The Historical Society of the Bible Fellowship Church
I begin by welcoming our new members: Walter and Aurelia Smock, Delbert and Doris Seifert, Ruth Schappel, Dick and Jean Drosnock and Jim and Sandy Beil. We are glad for new members. While we have never had statistical goals for this society, it is gratifying to hear of the interest and appreciation for what is happening. I would encourage you to share the news of this society with others you know may have interest. You still have time to enroll a new member with a gift membership.
I will follow my welcome with a reminder that you need to send your membership dues for the new year if you have not already done so. Our membership begins in November but we always extend a bit of grace to allow you to hang around until February. But sadly, after February, we remove those who have not rejoined. It is a task I hate; so spare me the pain of removing you.
If you wish to send in your dues, make out a check ($22.00 per couple, $16.00 per individual) to the Historical Society. Send your name and address to Jack English, 19 Arbor Drive, Myerstown, PA 17067-3107. If you want to enroll someone in an introductory gift membership, send $10.00 with their name and address.
I will put another reminder up front in this letter. I welcome your inquiries, comments, memories and stories. If you are willing to write something for publication, go for it and send it to me. Everyone will appreciate it.
For this issue, I am using the last society meeting as a kind of spring board. I will begin with a reprint from the Lehigh County Historical Society's article on our history, first published in 1914. The author of the article was H. H. Romig. If you remember the edition of one year ago, I presented information on the Romig family. H. H. Romig grew up in our church though later he became a Methodist. This article contains details I have seen nowhere else. I suspect the article was written on the basis of interviews with William Gehman himself who was still living at the time.
MENNONITE BRETHREN IN CHRIST.
BY H. H. ROMIG.
The founder of this Church is Rev. Wm. Gehman, born in Hereford, Berks Co., Pa., January 22, 1827. He was a miller by trade, but early in life began farming on a farm near Vera Cruz, Lehigh Co., Pa., where he has resided since. His wife was a daughter of Jacob Musselman.
For eight years Rev. Wm. Gehman preached in the Old Mennonite Church, known as the Oberholtzer Mennonites, also called Mennonites No. 2. (The Oberholtzer Mennonites had separated from the main body of Mennonites in this country). Then with his followers, he left the Oberholtzer Mennonites because of disagreement in regard to holding prayer meetings and in the matter of experimental Christianity. The new denomination, officially and originally called "The Evangelical Mennonite Association," also known as "New Mennonites," originated in 1853 through the union of about 20 zealous Mennonite preachers and lay members, among whom Rev. Wm. Gehman was the leader. The preachers first associated with him were: Wm. N. Shelly, David Henning, and Henry Diehl; and the following lay officials had united with them: David Gehman, Joseph Schneider and Jacob Gottshall. These all attended the first preachers’ conference held Sept. 24, 1858, in the home of David Musselman, Upper Milford township, Lehigh Co., Pa. At this conference they adopted rules and articles of faith. Their second conference was held Nov. 1, 1859, in the Evangelical Mennonite meeting house in Haycock township, Bucks Co., Pa. Other ministers belonging to their number soon after the founding of the church were Eusebius Hershey, Abel Strawn, Jonas Musselman, Abraham Kauffman, and Joseph L. Romig.
After the first two annual conferences they held two conferences yearly for some time. In 1879 they and the United Mennonites joined forces, and in 1883 the name of the denomination was changed to Mennonite Brethren in Christ. They have had an Annual Conference in Canada for many years; also conferences and missionary operations in various states of the Union and in other countries. Rev. Eusebius Hershey, one of the first preachers, died in Africa while working as a missionary. A granddaughter of Rev. Wm. Gehman, Miss Rose Lambert (now Mrs. David G. Musselman of Victoria, Texas) for years served as missionary in Hadjin, Asia Minor, where, during the Armenian massacres, some of her co-workers were murdered, she also being in great danger of losing her life. Rev. Henry Weiss and wife have been missionaries in Chili, South America, for years.
Their church polity at first was patterned after that of the church from which they came, but becoming more Methodistic in their doctrine and mode of worship they also gradually adopted the Methodistic form of church government as then used in the Evangelical Association and similar Methodistic branches. They have had Presiding Elders for many years, but no bishops, although a few have favored the plan of having bishops. They have a General Conference convening every four years. They have introduced some new methods of work by sustaining, in addition to the regular work, two separate departments, known as "The Gospel Heralds" and "The Gospel Workers," the former consisting of men, the latter of women. These wear uniforms and preach and perform deeds of love in a way somewhat similar to that of the Salvation Army.
The first church of this denomination was built soon after its organization, and is located in Upper Milford township, this county, along the Perkiomen Railroad, between Dillinger and Zionsville stations. Other churches were built soon afterwards in Lehigh and surrounding counties, at Coopersburg, Quakertown, Hatfield, Fleetwood and Terre Hill. The services at first were in German. After the English language was introduced the denomination made rapid strides forward. Churches were established at Emaus, Allentown, Bethlehem, Reading and other places.
Rev. Wm. Gehman was the first Presiding Elder, and held that office fourteen years. Other Presiding Elders were: Rev. Wm. B. Musselman, Rev. Wm. Gehman (son of the founder), Rev. Chas. Brunner, and Rev. Harvey B. Musselman.
The man who for many years gave most largely towards the maintenance of the work of the church was a prominent layman, the late John B. Gehman, owner of the farm on which was a great iron-ore mine, adjoining the famous Bittenbender mine, at Siesholtzville, Berks Co., Pa.
The denomination now has a well-equipped camp meeting ground at East Allentown, where hundreds of the members yearly attend and hold great meetings. For years they had a camp ground, now abandoned, on Chestnut Hill, several miles west of Coopersburg.
These Mennonites are a very strict, honest and zealous people; observe feet-washing, and are opposed to war, infant baptism, and secret societies.
Rev. Wm. Gehman, the founder, and for many years called "Father" Gehman, is now (1913) eighty-six years of age, well preserved and still frequently preaches in German with unusual vigor and great unction.
In 1886, certain members of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ at Allentown first began to assemble at the residence of Miss Louisa Horlacher, on Linden street above Eleventh, with the view of establishing a congregation and erecting a church for religious worship according to the doctrines of the Mennonites. They were identified with the Third Mennonite church in Lower Milford township, a mile east of Zionsville station. These meetings were continued for three years, then, in 1889, they succeeded in erecting a small frame chapel on Gordon street, above Eighth. The active members were: Louisa Horlacher, Henry M. Gehman and wife, John D. Baus and wife, Ammon Dreisbach and wife, James A. Gaumer , James Quier, Oscar Baer and wife, Ellen Reichenbach, Mrs. Weigert.
The first pastor was Rev. W. B. Musselman; and since 1910, Rev. W. S. Hottel.
A one-story brick edifice was erected in 1902; which was remodeled and improved in the spring of 1914.
The membership in April, 1914, was 195; of the Sunday school, 314, with Albert Gaumer as the efficient and successful superintendent since 1912.
Another congregation of this branch of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ was organized in South Allentown in 1900, and after conducting religious meetings under Rev. W. Steinmetz in a small building on Greenleaf street for two years, they succeeded in erecting a one-story brick church at No. 529 Greenleaf street, and have since carried on their organization. They started with the following active members: Wilson Steinmetz and wife, William Brunner and wife, Charles Weaver and wife , Henry Gehman, Franklin Bobst and wife, Lillian Frey, Emma Schul.
In April, 1914, the membership was 90. A Sunday school has been carried on in connection with the church. The members number 250. O. C. Kistler has been superintendent since 1908.
The pastors have been:
W. Steinmetz - 1900-03
L. Frank Haas - 1903-1905
R. Bergstresser - 1905-1908
W. J. Fretz - 1908-1911
R. L. Woodring - 1911-1914
Mizpah Grove was established by the executive board of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ of the Pennsylvania Conference in April, 1910, by the purchase of six acres of ground at Fifth and Lawrence streets, in East Allentown, the Fourteenth ward. The twenty-one ministers of the conference immediately, by their own personal exertions, cleared off an appropriate spot at the northwest corner and set up 154 small tents for camping members ready for a meeting in the beautiful grove in July. A superior well was sunk to the depth of 40 feet and an abundant supply of excellent "granite-stone" water secured. A two-story brick building was erected for a dining hall and storage purposes in 1910; another nearby in 1911, and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 1,000 in 1912. The conference is in three divisions, centered at Bethlehem, Mount Carmel, and Allentown, embracing twenty-one ministers, and since then they have conducted very successful meetings in this grove three times each year in July and August. The sanitary arrangements are perfect.
Beyond Sivvah Mennah
Harold Shelly presented another of his well researched and well presented papers at our recent society meeting. I can’t resist the temptation to build on what he presented and perhaps go a bit further. He gave us a peek into the dynamics that brought a group of men together who were committed by a common understanding of what God was doing and what they should do. The seven men were listed as follows:
Elders; William Gehman, William N. Shelly,
Deacons; David Gehman, Joseph Schneider, Jacob Gottschall,
Preachers of the word; David Henning and Henry Diehl.
Jump forward to the semi-annual conference of November, 1861. The attendees were first recorded at this meeting. They were listed as follows:
Preachers: David Henning, Abraham Stauffer, William N. Shelly, Jonas Musselman, William Gehman, Abraham Kauffman, Eusebius Hershey, Abel Strawn, Henry Diehl, Jacob Gottshall,
Deacons: Joseph Schneider, David Gehman.
This list shows that five other men had already joined themselves and were listed among the preachers; Abraham Stauffer, Jonas Musselman, Abraham Kauffman, Eusebius Hershey and Abel Strawn.
Of Abraham Stauffer, we know little. In June of 1863, he responded to a “warm invitation” of
Eusebius Hershey to serve as a traveling preacher. A committee of William N. Shelly, William
Gehman and David Gehman were appointed to give advice and counsel to brother Stauffer and “others who might be added to this kind of work for the Lord.” In October of 1863, the plan for travel preachers was discussed. The minutes record, “After Brother Abraham W. Stauffer had explained the reason why he was not yet able to start his service on the mission field he was excused. The committee which was appointed at the last conference for this purpose should remain active and be concerned to see whether a way could be found for Brother Stauffer to start his appointed work next spring. In November, 1864, he was elected as secretary of the mission society. One year later, November, 1865, he was absent and is not mentioned again in the minutes.
Jonas Musselman has been discussed and presented in a paper (See http://www.bfchistory.org/jmusselman.htm for a copy of my paper on him.).
Abraham Kauffman was converted in 1857 and called to ministry in 1859. This information is supplied in his obituary by William Gehman who had been his neighbor for many years. Kauffman served until 1889 until his untimely death at age 49 of typhoid. Kauffman and his wife Annie Eliza, who outlived him for 27 years, had three children, Charles, Annie, and Henry. Kauffman’s brother Milton would provide for the first camp meeting on his farm at Chestnut Hill. His grandson, Horace (son of Charles), served as a preacher until his death during the infamous 1918 flu epidemic.
Eusebius Hershey came to the Evangelical Mennonites because he found them to be kindred spirits. Dan Ziegler has introduced us to Hershey in his book which may be purchased from our bookstore.
Abel Strawn remains and raises the question of why he was not with the seven who met at the Musselman house for the first meeting in 1858. There is no way to answer the question of whether only seven men were present at that meeting or whether others were present who were not recorded. For instance, Jonas Musselman was the son of David Musselman. Was he present for the meeting to sit in a corner and listen? He lived in the house. I have never seen anything to indicate that he was there and nothing to indicate that he was not there. The life of Abel Strawn was so intertwined with the other men, it is almost surprising that he was not present.
Abel Strawn was born on December 5, 1830. His roots were in Bucks County, Haycock Township. He was the son of Joel and Catherine (Fretz) Strawn and grandson of Abel and Elizabeth (Raudenbush) Strawn.
On October 30, 1850, Abel was married to Hannah Brunner attaching him to a central family in the network of preachers that was being formed. Hannah was the daughter of John William and Maria (Sell) Brunner. Her sister Lucy would marry the aforementioned Jonas Musselman to form a productive ministry family. Hannah’s brother Joel would marry Rebecca Gehman, daughter of David and Susannah Gehman. Joel and Rebecca would later receive a child, Charles Henry Brunner, who would serve with distinction as a preacher in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. Another daughter, Nora, married R. D. Dreisbach, another Mennonite Brethren in Christ preacher. Abel became part of the complex interwoven family network that formed the Evangelical Mennonites.
In 1856, an event took place near Quakertown which eventually became a significant factor in the formation of the Quakertown church. Two men were riding on the road from Appelbachsville to Quakertown when they were caught in a violent storm. A tree fell across the wagon in which they were riding but neither were hurt. In gratitude, they built a church at the spot of the event. That church would eventually be dismantled and rebuilt in Quakertown as the meeting house of the Evangelical Mennonites there. The church served as the meeting place for the first conference held in 1859. The two men were Henry Diehl and Abel Strawn. Clearly, they had been closely acquainted prior to the September, 1858, meeting at the Musselman house.
A history of the Stauffer / Stover family includes a paragraph about Abel Strawn. This history includes the statement that Strawn was elected to the ministry in 1859, perhaps in the very building which he was instrumental in erecting. The history was published in 1899 while Strawn was still alive and is probably based on his own statement.
Nothing here indicates that Abel Strawn was even an observer at the meeting at the Musselman house in September, 1858. His marriage to Hannah Brunner, friendship with Henry Diehl, and his election to ministry in 1859 would all at the very least suggest that he was very much aware of the group of men and what they were doing and thus part of the forming network. His years of ministry in the church show that he was very much a part of what they did.
Abel served from 1859 to 1891 with the exception of 1875 when he received no appointment. He served well and gave reports of how God used him. Abel and Hannah were part of the group who visited the first camp meeting at Fetter’s Grove in Indiana and returned with glowing reports which led to the formation of the Chestnut Hill Camp Meeting.
The 1876 atlas of Lehigh County shows that Abel owned three portions of property in the borough of Coopersburg. His house stands today at 205 Main Street. It is a beautiful stone edifice which is marked by a sign in front which reads Architerra.
Abel and Hannah were parents to an only child, a son, whom they named Joel. Joel was born on March 5, 1852. He was educated and trained in chemistry. Joel married Alice B. Adamson in 1873. They gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth. In 1883, he set out on a trip to Germany for his health. When the voyage was but a few days underway, he died and was buried at sea on June 7.
During his latter years, some trouble developed. The minutes of 1903 record, “We examined the Presiding Elders, Local Preachers and Missionaries and found them all satisfactory except A. Strawn who is charged with disloyalty to the church and Pastor, circulating untruthful reports about the work and Pastor, and sowing dissension among the classes.” Later a decision was rendered. “WHEREAS, A. Strawn is charged with disloyalty to church and pastor, circulating untruthful reports about the work and pastor, sowing dissension among the classes, which charges have been sustained against him, therefore
Resolved, That we expel him.” I know nothing of these charges and what precipitated them.
Abel Strawn died in Norristown on March 13, 1913, at the age of 82. He apparently repented and was reconciled since his funeral was conducted by E. N. Cassel at the Coopersburg Church where he was buried at a prominent place in the corner of the cemetery closest to the front of the church.
Part Two will follow in the next edition in which I will introduce some of the families who were part of the Zionsville Congregation in 1865.
Our last presentation is an insider’s look at the Gospel Heralds. Jansen Hartman is a retired pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, making his home today at Fellowship Community in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He had a unique opportunity to serve in the Gospel Heralds and later offer leadership to the new ministry called Church Extension.
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 or 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 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.
That’s it for now. In the next edition, I will present biographical information on the first families who made up the church in Zionsville. As always, I welcome your response whatever it may be.
723 South Providence Road
Wallingford PA 19086
Telephone and fax - 610-876-8725
Email - RETaylor@GraceBFC.org
Website - www.BFCHistory.org