I will put your calendar notices up front so you can’t miss them and thus have no excuse. Get your calendar and mark it now. The 2007 installment of the Historical Society will meet on October 27, 10:00am, at Wallingford. Yes, I finally get to be the host pastor at one of our meetings. I can’t promise that the food will be better or that I will be a better host than other pastors. The competition is so tough. Fleetwood and Bethlehem had great hospitality and I don’t think we will try to beat them. What I can promise is that the coffee will be waiting for you and the company will be great. We have two presentations being prepared. I will present the background of the Wallingford Church paying special attention to how it began and what strategies were being followed. Carl Cassel will introduce us to E. N. Cassel and highlight both his life and his role in our doctrinal development. I can’t promise the program will be better than any others but it will be as good. That should be enough to get you there.
I will begin with some researching I did on how we categorized and labeled our pastors. I hope to follow that up by exploring in a future issue the role of the Gospel Heralds and hope to compile a list of names of men who served in the Heralds.
An Inquiry into the Office of Preacher in our denomination.
By Richard Taylor
Our church began not as a church or with a desire to be a church but rather as a group of preachers who wanted to win people to the Lord. They did not begin with well thought out strategies or organization. As time went on and the work progressed, they had to play catch up and so a kind of evolution of organization was taking place constantly.
As people were saved, it seemed obvious to bring them together as churches or classes. Organization began to take place whether they wanted it or liked it. They discovered the need for accountability and didn’t always know how to put that together. Problems arose and they solved them as best they knew. Some of their solutions created new problems which brought new answers and new structures. It was the story in the early years.
What might be called organizational confusion shows in the recognition of preachers. It was easy at first but they wanted to keep open doors for more preachers which meant there needed to be accountability and a way to categorize.
Prior to 1880, recognition was relatively simple. The roll call at Conference included two categories, preacher and deacon. The deacon was a layman while the preacher had a call to preach. In 1880, the first merger bringing together the churches of Indiana, Canada and Pennsylvania to create the Evangelical United Mennonites took place. That was the first year in which a statistical report appeared. Seven statistics were recorded two of which were “ordained pastors” and “deacons.” Nine pastors and six deacons were counted (Verhandlungen, p. 127). In 1881, the statistics to be recorded grew to include 23 different categories. The accounting of pastors was changed to include “elders or ministers” and “probationers” (Verhandlungen, p. 129). The new category was necessary to recognize that someone was preparing and serving in a probationary way.
In 1884, the categories of ministers was increased to include evangelist. Now, when the roll was called, the preachers were either elders, probationers, or evangelists. The statistical report for that year included the following categories: “Ordained Ministers”, “On Probation”, “Any on Probation to be ordained”, “How many applicants for the ministry?” From the statistical report, they were really counting only preachers and deacons for the statistics but the roll recognized 3 classes of preachers. The names of elders recorded that year include: William Gehman, Jonas Musselman, Abel Strawn, Samuel H. Frey, Abraham Kauffman, Joel Rosenberger and S. M. Musselman. Listed as the probationer was Marks D. Haws. The list of evangelists included John Knauss, Thomas Leh, William H. Gehman, Abner Clime and William B. Musselman.
This list of evangelists seems to bring together men who did not fit anywhere else. John Knauss had been saved in 1882 and shows up at the Conference that year as an advisory member. In 1883, he was a probationer. In 1884, he was but two years old in the Lord but listed as an evangelist. Thomas Leh came as an advisory member in 1883. William H. Gehman first showed in 1877 but the other preachers were never quite sure what to do with him. He was raised in Upper Milford and later apprenticed in Reading as a shoemaker. He had apparently expressed a call to preach. Abner Clime of Terre Hill had been a delegate and had made the transition from ordinary layman to a person with a call. Eventually, Clime returns to being a delegate and is not listed in 1885 as an evangelist. William B. Musselman was the son of Jonas Musselman and appearing for the first time in the written records of the Conference.
The Stationing Committee in 1885 gave its report and showed their understanding of the office of evangelist. “S. Frey, W. K. Ellinger, John Knauss and W. H. Gehman shall serve as Evangelists wherever there is a call to preach the word” (Verhandlungen, p. 153). However, they assigned Eusebius Hershey the task to travel as a missionary. He was recognized as a missionary but not as an evangelist.
In 1887, an even different set of categories appears (Verhandlungen, p. 165-6). The roll call recognized elders and probation preachers as before. Later in the minutes, the categories are defined with an addition: “Traveling preachers,” “Local preachers,” and “Evangelists.” Travel preachers were Abel Strawn, William B. Musselman, Eusebius Hershey, Abraham Kauffman, William Heffner, Owen Bitting, Marks D. Haws, George A. Campbell. The Local Preachers were Joel Rosenberger (who had been listed as a preacher earlier), John Knauss (who had been listed as an evangelist), and Adam B. Gehret. The Evangelists were Jacob H. Moyer and William K. Ellinger. What adds a bit of confusion is the report of the Stationing Committee at the next meeting which lists the Evangelists as Eusebius Hershey, Thomas Leh, Jacob H. Moyer and William K. Ellinger. The addition of the category of Local Preacher and the moving of names gives the impression that they could not quite fit people into their categories of ministry or perhaps that it did not matter what category they were in.
That they were not quite sure of their categories and how to view a man’s ministry shows in the roll call of 1887 (Verhandlungen, p. 162-3). There, John Knauss is included among the elders. William K. Ellinger and William H. Gehman are among the probation preachers.
In 1888, a need was felt to pull in the boundaries of accountability. A special committee is appointed to review the Evangelists at a special meeting (Verhandlungen, p. 173). William Gehman, Abel Strawn and George A. Campbell are appointed to examine the Evangelists. They met with William Ellinger, Thomas Leh and Samuel H. Frey. Ellinger was found acceptable but Leh was not. Frey was not present and could not serve as evangelist. When the roll was called in 1889, Samuel H. Frey was listed among the preachers but Leh was absent and disappears from the records.
The statistical report for 1889 included a new category, “Applicants for the Ministry.” There were 3 that year. The steps to becoming a preacher were being further defined. Applicants were starting the process. Probationers were being examined and tested. Ordained preachers had been approved. This statistical report also included the category, “Presiding Elder.” The office of Presiding Elder had been established before but now was listed as its own category.
In 1890, a new concern was voiced regarding carrying names on the list that might not be active or perhaps should not be there. A new level of accountability was needed. The Conference that year passed the following: “Resolved: That we do not accept preachers on probation who are not willing to follow orders by the Stationing Committee; also that we do not ordain preachers when they are not totally in agreement with our doctrine and plan of operation and are not willing to submit to God and the Conference” (Verhandlungen, p. 189). The preachers could no longer be just a name on the list. They had to be committed to ministry and the doctrines of the Church.
In 1893, yet another category was added to the Statistical Report, “Candidates for Quarterly License” (Verhandlungen, p. 223). Now the Statistical Report included, “Presiding Elder,” “Ordained Preachers,” “Probationers,” “Probationers to be ordained,” “Candidates for the Ministry,” and “Candidates for Quarterly License.” This new category seems to have recognized that workers were being called and sent by the local congregation, “The Quarterly Conference.”
In the first printed yearbook, 1896, the directory at the end of the yearbook lists the following categories: Itinerants, Annual Conference Licensed Evangelists, Quarterly Conference Licensed Evangelists , Local Preachers and Workers and Foreign Missionaries. The Statistical Report form showed the following categories: Presiding Elder, Ordained Ministers, Probationers, Probationers to be Ordained, Applicants for the Ministry and Quarterly Licensed Preachers. They apparently saw no problem with the two different lists of categories.
The itinerants that year were listed as follows: Jas. L. Boyer, C. H. Brunner, Geo. A. Campbell, A. M. Clauser, R. D. Dreisbach, J. E. Fidler, Wm. Gehman, W. G. Gehman, A. B. Gehret, O. S. Hillegas, S. B. Knerr, W. B. Musselman, H. B. Musselman, W. Steinmetz and L. B. Taylor.
The Annual Conference Licensed Evangelists were: J. B. Knerr, J. H. Moyer, Lucy Musselman, H. J. Ronemus, D(ora) B. Rote, A. E. Schaffer, and W. K. Ziegler.
The Quarterly Conference Licensed Evangelists were: L(izzie). M. Christman, E(lmira). C. Dech, C(ora) J. Felty, R(osa) J. Rote, Frany Wismer, and Mrs. W. K. Ziegler.
The Local Preachers and Workers were: Robt. Bergstresser, O. Bitting, Mrs. C. H. Brunner, Mrs. R. D. Dreisbach, Wm. King, J. Knauss, Samuel McDonald, Howard Rishel, Joel Rosenberger, A. Strawn, J. Woodring.
Looking over the list not only answers questions but raises them. Women now appeared in each category except Itinerants. They comprised the entire list of Annual Conference Licensed Evangelists. The General Conference had decreed that women could be licensed but not ordained. The presence of long term men on the Local Preachers list may suggest that some are there in retirement (Knauss, Rosenberger and Strawn). Some were there waiting to be recognized (Bergstresser, Bitting, Dreisbach). The question arises whether the categories were steps through which the men needed to go if they were to be ordained. Another question is, where were all of these categorized people in previous years?
In 1898, the list of categories in the directory was altered and expanded: “Itinerants,” “Annual Conference Licensed Preachers (Local),” “Annual Conference Licensed Missionaries,” “Foreign Missionaries,” and “Gospel Workers.” The list of Annual Conference Licensed Preachers were now all men. The list of Quarterly Conference Licensed Missionaries included 5 women. The list of Gospel Workers now included 29 women and 1 man (W. B. Musselman). Even this list had been further refined to include 2 Gospel Workers who were listed as “Local.”
This tour through the attempts of the MBC to categorize their preachers and workers shows that they were evolving and perhaps uncertain about what to call their workers. What was not uncertain was their willingness to include anyone and everyone who wanted to preach the gospel. They would make place for them one way or another.
Jansen Hartman grew up in our church in a family deeply involved in the affairs and life of the MBC. His older brothers went off to serve in the ministry and then he joined them. He saw our church through the eyes of a child and then with the eyes of an adult. His perceptions are always valuable. He shares his thoughts about W. G. Gehman as the leader of the Gospel Heralds.
THE GOSPEL HERALD SOCIETY AND W.G. GEHMAN
Reflections by Jansen E. Hartman
W.G. Gehman was born on September 11, 1874, the youngest of nine children. He was the son of William Gehman, a leading figure in the founding of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, which became the Bible Fellowship Church.
W.G. Gehman attended the public schools until the eighth grade. He took the state examinations to qualify as a public school teacher, and began teaching in the local school at the age of seventeen. He was self-taught in Bible and theology.
In 1896 W.G. Gehman was licensed to preach, and in 1899 he was ordained to the ministry.
The following were the churches assigned to W.G. Gehman by the Annual Conference, and the years he served at each charge:
Royersford and Spring City 1897,1898
Mt. Carmel 1900, 1901
Springtown (added to his charge) 1903, 1904
W.G. Gehman married Emma Kinsel of Royersford at the age of twenty-seven. She bore him four children: Grace, Mildred, Valeria, and Ethel. She died in 1909. After Emma’s death, he married her younger sister, Elizabeth. She also bore him four children: Vivian, Alma, Wilbert, and Clarence.
W.G. Gehman was about 5 ft. 10 in. tall. He was grossly overweight, but stood erect and walked briskly. He had dark hair, light skin, and piercing dark eyes. For many years he wore a beard. He had only to enter a room to become the center of attention.
W.B. Musselman was the President of the Gospel Workers Society, an organization comprised of women who opened home missions in the inner city and conducted evangelistic activities. These missions were located in Harrisburg, York, Sunbury, and Shamokin. Later they were organized into Mennonite Brethren in Christ churches. W.B. Musselman also became involved in printing Gospel literature and Sunday School quarterlies. This ministry led to the founding of The Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, Ohio. At the same time the Gospel Workers continued to operate inner city missions, but these were no longer associated with the Annual conference other than being the recipients of some financial support.
C. H. Brunner conceived the idea of organizing a society of men, single and married, who would also work in the inner cities. He developed the Gospel Herald Society Rule Book. This included an organizational structure, making the Society a separate entity from the Annual Conference, operating according to its own rules. The Annual Conference recognized the existence of the Gospel Herald Society and elected its President, but individual members of the society were not made members of the Annual Conference. To receive credentials issued by the Annual Conference, one had to apply for acceptance and meet the requirements for pastors, such as completing the three-year Reading Course, and being examined on the Discipline of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. A Gospel Herald worker could enter the ministerial lists of the Annual Conference and become eligible for assignment to a conference church upon completing the formal requirements and receiving a favorable recommendation for faithful service in the Gospel Herald Society.
The Gospel Herald Society was not the only way by which one could become a minister with Annual Conference credentials. The first step in the alternative way was to obtain a quarterly conference license to minister in a particular church. When licensed, the applicant could petition the Annual Conference to be permitted to complete the three-year Reading Course, and to take the examination on the Discipline of the M.B. in C. Church. Upon completion of these requirements, one could be assigned a church. Several men, among them B.B. Musselman, A.G. Woodring, F.B. Hertzog, W.E. Cassel, and W.B. Hottel received credentials and assignments to particular churches. No formal educational requirements were established for the training of its ministers by the Annual Conference.
Although the Gospel Herald Society under W.G. Gehman was widely respected throughout the Conference, it could not be said to have had the unqualified support of all of the churches.
The primary purpose of the Gospel Herald society was evangelization rather than church planting. It was not its goal to create membership lists, nor to bring said members into conformity with the practices of the M.B. in C. Church Discipline. This policy would prove to be an inherent weakness, because its missions would often operate for long periods of time as non-denominational missions.
The financial support of the Gospel Herald Society by the Annual Conference was meager. Home Missionary offerings were collected in every church, but the bulk of these offerings was used to subsidize the support of pastors in churches which were already organized. After subsidies were given to the underpaid pastors, the remaining money was turned over to the President of the Gospel Herald Society. He in turn allotted small amounts to the missions, none over $25.00 per month to each mission.
The Gospel Herald missions were dependent upon offerings received in their weekly meetings, and on the sale of Gospel literature from door to door.
Serving as a Gospel Herald required a trust in God to supply one’s needs on a week-to- week basis. Such lessons cannot be taught in textbooks, and are never forgotten!
Gospel Heralds were colporteurs, canvassing the city neighborhoods selling the Gospel Herald-magazine and Scripture calendars. The magazine featured Bible studies, and stories with Gospel themes. Unfortunately, the public often misrepresented the Heralds as Catholic priests because they were required to wear clergy garb for canvassing. Some men found this experience most uncomfortable.
There were three advantages to canvassing. First, the Gospel was spread through the literature distributed to people who were not being reached by other means. Second, the Heralds had no choice but to go out and meet all types of people and handle all sorts of situations, which proved to be invaluable as learning experiences. Third, people became aware that there was a Gospel mission accessible to them if they cared to attend.
Through canvassing, regular routes were developed, with weekly deliveries of the Gospel Herald magazine to homes. Each Herald had his own constituency and learned how to do visitation work.
Street meetings were held during the warm weather on busy street corners and in parks. Heralds and their converts would attract a crowd through singing and playing musical instruments. Then testimonies would be given, followed by a short Gospel message and an invitation.
Free Gospel literature was also distributed by the Heralds and their mission members. One zealous convert of the Glendale, New York City mission distributed 30,000 Gospel tracts during a four-year period!
Tent meetings were held in the summer months and were a great attraction, never failing to draw crowds of eager children and curious adults. Special children’s meetings were held during the day, and evangelistic services in the evenings. Many a vacant neighborhood lot was transformed into a place where people could find Christ and begin a new life in Him.
One of the early requirements for every aspiring Herald was that he must have learned to play a musical instrument. In this way each mission was guaranteed available musical talent to enliven its outdoor services and regular meetings.
The Gospel Herald missions offered a full schedule of meetings: Sunday School, morning and evening services on the Lord’s Day; mid-week prayer meetings, a Bible study hour, and sometimes children’s and youth meetings. The young Heralds provided role models for the youth attending their services, and their mentoring led some to dedicate their lives to the Lord for full-time service.
From the beginnings of the work, an emphasis was placed on foreign missions. Missionaries were invited to share their burden for their fields, and offerings, although small, were given to overseas ministries.
What lessons were derived from the training men received in the Gospel Herald Society?
We have already indicated the value in being thrust out on one’s own to meet all types of people and to establish enough rapport with them to leave Gospel literature in their hands. But the main purpose of the training of Heralds was to develop in them the ability to teach and preach the Word of God, and to foster leadership skills. When three or more Heralds served together in a mission, each man was subjected to the constructive criticism of the others, whether he requested it or not!
The Gospel Herald who was appointed the leader of his mission had reached the top rung of leadership in the Society. He was held responsible not only for the overall success of the mission, but for the many details involved in running its operations. The leader had to learn how to delegate responsibility to the “helpers” assigned to his team. Becoming a leader was a stepping-stone to becoming a pastor in an organized church of the M.B. in C.
Every leader learned accountability. He met with W.G. Gehman every month to give an account for every cent received in the offerings and from the literature sales. He submitted detailed reports for all activities, services held, visits made, and literature distributed. After a review of the reports, W.G. Gehman would discuss with the Leader how to improve the services and ministries of the mission. W.G. Gehman was a shrewd observer of men and ministries, and could put his finger on any weaknesses and at the same time note and commend any progress that had been made.
It could be said that the Gospel Herald Society was the creation of one man, W.G. Gehman. He was a product of his generation of ministering brethren, but he nevertheless endeavored to adapt to changing times. His actions were less arbitrary than they have been reported to be, at least from this writer’s observation of three years under his leadership. He maintained his conservative theology and view of Scripture while making an attempt to keep abreast of the latest in sound biblical scholarship, particularly in the area of prophecy.
W.G. Gehman was a man of fiery passion. His preaching was fervent and pointed, usually toward some area of need that he felt compelled to address. There were times when some in his audience could detect who the person was that he was seeking to change by his message. He was very passionate about the work of the Lord, and sought to arouse his hearers to that same level of concern. He tried to rally people to support the Gospel Herald Society and its workers by his forceful promotion of its program.
Perhaps the cause that most excited W.G. Gehman to passionate concern was his opposition to the “holiness” teaching and “second work of grace” doctrine of the Wesleyan “sinless perfectionists” of the western conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. In his private sessions with Gospel Herald workers during the last three years of his life, it seemed to this writer that he spent an inordinate amount of time on this area of concern. It was only years later that I came to realize his depth of knowledge about these doctrines and
the ethical implications of their negative influence upon Christian living and practice. He was troubled by what he saw as a straddling of the issue on sanctification in the doctrinal statement of the M.B. in C. Discipline.
In his earlier years W.G. Gehman was a proponent of a holy lifestyle, particularly for women, which could be attained by avoiding such worldly practices as using cosmetics, bobbing one’s hair, or dressing in certain colors, etc. The Christian way of life was bound up in rules and prohibitions which were taken from the narrowest possible interpretations of certain biblical principles. It seemed that in his later years he placed less emphasis on such externals as measures of Christian holiness of life.
W.G. Gehman was passionate about true holiness in the life of the church. He loved to promulgate “Keswick teaching” on the “deeper life,” which gave him a broader view of holiness than the narrow legalism which he had formerly espoused.
W.G. Gehman and his ministry were always held in high esteem by the Hartman family. W.G. had served briefly as the pastor of our Royersford church. Both of his wives had grown up in Royersford. The earliest vivid memories I have of Brother Gehman were his visits to the Royersford church with eight to twelve Gospel Heralds. They played their musical instruments and sang and gave testimonies. I especially remember one little fellow named Norman Cressman whose enthusiasm for the work of the Lord was contagious (he would later serve as a missionary in Indo-China, present-day Vietnam).
Other Heralds that I remember are C.L. Miller, E. George, and Chester Reed.
Three of the writer’s brothers, H.W. Hartman, E.B. Hartman, and W.W. Hartman, answered the call of God to become Gospel Heralds. Their lives of dedication to the Lord’s work had a profound effect on their youngest brother. My parents and I would visit each of my brothers in every city where he served. There was something vital and exciting about the people attending the missions. Most of them were new converts, and that first, fresh love for Christ of new believers was evident.
It was the same wherever the mission was located, whether in Harrisburg, PA, West Philadelphia, PA, Chester, PA, Elizabeth, NJ, or Newark, NJ. We went along with my brothers to street-corner meetings or to services in a city park. These were occasions for mission converts to aggressively seek out lost people to bring them to Christ.
When the call of God began to stir in my heart, I naturally turned to W.G. Gehman and the Gospel Herald Society. At that time young men seeking to enter the ministry were not usually encouraged to seek a college education or Bible institute training. The training in the Gospel Herald Society was considered to be of the greatest practical help to aspiring pastoral candidates.
On November 6, 1938 my/father and mother accompanied me to Elizabeth, NJ where the fall conference of the Gospel Herald Society was to be held. All four of their sons had now been set apart in dedication to the Lord for ministry in the Society.
In retrospect, I can testify to the efficacy of the training which I received as a Gospel Herald that ever after influenced my life and particularly my view of ministry. The rigors endured in living by faith in God’s supply for the work strengthened my trust in God’s faithfulness to His servants. The contacts with people of varied ethnic and religious backgrounds in the cities where I served broadened and deepened my missionary vision. The discipline of strict accountability taught me how to manage the affairs of God’s work with responsibility. The constant witnessing to people wherever I went made winning the lost a priority of ministry. The need to search the Scriptures and find messages to meet the needs of my little congregations educated me in speaking God’s truth to the common man and applying it to his life.
The Gospel Herald Society was often misunderstood and unappreciated by many in the M.B. in C. Although it had many flaws, and eventually outlived its usefulness, to be replaced by the Church Extension program of the Bible Fellowship Church, it nevertheless supplied the denomination with many of its most dedicated pastors, and extended its borders to embrace cities and states where its influence might never have been felt, except for the aggressive evangelization of the “Heralds.” These reasons alone should validate its effectiveness and give honor to its Founder and those who served so sacrificially under his leadership.
LeRoy Wilcox has been poking around again and is sharing what he found.
1830 – 1913
Abel Strawn was born on December 5, 1830, the son of Joel and Catherine (nee Fretz) Strawn and grandson of Abel and Elizabeth (nee Raudenbush) Strawn. The first of the family to come to America was Lancelot Straughan, who left England on May 29, 1682 and sailed to Philadelphia on the ship ‘Welcome”. They were Quakers and looked forward to living in William Penn’s new colony. Also on board was William Penn and Sarah Buckman, a young girl who would later become the wife of Lancelot. Family tradition states that she sat on William Penn’s lap and played with a seashell during the voyage. That seashell became a treasured family heirloom for many generations. The Straughan’s at first lived in a cave and then built a log house in the hamlet of Philadelphia. Lancelot married Mary Buchman, who had become a young widow of Henry Cooper. They moved to Hunterdon County, NJ where she died around 1740. A son, Jacob Strawhen, married Christiann Pursell of Readington Township, in Hunterdon County and they returned to PA, living in Haycock Township in Bucks County. Abel, one of their sons, the surname now spelled Strawn, married Elizabeth Raudenbush and the settlement that they resided in was named Strawntown. The Strawn Family barn is still standing on Strawntown Road. Ten children were born to Abel and Elizabeth, the ninth one being Joel. He married Catherine Fretz, a girl of Mennonite heritage, and they had a son named Abel, our subject.
On October 30, 1850 Abel was married to Hannah Brunner, the daughter of Johann William and Maria (Sell) Brunner. A son, Joel, was born on March 5, 1852. He married Alice Adamson but died at sea on June 7, 1873 and was buried at sea. Hannah’s sister, Lucy, married Jonas Musselman, Ebenezer’s first pastor. Hannah’s brother, Joel, married Rebecca Gehman, daughter of David Gehman and a son, Charles, became an early pastor at Ebenezer. A daughter, Nora, became an Assistant Pastor and married Robert Dreisbach, who became a pastor and served at Ebenezer as an Assistant Pastor before he was married.
In 1856 Abel and Henry Diehl were riding in their wagon on the road from Applebachsville to Quakertown when a terrible storm arose. A tree fell across their wagon but they were unhurt. In gratitude to God they built a church on the site. That church was later dismantled and rebuilt in Quakertown as one of our Conference churches. The first meeting of our Conference was held there in 1859 and Abel was accepted for the ministry. According to the Fretz Family History, Volume 1, he began preaching in 1859, serving first at the Haycock Brick Church for two years and then for fifteen years at Coopersburg. He served our churches from 1859 to 1891, excepting 1875 when he asked to be given no assignment.
Abel and Hannah were part of the group that visited the camp meeting at Fetter’s Grove in Indiana. Glowing reports of that camp meeting led to the formation of the Chestnut Hill Camp meetings near Coopersburg. The 1860 Census lists him as living in Haycock Township with his wife and two sons and living next door to his father, Joel. Abel’s occupation is listed as “farmer” and his personal worth as being $1,800. The 1876 Atlas of Lehigh County shows that Abel owned three portions of property in Coopersburg. His house still stands at 205 Main Street.
The minutes of the 1903 Annual Conference record that Abel Strawn was charged with disloyalty, circulating untruthful reports and sowing dissension. The charges were upheld and he was expelled. What happened to precipitate these charges is not clarified. In the 1910 Census he is listed as living in Norristown at 531 George Street, boarding with Thomas Kingston and family. He died in Norristown on March 13, 1913. Pastor Emmanuel Cassel conducted his funeral and he was buried at the Coopersburg church cemetery in a prominent place. It appears that he had either repented or perception of his actions had changed. It appears that Abel was a good pastor, serving credibly until 1903 but he became another pastor to fall by the wayside.
THE BRUNNER FAMILY
The surname, from Middle High German, means “dweller by a spring.” Heinrich Brunner’s parents or grandparents had left Switzerland in answer to an appeal by Karl Ludwig, ruler of the Palatinate in Germany. He hoped to rebuild his devastated country after the War of the Spanish Succession. There was friction, however, with the natives of the area and people began to leave. Heinrich, with his brother, Paul, came to Philadelphia on the ship Harle, arriving on September 1, 1736. Their names were listed as Paulus and J. Heinrich Brunner. They settled in Salford Township, now included within Montgomery County and in 1742 Paul purchased land in that area. Around 1740 Heinrich married Anna Maria Reinhard, another immigrant from Germany, and they had six children.
On November 23, 1747 he purchased land in Upper Saucon Township, which was then in Bucks County, from Joseph Sands. He and his wife joined St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, known as the Blue Church, in May 1750. His wife died on February 10, 1752 and he then married Maria Magdalena Zeller at the Blue Church. Maria’s father, Philip Heinrich Soller, had come to Philadelphia from Germany. The surname, Soller, became Zeller, finally Seller. They had seven children and the youngest, Johann Peter, was born on March 4, 1768. Heinrich died on February 17, 1770 and his wife then married Peter Laubenstein. He had come to America on November 5, 1764 on the ship Prince of Wales. Young Peter now had a step-father to raise him. He married Christina Schaefer and they became the parents of four children. The first one was Johann William, born on March 22, 1796. Peter died on June 7, 1800 and Christina then married Philip Geiss. Johann William would also grow up without his father.
In February 1818 Johann William obtained land in Upper Saucon Township and the following year he married Maria Sell, a girl from a Mennonite family in the area. Maria was the daughter of Peter and Susanna (nee Bachman) Sell. Her brother, Henry, married Anna Ziegler and one of their sons was Peter, who married Barbara Musselman. They had eleven children, the eighth being Leidy Sell, who became a leading layman in our Conference.
Johann William and Maria became the parents of eight children and their first child was christened Petrus (Peter) on October 29, 1820. The other children were not baptized. The church did not always have a regular pastor and as a result not all baptisms were recorded nor were children always baptized. The family moved to Upper Milford Township around 1828 and his offspring became interested in the new group known as Evangelical Mennonites, now Bible Fellowship. Not far from their residence was the farmhouse of David Musselman, in whose home the Evangelical Mennonites were founded. Johann’s daughter, Lucy, was born on February 16, 1842 and married David’s son, Jonas who became Ebenezer’s first pastor. Another daughter, Hannah, married Abel Strawn, who also became a preacher in our Conference. Johann’s son, Joel, became active in our Zionsville church. Johann and Maria moved to Emmaus not long after Lucy’s marriage. Their oldest daughter, Sarah, had married Martin Kemmerer and they were farming in nearby Salisbury Township. Martin had purchased the family homestead of 120 acres in Salisbury Township and served as a Justice of the Peace. He also became a director of the Second National Bank Maria died on February 21, 1862 and Johann then moved in with the Kemmerers. In 1867 he moved to Allentown. Johann died on December 20, 1878 in Allentown and was buried at the Blue Church but Maria had been buried at the Union Church in western Salisbury Township. When Martin died in 1896 he left an estate of $200,000.
Leah, the third child born to Johann William and Maria, married Owen Heller, son of Paul and Catherine nee Beil Heller, of Lower Saucon Township. Owen and Leah, married around 1847, moved to Bethlehem in 1866. their names do not appear on Ebenezer’s membership list but the name Anna Heller appears around 1890, no doubt the wife of their son, Llewellyn.
Joel, a son of Johann William, was born on September 16, 1839 in Upper Milford Township in Lehigh County. In the 1860 Census he is listed with the family of Solomon Bachman in Upper Milford Township. He married Rebecca Gehman, daughter of David Gehman, one of the seven men who founded our Conference. Joel moved to Hosensack and in 1868 purchased a farm near Zionsville Station. He had been converted under the ministry of Jonas Schultz at the age of nineteen while attending revival services in Quakertown. He became an active layman in our Zionsville church, in Upper Milford Township, where he led the singing. Dorothy, his granddaughter, remembered that he had a clear tenor voice and served as “Vorsinger”, singing the first line or lines followed by congregational response. He also served on the Conference committee to evaluate William Musselman’s Revival Songs. He later sold the farm to his son, Harvey. William Gehman held a mortgage on the Reading church and in 1893 Joel took over that mortgage. Rebecca, born on May 23, 1841, died in 1882. The funeral was conducted by Jonas Schultz, the evangelist who had been instrumental in Joel’s conversion.
A son, Charles, became a pastor at Ebenezer and a daughter, Nora, married a pastor and also became an assistant pastor herself. Another daughter, Sarah, served as a Gospel Worker with the Union Gospel Press until her death at age 96. In the 1900 Census Joel is listed as a landlord living at 1316 Linden Street in Allentown with his daughter, Ida. He died there on March 5, 1910. The funeral was held on March 8 at his residence, followed by a service at our Allentown church. The following morning a service was held at our Zionsville church after which he was buried in the church cemetery.
Charles Brunner, the first child of Joel and Rebecca, was born in Hosensack, Upper Milford Township, on January 2, 1864. His middle name was Henry, for his father’s brother, Henry Brunner. Charles was converted on December 30, 1877, at the age of 13. He labored for one year on a farm near Dillinger’s Station for Abraham Musselman, his future father-in-law. He then moved to Coopersburg, where he was apprenticed to a carpenter, Daniel Schaeffer, and also resided with him. He spent weekends with his uncle, Abel Strawn, one of our preachers. Abel had married Joel’s sister, Hannah. On September 29, 1888 Charles married his second cousin, Sarah Catherine Musselman, daughter of Abraham and Catherine Gehman Musselman. Abraham was the son of David Musselman, one of the founders of our Conference. William Brunner Musselman, his cousin, performed the ceremony in their home at Dillinger’s Station.
Charles moved to Bethlehem where he became employed as a carpenter, working on construction of buildings at Lehigh University. He always prayed before he ate his lunch but said he soon learned to pray with his eyes open. He was active in the Bethlehem church and was the first Sunday School Superintendent. He assisted in the erection of a temporary frame building on Main Street and later in the construction of the Laurel Street Church. He served as a delegate to Annual Conference and then felt called of God to be a pastor. The Annual Conference appointed him a trustee at Bethlehem in 1888 for the purpose of building a church there. In 1891 he served as Secretary of Annual Conference and was also elected to the committee over tents. The following year he ministered at the Erwinna mission. In 1894 he was sent to the Graterford and Royersford circuit for two years and to Reading for two more years. He was ordained in the Allentown church on February 9, 1896. He served at Bethlehem from 1910 to 1914 and again from 1920 to 1923. During his second pastorate at Ebenezer he built an addition to the parsonage. He loved music, organized quartets and choirs and led them himself.
In 1898, at the age of thirty-four, he was elected Presiding Elder, chairman of Annual Conference and secretary of the Foreign Mission Board. He held the office of
Presiding Elder from 1898 to 1902 and again from 1905 to 1907. He organized the Gospel Herald Society in 1899 and served as the first president. After serving as Presiding Elder he was secretary of Annual Conference and editor of the Annual Conference yearbook until his retirement in 1942. He served as editor of the Gospel Banner from 1909 to 1912 and of the Eastern Gospel Banner from 1917 to 1922. The latter was the publication of the Pennsylvania Conference. Harold Shelly, in his book The Bible Fellowship Church, states, “Probably no other preacher had more influence behind the scenes than C.H. Brunner. C.H. probably affected the theology of the Pennsylvania Conference more than any of his contemporaries.” In the summer of 1948 he collapsed while preaching at Mizpah Grove. After returning home to Coopersburg he suffered a stroke on August 18. He was unable to speak and his right side was paralyzed, yet people noted that his Christ-like disposition was a testimony to those who cared for him. He died on November 20, 1949 at Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown. Funeral services were held at our Emmaus church on November 24 at 2 P.M. and brief messages were given by Presiding Elders T.D. Gehret and P.T. Stengele. He was buried at our Zionsville church.
His wife, Sarah, was born on September 22, 1869. She was licensed to preach in 1892 and served with her husband until the Conference discontinued using women as Assistant Pastors. Annual Conference authorized Charles Brunner to appoint his wife “to any office in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Home Missionary Society as he sees proper”. She died on February 17, 1950.
A daughter, Dorothy Claire Brunner, was born November 10, 1906 in Emmaus, PA. She married Herbert Weidner Hartman in her father’s parsonage in Philadelphia on September 15, 1931. Herbert, a pastor in Jersey City, NJ, was a brother of Wilbur W. Hartman, one of Ebenezer’s pastors.
Lucy Brunner was born on February 16, 1842, the last child born to Johann William and Maria. She fell in love with a young man named Jonas Musselman and married him on October 29, 1859. He became a pastor in our Conference and founded the church at Bethlehem, as well as other churches. He died at Coopersburg of dropsy on March 26, 1886 and Lucy was now a widow. Would Lucy become bitter? She didn’t lose her zeal for Christian service, however, and in 1890 became a licensed evangelist with our Conference. By 1892 she was listed as a candidate for the ministry and was accepted as a probationer. She was assigned to be an assistant to Pastor J. E. Fidler at Coopersburg with four other churches on the circuit. She continued to assist him the following year with three churches on the circuit. In 1894 she assisted J.B. Knerr at Coopersburg and Springtown. It’s very possible that she preached at some of these churches. The Gospel Workers Society was organized in 1895 by Lucy’s son, William and Lucy became the first member of that Society. The Quarterly Conference records of our Walnutport church records for March 2, 1895: ‘Bro. A. M. Clauser was appointed Pastor of Northampton and Walnutport Mission by the conference in place of sister Lucy Musselman”. It appears that Lucy had served as pastor for a week or two. Quarterly Conference records referred to her as “pastor”.
In 1898 the Gospel Workers Society became a separate organization from our Conference. Lucy was now listed as a Gospel Worker. Also, women would no longer serve as assistant pastors in our Conference. Lucy moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1907 when the Gospel Herald Publishing House, headed by her son, William, transferred to that city. She died in Cleveland on October 20, 1916 and was buried in the Brooklyn Heights Cemetery. Cleveland was founded by Revolutionary War veterans, many of whom had fought in the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, thus the name.
Her son, William, was born on October 3, 1860. In 1879 he married Mary Ann Oberholtzer, daughter of Tobias and Ann nee Reiff Oberholtzer. After working as an iron molder he became a pastor in our Conference and served at the Bethlehem church from 1887 until 1890. He served next at Allentown and then became the Presiding Elder of our Conference in 1892. In 1893 founded the church at Walnutport. After founding the Gospel Workers Society in 1895 he moved to Williamsport, PA and then to Cleveland, OH in 1907. He died on February 21, 1938 and was buried by his mother.
The family of Heinrich Brunner had begun as Lutherans but many of Johann William’s descendants became devoted followers of the new Conference, now known as Bible Fellowship. Ardis Grosjean, in her paper on the Brunner descendants, points out the invaluable help that the descendants of Johann William Brunner gave to our Conference.
A final presentation will point you to the Women’s Missionary Society. The Bible Fellowship Church’s Board of Missions will hold what they believe to be the 50th Annual Missions Rally in a few months. The Missions Rally grew out of the Women’s Missionary Society. The following is a description of the start of the WMS. I am not sure of the identity of the author of this short history. Perhaps someone who reads this will own and we will gladly add the name. To the person now unknown, thanks for recording the story.
History of the Women’s Missionary Society
In 1951 when Pastor Wolf was pastoring at the Bethlehem Church, it was brought to the attention of Mrs. Wolf that Olive Rawn needed some dresses to complete her wardrobe for the field, Mrs. Wolf, with her own money bought material and Mrs. Steward Seifert opened her home for the work of sewing the dresses. They also made a few quilts and some other needed articles. After this Mrs. Seifert was continually asked to begin a society, but she felt she did not want the responsibility of it. She felt someone else should do it.
February 19, 1952, Dr. Barnett, a missionary serving in a leper colony in Africa, spoke at the Bethlehem Church. He mentioned that after a hard day’s work at the dispensary he and his wife had to go home and wash out the dirty bandages so there would be clean ones for the next day. The faithfulness of this servant of the Lord impressed Mrs. Seifert so much that she was not able to sleep that night. At 7:00 the next morning she called Pastor Wolf and said that she was willing to take the responsibility of forming a ladies’ missionary organization. That evening in prayer meeting the announcement was made that all women willing to work were to meet the next morning.
It was a real winter morning with snow promised before noon, yet 23 ladies came out to form the first Women’s Missionary Society of the Bible Fellowship Church. Of those 23 ladies, seven are still active in the group.
Their first projects were bandages and hospital gowns, which were sent away by the barrel. Then they made quilts for Berean and all kinds of necessary things for the Home for the Aging (then located in Center Valley). One year they canned over 1,000 jars of fruits and vegetables which were given to the flooded areas of Stroudsburg. They mended, washed, and ironed over a ton of clothing for that same area. They canned fruit for Berean and began getting things together for missionaries going to the field. They also made things for Church Extension along with Baptism gowns. At the time Beula Mann was in Kentucky and the women mended and washed used clothing by the barrel, which she gave out to the children and their parents in the Appalachian Mountains.
The news spread of the efforts of the Bethlehem ladies and soon other churches were asking for help to start a Women’s Missionary Society. Pastor Golla contacted Mrs. Seifert, who along with the Foreign Missions Board and the two D. S.’s. and Mrs. Paul Schaffer, who helped form the Allentown group, Mrs. Koch and Mrs. Roy Williams, a general committee was formed. A constitution was drafted and the first general rally was held during camp meeting. There the constitution was explained and the committee offered themselves to help organize other groups.
Mrs. Seifert has served as president for five years and two years as vice-president. She served the Bethlehem group as their president for eleven years.
Might the faithfulness of this servant be of great inspiration to those who carry on the work of the Women’s Missionary Society. She has given of her time, talents, money, and many times has tired herself physically and has driven many miles so the work of the Lord might be enlarged.
That brings this issue to a close. If you have corrections or additions for this issue, just let me hear from you. I gladly accept questions and will even do research for you. If you have stories to share or memories that you want to preserve, write to me. I will be glad to hear from you.