The Historical Society
of the Bible Fellowship Church
This is our annual, last chance to sign up, newsletter. I hate the thought of going to my computer and bringing up someone's name only to push the delete button. Don't make me do it. I am including a sign up sheet for you to renew your membership for another year if you have not already done so. I would also like to encourage you to introduce someone to our society by giving them a gift of an introductory membership. I still cringe when I hear someone from a Bible Fellowship Church say, "Oh, I didn't know there was a historical society!" I realize that not everyone shares an interest in our history like you do. But there are some who do and you know who they are. Treat them to a membership.
The Historical Committee (not to be confused with the society - The Committee is elected by the Annual Conference to oversee our archives and maintain our story) has just placed an order to receive microfilm record of the Gospel Banner from its beginning in 1878 until the 1950's. The Gospel Banner was to the Mennonite Brethren in Christ (we were part until the 1950's) what Fellowship News is to us. It is filled with accounts of events in churches, letters that tell about people and articles that show what we were thinking. Our society has agreed to subsidize this purchase for $750.00. I want thank everyone, even those who didn't know you have done it.
In this issue, I want to share several contributions of our members. I am glad to report that a number of you have begun to do just what I wanted. You are sending me stories and documents that you think might be of interest. I want to share some of them with you now. Remember, keep your letters coming.
My first presentation is a bittersweet one. We have received news of the death of Mildred
Gehman Henry, daughter of W. G. Gehman and granddaughter of founder William Gehman. She
was buried at Zionsville on January 6, 1997. It is sweet to know that she is in heaven because she
had trusted Jesus as her savior. It is sad to know that she is no longer with us. I had several
opportunities to visit with her before she moved to Ohio to live with her son. A visit with her was
a treat. She was perky, bubbly, chatty and fun. She was no "stuffed shirt." Conversations moved
from the present to the past to the future and back to the past. She had wonderful insights into the
strengths and weaknesses of our church in earlier days. Joyce Musselman sent me a copy of a
letter Millie had sent to her. Because it is so much like ones I have received, I am sharing excerpts
with you. I won't change the text but let you read it just a Millie presented it so that you can share
her wonderful expressions and enthusiasm. The letter is dated February 1, 1995.
We oldies like to go back in a dream world, about funny happenings when we were young, some things were not so funny then, but hard, but now we have good laugh over them, was Just telling Woody lots of funny gems, and thot you would too like to know them, not too many folk are still living who were active in the Bethel church, and when Arlene died it was a great source of past history that is gone with her passing...we had a little code in Cedarview, when I would bear four taps on my door I knew it was she and many times she would bring some oldie pics of Shamokin campmeeting and my Dad.... but I have a few gemmies that are farther back than that...
I was born Nov. 30, 1903 and was five yrs. old when my mother died, E. N. Cassel was our pastor, my Dad travelled by train in those days and was called home saying his wife was dying, it was her 5th childbirth and the first boy and he dead too, leaving Dad with four girls, Grace, me, Valeria, Ethel ..Ethel must have been about two yrs...at first bad thot to put us into different homes but changed his mind, and had our cousin Ursula Heist, 17 come in and take care of us, but it proved too hard for one so young to care for us and the home with Dad mostly away ...so next my Dad got in Howard & Mary Shelly of Coopersburg, newly married to move in and keep us for the two yrs. of his widowhood... I have the fondest memories of that saintly couple, he was so much fun and Mary so sweet, just what we needed.. .then one AM Dad called Grace and me into his bedroom and askt how we would like to have Aunt Lizzie for our mother... that a loaded question and we likely stood dumbly silent... then here is the funny one...did you ever hear of a kid going with her father on his first courting trip... well early one AM in the pre dawn little me and Dad went down Hamilton st. to entrain on the Lehigh Valley RR for Spring City where Aunt Liz lived with pastor W. S. Hottel and wife and Mabel... it must have been Easter time, and by Aug. Dad married Aunt Liz... H.B.M. married them in the 2d floor study, . that train trip was top excitement and did not get the score of this serious venture, and guess I was pickt to go as it was my turn, with four kids we likely took turns, well that one courting trip did the trick...in spite of what Arlene told me that Liz had said..."that is one man I would never marry" she knew his strictness, but his charm and his dire predicament must have won her over, well we at once moved to Easton as Dad was a P.E. of the Easton District--it was a good marriage as also his first to Emma.. Dad died Nov. 26, 1941 and little did Liz dream she would survive him by 39 yrs. passing away at 94 yrs. and some months...
Now let's go way back to an earlier funny one... Dad taught school in Shimersville at 16/17 yrs. of age in 1890-1891...went in the ministry when still single... all ministers were short termers in those days... may as well not unpack as they served maybe 1-2-3 yrs. Valeria and I were born in Bethlehem... before his marriage he had churches in Royersford (where he found his first wife) and Northampton & Weissport, you remember T. D. Gehret, well his wife was Esther Deppe of Northampton class, she told me this funny one.. she was born when my Dad was pastor at Weissport and he dedicated her as a baby, I reiterate Dad was so dark and handsome, it was not safe for him to be alone, women being as they sometimes are, Esther's mother told her that the girls in the Weissport class literally tore their hair in fights over him, but we know the Lord does not work that way... soon Dad brings his bride Emma Tyson Kinsell there and that cooled them off...
Roy Bellesfield submitted the following memory for you. Roy lives in Allentown and attends the
Cedar Crest Bible Fellowship Church. Thanks, Roy. I always enjoy the snatches of your memories.
"It's time that I write to you about past history of our church which was called Mennonite Brethren in Christ. Bringing me up in the church, my parents carried me into church as an infant, and dedicated me to the Lord and took us to church regularly except times of sickness.
"I am retired from the company that I worked for and ten years have gone by since. A company publication is given to all employees about four times a year, and it usually has an article with accompanying photos and called "The Way We Were." Since I like to write about those accounts of church history that come back to memory, my mind must make up a word picture since I have no photos to send along to you.
As a young boy I recall the welcoming service for new pastors, or, if the pastor stayed at his place of service for another year, which was called a "Donation Service" to let the pastor know that he was welcomed by the congregation. I asked Alton Cassel what they called this practice as he is a son of Pastor E. N. Cassel.
My father took some pictures of this service, but I cannot find them. However, I can give a word picture of this. Perhaps some churches made displays something like our church used to do. I recall a display up in front of the church on a table that was adorned with colored crepe paper and some garlands to make it attractive. The gifts which were placed on it consisted mostly of foodstuffs such as sugar, flour, potatoes, apples, jello, canned goods of many fruits and vegetables. I may have missed naming some of the items. But to me it was a special time as a boy to treat our pastor in a loving way. There were words of welcome from different people of the congregation and it made me joyful to see my parents do their part to help make it a rime of joy and good feeling for everyone. Our churches no longer practice this kind of service because in those days of long ago, our pastors never had a set salary as they now do and I am certain in those days every little bit helped. Just thought it would bring to mind to some of the members of the Historical Society those "Donation Services" when we welcomed our pastor for another year. To me it was a love service for everyone as we expressed our love to the man God sent to us as the leader of the flock.
One of our newest members is Ardis Grosjean. She is the granddaughter of former minister R. D.
Dreisbach. She lives in Belgium and does a good bit of historical "poking about" when she visits
Pennsylvania. She has sent several valuable comments and insights.
First, from her response to the diary of Levi Young, you may find some of her comments about the ministry in Northampton County.
Levi Young and the defection from the Evangelical Mennonites in Allen and E Allen Twp. and perhaps Saucon too.
D. K. Cassel, History of the Mennonites, Phila., 1888 lists some of those who preached at the Menn. (Mud Lane) mtg. house, adding "until about twenty years ago, when the number was reduced considerably" (p. 275). I wonder if the situation was not more like this; decline to ca. 1860, new life ca. 1862~1865, decline thereafter.
As early as 1860 this congregation was without a pastor, according to the minutes of the Oberholtzer Menns. By Levi's time, the Evangelical Mennonites are sending preachers to the Menn. mtg. house, but only once a month, on the first Sunday, and not in the winter.
Other elements to keep in mind. (1) As Levi's example shows, on the other 3 Sundays Mennonites might go to other local churches. It is not surprising, then, that in the Zion's Stone Church records we find numerous Hiestand women who apparently became Lutheran or Reformed through marriage. (2) There are also regular prayer meetings on Sunday evenings and sometimes during the week at the same few houses; the 2 Bleams, Stephen Funk, Shelby, Samuel Smith. Moreover, there are evening meetings in "the Evangelical Church where Rev. Christian Bleam preached" on 30 Jan., in "the E. A. new church near Bleam's" Feb. 1, in "the E. church" 31 May and 26 July. (Is this the Evangelical Association?) Perhaps these meetings were attended by people with a variety of church backgrounds. Might this eventually have lessened loyalty to the rare Mennonite Sunday services?
My theory (until further diaries appear to prove or disprove it) is that the Menn. congregation in Allen Twp. was failing around 1860, and that it was to some extent revived by Evangelical Mennonite preachers in the 1860's. Levi, who corresponded with a number of the preachers, may have encouraged them to come. Further, Levi had roots and connections in both Northampton Co. and in Saucon. When Levi left the conference in the spring of 1865, it had one fiery soul less in Northampton County. One wonders if the withdrawal of "the Saucon brothers and sisters" in the first half of 1867 was in any way related. Certainly Levi was close to Charles S. Gehman who was among those who withdrew.
I conclude that had we been able to keep Levi Young, there could have been growth instead of decline among the Mennonites in that Part of Northampton County. The loss of the Saucon group was less dire, since there were plenty of other committed Evangelical Mennonites in that area. In Northampton County, however, the Mennonites dwindled because they were on the fringe of the Mennonite "world," and were unable to maintain their congregation or their social fabric in the face of other movements and the pressures of the dominant Lutheran and Reformed churches around them.
The early conference records do not often specify which preachers have charge of which congregations. As early as Nov. 1869, however, we are told that Aaron Unangst asked to be dismissed as deacon of Iron Hill. Jonas Musselman will be responsible for the congregation "for better control." Thus, the Evangelical Mennonite presence in this part of Northampton County has moved a few miles south, to Iron Hill which, I believe, was once used as a name for Catasauqua.
Second, she shares some information from a trip to Hosensack.
"David Gehman and early meetings in Hosensack. In September my sister and I were driving through Hosensack with our cousin, Sylvia Brunner Jones, formerly of the Zionsville congregation, and we stopped to look at the house which we assumed was the one where early meetings of the Evangelical Mennonites were held in the room above David Gehman's store and post office.
"The present owner came out. He is Jim Calhoun, collector of antique clocks. He took us into the house and told us what he knew about the property. Above the store there is an upstairs room, painted the original blue, which could well have served for those extended prayer meetings. However, information received from Jim and from his father indicate that the store was built in the 1870's, and that the frame part may even he as recent as the 1920's.
"I am convinced there is more to be learned about the building and its predecessors. As long as there is even a possibility that the blue room was the scene of some of those early meetings, I will be wondering if this is not a rare witness to our beginnings...
"I am not in the best position here in Belgium to do Lehigh County research. Do you think one might interest some Historical Society member in delving further into this matter? If only to exclude the possibility that this was the actual meeting room?" [What about it? Would any of you be willing to follow up on this lead? Just do it.]
I must bring this issue to an end. Two things you need to do. Sign up to renew your membership
if you have not done it already. Second, send me a letter with a story or an article or anything you
think might be worthy to share with other members of the society.
Thanks for your interest.
723 South Providence Road
Wallingford PA 19086