The Historical Society of the Bible Fellowship Church
I hope your summer is going well. If it is, you are probably hanging out beside a pool or hibernating in an air conditioned room. Hot and humid is the word. Perhaps this latest installment of BFC history is just in time.
I can give you a blast of fall air by reminding you that our next annual meeting will be held at Ebenezer Bible Fellowship Church in Bethlehem on October 29, 2005. I am predicting temperatures hovering between 50 and 60 degrees and bright red leaves falling on the ground. That’s a little different than things are right now. Get the date into your appointment book or on the calendar on the wall. Just make sure you will be there.
I have a couple of articles I hope you will find very interesting and informative. The first is an article I have written about our favorite hymn, The Full Reward. How much do you know about it? You’ll be tested. The second is from Ardis Dreisbach Grosjean concerning her ancestor, David Gehman. We know little of him though his name pops up all over the place. Read and enjoy. I look forward to hearing from you.
What do the following hymns have in common?
I Will Sing The Wondrous Story
Sweet Peace, The Gift of God’s Love
The Full Reward
Even if you can only muster a guess, you have my respect.
The first two hymns are rather well known and among those which will continue to show up in publications of Christian music even though contemporary music is exploding with new music that tends to crowd out some of the old favorites. The last hymn, The Full Reward, is sung, to my knowledge, only at certain Bible Fellowship Church functions by those who know it and love it. I have heard it called the Bible Fellowship national anthem. It was apparently sung at Mizpah Grove and other affairs with great gusto. When I tapped into Willard Cassel’s memory bank, he remembers F. M. Hottel singing it at the first ordination service he attended sometime in the early 1940's. (Are you still pondering my riddle above? I am stalling to give you time to come up with something.)
I had come to the conclusion that some how The Full Reward was indigenous to the BFC and never really gave much thought to trying to find out much about it because I assumed the story was buried in someone’s memory. I heard it might be connected to C. H. Brunner but that was just a suggestion because he was known to write a hymn or two. More often, I heard that, in some way, Mrs. W. F. Heffner had a hand in it. That made sense because the only place the song appeared was on a photocopy that keeps being copied so the song can be sung at BFC functions. But, no names were attached for either text or music. (I am still giving you time. Have you even come up with a guess yet?)
Some years ago I received a page which had been torn from a printed book which had the text of The Full Reward printed on it. The name printed under the text was that of J. Wilbur Chapman, a well known Presbyterian minister who became an evangelist at the turn of the last century. That raised my eyebrows and made me question my theory that The Full Reward was a home grown favorite. (How are you doing?)
For a number of years, I meant to check out the song and find out what I could about it. I made a few inquiries following the Heffner clue but they led me no where. One night while sitting at my computer, I thought I might try using the internet connection. I typed in the full reward with a cross reference to J. Wilbur Chapman and found that he had both a sermon and a point in an outline entitled, The Full Reward. I discovered some similar vocabulary to what appears in the song but there was nothing that was clearly word for word. (I am going to have to tell you that time is running out? You have to come up with something.)
Since the sermon by Chapman was stored at the Billy Graham archives at Wheaton, I took advantage of their response option and fired my questions to them. They wonderfully got back to me to tell me they had no hymn or poem by that name by J. Wilbur Chapman. But, they directed me to the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, which had more of the Chapman papers, to which I sent my next email inquiry. Same result. They had nothing but they suggested the musical library at Oberlin College. Well, finally I struck pay dirt. They showed the hymn appearing in four different hymn books.
Okay, it is time. Did you guess Peter Philip Bilhorn? I suspect your response might be, Who? If you are a trivia champion, you don’t need to turn in your credentials. I had never heard of him but he is the right answer. He wrote the music to all three songs. He also wrote the words of Sweet Peace. He was the author of over 2000 hymns. It is clear that they did not all make to the top ten.
What we know now is that J. Wilbur Chapman authored the text and P. P. Bilhorn the music of The Full Reward which was copyrighted by Bilhorn in 1894 and published in a collection called, Crowing Glory Revised by P. P. Bilhorn. I know this because upon finding out where the hymn was printed, I immediately went back to the internet and located a copy which I purchased for the archives for about $20.00.
The following is the brief autobiographical statement on J. Wilbur Chapman which is from the website of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, IL (www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives).
(Chicago Daily News - 1910)
J. Wilbur Chapman was born in Richmond, IN on June 17, 1859. He enrolled in Oberlin College in 1876, transferring after one year to Lake Forest University. He graduated from there in 1879 and from Lane Theological Seminary in 1882. He was married three times: first to Irene Steddon (1882-86), then to Agnes Pruyn Strain (1888-1907) and last to Mabel Cornelia Moulton (1910-1918).
Chapman spent the years 1882-1902 as pastor of various churches in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and New York. In 1893 he began itinerant evangelistic work, preaching with Dwight L. Moody and hiring William Ashley "Billy" Sunday as an advance man. In 1895 he was appointed Corresponding Secretary of the Presbyterian General Assembly's Committee on Evangelism.
In 1904 Chapman began organizing urban revival meetings on a large scale. In 1907 he met Charles McCallon Alexander, a well-known song leader, and the two joined there efforts. In 1909 they sailed from British Columbia on their first international evangelistic campaign. They continued to campaign internationally until 1918. That year, Chapman was elected moderator of the General Assembly. He died in office on Christmas Day, 1918.
Chapman, in addition to being a leader in the Presbyterian Church and an internationally known evangelist, was a hymn writer. Two of his better known hymns are Our Great Savior and One Day.
A website entitled, Believer’s Web (www.believersweb.com) states that Bilhorn worked with Chapman in Chapman’s early days (ca. 1893) which probably explains how they connected to write a hymn published in 1894.
Peter Philip Bilhorn was born on July 22,1865, in Mendota, Illinois, and was converted in his later teen years under meetings with Dr. Pentecost and musician George Stebbins. His was a musical life which began when his family moved to Chicago when he was about 15. In his later years, he served as musician for Billy Sunday. He died on December 13, 1936.
An interesting sidelight to the story of P. P. Bilhorn is his invention of an organ that bears his name. Because of the need to travel, he made a fold up organ that could be easily transported. The organ can still be purchased and is shown on several websites. An Ebay sale offers the following
The company known as Bilhorn was established in 1885 by Peter Philip Bilhorn-a then well-known evangelist singer and composer with the world famous Sankey and Moody evangelists. He invented the folding portable organ to support his evangelistic activities and then-obviously being a good business man as well-set up the firm of Bilhorn Bros. Organ Co of Chicago. He was supported by his brother George E. Bilhorn, although it was always P.P.'S name that appeared as "owner'' on the letterheads. Bilhorn produced an astonishing number of different models in their portable folding styles. One catalogue of c. 1916 has 21 different types of instruments.
(If you are interested, the internet auction Ebay has at least two Bilhorn organs for sale. I have used their picture and I suspect they will not complain about the free advertisement.)
I have included a copy of The Full Reward as it appears in Crowing Glory Revised in 1894. You will see that it is laid out very much like the photocopy that is circulated among us. Those who sit down at the piano to pluck out the tune will notice a couple of notes are different.
So now you know the story of the origin of The Full Reward. But, when it comes to putting the whole story together, an important piece of the puzzle is still missing. How and why did this song become so popular in the BFC or, more properly, in MBC? Who introduced the song? Why was it sung so often? Perhaps, someone out there knows the story. I will wait to hear from you.
Richard E. Taylor
Deacon and Schreiber David Gehman, 1802 - 1881
David Gehman is remembered as the mid-nineteenth century storekeeper and postmaster of Hosensack in southern Lehigh County. What is less known is that he was possibly the most significant layman in the first twenty years of the movement that would later become the Bible Fellowship Church. During those years his story was entwined with that of the religious movement he helped found.
David Gehman was already a mature man of fifty-six when he and six other men entered the house of David Musselman in Upper Milford Township, Lehigh County, on September 24, 1858. When they emerged later that day, a new fellowship or Gemeinschaft had been born, the Evangelical Mennonites. Twenty-one years later, in November 1879, the elderly David Gehman was a signatory of the unification agreement which gave birth to the much larger Evangelical United Mennonites. During the intervening years he had used his talents, abilities and hospitality to help the movement grow from a small local religious society to a widespread body with member congregations in Canada and the mid-west.
David Gehman's world: Hereford, Upper Milford, Hosensack
To understand David Gehman's role in the birth of the new Evangelische Mennoniten Gemeinschaft, it is essential to learn about his connections to family and place. First of all, David Gehman, his wife Susanna Bechtel and the other members of their Upper Milford Mennonite congregation lived on the northern periphery of the eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite 'world'. Since the mid-1700's the three small Mennonite communities, Upper Milford (Zionsville) and Saucon (Coopersburg) in southern Lehigh County and Hereford (Bally) in south-eastern Berks County were, though integrated into the greater "old" Mennonite fabric, nevertheless at the outer edge, geographically speaking. The Mennonite heartland lay to the south, in the Skippack and Perkiomen regions of Montgomery County.
In farming communities, geography, marriage and family bonds are often closely linked, and this is observable in the interlocking families of the Hereford - Upper Milford - Saucon communities in the mid-1800's. In the development of the Evangelical Mennonites, such family connections played a considerable role from the very outset, and they would remain in force for several generations to come. We start, then, with the obvious but crucial fact that David was a Gehman of Hereford Township.
To begin with, the Gehmans, living near Seisholtzville at the meeting-point of Lehigh, Berks and Montgomery Counties, had many family connections in the various communities of the northern Mennonite 'periphery'. Their homestead (first one, then divided into three Gehman farms) remained in the family well into the twentieth century. Here David Gehman grew up. Gehmans and their relatives visited each other at a lively pace, from Boyertown in the west to Coopersburg and Quakertown in the east. Not only younger Gehmans but even older generations made visits back and forth between their settlements in Pennsylvania and Canada.
The roots of these Gehmans, and most Gehmans in south-eastern Pennsylvania, go back to the large tract of land near Seisholtzville in Hereford Township, Berks County, which David's great-grandfather, Mennonite immigrant Christian Gehman, purchased in 1732-33. Eleven of Christian's thirteen children are known to have married, producing numerous widely distributed offspring, yet there were many who stayed close to home. It is believed that David's father, Johannes Gehman, a grand-son of Christian's, farmed one part of Christian's land, and that David was born on the farm, in Hereford Township. His mother, Catharina Gabel, was born in 1778 to a prosperous Mennonite family of Colebrookdale Township, in the 'western wing' of the Hereford Mennonite district. Johannes had not gone far to find a bride.
In 1810, when David was eight years old, his mother died. Widower Johannes now had charge of six children between the ages of eleven and two. Another change would affect the family in about 1813. David was eleven when his father was called to the Mennonite ministry to serve the Upper Milford (Zionsville) congregation. Johannes was doubtless chosen by lot as was the custom, and the consequences could be far-reaching. "Many men dreaded this possibility (selection by lot), with its life-changing consequences, and its requirement that they henceforth exemplify the sober Mennonite ideal." Johannes was already forty-two when he entered the ministry and, as his tombstone informs us, he served the Upper Milford congregation for thirty-five years. During his formative years young David surely heard his father preach on many occasions. Moreover, David would hear his father's exhortations until he himself was middle-aged, for Johannes lived until 1848.
The Gehman family was not lacking in ministers. Preacher Johannes Gehman was the son of preacher "Hannes" Gehman, who had served the Upper Milford congregation in the late 1700's. Preacher "Hannes" had an elder brother and a nephew who were also Mennonite ministers. He also had a younger half-brother, Jacob Gehman (not himself a minister), and it was Jacob's grandson, the young preacher William Gehman, who would be one of the seven men meeting in David Musselman's house in 1858. David Gehman and William Gehman, it turns out, were second cousins.
David was some twenty-five years older than William. David was Mennonite and William was originally Lutheran. Yet, they were from the same area near Seisholtzville, and they were surely aware of one another's existence, even before William became a member of the Upper Milford Mennonite congregation sometime in the 1840's.
We have seen that David Gehman's life began in Hereford Township, and that he worshipped in the Upper Milford meeting-house. By about the age of twenty-six David had already moved to the Hosensack Valley, a few miles south of Zionsville. He would soon purchase land, open a store and marry. He would live there for close to fifty years, and for a time David Gehman's house in Hosensack would be one of the focal points of the emerging Evangelical Mennonite movement. But first, let us consider what can be known of David Gehman's life leading up to the meeting of the seven founders at David Musselman's house in late September of 1858.
The Road to David Musselman's House. David Gehman's Life 1828 – 1858.
Did David Gehman ever acquire a step-mother? The tombstones in the first row of the Upper Milford Mennonite cemetery suggest that he did. Preacher Johannes lies between two women whose stones bear German inscriptions saying "wife of Johannes". One is David's mother, Catharina, nee Gabel, who died in 1810. The other is Susanna, born Stauffer, who died in 1828. This need not surprise us, except that Susanna's birth-date is 5 August 1804, making her almost exactly two years younger than presumed step-son David and younger than some of the other Gehman children! However that may be, the Stauffers were yet another Colebrookdale Mennonite family, and as such were members of the Hereford congregation. Susanna (Stauffer) Gehman died in May 1828, before she reached her twenty-third birthday. There is no record of a child.
In 1826, two years before Susanna's death, David's next eldest brother Solomon (1800-1872) emigrated with a number of other eastern Pennsylvania Mennonites to Canada, settling in Waterloo County. It was there that he married Katerine Bechtel (1810-1845), daughter of Pennsylvania emigrants. Eldest brother, Heinrich Gehman (1799-1870) had already married Elizabeth Bechtel (1799-1887), also of the Hereford congregation. In 1830 David Gehman would marry Susanna Bechtel. Bechtel is a name to remember. It will be met with again in the core families of the new Evangelical Mennonites. But our story must move first to Hosensack (literally "pants-pocket").
"(David Gehman) … removed in 1828 to the Hosensack Valley; purchased the same year from George Kline, Jr., a tract of land, on which he established a country store, and kept the same for a number of years, until 1860."
This text, published in 1884, just three years after David Gehman's death, must have been based on a local or family source. Why he went to this crossroads hamlet, and how it was that he had enough financial means to purchase land in the very year he arrived, when only twenty-six, has yet to be determined.
The German language weekly paper Der Friedensbote lists, among marriages reported in its issue of 25 March 1830, the marriage of David Gehman of Colebrookdale, Berks County to Susanna Bechtel of Hereford, Berks County, "last Sunday". It may be that the paper reversed the places of origin of the newlyweds, but it is also possible that David was exercising some trade or profession in Colebrookdale. The marriage was performed by "Rev. Bechtel". This would have been Hereford Bishop Johannes Bechtel who was about 51 in 1830. Susanna was the daughter of Abraham Bechtel (1768-1815) and Elizabeth Allebach (1770-1815), and her family ties to Bishop Bechtel are likely, but as yet unclear.
To what did David bring his bride? Susanna came to a scattering of buildings at an intersection on the King's Highway. She became mistress of a house containing a country store. The closest neighbor was a tavern. Riders and wagons going to and fro between Philadelphia and Macungie passed her door. The Gehmans' shopkeeping was later augmented with a new activity.
"In 1841 there was a new post-office by the name of Hosensack established under the administration of President Tyler. Gehman was appointed postmaster, and administered the post-office for twelve years."
How David obtained the postmaster appointment is not known. His later functions as secretary of the Semi-Annual Conferences of the Evangelical Mennonites, where his ability to write in both German and English can be seen, indicate that his talents went well beyond farming. In fact he would be reappointed postmaster in the 1860's.
At the time of the 1850 census we get a view into David and Susanna's household. His general store notwithstanding, David's occupation is given as "farmer"! There are four children listed: Abraham, 18 (he was actually 17), Ketian (Catherine), 12, Rebaca, 9, and David, 6. It was noted that all four had attended school within the year. There were three more persons in the household: Charles Schantz, 26, and Abraham Mayer, 38, presumably hired-men, and Tebara Seibert, 17, who may have helped Susanna with the house and children. That made a total of nine persons in a household that also comprised a store and post-office, and where, it seems, farming was also the activity of some of the inhabitants. The census-taker visited the family on September 7. One week later, eldest son Abraham was dead.
In one respect David and Susanna's family life was unlike that of most families they knew. Whereas, despite child mortality, large families were the norm, David and Susanna had to deal with death after death. It began in 1832 with the loss of Heinrich, thirteen months old; his twin sister would outlive him by only seven years. In 1837 there was an unnamed stillborn child. In 1839 a three-year old daughter died. In November that same year, Lydia, twin of Heinrich, died at age eight. A daughter of about three died in 1845, and in 1847 twins Sarah and Elias died, thirteen hours old. David and Susanna still had Abraham, who was almost grown, but then he too died, on September 14, 1850, at age seventeen. In 1854 newborn Johannes died, only five hours old. Finally, the last living son, David Jr., died. He had reached the age of fourteen. Young David died on a day when his father was away from home. It was, in fact, the very day of the founders' gathering two miles or so up the road, at David Musselman's house. The date was September 24, 1858! A more severe test of faith can hardly be imagined.
Nine times David took the road to the Upper Milford meeting-house for the burial of his children. When Susanna was not in childbed, she too, one supposes, walked or was transported the two or three miles for the funerals. The little stones are still there, aligned one next to the other, in the second row of the Mennonite Cemetery in Upper Milford.
Some of the details of David Gehman's professional and family life have been preserved. His nephew John B. Gehman notes in his diary on May 27, 1857, "Bought a coat and pen at D. Gehman and Schoenly". This is doubtless Charles Schoenly, born in 1825. He had either recently married David's eldest surviving daughter, Catherine (born 1838), or he would soon do so. By November of that year they were certainly married, for Catherine's cousin, the diarist John, notes on Nov. 1, 1857, "Charles Schoenley's visited us". On April 8, 1858 young John came back from Canada with four horses. The very next day he contacts "Uncle D.G. for 2 horses" and two days later he writes "Sold 'Charles' and 'Frank' to Gehman & Schoenly $275".
So much for glimpses into David Gehman's private and working life. His religious life is more difficult to access. Son and grandson of Mennonite ministers, member of the Upper Milford congregation at Zionsville where his parents, grandparents and ten children were buried – it would seem that David's and Susanna's lives were moving along a path already laid out for them, and that one day they too would lie in the Upper Milford Mennonite churchyard, close to the children they had lost. This was not to be. The Lord had other plans for David Gehman.
David's and Susanna's lives were changed by an upheaval that affected many of the families in the Mennonite communities of south-eastern Pennsylvania. The story of John H. Oberholtzer's contested reforms within the "old" Mennonite community, and of the formation of a "new" Mennonite movement in 1847 under his leadership, has been told elsewhere. Likewise, the story of the dynamic and enthusiastic young preacher, William Gehman, and his exclusion from the Oberholtzer group, has been told and retold among his spiritual descendants in the Bible Fellowship Church. What is David Gehman's own story within this context? Prior to 1858, we can hardly say!
A country store can function like a listening-post in a rural environment. Word of the various Methodist-inspired and similar revival movements that spread through the area in the 1840's and 1850's travelled to David and Susanna, as one would expect, in the news and tales recounted by their customers. Then too, during family visits there might be both gossip and the opportunity for reflecting on these religious innovations and who was involved in them. Discussion in depth could take place after worship at the meeting-house. There the faithful entered through separate men's and women's doors leading to separate seating areas, and there, after the service, they could discuss the new fiery sermons by preachers who had little use for the old, unemotional Mennonite mould, and they could discuss the controversial prayer-meetings that were being held in private homes.
Some of these fiery sermons were being preached in their own Upper Milford meeting-house by young William Gehman, who had been ordained in 1849 at the age of twenty-two. Indeed, some of these ecstatic prayer-meetings were being held in the homes of certain of their fellow-believers. Were they also held at David Gehman's house or store before the founding meeting of September 1858? This seems likely. However, we do not know exactly when David opened his heart and his house to these new spiritual currents.
When did David Gehman become a Vorsteher or deacon? Was it before 1847, when the Upper Milford congregation was still part of the "old" Mennonite conference of eastern Pennsylvania? Or was he entrusted with this office after the entire congregation became part of the "new" Mennonites in 1847? In any event, his name does not appear among those which were excluded by the High Council of the "new" or Oberholtzer Mennonites when it met on October 7-8, 1858. However, we do find the names of three others of the founding seven among those expelled. 'William Gehmann' is stricken from the High Council's list of ministers. David Henning and Joseph (sic) Gottschall are to be treated like him, even though they had not yet made it onto the list. They are "for the present not numbered in our association". With regard to David Gehman, it may well be that he was not a deacon when he entered David Musselman's house. If that is the case, he had become one by the time he left it.
Even if David Gehman's name does not appear in the "new" Mennonites' records, one might expect him to have approved of Oberholtzer's progressive stance regarding the practice of keeping minutes of conference gatherings (more conservative Mennonites saw no need for minutes). However, this was not a priority of the new Evangelical Mennonites either. There are no minutes from that first constitutive meeting in 1858. We are left to fit the few available pieces together as best we can.
Going forward in faith. The Evangelical Mennonites are born.
The meeting at David Musselman's house in late September 1858 was not an isolated bolt from the blue. It was, according to a document of 1866, preceded by prayer, by gathering together on Sunday afternoon and evening, by weekly prayer meetings, by family worship and by "public protracted meetings" with prayer "for the deliverance of immortal souls". Converts "were baptized and added to the society". At least this is how the first period of the movement was remembered and set down eight years later in its Glaubenslehre or Doctrine of faith. At the origin of it all was "the convincing grace of God".
The above description has been extracted from the opening text of the Evangelical Mennonites' first statement of faith and order. The major components enabling this movement to get started are all present in the document's very first sentence (numbers have been added):
(1.) "Through the convincing grace of God
(2.) and the direction of several converted and pious Mennonite Preachers called of God,
(3.) several of their members united themselves with them in the year of our Lord 1858,
(4.) in order to pray with and for one another."
The next sentence gives the result: "Their number increased…"
Where was David Gehman in this process? He was surely one of the laymen praying with and for the converted and pious preachers. Further, it was during the period alluded to, perhaps in late 1857 or early 1858, that David's wife Susanna had had her own conversion experience. "Eleven years ago she began earnestly in her weakness to serve God and by his help to lead a pious and holy life." This was part of Susanna Gehman's obituary, which was published in Herald of Truth in early 1869.
Returning to the introductory text of the 1866 Doctrine, which remembered the above-mentioned events as being "the origin of the Evangelical Mennonite Society", the Doctrine then moves on to the meeting at David Musselman's house, which it describes as follows:
"On the 24th of September, 1858, the first meeting of preachers or Conference was held, even in the private house of David Musselman, in Upper Milford township, Lehigh county, Pa. … Here such articles of Faith and brief Rules, as were deemed necessary at this time for the small society, were now laid down".
The participants are listed in three columns. Elders Present: William N. Schelly, William Gehmann; Deacons Present: David Gehmann, Joseph Schneider, Jacob Gottshall; Preachers of the Word Present: David Henning, Henry Diehl.
The 1866 Doctrine had been formulated by four Committee members. Two of them had been present in David Musselman's house – William Gehman and David Henning. Now, eight years later, with no minutes from 1858 to guide them, and with questions of Faith and Rules for the new Doctrine uppermost in their minds, this is how they remembered that meeting – as the first Conference, formulating doctrines and rules, engaged in ordering and systematizing what had already come into being. Given the paucity of accounts of the movement's beginnings, we certainly owe the authors our gratitude for setting down the events of 1858 as they remembered them. Yet we wish we knew more.
The tools at hand today for retrieving something of what went on in that stone farmhouse in 1858 are decidedly inadequate. No one can now know what was said. Various church historians have examined what went before and what came after. Others are paying attention to the individual participants, examining them one by one. Another entry-point might be David Gehman's relationship to David Musselman. What do we know about that? What about his relationship to his younger second cousin?
David Musselman, David Gehman, William Gehman and the ties that bind
In 1913 Pastor C. H. Brunner, grandson of David Musselman, wrote this about his wife's grandparents and their involvement in the events of 1858 and 1859:
"They had been among the first converts in a revival which had spread throughout the community. During these days of spiritual awakening this couple, David Musselman and his wife, together with about a dozen others organized themselves into a little congregation and built a large brick church about a mile from their home."
David Musselman being one of the first converts, and living in an area where there were a number of other sympathisers, it is not surprising that the meeting of the founders took place at his house near Zionsville.
Let us look at David Musselman (1807-1903) and the question of relative ages. When he opened his house to the meeting, he was not that old man we may have seen in church publications, photographed in a rocking-chair, with a huge German Bible open on his knees. Quite the contrary, he was fifty-one years old in 1858 and must have looked much as he did standing erect and self-possessed in a far earlier picture. Nor was preacher William Gehman a very young man. True, he had been ordained at only twenty-two, but now he was a man of thirty-one and a father of four. At fifty-six, David Gehman was eldest of all those present. He would remain one of the denomination's senior 'servants' for many years.
There were family ties to be reckoned with. The Gehmans and the Bechtels were much inter-married, as were the Bechtels and the Musselmans. David Gehman and his brother Heinrich had married two Bechtel sisters. David Musselman's brother and sister had married 2 more of the Bechtel siblings. Moreover, when William Gehman sought a wife, he found Anna Musselman. Not only was her mother one of the Bechtel sisters, but her uncle was David Musselman. So, among those entering the Musselman farmhouse in 1858, the youngest was a nephew by marriage of the host, and the eldest, through his Bechtel wife, was the host's brother-in-law by marriage twice over. Moreover, David Musselman's own son, Abraham, would shortly marry a Gehman girl whose mother was one of the Bechtel sisters and whose father was David Gehman's brother. However intricate this may seem, here we have only scratched the surface of the Mennonite marriage mosaic.
Among the emerging Evangelical Mennonites, family ties were doubtless important. However, not all the founding seven were inter-related. Preacher David Henning and deacon Jacob Gottschall who had come down from their congregation up in the farthest corner of Northampton County, had no influential relatives down here, at least not after Gottschall's uncle, Bishop Jacob Gottschall of Franconia, had died. It has not been possible for the author of this paper to study the families of preacher Henry Diehl and deacon Joseph Schneider of the Flatland/ Quakertown area. As for preacher (and former bishop) William N. Shelly, a member of a widespread Mennonite family, he had a brother, Levi, whose farm was only a short way from William Gehman's house, and who was an early member of the Evangelical Mennonite congregation at Zionsville.
All in all, however, it was not family ties that held these men together, but their convictions, and the organizational consequences to which those convictions must lead. William Shelly had already been struck from the list of "new" Mennonite ministers that spring. He had thus lost his position as bishop, but at David Musselman's house he regained a parallel position as elder of the new group. William Gehman was fully aware that two weeks hence the loss of his ministerial office among the "new" Mennonites awaited him at their October session. Now he emerged from the September founding meeting not only as a preacher, but as the second of the two elders. As we have seen, Henning and Gottschall who were in line to be put on the list of "new" Mennonite ministers never got that chance. Henning now became an Evangelical Mennonite minister, while Gottschall became one of the fellowship's three deacons, listed after David Gehman and Joseph Schneider.
What went on at David Musselman's place? As we have already seen "…articles of faith and brief
Rules" were no doubt "laid down" as the 1866 Doctrine stated. What else might they have considered?
Some such matters may have been: an assessment of the number and distribution of their followers, how the ministerial offices were to be divided among the founders, what their relationships were likely to be to their former congregations, where meetings were to be held, as well as various other practical realities they had to face. They were launching out into new waters with a small vessel and a minimal crew. Our task now is to see how this new course affected David Gehman and what contributions he made to keeping the ship afloat.
David Gehman and the Evangelical Mennonites
Very early on, David Gehman was able to be of practical assistance to the new elder, William Gehman, who was now without a meeting-house for his small flock. William had wanted to continue preaching at the Upper Milford meeting-house, but the congregation was about evenly divided on this matter. A vote was taken and twenty-four votes were cast for Gehman's continued use of the meeting-house; twenty-five voted to exclude him. It is at this juncture that David Gehman enters the picture.
Being a business-man, David Gehman had a lawyer whom he consulted in Allentown. The day after the congregation's vote, David visited his lawyer on personal business and learned that one S. Stauffer, a prominent member of the Upper Milford congregation, had already been there to inquire about the legal aspects of barring William Gehman from using the meeting house. David Gehman returned to the lawyer a few days later, bringing William Gehman with him. Here, it appears, David Gehman did the talking on William's behalf. The lawyer was English-speaking, whereas William Gehman was not then, and never did become proficient in spoken English. The outcome was that David and William Gehman went to see Stauffer, an agreement was reached, and a collection was taken in Stauffer's congregation to 'buy out' William Gehman. As part of the agreement, the new Evangelical Mennonites could still use the meeting house for funeral services, and the cemetery for burials – this may have been a concern of David Gehman's, as the burial of his tenth child had recently taken place there.
Until the new church was completed in November 1859, meetings were conducted in private homes and also, it seems, in the special room which David Gehman fitted out in the upper storey of his new store building in Hosensack. "In 1828 David Gehman started a store at the village (Hosensack) and there carried on the business in a successful manner until 1850 when he put up a large new brick building, and it has been occupied as a general country store until now."
"For some months he (William Gehman) met with his followers in a room on the second floor of his brother (sic!) David Gehman's store building in the tiny village of Hosensack".
The chronology is unclear. According to Ruth, cited here, meetings were held in the Hosensack store after William Gehman was excluded from the Upper Milford meeting-house, and until the new Evangelical Mennonite meeting-house was completed (thus, in the period 1858-59). C. H. Brunner, however, writing in 1915 says,
"Soon after this church (the new meeting-house) was built, he (David Gehman) built a store building in Hosensack, about two miles south of the church. The second floor he arranged as a hall, put in pews, pulpit, etc., where services were held regularly for many years."
In any event, the store building still stands. The upper room, when visited by the author in 1996, was a storage room for antique clocks, but it was not difficult to imagine a small congregation assembling for worship there.
The new brick edifice was built in 1859 on land donated by Samuel Kauffman. Once again, family connections are easy to find. Samuel Kauffman was the husband of Esther (Hettie) Musselman, elder sister of David Musselman.
David Gehman's services were needed, and put to good use, in the new denomination. His contributions as longstanding secretary of the Semi-Annual Conferences are well documented, as we shall see. More demanding, however, was David's role as deacon. The 1866 Doctrine of Faith spells out a deacon's responsibilities, which fall into three categories. First, regular attendance at Divine Service, for support and encouragement of the Ministers. Second, visiting the sick, determining the needs of the poor and suffering members of the congregation, receiving all money given for the poor and distributing it conscientiously to the needy. Finally, to see that there is always order in the congregation, informing the fellow ministers, or the congregation, without any delay, of anything which threatens danger to the congregation … that a right watchful eye may be had upon the doctrine and Church of Christ.
As a deacon, David probably had a regular place somewhere at the front of the meeting-room. Moreover, one of a deacon's tasks was to speak briefly, or 'admonish', after the sermon had been preached.
Revival in Quakertown
On September 25, 1858, the day following the meeting of the founders at David Musselman's house, the tent meetings of Edwin Long began in Quakertown. Long was both a travelling evangelist and a representative of the American Tract Society, where he had a special responsibility for Pennsylvania's German speakers. Two years previously, Long had acquired a young associate, Jonas Yeakel Schultz, and here in Quakertown they labored together, first in the large tent, and later in a wooden tabernacle that Long erected for winter meetings. This was certainly a boon to the many who attended the Quakertown meetings, for Long and Schultz held meetings almost daily until January 1, 1859. These revival meetings were an important source of inspiration for the fledgling Evangelical Mennonites, and a number of those converted in Quakertown soon found spiritual homes in Evangelical Mennonite congregations.
David Gehman, whose last surviving son had died on September 24th, surely did not visit the Quakertown tabernacle in its earliest days. However, it is likely that Jonas Schultz was not unknown to him, though he grew up not among the Mennonites but among the Schwenkfelders. Jonas Schultz was born in Clayton, Berks County, not far from the old Gehman homestead. Moreover he had relatives who lived in the Hosensack Valley. Relations between the Evangelical Mennonites and the Quakertown evangelists were excellent. Indeed, by 1861 Schultz began a close association with the denomination's Semi-Annual Conference, where he frequently appears as an Advisory Member until 1877.
David Gehman's family life was certainly affected by the Quakertown meetings. As we have seen, by 1857 his daughter Catherine was married to his business associate, Charles Schoenly. There was one more daughter at home, Rebecca, as yet unmarried. In the last months of 1858 a young man from Upper Milford had a dramatic conversion experience in Quakertown.. This was Joel Brunner from Upper Milford, father-to-be of C. H. Brunner and great-grandfather of the present writer. C. H. Brunner has written:
"We have often heard the story as repeated by father how he said (then young) Schultz embraced him and never relinquishing his hold until he was found crying for mercy in that meeting."
Joel Brunner was from a 'mixed marriage'. His father was Lutheran, and his mother came from a Saucon Mennonite family. She was Lutheran for some years, so that the first of the children were baptized in the Lutheran "Blue Church" congregation, at times with the parents as sponsors. The younger children, however, such as Joel and Lucy Brunner, were not baptized as infants. According to oral tradition in the Brunner family, in the later years of the marriage the parents did not agree on religion. Thus, when twenty-year old Joel Brunner arrived at the revival meeting in Quakertown, he was probably without solid confessional roots. With the concrete help of Jonas Schultz, he arrived at a personal faith experience.
Moreover, within a year Joel's younger sister, Lucy Ann Brunner, would become Mrs. Jonas Musselman, the marriage taking place on October 29, 1859. Lucy now had David Musselman as her father-in-law. Jonas Musselman had an elder brother, whose wife was Catherine Bechtel Gehman, niece of David Gehman. If young Joel Brunner had not been previously involved in the Mennonite marriage mosaic, he was now. Likewise, if Joel had not yet met the Hosensack store-keeper's daughter, he did so now – at the meetings of the new denomination, or in family gatherings.
Joel Brunner and Rebecca Gehman were married by 1863 at the latest, and they began their married life in Hosensack, where David Gehman's wife Susannah was already ailing, having perhaps suffered a stroke. Here in Hosensack Joel's and Rebecca's first child, Charles Henry, the future "C. H.", was born. Three more children were born to them in Hosensack, and all died. In 1868 Joel purchased a farm not far from the Zionsville meeting-house and took his family of three there, where four more children were born. At the end of that same year Susanna Gehman, nee Bechtel, died. Thereafter, David Gehman's Hosensack household was greatly reduced. However, there is more to say about David Gehman's life and work. For one thing, in 1861 he became postmaster again.
Postmaster and Union patriot
David Gehman's storekeeping went on without interruption until at least 1860, but he was not postmaster in the years 1853 – 1861, during the turmoil of the Mennonite factions for and against prayer-meetings, and the founding of the Evangelical Mennonites. However, he was reappointed again in 1861 and maintained the Hosensack Post Office for a further eleven years.
This was the period of the Civil War, and Semi-Annual Conference discussed the issue of slavery on October 1, 1863. Item 8 of the Minutes, as recorded by David Gehman and translated from the German, was as follows:
"We believe that slavery (the institution of slave holding) is sin in the eyes of God and a curse on the land when it is tolerated. Therefore, be it RESOLVED: That we use our influence against it, in Christian spirit, with word and deed, after our confession of faith."
David Gehman's way of using his influence was visible and noticeable. He hung up a large Union flag right across the road in the middle of Hosensack.
In about 1945 the Lehigh county Historical Society received a donation of a large flag of the Civil War period, and the event was recorded, with a photograph, in the local newspaper.
"The flag, donated through Miss Mary E. Roeder of Allentown, is 9 by 13 feet in size, hand sewn, and made of all-woolen material. Made by the great grandfather of Miss Roeder, it was flown across the road in front of the post office and store in Hosensack during the Civil War period. The donor's ancestor (was) David Gehman…"
David probably enlisted the help of his wife, if she was well enough, and his grown daughters to stitch together this huge heavy flag with its thirty-seven stars. It must have been an unexpected and unusual sight above the road in a country hamlet. There could be no doubt that the local postmaster favored the Union cause.
Schreiber David Gehman 1861 – 1875
As long as he lived, and with only one exception, David Gehman never missed any of the Evangelical Mennonites' Semi-Annual Conferences. His presence in the capacity of deacon is noted almost continuously from June 1861 through to the first Annual Conference in March 1880. Moreover, between 1861 and 1875 he functioned as Secretary or Schreiber of all but five of that period's thirty Semi-Annual Conferences. On one of those occasions (June 1872) he was out of the country, visiting his brother Solomon in Canada, shortly before Solomon's death. David Gehman was thus an exceptionally faithful servant of the denomination.
When David Gehman was Secretary, the Semi-Annual Conferences were conducted in German, and the minutes were kept in German. The minutes from the years 1859 to 1894 were discovered in a parsonage attic in 1962 and were handed over to the Historical Committee of the Bible Fellowship Church. Thus the twenty-five sets of minutes written in David Gehman's script from 1861 to 1875 still exist. They have been translated into English and were published in 1989 as part of Verhandlungen (1859-1895)
Occasionally David was selected to perform some specific task for the denomination. In June 1863 Eusebius Hershey and David Gehman were named as delegates to attend the "new" Mennonites' General United Conference in Sommerfield, Illinois on October 19 of that year. Strictly speaking, the Evangelical Mennonites had separated themselves from these Mennonites in 1858, but they had a shared interest in school matters, and for this reason Hershey and Gehman were to be present. As it turned out, David Gehman did not go, and Hershey visited the Illinois Conference on his way to Canada.
David was also involved in the new interest in missions. At the June 1864 Semi-Annual Conference, he, David Henning and travelling missionary Eusebius Hershey were selected to be a committee to prepare a constitution for the foundation of a Mission Society. At Conference one year later David Gehman was elected secretary of the Mission Society for the coming year. In June 1866 he and Joseph L. Romig were designated to see to the printing of the new Doctrine of Faith together with the Constitution of the Mission Society. Thus we see that in addition to his secretarial duties, David Gehman was considered useful to the Conference in the areas of education and missions, and in overseeing the publication of the denomination's statement of faith.
The final period
At the end of 1868, when Susannah Gehman died at fifty-nine after a long illness, she was not buried next to her ten children at the "old" Mennonite meeting-house. Her grave is in the cemetery behind the new Evangelical Mennonite meeting-house, where her husband would eventually join her. David, at the time of her death, was sixty-six, and had another twelve years to live.
The year 1872 brought certain changes to David Gehman's life. That was the year when he went to Canada, perhaps to see his brother Solomon one last time. It was also the year when he resigned as postmaster at Hosensack, his son-in-law Charles Schoenly replacing him in that office for one year.
After the trip to Canada, David would continue as secretary of Semi-Annual Conference for just three more years. Then he left Hosensack and moved to Quakertown. In November 1877, at age seventy-five, he gave up the office of deacon that he had held in the Zionsville congregation since 1858. The Conference minutes read:
"RESOLVED: That Brother David Gehman, at his request, be relieved from his duties as deacon for Upper Milford Congregation because he has moved to Quakertown."
David's withdrawal from church duties in his mid-seventies indicates, in the first place, his advancing age. It is also symptomatic of other developments in the denomination. A changing of the guard was in process, and of 1858's seven founders, only William Gehman would continue much longer in active office. Deacon Jacob Gottshall had moved away from the area as early as 1867. Elder William Shelly and preacher Henry Diehl withdrew from the denomination in 1878 when Conference decided that preachers and members could not hold life insurance policies. David Henning, whose congregation in Bangor had dwindled almost to the point of non-existence, decided to deed his meeting-house to the Lutheran congregation that was already sharing it. Henning continued to have the support of Conference, where it was resolved as late as May 7, 1881, that he "shall remain in Bangor … and preach as heretofore". However, before a year had passed, he was dead. Both Henning and deacon Joseph Schneider would outlast David Gehman somewhat in length of service. Schneider would continue to be a Conference delegate until 1883, and would serve the Quakertown congregation as deacon until 1889. After that, only William Gehman remained of the original seven.
David Gehman's work for the Conference did not cease when he stopped writing its minutes in 1875. As late as 1879 he was entrusted with two final tasks, and both prefigured the new era that was about to begin in the denomination. The Semi-Annual Conference of March 1879 was an important gathering, with much discussion of possibly joining together with Mennonites of Indiana, Michigan and Canada. Though no decision was taken, Conference wished to send some report on this matter to the General Conference Mennonites, and David Gehman was selected to help formulate that report. Point 6 of the minutes reads:
"S. M. Musselman, D. Gehman, J. Musselman were nominated as a committee to make a report to be forwarded to the General Conference of the United Mennonites and to ask that the Conference discuss that report."
By the time of that year's October Conference, the question of uniting with another like-minded Mennonite body had progressed so far that it was decided to hold a Special Conference the very next month to consider the matter. This Conference was duly held in the Zionsville (Upper Milford) meeting-house, with the participation of representatives of the other Mennonite group in question, and an agreement of union was reached.
"Now a union was formed from the two bodies and when they touched, they ran together like two drops of water. All went down on their knees to thank the Great Shepherd that He has brought two flocks of sheep into one fold. … (We) have united in the fear of God as a body and in the name: EVANGELICAL UNITED MENNONITES."
The first of the signatories is William Gehman. The last name among the signers is that of David Gehman. It was a significant moment, and the last time he officially placed his signature on a church document. With this document, the first period of history of the Evangelical Mennonites was concluded. Now, even the hymnals were to reflect these wider horizons:
"A. Kauffman, M. Winch and D. Gehman were appointed as a committee to gather songs for our hymnbooks."
This was the last recorded task given to David Gehman. It is not known if he completed it, but he did live long enough to be a delegate, six months later, to the first Annual Conference of the new denomination, held in Coopersburg, some miles north of Quakertown, in March of 1880. Here it was resolved that the next Annual Conference would be in Quakertown (where, it will be remembered, David Gehman was now living), and that it would start on March 7, 1881. The Conference took place, but David Gehman was not there. Only once (1872) in the course of more than twenty years, had David Gehman ever missed a Conference. This time, his absence was final. He was called home on March 5, 1881, just two days before the Conference began. He was seventy-eight years old.
David Gehman's widow
The minutes for the March 7 meeting of the Second Annual Conference note:
"that it has pleased Almighty God to remove from our midst by death our brother, David Gehman … We wish the widow of the deceased brother the "Grace of God" so that she may also prepare to meet death, that her latter end may be in peace."
Here was a mystery! Nowhere in the family tradition has there appeared any mention of a second wife. The tombstones of Susanna and David Gehman stand side by side in the Zionsville cemetery. If there is a second wife buried there, she has not been detected by David and Susanna's descendants. Perhaps the second Mrs. Gehman lies buried in some Quakertown cemetery. This marriage only became known after the translation and 1989 publication of the Conference minutes. C. H. Brunner was fifteen when his grandfather died. Is there some mention of a second marriage in his papers which are deposited with the BFC Historical Committee? The 1880 census may shed some light on this matter. For the moment, these questions are unanswered.
A summing up
We have followed the visible traces left by David Gehman from 1828, when he established himself in Hosensack, to 1881 when he died in Quakertown. Store-keeper, postmaster, father of twelve (in actuality father of two surviving daughters), church-founder, host to prayer-meetings and church services, deacon, Conference secretary, flag-maker, widower and, we now learn, husband of a second wife: these are the events and activities we can discover in the records. The personality of the man eludes us, as do many of the details of the first part of his life.
There are plausible reasons why we know so little about the man himself. Having ceased to be a deacon in the Zionsville congregation, he moved to Quakertown and remarried. His daughter Rebecca, living with her husband Joel Brunner and children on their Zionsville farm, doubtless saw less of him after the move and the marriage. Moreover, Rebecca died just one year after her father, and before her children were grown, with the result that an important link in the Gehman-Brunner memory chain was lost.
That David Gehman was a faithful servant of the church he helped found is certain. That he played a part somewhat like that of an elder statesman at the 1858 founding of the Evangelical Mennonites is likely, given his age and his social position as storekeeper and former postmaster. We know that he opened his home and his shop to meetings of the new denomination, though we may not know exactly when he fitted out his shop's "upper room" for worship purposes. Finally, there is his extraordinary fidelity in attending all the denomination's Conferences but one in his capacity as deacon, and the labor he put into recording and writing out the German minutes of twenty-five sessions of Semi-Annual Conference. And all this he did after he had turned fifty-six!
Having come to the end of all this labor, David Gehman was allowed to see the beginning of the next stage of the Gemeinschaft he had helped found. Not only did he place his signature on the document of union, but he was present at the first Annual Conference of the new and greatly enlarged denomination. He missed the second Conference by two days. David Gehman, having been given a glimpse of the fruits of his near quarter-century of faithful work, was summoned home.
Ardis Dreisbach Grosjean