St. Paul the Apostle
8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians 2: 8-10
St. Paul the Apostle
In 2017 St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church celebrates our 180th year of Serving God and Spreading the Gospel. We are proud of that history and our traditions. But our story begins well before then.
Our congregation is named for St. Paul the Apostle. As the closest followers of Jesus Christ began to spread the message of his life, death, and resurrection, Paul, also known as Saul, was dedicated to stopping this emerging movement of followers of Jesus Christ. (Acts 9:1-2)
After an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul came to believe in what this group was saying about Jesus, that he was indeed God’s son who came to us to save us through God’s grace.
Paul became a foundational figure in the first generation of the Church. He founded congregations throughout the Mediterranean world, and authored many letters to those congregations and others that would later become the majority of the New Testament.
The spirit of worship in the St. Paul’s Sanctuary is greatly toned by the large stained glass window in the West Front and above the main entrance. It is a picture of art, rich in colors and ornamentic designs, with the symbol of St. Paul in the centre. The symbol consists of an open Bible and a sword behind it; the inscription in the Bible is in Latin “Spiritus Gladius” (the sword of the Spirit).
The symbol draws its meaning from the Apostle’s own words: “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the Gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” Ephesians 6: 14-18
St. Paul’s Window
St. Paul’s is a congregation of the Lutheran Church. The name Lutheran comes from Martin Luther who was an Augustinian Friar and Professor at the University of Wittenberg in the early 16th century. Luther, partly inspired by his study of St. Paul’s writings, called for reform and renewal in Roman Catholic Church. He questioned some of the practices of the Church at the time, and wanted the Church to return to a more Biblical and Gospel based message. At the center of Luther’s ideas was an intense focus on God’s grace given thorough Jesus Christ. Through the development of the printing press Luther’s message spread throughout Germany and Europe, and his ideas gained popularity. Among his reforms were: worship in the language of the people instead of Latin, both elements of communion distributed to laypeople, less focus on purgatory, and the ability of priests to get married.
The movement that Luther began became known as the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Luther posted a document called Disputation on the Power of Indulgences. It was a call for an academic debate over the Church’s practice of selling indulgences, which were said to absolve sins and free the deceased from purgatory. This call for debate contained ninety-five different points and became known as the Ninety-Five Theses. Ultimately, there was no academic debate on this subject, but the call for reform in the Church began to spread. Others inspired by Luther added their own ideas, and eventually the Church in Europe split. Many of the denominations we know today trace their birth back to the Reformation. October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of this history making event. It is an event that truly changed the world.
German Americans are Americans who are of German descent. They comprise about 50 million people, making them the largest self-reported ancestry group ahead of Irish Americans, African Americans and English Americans, although English Americans more than likely form the largest ancestry group in the U.S. due to Americans primarily of English ancestry identifying as simply American or with an ancestry group more recent in their family. They comprise about 1⁄3 of the German diaspora in the world.
Large numbers of Germans migrated from the 1680s to 1760s, with Pennsylvania the favored destination. They migrated to America for a variety of reasons. Push factors involved worsening opportunities for farm ownership in central Europe, persecution of some religious groups, and military conscription; pull factors were better economic conditions, especially the opportunity to own land, and religious freedom. Often immigrants paid for their passage by selling their labor for a period of years as indentured servants.
The tide of German immigration to Pennsylvania swelled between 1725 and 1775, with immigrants arriving as redemptioners or indentured servants. By 1775, Germans constituted about one-third of the population of the state. German farmers were renowned for their highly productive animal husbandry and agricultural practices. Politically, they were generally inactive until 1740, when they joined a Quaker-led coalition that took control of the legislature, which later supported the American Revolution.
The Germans, comprising Lutherans, Reformed, Mennonites, Amish, and other sects, developed a rich religious life with a strong musical culture. Collectively, they came to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch (from Deutsch). Etymologically, the word Dutch originates from the Old High German word “diutisc” (from “diot” “people”), referring to the Germanic “language of the people” as opposed to Latin, the language of the learned. Only later did the word come to refer to the people who spoke the language. From names in the 1790 U.S. census, historians estimate Germans constituted nearly 9% of the white population in the United States.
The foundation of the New Hanover Evangelical Lutheran Church is deeply rooted in the Germany of Martin Luther, transported to the new land on the evangelical wings of Daniel Falckner, and nourished by the ecclesiastical energy of Henry Muhlenberg. Falckner, a German theological student, came to America as an agent for the Frankfort Land Company. Ordained as a minister on a return visit to Germany just before 1700, Falckner then ministered among the scattered Lutherans in southeastern Pennsylvania, between the Schuylkill River and the present Pennsburg, organizing them into a congregation.
Following in Falckner’s footsteps was a procession of ministers, mostly “circuit” pastors, who served several congregations at the same time. One of these was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, who answered a call to America from his native Germany in 1742. He preached his first sermon in Pennsylvania at New Hanover on November 28 of that year. His call included New Hanover, Providence (Trappe), and Philadelphia (St. Michael’s). Under Muhlenberg’s guidance New Hanover grew and prospered.
In 1768, after having worshipped in three log structures for the first three-quarters of a century that it existed, the congregation at New Hanover dedicated its new stone edifice, the building which continues to serve to this day. During the War for American Independence, the new church building served in a way its builders did not anticipate. In the autumn of 1777 the Continental Army, led by General George Washington, retreated before the oncoming British. They carried with them their wounded from Brandywine and Paoli. As the army moved north of the Schuylkill River, encampments were established from Pottsgrove to Towamencin, and the church at New Hanover became a temporary hospital.
In 1777-1778, the Reverend Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, son of Henry, served the New Hanover congregation. He later entered civil life and served both in the Continental Congress and the first Congress of the United States, where he became the first Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Henry Sassaman, a German emigrant of the Reformed faith, arrived in Philadelphia in 1773. First belonging to the Faulkner-Swamp congregation, at the age of 85, he joined forces with leaders in the process of forming the Niantic congregation which would be closer to his home.
In the spring of 1836 after a decision to build a church, plans were made to select pastors for the Lutheran and Reformed congregations that were to worship in the new building. During this selection process, a disagreement arose within the Reformed congregation. Rev. Lewis Herman, the candidate Henry Sassaman supported was defeated and Mr. Sassaman stated he would provide a church for Rev. Herman.
Since Henry Sassaman owned land in Douglass (now known as Sassamansville) he chose to build the church at the intersection of Sassamansville and Hoffmansville Roads. The structure was begun in May of 1837 and the cornerstone was laid on June 20, 1837. The church, costing about $8,000 to build, was utilized by both the Reformed and Lutheran denominations, and became known as Sassaman’s Church. Mr. Sassaman’s relationship with the Lutheran congregation was entirely self-limited to simply permitting them the right to use the building he erected. Later in the year, Rev. Conrad Miller was chosen to serve as the first Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran congregation. At this time St. Paul’s was annexed to the Swamp or New Hanover Lutheran parish, composed of St. Paul’s of Boyertown, Hill Church, and Keeler’s (now St. Luke’s, Obelisk) congregations.
The union worship relationship with Sassaman’s Church continued until 1895 when, during the pastorate of Rev. Fox, the Lutheran congregation actively began making plans to build an exclusively Lutheran church in Sassamansville. A committee was appointed to work out all the preliminary details regarding the building site. This committee consisted of the following members: Charles Z. Erb, Jacob Hoffman and Amos Fry. The committee reported on a site and a vote was taken. The majority was in favor of the site on the hilltop of the Sassamansville community a short distance from old Sassaman’s Church.
The land for building the church was given by Isaac Linsenbigler and his family, members of the congregation. Then a building committee was appointed consisting of John F. Renninger, Irvin Erb, Isaac Jones, Isaac Linsenbigler and Milton Hoffman. The church is proudly described in 1937 by the Centenary Committee in this sentence: “On May 20, 1897 this beautiful house of Worship, a monument of the faithful work of Rev. W. B. Fox and the liberality of the congregation, was dedicated as the Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul’s Church, Sassamansville, Pennsylvania” (from the 1937 Century Celebration Committee publication). The new building was completed “at the remarkably low cost of $6,397.”
On August 10, 1958, the Sassamansville-Gilbertsville Lutheran Parish voted to divide into two separate congregations, each with its own pastor and program of congregational development, effective Advent Sunday, November 30, 1958. Since that time St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is an independent congregation in its own church building, with its own pastor, its own decisions and responsibilities and its own history.
The Lutheran Church burned down on June 1, 1962, just three weeks from observing the 125th Anniversary of the life of St. Paul’s congregation. For two years the congregation had to return to its roots and worship in Sassaman’s Church until the new facility was completed. After intensive planning, a new church was approved for construction by the congregation on June 30, 1963. Ground was broken on July 7, 1963 for a new modern Gothic style church building for an estimated cost of $317,979. Additional land was purchased to the rear of the property and the cornerstone was laid on Sunday, November 3, 1963, and a service of dedication was held for the completed new church on Sunday, September 20, 1964, at 10:15 A.M.
In 1964 we began worship in our new modern Gothic style church building. The facility has many features that enhance the Spirit of Worship as we embark on this new phase of our ministry. The St. Paul’s window, the artistic part of the Narthex screen and the composition of the colored glass windows in the chancel (on both sides of the altar) is the creation of the earlier mentioned Leonids Linauts in consultation with Rev. Mezezers. They were both born in Latvia. After finishing his formal education in the Academy of the Fine Arts of Riga, Linauts studied Medieval French, German, and English stained glass art in various places in Europe. A very well-known artist in Pennsylvania and other states in Europe, his Art Studio was located in Mohnton, near Reading Pennsylvania.
The Spirit of Worship in the Sanctuary is greatly toned by the large stained glass window designed by Linauts and located in the West Front and above the main entrance. It is a piece of art, rich in colors and ornametic designs, with the symbol of St. Paul in the center. The symbol consists of an open bible and a sword behind it; the inscription in the bible is in Latin “Spritus Gladius (the sword of the Spirit).
The symbol draws its meaning from the Apostle’s own words: “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. Pray at all times in the Sprit with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:14-18)
The Altar – designed by the architect, Dana W. Gangware, (as are all of the church furnishings) – the most sacred place and object in the sanctuary, is made of marble, with six massive candlesticks on it. Candles were being used since early days in worship of the church. The light of the Altar candles serves to remind us of the very words of Jesus Christ our Savior, the Great Light: “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). The six candlesticks are symbolic of the six days of creation (Genesis 1), with the great Cross above representing in all of its symbolism the great Seventh Day, the day of Redemption. When building the new facility, a used pipe organ from a Lutheran church in Easton was installed. Many improvements have been made over the years.
St. Paul’s has been blessed to have eight sons of the congregation become ordained and go into the Lord’s ministry. These included Rev. Josiah Fox, Rev William Fox, Rev. Josiah S. Renninger, Rev. Henry A Frederick, Rev. Jonathan R. Erb, Rev Earl S. Erb and the Rev George W. Fritch, Jr. The last pastor to go into ministry, Rev. Dr. Dwight D. Shellaway, was ordained in 1974.
Over the years, some twenty pastors have shepherded St. Paul’s; some for only a brief period. In 2016 we installed our 21st Pastor for the Twenty First Century Matthew M. Finney to lead our flock. The rural countryside surrounding St. Paul’s has been experiencing increased population. Our hope is that with new leadership and through the work of the Holy Spirit new residents will be directed to St. Paul’s and the Lord’s ministry will continue to grow [6,7].
Pastors of St. Paul’s
- Conrad Miller
- Nathan Jaeger
- Henry Wendt
- Josiah Fox
- G. A. Struntz
- J. E. Fleckenstein
- W. B. Fox
- J. J. Cressman
- Melvin Kurtz
- Dr. Robert H. Ischinger
- Wesley Wenner
- Dr. George W. Fritch
- George W. Fritch Jr.
- William Shand
- Oscar Schlessman
- Valdis Mezezers
- Glenn C. Reichley
- Luther E. Johnson
- Paul Jann
- George Harpel
- Matthew M. Finney