next to the church, was narrow. My parent’s bedroom overlooked the church sanctuary. With an open window in the summer I could hear the singing when I was sick in bed on one occasion. My grandmother’s bedroom was in the front with my dad’s office in the middle of the second floor. My bedroom was in the attic with plenty of space where I could erect my Christmas platform with the train.
My parents thrived in this environment and the church grew. We had many fine families who formed the solid core of the church. In addition to the MBC conference church, my dad pastored the Bear Gap Gospel Tabernacle over the picturesque mountains in a rural setting. The Mt. Carmel area had previously been a health resort, prior to the coal mining. It is a beautiful, mountainous area. Because of the strip coal mines, the landscape around Mt. Carmel appeared like a bombed out area with large, gaping holes, mounds of dirt and smoke pouring from coal mine fires. But Bear Gap was away from all that and provided a beautiful contrast. Sunday morning was Sunday School and Morning Worship in Mt. Carmel. Sunday afternoon was Sunday School and Worship Service in Bear Gap. Sunday evening was Menno Youth, the evening service followed by choir practice. Normally, we did not attend the Bear Gap Sunday School but during times of Sunday School contests we did. That was a full Sunday schedule for my dad, as well as his teenage son.
During the six year ministry in Mt. Carmel my dad preached 144 sermons every year on average, and made an average of 460 pastoral visits every year. Two classes of members were organized in Mt. Carmel so that every week our family attended two prayer meetings in the church, plus I believe prayer meetings in Bear Gap. On average my dad attended 121 prayer meetings in the year.
He baptized 64 people, including some 13 from Bear Gap in 1949. The Sunday School average attendance grew from 88 in 1948 to 121 in 1954. Those were the days when Sunday School was attended by many who did not attend the church service. Church membership was smaller, but grew from 81 to 92 in 1951. But then the membership began to decline to 85 due to coal mine closures. How well I remember those gloomy days in the early 1950’s when the men would exit after the Sunday evening service and stand a long time outside discussing the closing of the mines. Jobs were lost. People sought work outside the anthracite region. As a result, we lost many solid, core families through transfer to other churches. Even men who were not coal miners suffered because of the depressed economic conditions.
As a parenthetical observation, we should note, that when Herbert Hartman succeeded my dad in Mt. Carmel in 1954, it was decided to merge the Bear Gap Tabernacle with the Mt. Carmel congregation. This was precipitated in part by his sudden and serious bout with cancer. As a result the membership in Mt. Carmel in the two succeeding years increased dramatically. On September 9, 1957, nearly three years after his appointment to Mt. Carmel, Brother Herbert Hartman passed away.
Though we had a number of unionized coal miners in the congregation, we also had a number of men who owned businesses and others who were white collar executives and tellers in banks and businesses executives. These included the owners of two Dairies with their families. As a result, our members contributed much more than in the sister church of Shamokin. While they had 161 members they contributed $8,023 in 1951 while the 92 members in Mt. Carmel contributed $9,195 in the same year. In my eyes, our Mt. Carmel church was small. But when you eliminate the five largest giving churches in the MBC in 1949, (Bethel Allentown, Reading, Bethlehem, Chester and Emmaus), Mt. Carmel gave slightly more than the average of all the other churches.
Missions Conferences were a highlight in Mt. Carmel. We participated in a round-robin missionary conference with various other churches so that many different missionaries would circulate to all the churches throughout the week over two weekends and throughout the weekday evenings. My parents hosted the visiting missionaries who ate with us and slept in our home. This left an indelible impression on my mind. Their curio tables and missionary talks and challenges contributed to my own missionary call. The people were also generous in giving. Mt. Carmel gave $1,009 to foreign missions in total in 1951 while Shamokin, 40% larger than Mt. Carmel, gave $707. Mt. Carmel had a unique way of giving for missions in Sunday School. They conducted a “dollar stretch.” The various Sunday School classes competed in giving. Their contributions were then exchanged for one-dollar bills which were pinned together. When each Sunday School class was called, the teacher would announce their total giving and handover the rolled dollars that were pinned together. These were then pinned to the other collections. The “dollar stretch” would extend all around the church with people holding up the chain of dollars in the isles. This provided excitement and enthusiasm for missions giving.
A major renovation project was undertaken to upgrade our church building. In 1949 the church property was valued at $20,000. It was a wooden frame building with an alley separating it from the Episcopal Church which had an end property on another street. The renovations included: placing shingles on the outside, plastering the inside, carpeting the whole floor, refurnishing the pews, hanging new light chandlers, buying new pulpit furniture and renovating the basement.
In our community my dad was active in various capacities. We participated with the evangelical Protestant churches in Youth for Christ. During my Commencement from High School in 1954, my dad offered the Invocation and Benediction. (The pastor of the Greek Catholic Church gave the Baccalaureate Address.)
At the conference level my dad continued to serve in his usual places of ministry. He was a member of the Committee on Examination of Local Conference Records, the Committee on the Examination of Presiding Elders (then District Superintendents when the name changed), and a member of the Board of Examiners. He prayed at the opening of the 1950 conference and offered the benediction at others. He served as a Teller on one occasion and was the Secretary of the Ministerial Convention Committee on the Program in 1952. In April 1951 he prepared and delivered an eight page typewritten paper at the Ministerial Convention on “Menno Simons and the Mennonites.”
Fourth Church Appointment: South Allentown and Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, 1954-1958
Hurricane Hazel swept through the Lehigh Valley the third week of October 1954 when the Forty-Second Annual Conference of the MBC was convened in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Rev. F. B. Hertzog was the Chairman. The hurricane blew with gale force winds and knocked out the electricity the evening of Friday, October 15th. So with candlelight, all the delegates listened with expectation to the stationing report. As if it were with a loud thunder clap, the announcement was made that my father was exchanging pulpits with Herbert Hartman who had served in the circuit of South Allentown and Coopersburg. If the 1945 stationing report of my dad being stationed to Newark, New Jersey, was a shocker, even more shocking was this new assignment for Herbert Hartman who was the Vice District Superintendent. He was moving from a circuit with a combined membership of 250 members to Mt. Carmel with 85 members. As obedient servants of the Lord in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, these pastors moved.
The reasoning behind the assignment is unknown. What is known is that H. L. Shelly from Coopersburg was the delegate for the circuit. As far back as 1918, H. L. Shelly was the delegate from Coopersburg. And my mother’s dad, R. L. Woodring, was the pastor in Coopersburg 1911-1914. Presumably, H. L. Shelly knew my grandfather and my mother from those days, even as numerous other members of Coopersburg remembered the Woodrings. Incidentally, R. L. Woodring also preceded my dad in Graterford and Harleysville (1905-1908) and Mt. Carmel (1902-1905).
The fall of 1954, after my high school graduation in Mt. Carmel, I enrolled as a resident student in Berean Bible School in South Allentown. On October 15 my dad was assigned to the Salem, South Allentown Church, the MBC church which was closest to Berean. The parsonage for Salem, South Allentown, was a mere twenty-minute walk away, down a hill, across a river and up the hill to South Hall Street. Consequently, I moved home and became a day student. Every Sunday I was busy for three years, visiting all the MBC churches on the Berean Gospel Team with President Jansen E. Hartman. During the summers of 1955 and 1956 I was engaged in Home Missions in such church planting efforts as Paradise, Millersville, and Trenton. Therefore, my involvement in Salem, South Allentown and Coopersburg was minimal, limited to Christmas and Easter holidays and a few other similar occasions.
Back in 1925 Coopersburg MBC was a separate charge with H. L. Shelly the delegate; and Salem, South Allentown MBC was separate with G. Louis Baumgartner the delegate. Both laymen remained prominent leaders in their respective churches in 1954. Eventually, these two churches were brought together as a circuit. Under the twelve year ministry of F. B. Hertzog, 1930-1942, Salem grew from 68 to 82 members, and Coopersburg grew from 98 members to 120. They continued to grow during the two year pastorate of Walter Frank. Under Herbert Hartman, 1947-1954, Salem grew from 95 to 113 members and Coopersburg grew from 131 to 137 members.
It is of interest that in 1954, the same year that my dad was assigned to South Allentown and Coopersburg circuit, the South Allentown, Salem Church, had petitioned Annual Conference that “in the event that if it is possible, that Salem Mennonite Brethren in Christ, Allentown, Penna., be recognized as a separate charge to be supplied with its own pastor.” In response the Stationing, Boundary and Appropriating Committee acknowledged that: “There is a growing feeling among many of the constituents of our Churches, that there is a definite need for a more vigorous program of evangelism and church expansion” and that “the existence of circuits do not contribute to the best interests of this need.” Therefore, they encouraged “Churches presently constituting circuits, to arrive toward a goal of becoming stations with pastors assigned to each appointment.” With the graduates of Berean Bible School ready to pastor, the days of circuit riding were numbered.
Therefore, high on the agenda for each of these churches was to become so well established that they could support their own pastor. In 1954 the total contribution of Coopersburg was $11,530 (with 137 members), South Allentown was $10,130 (with 113 members) and Mt. Carmel was $11,806 (with 85 members in an economically depressed environment). More important was the support of the ministers. The total support from Coopersburg in 1954 was $2,639 and from South Allentown was $2,003 (compared to $3,791 in Mt. Carmel).
By 1956 pastoral support was sufficient, and final arrangements were made so that by the October 1956 the Annual Conference assigned Carl Cassel to Coopersburg and my dad remained in South Allentown for two more years.
This new assignment was quite different from Mt. Carmel and presented a new set of challenges to my dad. Although the membership of Salem was nearly 30% higher than Mt. Carmel, many of the members were less stable. Carnality and spiritual immaturity afflicted numbers of people in the congregation evidenced by conflict. There was a succession of disturbances of one sort or another. After one such episode, an elder told my dad. “You can now see that in our church when one problem passes, another is around the corner.” Whenever I read of or speak on the Corinthian Church my mind always snaps back to Salem. My dad’s previous ministry in Mt. Carmel and his succeeding ministry in Lancaster were so peaceful. Not so with Salem. This led to some kind of physical and emotional breakdown so that my dad needed a few weeks of respite before he continued in ministry at Salem. At the time I was a student in Wheaton College and cannot remember the details.
There were some stable and well established families and individuals in Salem but many were aging. An indication of the spiritual instability and immaturity of the congregation was a steady decline in the church with members transferring out, and within four decades the church withered away and closed. But well before that time, my dad moved on to another pastorate.
Fifth Church Assignment: Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1958-1961
When the stationing report was read in October, 1958, I was in Wheaton College, and so can only speculate about my parents’ reaction. Though a smaller church with 39 members and newly established in 1950, the congregation had mature, well established families who had transferred from several other MBC churches, including some five families from Mt. Carmel. For my dad who was now beginning to feel his age, it was a pleasant and rewarding three years of ministry before his translation into glory.
Once again, I had very little contact with the church in actual fact because of being in Wheaton College. During the summer of 1961 I was in Wheaton doing my research for the MA. During the summers of 1958 and 1959 I did stay in Lancaster to work and earn money for college. I was able to develop personal relationships built on former acquaintances and personal knowledge of people through Camp Meetings.
The church responded well to my dad’s ministry. He continued to engage in a vigorous visitation ministry with an average of 460 visits each year. My cousin, Rev. Wayne Gehman and his wife, Beth, had visited my parents in August 1959 when he preached in the church for my dad. Wayne Gehman commented, “Rudy was gifted in the ministry of visitation.” My mother then responds in a letter dated 1973, “Yes, he was; the Lord seemed to use him especially along these lines. He befriended everyone, even such who were poor, or illiterate, or may have been shunned by society in general.”
Generally his preaching was confined to Sunday mornings and evenings, so he preached an average of 84 times each year. During those two years and nine months my dad baptized 18 people, so that the Lancaster BFC grew from 39 to 50 members and the Sunday School average attendance was 103.
My mother mentioned that my dad frequently spoke of retirement. I suspect that he was beginning to feel his age. However, he was not sickly. F.B. Hertzog had inquired whether he would be willing to oversee the Home for the Aging. But my dad felt that his sympathetic personality would succumb if his ministry focused on the sickly and aging people in a Home. The Lancaster BFC was moving along well; harmony prevailed with a good spirit of unity. Presumably, he would have served there an additional number of years.
But God in his sovereign wisdom took him home painlessly and instantaneously on August 17, 1961, at the age of 62 years and nine months. “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Writing to my cousin, Wayne and Beth Gehman, in 1973 my mother reflected on his sudden and unexpected death. “God never makes a mistake, even though at that particular time, we may wonder. We best to accept His perfect will; we need not understand. It would be pure selfishness to wish him back, futile as that may be; Rudy has fought his last battle and we know he is safe with the lord. In this world system, there is nothing good. But the future for the Christian is very BRIGHT. Rudy used to say that he did not want his reward on this earth, that he wanted to lay up treasures in Heaven. He was referring especially to receiving the ‘praise of men.’ He wished God’s, ‘Well Done,’ which I am sure is or shall be his portion.”
[You will find the complete copy of Dick’s tribute on our website (www.BFCHistory.org). Look under “What’s New.”]
I trust that you have enjoyed meeting these families. If you have memories to share or questions to pursue, contact me.