The Historical Society of the Bible Fellowship Church
The 120th Annual Conference is now a part of our history. You might think that we have had 120 meetings like the one held this year. I know I can make things complex but we could use any one of a couple of numbering systems. If we counted conference years, this was the 145th Annual Conference since we began meeting in 1858. Since there were a number of semi-annual conferences, the actual number of conferences would be much higher. If we followed a previous numbering system, this would be the 124th Annual Conference. This numbering of conferences began in 1879 with the mergers that resulted in the formation of the Evangelical United Mennonites. At the 13th Annual Conference in 1892, they decided that we should count conferences from the final merger which resulted in the formation of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. At that conference, they voted that the 13th Annual Conference should actually be the 9th Annual Conference and so, here we are in 2003, holding the 120th Annual Conference. I guess you can pick what ever system you want.
All of that trivia serves to introduce you to the 20th Annual Conference. Go back 100 years and review the events of that conference. I wrote this summary for the participants at the 120th Annual Conference and expect it will be included in the 2003 Year Book.
The Twentieth Annual Conference
October 16, 1903
They came, many of them, on Thursday afternoon. They arrived by train and made their way to their bountiful accommodations graciously provided by loving brothers and sisters. The others arrived on Friday morning after which they all made their way to the chapel at the intersection of 4th Street and Grape Alley. The twentieth Annual Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ / Bible Fellowship Church was about to begin in Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania.
The chapel was new, only about two years old. The congregation which met there was the fruit of evangelistic efforts in upstate coal producing regions of Pennsylvania. The ladies of the Gospel Workers had spear headed the move going to people whose eastern European names were hard to pronounce and harder to spell. In this town, men came home at night with lungs full of the fine black dust of the coal mines and pits in which they worked. The women mothered their children and did endless laundry. The Gospel was not always welcomed by these hard working, religious people.
At 8:00am on Friday morning, the chairman, H. B. Musselman banged the gavel. The meeting was underway. They did their usual singing and listened as Pastor Musselman preached “a very instructive and heart-searching address on ‘Kindly Affection With Brotherly Love,’” from Romans 12:10. They prayed and were off to their business.
These Mennonites had suddenly become a youth movement. The chairman was a mere 34 years old. Nearly half of all the pastors present had been in the ministry for less than two years. The denomination was exploding producing a need for pastors. God had provided committed and zealous young men. The names of the new pastors included some who later sat in many Annual Conference sessions: E. N. Cassel, J. C. Roth, E. E. Kublic, and J. F. Barrall. These new comers joined the experienced veterans like William Gehman, Lewis Taylor, and George Campbell.
Young men need accountability. Accountability has always been an issue at Annual Conference. Some welcome accountability while others resent it. Accountability creates expectations. These men who made up the Annual Conference were part of a church which had a high and holy view of the ministry and high expectations for those who served. When men failed to live up to the expectations, the Conference took note. Their reports and resolutions reveal high expectations.
Committee on Examination of Traveling Elders. – We have examined all the Traveling Elders through their respective delegates, and found no charge against any except E.R. Heywood, who failed to read the Discipline on his charge.
Committee on Statistics. – We have examined the Schedules and found them all incorrect, except those of W.G. Gehman, E.N. Cassel, J.C. Roth, J.G. Shireman and that of the Reading charge.
Committee on Examination of Presiding Elders, Local Preachers, and Missionaries. – 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.
WHEREAS, Bro. E.W. Martin has failed to make his percentage, we recommend that he take up the same studies for the ensuing year.
WHEREAS, W.W. Zimmerman has proven himself incapable financially showing a lack of ability to do pastoral work, therefore,
Resolved, That this committee recommend the conference not to give him a charge for the present.
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.
It was not pleasant to hear your name called in rebuke and to feel the concern of the brothers. The expectations were high and the men responded and the church grew.
The growing church faced new issues. They had never given thought to when a church should be considered a church and part of the Annual Conference. In earlier days, it was easy. A group of people were formed who sent their pastor and one of their men to the Annual Conference. It was just understood that they were a church when the representatives showed up. But now, the Gospel Workers and the Gospel Heralds were starting mission churches and new questions arose. They asked W. G. Gehman to think through these issues. He read an essay which he had prepared for the Ministerial Convention entitled, “The Relation of Our Church to the Home Missionary Society.” When he finished, they appointed a committee to write “articles of mutual agreement, between the Gospel Herald Society and the church proper...” They worked it out.
Resolved, That the Treasurer be authorized to loan money without interest out of the Conference funds, to the Missionary Presiding Elder of the Gospel Worker Society, according to the judgment of the Treasurer, Presiding Elder and Missionary Presiding Elder of the Gospel Herald Society.
Resolved, That whenever the Gospel Worker Society or the Gospel Herald Society turn one or more of their Missions over to the church, a committee consisting of the Presiding Elder, Treasurer and Missionary Presiding Elder of the Society in question, shall appraise the personal property belonging to said Mission, in case the church chooses to buy the same, such property to be paid for out of the Home Missionary Treasury.
On Sunday, they met for worship. It was a day free from business and filled with spiritual delights.
E.N. Cassel had charge of the praise meeting at 9:30 a. m. At 10 o'clock H.B. Musselman preached the Conference sermon from Col. 4-17 and Acts 20-27. In his discourse he said this was an age of "New Things." "It is not new things we want but old. God's word is old and yet ever new. The character of true apostleship was presented in power, and God’s presence melted the hearts of many.”
M.P. Zook addressed the Sunday School at 1:30 p. m. At 2:00 p. m. W.G. Gehman preached the Ordination sermon and based his remarks on Amos 3-7 and 1 Tim.4:13-16. J.C. Roth and W.S. Hottel were ordained. God's power was again manifested. The evening meeting opened with a song service and glowing testimonies from many. At 7:30, E.T. Shick delivered a practical address, followed with an invitation by Mrs. C.H. Brunner.
On Monday morning, they were back at their places, ready to finish up the work. It was the time to work. Some knotty issues remained.
Committee on Appeals to General Conference. – WHEREAS, We, as a Conference, see the inconsistency of denying young converts the privilege of becoming members of the church as long as they are not fully enlightened in reference to the evils of Secret Societies and life insurance, yet acknowledging their conversion, therefore
Resolved, That we recommend the General Conference to modify these rules.
Resolved, That we recommend our Ministers not to officiate at Sunday Funerals, and use their influence strongly against the same.
There was a final matter to think about. It went to a committee.
Resolved, That we elect a committee of five men, to look after the matter of buying an Orphanage and Home, investing them with power to buy the same, if they see fit to do so. They shall also have the power to appoint one of their number to collect the necessary funds if they purchase the same.
And then it was over. They gave a rising vote of thanks for the wonderful hospitality. They shook hands and turned to leave. They were glad for the fellowship and ready to return to the work.
[You can view the entire minutes of the 1903 Annual Conference
at www.BFCHistory.org under Minutes.]
I received these great thoughts and reminiscences from Edna Cressman of the Bethlehem Church. It is great to capture these memories. I can remind now you that you should write some of your memories and send them to me. If you appreciate her memories, think how much we will enjoy yours.
JUST THOUGHT YOU MIGHT LIKE TO KNOW
by Edna Cressman
I was born and raised in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church on Laurel Street in Bethlehem. I am now 86 years old, and was baptized and became a member of the M.B.C. when I was seven years old. My twin sister also became a member of the church at the same time. We were saved at a revival service. She passed away and went to be with the Lord in 1986 - also a life long member of the Bethlehem congregation...
On page 195 of the history book that Dr. Shelly wrote is a picture of our missionary C. F. Snyder and his wife and their 5 year old son Albert. Albert was a beautiful blonde little boy and the delight of his parents.
Rev. and Mrs. Snyder and Albert had come from China on furlough. Albert was born in China, and the only child of the Snyders. While in Bethlehem he contracted diphtheria and died here. [Albert Brenneman Snyder, September 7, 1909 - March 8, 1912] Sto say the Snyders were devastated. He was the joy of their life a loveable child. The funeral was held in the Bethlehem Church, and I remember well how the "sisters" hugged and wept with Sister Snyder, because they too had small children, and realized the heartache of these loyal servants.
My twin sister and I, about 10 or 11 years old, sat in the "amen" corner and wept because we too felt the pain and anguish of the Brothers and Sisters. However, as young as I was, I felt sorry for Brother Snyder - the Sisters hugged, kissed, and wept with Sister Snyder, but the men just shook bands with Brother Snyder. I felt he, too, should be hugged by the Brethren!
There was a family - the Fenstermachers who had lost their father (in his 40's) about the same time as little Albert passed away. On Decoration Day, Sister Fenstermacher, her oldest daughter, Mamie, and Martha went to the cemetery with pail and rags to scrub the tombstone of Brother Fenstermacher. While there they went and scrubbed little Albert's tombstone. Mamie was 13 at the time, at 14 she got a job in a factory and from then on, every year on Decoration Day, Mamie washed little Albert's gravestone and put a pink geranium on little Albert's grave. She died in 1974 at 71 years of age, but never missed a Decoration Day. I think it must have been about 1916 when Mamie took over. Mamie later became Mrs. Kramer. She taught Sunday School for 50 years.
...Just thought you light like to know about an unassuming young lady who was moved by the death of a little boy. The Snyders went back to China - on a slow boat - and never had another child. They were truly dedicated missionaries!
Emery Matz and I had a conversation on the phone, and he reminded me that it was at little Albert Snyder's funeral service that Norman Cressman dedicated his life to the Lord, saying he wanted to serve in the Mission field, taking little Albert’s place.
My memory was vague. However, Emery, a young lad of eight years, was so impressed that he vividly remembers that dedication.
Norman Cressman was a brother to Paul Cressman, our Sunday School Superintendent for many years, and now with the Lord, and James Cressman, now living in Bradenton, Florida and a member of our church. Norman was almost sixteen years old at that time. He rose to his feet and told the congregation he was willing to give his life for service, especially in the Mission field. In a few months he had his sixteenth birthday and he traveled to Jersey City and joined the Herald Society there under the leadership of Brother W. G. Gehman.
He gave a good account of himself while there - he met and married a Salvation Army lass. They were dedicated young people and studied to go to Cambodia as missionaries. They had a fruitful ministry there, but came home after a few years, because his wife became ill, and needed the attention of a Doctor in the States. She became a cripple and they could not go back to the field.
Even though they were no longer foreign missionaries, they served the Lord faithfully here in the states. He was a pastor for many years in Allentown, and had a well-known radio ministry. Norman went to be with the Lord last summer at age 92 -- he was retired for many years, and lived in a retirement village in Whiting, New Jersey, He never really retired f rom the Lord’s work. He preached and visited many nursing homes in the area, and preached in Allentown the last Sunday before he went to be with the Lord.
Just thought you might like to know, Mamie Fenstermacher Kramer was an Aunt to Carl Ackerman. It was she who faithfully brought him to Sunday School and Church for many years.
It was a different world when I was a child growing up in the Laurel Street Church.
Prayer Meeting was an integral part of our worship. I remember so much of those days. We had four prayer meetings a week - Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. Everyone in the church was a member of an evening group. Our family were members, and attended the Wednesday night prayer meeting, heat, rain, sleet, snow, whatever, we were there!
We learned how to pray from hearing the brothers and sisters pray. We learned how to testify. Regardless of age, young or old, we were expected to participate in the seasons of prayer and testimony. And sing! How we sang chorus after chorus - acappella - sometimes a brother or sister would start a song too high or too low - no matter - we sang!
Prayer meetings were held in the basement of the church. The Class Leader of each group was in charge of our spiritual well being. We voted for a steward in our meeting who collected our Steward envelopes and took care of the needs of the pastor. Younger men were voted in as building-fund collectors. Those monies were used to care for the maintenance of the church building, mortgage, heating, etc. It was excellent training for these young men.
There were three tiers of benches in the prayer meeting room The women with their children (no matter how many) sat in the middle tier benches. The men sat in the tiers of side benches. No families ever sat together!
I remember vividly the testimony of Sister Jones (the grandmother of Grace Enns). She praised and thanked the Lord for His keeping power and then very solemnly said, "If I would tell of all the wonderful things God has done for me and my family, it would take me all night." I caught myself thinking how can anyone have that much for which to be thankful. Now I am 86 years old and I know what she meant. Her husband, Grace's grandfather, was a handsome and well-dressed nan. He clapped his hands to most of the songs we sang. No one suffered repression in those days.
Sister Dickert was a simple woman, who raised a family of eight. Her oldest son Robert was a pastor in our denomination. She always began her testimony with these words. "Brothers and
Sisters, I have a big God." We kids thought Sister Dickert's testimony was too repetitious - but we learned!
Just thought you night like to know. I too have a "big God."
Our history is filled with interesting people. Many were zealous and did things we might count odd. Some were eccentric. William Ellinger came to us with a story. He found a people he could relate to. I put together the following to fill in some of the gaps in our information.
What William K. Ellinger Didn’t Tell You.
What William K. Ellinger did tell you can be found in his autobiography found in What Mean These Stones. I don’t even recall how we came across this writing. Knowing that he was a traveling preacher in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ and seeing how fascinating a story he told, we had to include what he said in this collection of writings which was the first publication of the Historical Committee.
If you have not read his story, you can do so by getting a copy of WMTS [I would be glad to sell you a copy - $6.00 plus shipping - proceeds to the Historical Committee]. Or you can read what Clarence Kulp had to say about him online at www.bfchistory.org [click on Library and open “The Outsider’s View of the Mennonite Church” by Clarence Kulp].
I began to learn what he did not tell us after being contacted by Frank Hannigan of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, a few miles from where I live. He had been looking for William Ellinger because his wife was a descendant and he wanted to know more. He searched the internet and found our the article by Kulp noted above. He went to the main Bible Fellowship Church web site and located the Wallingford Church and decided to come and find out about us. He did not know what he was facing. He walked into my office not suspecting that I knew the whole story. Of course, he was delighted. We were soon assured that his wife’s ancestor and our preacher were one in the same. Frank gave me information and about 125 pages of documentation of his pension requests. Lot’s of things we did not know.
What do you know? If you have done the homework I suggested above, you know that William was a character. In his early years he lived on both sides of the law. He was later converted, found his way to our church in the 1880's and was listed as a preacher until 1893 when he resigned.
What don’t you know?
William was not a big man. He stood five feet five to seven inches tall and weighed about 140 pounds. His hair was sandy colored and his eyes were blue or gray. His middle name was Keely, his mother’s maiden name. He was married to Wilhelmina Shoemaker in Philadelphia on September 20, 1860, in a non-religious ceremony which tends to confirm the testimony of his pagan life. At the time of the marriage, he listed his residence as Dauphin County. They had 10 children between 1861 and 1889, seven girls and three sons. By 1915, 4 of them had died.
His bouts with the law led him to the military. He claims that he was in the regular army and enlisted early in the Civil War, January, 1861, in the Washington Guards who were later enlisted as part of the 26th and 27th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments. While he tells of his being enlisted in this way, none of it shows in any of the records I have seen.
In August, 1862, William enlisted for 3 years as a private in company H of the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He was made company farrier (blacksmith) and served from his enlistment to July, 1865. When he filed for his pension, he claimed that he had no other military service. How that squares with his testimony in his autobiography is unclear.
His unit was sent to the Shenandoah Valley in February, 1863. At the second battle of Winchester, June 13-15, the 13th PA Cavalry were heavily involved. The commanding officer reported that he lost nearly 325 of his men. On June 15, William was captured and taken to Richmond as a prisoner of war. Fortunately for him, his imprisonment was short. He was paroled or exchanged on July 7 and returned to his unit. His record notes ominously that he deserted on July 27 but showed up on August 29 at General Hospital, Christian Street, in Philadelphia, being treated for neuralgia.
He returned to his unit and was present with them on October 12, near Sulphur Springs, VA, when his unit was assigned to protect a horse artillery unit. They came under heavy artillery fire. William was struck by a shell fragment on a cartridge bag he carried at his side. He claimed that he was thrown off his horse for a distance of 10 feet by the impact. Later, he would come to believe that his hip was actually broken by the blow. On October 14, he was checked into the Judiciary Square Hospital in Washington where he convalesced until January 20, 1864. He returned to duty.
The 13th PA Cavalry was operating in eastern Virginia again. On May 28, they were at Hanover Court House where William was again wounded. Either a shell fragment or a bullet hit him in the left foot necessitating the amputation of his 4th toe and it was back to the hospital for him again. He was sent again to Judiciary Hospital on June 7. He was given a furlough. After returning from that he was transferred to Satterlee Hospital in Philadelphia to complete his convalescence. On December 28, 1864, he was returned to duty.
By February, 1865, his regiment was part of the tightening noose around Petersburg. On February 6, they were part of an attack on Hatcher’s Run which was significant since it led Lee to begin plans that led to the retreat to Appomatox. On that day may have occurred event to which William referred when he said he helped to capture the battle flag of the 34th North Carolina Infantry. Sergeant Dan Caldwell of William’s company H was awarded the medal of honor for capturing a flag on February 6. It may have been this incident that William mentions. [The regiment whose flag was captured was actually the 33rd North Carolina Infantry.]
On July 14, 1865, William was discharged from his obligations at Raleigh, North Carolina, and returned to Philadelphia which became his home for the next 40 years. He somewhat naturally took up the blacksmithing business. He would move several times during those years but lived all that time within a section east of Broad Street and north of Oregon Avenue. The next few years seem to be uneventful as he and Wilhelmina saw the growth of the family.
In 1875, William began to experience the after effects of his wounds. He began to seek help as a result of the deterioration of his hip. He made application for disability pensions that might be available. His claims were tough to substantiate. Whatever happened to his hip had left no external scars. The skin had not even been broken. The miracle of x-ray was not available. It was just William’s word. When he stood for a time, the hip became weak. He claimed it was hard to work.
As his health became a factor in his life, other events began to shape him. In February, 1877, William was converted. He had met someone or found a group of our spiritual ancestors in the Evangelical Mennonites. He made the connection, was baptized and pressed on.
By 1880, he had applied for pension again claiming that he could not do the work of the blacksmith any longer. A new vocation was appearing. In February, 1882, William presented himself to the Annual Conference and was accepted as a traveling preacher or evangelist. His task was to preach wherever he could. In October, he joined Eusebius Hershey for a trip to Ohio.
In 1884, he traveled again with Hershey but by 1885, he testified that he could not work at all and could earn nothing from blacksmithing. By 1891, a physician said that he “has no power to contract little toe... walks slightly lame... is poorly nourished and has an unhealthy look.” In 1893, William withdrew from the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. He had not attended the conferences for several years because of sickness. No reason is given for his resignation.
He and Wilhelmina lived in Philadelphia until 1907. He listed his occupation in the 1900 census as “preacher” indicating that, after withdrawing from the Mennonites, he had not given up the ministry. In October, 1907, the family moved out of the city to Telford. His pleas for pension continued. He had become frustrated. Because of the uncertainty of his birth year, he had been denied some of benefits he thought he deserved. On January 9, 1908, he wrote in the shaky scrawl of an old man, “Father and Mother were unbelievers, But i Became a Christian after the war and was Babtized in the River and am a Preacher of the cospel, my Babtizem is not on record and The minister that Babtized me is dead.” Later, he vented more of his frustration when on September 17 he wrote, “it seams the Hay is up two high for the Sheep - all i can say my god my god is thare no Help For a Poor Widow Son - Dear Brother Tell me what i Shall Do to get my Pension.”
By 1910, he had moved to the Fairhill district of Hilltown Township in Bucks County where the census taker found him. In 1915, he tried again for more pension writing from Line Lexington. It was from there that William left for his heavenly home on July 10, 1917.
Enough for now. I will invite you to send me your questions, stories, and memories. All are greatly appreciated not simply by me but by others who get to hear what you share. Don’t be stingy and keep your stories to yourself. Let me hear from you.
For your information and calendar. Our meeting this year will be held at the Wissinoming Church in Philadelphia. In the morning, we will hear from Wayne Clapier who will tell us of our roots of ministry in the big city. Robert Smock will follow him in the afternoon with the story of some of our churches which did not survive. Plan to be there. If coming to the city is intimidating, we will have transportation available.
723 South Providence Road
Wallingford PA 19086-6940
Telephone and Fax - 610-876-8725
Email - RETaylor@attglobal.net
Visit our website at www.bfchistory.org.