This edition of our presentation of timeless articles rolls out quickly after the last. I have several articles for your interest and pleasure. I will remind you that your follow up articles and questions are highly welcomed.
I am writing shortly after the conclusion of the 121st Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church. I become very aware of how things change over the years. 100 years ago the Annual Conference gathered and occupied a few pews of one of our churches. Now, we gather in Fellowship Hall and use microphones when we wish to say something on the floor. Tables are spread throughout the hall. I predict that in a few years, even Fellowship Hall will not be adequate to accommodate our meetings. Interestingly enough, many of the rules for conducting our meetings have not changed. When a person speaks, he is to address the chair with respect. Only ten minutes is allowed to any one speaker. One of the interesting tidbits of tradition that has gone now concerns the holding of evening sessions. We used to hold two sessions and allow the second to spill over into any evening hours. I guess we did that because no one ever made provision for evening sessions because they knew when to quit for the day. We now hold three sessions each day with the effect that participants are seated in session from 9 in the morning to 9 at night. You are allowed from your seat for coffee breaks and trips to the dining hall. If it sounds like I am complaining a bit, so be it. There’s only so much you can strain the ability to sit. In the end, it is always great to enjoy the fellowship of being there. By the way, you are certainly welcome to visit sessions of Annual Conference and would be welcomed. Those who live in the Lehigh Valley will find it a quick trip and the food is always good.
I have three offerings for you. 1. My summary of the 1904 Annual Conference. 2. Some final reflections on the Quakertown Court Case. 3. Royal Kramer’s response to the history of Allentown Salem.
100 Years Ago - 1904
The chill of autumn winds had begun. The trees were nearly bare now. Only a few hardy leaves remained and their days were numbered. The greens of summer had been replaced by the browns of fall. Thursday, October 27, 1904. The pastors and delegates of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ found their way to the church
called Bethel at 816 Gordon Street in Allentown. This was the twenty-first time they had gathered like this. They had buttoned their collars and pulled down their hats. The chilly breeze cut short their greetings and they moved inside where it was warm.
They gathered in anticipation of doing their work and enjoying good fellowship. They greeted each other warmly in the church which had been warmed for their meeting. But there was a chill in the air. They spoke of it in whispers but did not talk about it openly.
The chairman stepped into the recess that contained the pulpit and the meeting began. He preached on “Unselfishness and Oneness in Christ.” His text was Philippians 2:1-16. It was, in the secretary’s opinion, a “very instructive and heart-searching address.”
They carried on the routine of appointing committees and beginning the reports. Then they felt the chill. They looked at each other but said nothing. “Resolved, That the Terre Hill letter, A. M. Clauser, E. R. Heywood and E. W. Martin be referred to the Committee of the Whole to sit tonight at 7 o’clock.” The committee of the whole was a way to meet and talk about it without parliamentary procedure and minutes. They could say what they really felt.
They began their reports. Everyone waited to hear about the victories. They could tell their stories and share their statistics. The applause would be silent - looks of admiration or envy took the place of clapping hands and cheering voices. They could listen and see how God was blessing their churches. For a moment, the chill seemed to warm. The secretary summarized the pastors’ oral reports which he said “were interesting. With very few exceptions the reports showed an increase in members, finances and spiritually.” Presiding Elder H. B. Musselman had nothing but warmth in his report. He “reported the work well united almost unexceptionally. Pastors are straight and love each other and are loyal to the P. E. God manifests his power in summer as well as in winter in saving souls even on small charges. The finances are marvelous and the members are growing. The camp meetings were largely attended and were spiritual and many saved.” He added, “Every preacher is willing to take any charge.” C. H. Brunner, leader of the fledgling work of the Gospel Workers “reported the Missionaries well united and willing to die for each other.”
On Thursday night, they had their meeting of the Committee of the Whole. No records were kept. Only they knew what was said. On Friday morning they began with singing and prayer. They called the roll. The Committee of the Whole reported. “Whereas, The Terre Hill class has not sent a delegate to this conference but has sent an official notice that they desire no preacher sent them from this conference, stating that they would not accept or stand by any regular pastor, therefore Resolved, that we recommend the conference to refer Terre Hill to the Stationing Committee to be supplied.” What had been a chill, what they whispered about, what they feared, was now out in the open.
This had been brewing for a while. Nine years earlier in 1895, the Quakertown Church had become unhappy about the assignments of preachers. That year, M. A. Zyner had been called on the carpet and it did not set well. The Quakertown Church wanted Zyner to be their pastor, not the one sent by the Stationing Committee. It was a falling out with the leadership. Some of the Quakertown people would claim they were not part of the Conference. They wanted their preacher and the building too. In December of 1903, payment had been made to a lawyer, C. R. James, and a second payment sent in September of 1904, one month before this Annual Conference. They were going to court. In November, 1904, one month after this meeting in Allentown, the briefs were filed and a three year legal battle began.
But now the issue was out in the open, right in front of them. The Terre Hill church did not want to take a preacher from the conference. The denomination was being tested. Were denominational ties legitimate? Could each church do what it wanted? Did denominational leaders have authority to appoint preachers? At the center of the storm were the leaders who were moving to a more demanding style of leadership. Preachers were assigned. The churches did not run the show. At the edge were the churches who were wondering about the nature of the ties between their churches and the conference. Did they have to accept the preachers sent by the conference even if they did not want them?
The Conference determined that a preacher would be assigned to Terre Hill in the usual way and went on with their business.
Later on that Friday morning, they considered how parents in the Bible had dedicated their children. They agreed to “heartily encourage our people to dedicate their children to the Lord by prayer and laying on of the hands of Elders, who shall then furnish proper certificates.” It was to be a standing rule that everyone accepted and followed from now on.
The chill of the Friday morning sessions ended with the warmth of the reports of the Foreign Missionaries. “Resolved, That with grateful hearts we humbly acknowledge the grace of God bestowed upon this conference to entrust us with a general interest in so noble a cause, and sufficient means to support ten missionaries on the foreign field...”
On Saturday morning, the preachers’ appointments were announced. George Campbell had been serving in Terre Hill. He was moved to the Walnutport, New Tripoli circuit. Was the Terre Hill letter a factor in the assignment? Terre Hill, like it or not, would be assigned W. W. Zimmerman. Perhaps a preacher or two sighed with relief that they were not given the task of preaching in a church where they didn’t want you.
Saturday morning saw more reports and more discussion. “Resolved, that we recommend our ministers not to officiate at Sunday funerals, and use their influence strong against the same.” This became another of the standing rules which did not need another vote.
The Sunday services brought back the warmth. H. B. Musselman preached at 10:00am. According to the secretary, “One could indeed say we never heard it in this fashion. The words were spoken in power, God’s presence melting and united the hearts of His people.” W. Gehman preached the ordination sermon at 2:00pm. “The message had no uncertain sound at this time, and was very instructive.” At 7:30pm, C. H. Brunner preached. He concluded, “This was a day of feasting for God’s people, the church being filled to the door during each service. The labors of our worthy leaders is highly appreciated, and as a result the work stands more united than ever.”
On Monday morning, it was time to wrap up and return to the labor. Some issues remained. “Resolved, That the Presiding Elder, the pastor in charge, and the three trustees of Terre Hill, Pa., have charge of the parsonage at that place.” It is clear that Terre Hill was on board with its three trustees.
And then it was over. They were refreshed and ready to return to the work. “A rising vote of thanks was tendered for the brethren and sisters of Allentown class for their kindness and hospitable entertainment the conference received during this session.” And, oh yes, “The minutes were then read and received with corrections.” Meeting adjourned.
Richard E. Taylor
As I reviewed the material presented in the Quakertown Court Case, I made some notes. If your memory is still functioning properly, you may recall that some years ago we had a paper on the Quakertown Church presented by Jim Roth. You can find it on our website (www.BFCHistory.org). Jim’s paper did not extend to the period covered by the court case. Some of the tidbits I observed from the court case were a note that the church started in the home of Jacob Horn and was later moved to a hall. The date of this early venture was 1868.
It seems to me that we gain a sense of some of the strategies that drove the efforts of our church in these early days. If we ask, for example, how did they pick the sites for their new efforts? Father Gehman reported to Judge Stoudt “...that where they lived the ministers preached...” That statement confirms that there was no well thought out strategy. These zealous preachers simply “bloomed where they were planted.” Itineracy, moving from place to place as assigned, had not yet taken root in 1868.
Other statements of Judge Stoudt draw our interest.
Some of the contributions were made upon the express representations of Mr. Musselman that the church should be free and independent from any denominational or ecclesiastical body. Mr. Musselman also stated to some of the contributors that the legal steps had been taken for the incorporation of the church which was for the purpose of securing the church property from ecclesiastical control. There is nothing in the charter to subject the said church to the control, management or discipline of the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Pennsylvania, its then name.
Were we anti-denominational? I would suggest that two factors may give rise to these comments. First, Jonas Musselman, who was present at the very first conference in 1858, worked as a reactionary. That is, in these early days they were still sensitive to the fact that their ecclesiastical mother had not given them freedom but had sought to bind their consciences against praying and evangelizing. They did not want at this stage to put in place a structure that would recreate the very thing they sought to leave behind when they left the older church. Second, these comments show that the church did not see itself as a denomination. Yet it was beginning to transition to a place where some organization and connectional structure was needed. In other words, what they wanted to avoid could not be avoided. They would either be a connectional church with some sort of structure or they would not.
The chronology of these events becomes very informative. It is probably no coincidence that 1893 was the beginning of the conflict. A new presiding elder had replaced William Gehman that year. The change to new leadership and new organization was underway. The next two decades were a transtion to new ways. In 1893, W. B. Musselman assumed leadership of the Annual Conference and took the office of presiding elder. During the next two decades, the church would move to centralized organization and authoritative leadership. The conflict between M. L. Zyner and W. B. Musselman was probably the first of the clashes indicating that change was on the way. It is easy to wonder whether the older (and wiser?) William Gehman had let these matters rest without making an issue. But, new leaders facing a growing church could not allow the old way to continue. Judge Stoudt records,
At the last quarterly conference for 1893, the conference elected or appointed a trustee for the Quakertown Church. This was the first time such an attempt was made by the conference to appoint a trustee for the Quakertown Church. Though the appointment was not repudiated, it created strife, contention and dissatisfaction in the congregation, and between the congregation and the conference. At the last meeting of the following year, (1894) held at Hatfield, the quarterly conference again asserted the right to appoint a second trustee for said church. Mr. Zyner, the elder or preacher in charge, protested against such action, on the ground that the members of the Quakertown Church were an incorporated body; that they had a charter from the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County and held the church property as a corporate body; that the conference had no control over the property; that they had the right under the charter to elect their own trustees; that they had done so before and desire to continue to do so. In the face of this objection the quarterly conference declined to make the appointment. It was arranged between Mr. Zyner and the presiding elder to refer the matter to the next annual conference to convene in February following. This arrangement was not approved by the Quakertown class or congregation. The members of the church or congregation then held the usual corporate meeting on the first day of January for the election of trustees and other officers, and elected a trustee for three years as usual. At the same meeting they elected Mr. Zyner as the elder or preacher. This action was taken in the exercise of their charter rights.
I guess you might say the battle lines had been drawn. In 1895, the people at Quakertown had had enough. The minutes of the 1895 Annual Conference state, “An Appeal from the Quakertown Quarterly Conference to this Annual Conference concerning the election of trustees, was referred to the committee on charges” (Verhandlungen, page 239) That committee reported the following:
(a) Where as the Quakertown Quarterly Conference has appealed to this Annual Conference concerning the election of trustees, therefore,
Resolved: That this Annual Conference continue to elect the trustees at the last Quarterly Conference of each year as heretofore.
(b) Resolved: That this Annual Conference appeal to the next General Conference to specify the place and time for the election of trustees more definitely.
(c) Whereas the committee recognizes election of the trustees in the Quakertown Class since the last Quarterly Conference as illegal according to our Discipline, therefore
Resolved: That the next Quarterly Conference shall elect one. (Verhandlungen, page 240)
Clearly, the issue was whether the denomination would have any power or control over the local church. But, more issues remained; perhaps personal ones.
Where Elder M. A. Zyner was charged before this Annual Conference of disloyalty, untruthfulness and more or less conspiracy, this committee investigated the charges and declares him guilty. Therefore
Resolved: That the committee request the Stationing Committee not to give him a charge for the present. Should he not humble himself, prove true and loyal to the Presiding Elder and Discipline, several measures shall be resorted to. (Verhandlungen, page 240)
Perhaps the division had become a personal issue. Or, did a personal issue become division. My sad experience has been that when division occurs on principle, often personal issues lurk in the shadows. Were Musselman and Zyner “butting heads”? If my suppositions are correct, what was at stake was whether the denomination would be able to control the affairs of the churches or not. Would the local church appoint trustees or the denomination? Would the local church choose their pastor or would the denomination assign one? The two men sparred presumably over these issues. The eventual resolution of these issues would give shape to the connections between our churches in the coming days.
Our chronological survey moves to the 1904 Annual Conference. Apparently, all the avenues to resolution of the problem with Quakertown had been closed. In December, 1903, records shows that a lawyer had been given a retainer in the matter. In September, 1904, a second payment was given to the lawyer. In November, 1904, the papers were filed with court to once and for all end the controversy. However, one month earlier, in October, 1904, when the Annual Conference was flexing its denominational muscle, the Terre Hill church chose what we might call bad timing. The minutes of the 1904 Annual Conference recorded the following:
WHEREAS, The Terre Hill class has not sent a delegate to this conference but has sent an official notice that they desire no preacher sent them from this conference, stating that they would not accept or stand by any regular pastor, therefore
Resolved, That we recommend the conference to refer Terre Hill to the Stationing Committee to be supplied.
The reaction seems swift. “Do not send a preacher,” says Terre Hill. The denominational response was, “Assign a preacher to Terre Hill.” It appears it was all worked out and over quickly for Terre Hill. Nothing was said at the 1905 Annual Conference regarding this attempt to assert local power. And the denomination maintained its authority.
If I may be permitted some editorial freedom to express some thoughts, I will comment further. The nature of the connection between denomination and local church is an issue that is alive and well in the Bible Fellowship Church. Perhaps the issue rises again because we are entering a time of transition and what we will be is not what we were. Our Faith and Order makes it clear that our churches are autonomous but not independent. Rule by elder, our understanding of what the Bible teaches about leadership, says that local churches have and exercise authority in their ministry. They are, however, connected to the denomination, not by the exercise of denominational power, but by the submission or voluntary connecting of the local church. It is a delicate balance - autonomy and submission. That balance will probably be tested in days to come as our denomination seeks ways to maintain the network of our connections while making room for new organization required by an expanding number of churches.
I suppose the moral of the story is: what goes around comes around. We’ve been here before. Our future comes from our past.
From Royal KramerI read with great interest the article in the last group of the BFC Historical Society history regarding the Salem BF Church on S. Genesee St. in South Allentown.
Although I do not know who wrote that article, numerous names in there were very familiar to me as I had known these folks. My wife, Charlotte was born and raised in that church as were her 3 sisters and brother. Her parents, Charles and Cevilla Weaver were also very active. Dad Weaver was a trustee there for many years plus being a Sunday school teacher of jr. high boys for a few years. Mom Weaver was the Superintendent of the Primary Dept. of the Sunday school for 15 years before she had to resign that position due to her heart problem which eventually took her life at the age of 54 back in 1958.
When Charlotte and I got married in Bethel Church on N. 8th Street in 1956, I transferred my membership to Salem as Charlotte, at that time, was the sexton of the church and since we did not have a car, we attended there for the next few years. We also lived three blocks from the church and could easily walk there. I transferred my membership from Bethel to Salem in 1956. After our two children were born, we transferred back to Bethel in 1970 as Salem did not have much activity for the young people whereas Bethel did. Charlotte and I were both on the Official Board as it was called then before the name change to Board of Elders and Board of Deacons. For a number of years, I was the head usher in that church, was in charge of the PA system, was the Sunday school treasurer, Asst. Sunday school secretary, later became the financial secretary, was secretary of the trustee board, secretary of local conference when the district superintendent would come around twice a year and conduct a congregational meeting. Charlotte later became the superintendent of the primary department of the Sunday school, was president of the women's missionary society and there may be a few more chores that we have had that have since slipped my mind. We were busy to say the least.
We certainly remember O.C. Kistler, Louie and Katie Baumgartner and Mildred (Rotherham) Gift. I had heard of her sister Althea but did not know her as she had passed away before my affiliation with the church. Incidentally, the name in the article has it spelled Rotherman which is incorrect. The name Bergstresser also rings a bell as his daughter, Mabel, was one of the founding members of this church if I am correct. Incidentally, her daughter, Madeline (Bergstresser) Huebner just passed away about a week to 10 days ago at the age of 87. Also, the first wedding in that church was Charlotte's oldest sister, Joyce, who is married to Jimmy Hummel. It was during WW II (1943 I believe) when Jimmy came home on a 10 day leave from the U.S. Navy when he and Joyce got married. After he went back to his ship and sailed over into the South Pacific, Joyce joined the U. S. Navy herself in the WAVES and spent the next 3 years in an office at the Navy Department in Washington, DC. For a number of years now, they are living in Elkhart, IN.
I started dating Charlotte in August of 1952 and would attend the Sunday night services at Salem. Pastor Herbert Hartman was the pastor at the time and the time when South Allentown and Coopersburg were a circuit. I was one of the numerous young people who had charge of the evening service at 7:30 until Pastor Hartman arrived from Coopersburg around 8 PM. When Conference moved him to Mt. Carmel in 1954, he pastored that church until his death in 1957 or 58. Pastor Rudy Gehman then came to Salem and was there for 4 years before going to Faith BFC in Lancaster; the church he pastored at the time of his death around 1962 or 63. Pastor Donald Schaeffer then came to Salem from our Stroudsburg BFC in 1958 and it was only his second charge. He remained at Salem until 1963 when he went to our Terre Hill BFC. Then Pastor Willard Cassel came from our Easton BFC and he remained there until 1971. However, it was in 1970 when we left Salem for Bethel. For approximately 7 months then, Salem had no pastor but had various speakers come in on a Sunday to preach. Then in July of 1972, Pastor John Herb came to Salem and was there for a few years until he went to the Hatfield BFC. Charles McConnell then came from our Maple Glen church and became the pastor here. He then left and became the associate pastor of the Seibert E.C. Church in Allentown until his death a few years ago. It eventually shut down for a few years until Eliot Ramos came and began the Hispanic ministry there.
Since leaving that church in 1970, Charlotte and have been thinking of all the folks that attended there over the years and many of them have since gone home to be with the Lord or else they moved away from the area or began attending another church. I know several families from Salem are now attending Bethel BFC in Emmaus. At least three other families are now at Cedar Crest. Since moving out here to Mechanicsburg, we felt driving 17 miles one way to the Grace BFC on the other side of the river was a little too far especially during the winter months plus if we wanted to get involved with the ministries there. We settled for a Southern Baptist church only 5 minutes from home and it is a carbon copy of Cedar Crest. These folks are so kind, so loving, so concerned about each other, they are great prayer warriors and really love the Lord. They have quite a large missions budget and are very missions-minded.
Thanks, Royal. Your remarks and comments are always welcome as are those of our other readers.
Let me hear from you.
723 South Providence Road
Wallingford PA 19086
Phone and Fax - 610-876-8725
Email - RETaylor@attglobal.net
Website - www.BFCHistory.org