The Historical Society
of The Bible Fellowship Church
Annual Conference was historic this year. We met in April instead of October. It was a pretty radical move to switch the time of Conference. Several years ago, someone suggested that it would be better to meet on the fourth week of October instead of the third. The debate about the resolution was hot and heavy. At one point, it was implied the the mover was simply interested in being free to watch the World Series. After a thorough examination of the issue, the resolution was defeated. Too radical. But now we are meeting in April. For the record, the reason for meeting in April has to do with finances. The Annual Conference determined to make the fiscal year coincide with the calendar year. This pernicious change could have been predicted years ago when the health insurance policy of the pastors calculated its premiums based on the calendar year. It was only a matter of time until every one got on board.
Actually, it would be hard to find a precedent for the meeting time of Annual Conference. At one time, our conferences were not annual but semi annual. Then meetings were often held in March and November. When we began to meet once per year, February was the chosen month. Later, October was chosen. In the early days, I am sure the times of meetings were determined by agricultural factors. Winter and fall were convenient times for farmers to meet.
With this brief introduction to Annual Conference meetings, I have two offerings for you in this newsletter. The first is tidbits from Annual Conferences of 25, 50, 75, and 100 years ago. I prepared these for the soon to be released 1995 Yearbook. The second is submitted by David E. Thomann, retired pastor, former editor of Fellowship News, and former director of Pinebrook Bible Conference.
Annual Conference - 25 Years Ago
The Annual Conference met at Pinebrook Bible Conference, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, October 12-16. C. E. Kirkwood served as chairman. James E. Beil filled the role of secretary.
Board of Christian Education Formed
"Resolved, that the Sunday School Promotion Committee and the Youth Fellowship General Committee be dissolved as of the 88th Annual Conference and further,
Resolved, that Annual Conference elect a Board of Christian Education composed of six ministers and six laymen to oversee the work of Christian Education throughout the Bible Fellowship Churches...."
Mileage rates changed (finally)
"Whereas, we have received a communication from Bethany Church, Hatfield, relative to the amount paid for Conference mileage, and,
Whereas, the Conference mileage rate has not changed for fourteen years, and,
Whereas, traveling costs have risen to exceed our present mileage rates, therefore be it
Resolved, that traveling expenses for Official Conference business be twelve cents (12) per mile, effective October 1, 1971. (First Reading)"
New Pulpit Supply System
"The following Pulpit Supply System was adopted as a substitute for the existing pulpit supply rules in FAITH & ORDER (mimeo) pp. 8-R-10. (First Reading) (Yes: 63, No: 16; Abstain 2)
The ideal condition in a conference is that of a satisfactory and stable pastoral relation in each church within its jurisdiction. To work to that ideal it is important that a conference have a proper concern for and relationship with the churches which are without pastors...."
An adjourned session of Annual Conference was held on Saturday morning, April 3, 1971.
President for Pinebrook Junior College Selected
"The Board of Directors of the Pinebrook Junior College elected a President of the College according to its by-laws, and hereby submits the name of David J. Watkins for ratification by this 87th Annual Conference meeting in Adjourned Session on Saturday, April 3, 1971.
Resolved, that we ratify this election.
"The follow was adopted (FIRST READING) from the Government Committee Report.
Election and Installation of Elders
Every Congregation shall elect elders in keeping with the qualifications set forth in the Scriptures. Elders must be male members in full communion in the church in which they are to exercise their office...."
Could we hear that again?
"In its meeting on January 15, 1971, the Pinebrook Service Board passed the following resolution as its response to the recommendation of the representatives who met in December:
Resolved, that we approve the advances from the Board of Directors attached hereto as taken from the Board of Directors as valid relative to money forwarded by the Board of Directors to the account of the Pinebrook Service Board."
Annual Conference - 50 Years Ago
The Annual Conference was held at Bethel Church, 526-30 North Eighth Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania, beginning on Wednesday, October 17. Harvey B. Musselman served as chairman. Timothy D. Gehret served as secretary.
"We have found the following in the Philadelphia, Salem, Quarterly Conference Minutes: 'A recommendation to the Annual Conference that John H. Riggall be granted Annual Conference License.'"
"Whereas, We have learned from the report of the Committee on Quarterly Conference Records that the Philadelphia Salem Congregation have recommended John H. Riggall for Annual Conference License, therefore
Resolved, That we refer him to the Committee on Applicants for Annual Conference License."
"Report of the Committee on Examination of Applicant for Annual Conference License. We have examined applicant John H. Riggall and we recommend that he be granted Annual Conference License on three years probation according to the Discipline."
Nazareth and Northampton
"We found the following in the Nazareth and Northampton Quarterly Conference Minutes:
Resolved, That we petition the Annual Conference held in Allentown, PA., on October 17, 1945, that the Nazareth and Northampton Classes be recognized as self-supporting."
"The business of the evening consisted of the oral reports of all the ministers in the active work limited to 3 minutes each, also the reports of both Presiding Elders and the President of the Gospel Herald Society.
The reports were heartening and soul-inspiring, as they reflected the good hand of God upon the work in the saving of souls and the building up of believers in the faith.
A quartet of young ministers inspired the audience with a beautiful selection entitled 'God Made My Heart.'"
H. B. Musselman, Emeritus
"Whereas, H. B. Musselman has served as Presiding Elder of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church of Penna. for a total of 43 years, and has rendered faithful and efficient service through these many years, therefore
Resolved, That he be elected as Presiding Elder Emeritus.
"Resolved, That we go on record as favoring a time limit for Pastors and Presiding Elders, and that we petition General Conference to permit us to determine the tenure of service."
Church Extension Fund
"Resolved, That we authorize the Executive Board to Unite with the officers of the Laymen's Benevolent Society to work out a plan whereby the amount of money invested in church property shall become a workable Church Extension Fund."
An adjourned session of Annual Conference was held on January 17, 1946, to complete the unfinished agenda.
Camp Meeting Preparation
"Resolved, That we have two Camp Meetings this summer and that they be held in Mizpah Grove, Allentown. The Allentown District Camp Meeting shall be held from July 13 to 21. The Bethlehem District Camp Meeting Shall be held from July 27 to August 4.
Resolved, That we have a literature stand at our Camp Meetings, and that Mrs. E. T. Gehman and the President of the Gospel Herald Society shall have charge of the same.
Resolved, That the rental of tents for each Camp Meeting District be $4.25. Floors to be put in by the campers.
Resolved, That H. W. Hartman and Paul E. Baer, together with the secretaries of the two Camp Meetings be a committee on publicity."
Resolved, That an assessment of 50 per member according to the membership as reported at the 1945 Conference, be made towards the moving expenses of the Pastors. This amount shall be forwarded to the Secretary of the Executive Board on or before September 15th. Checks will be made payable to the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church of Pennsylvania. Money received from this source shall be placed in a fund to be known as a moving fund."
Annual Conference - 75 Years Ago
The Annual Conference was held at Ebenezer Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, Main and Durham Streets, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania from September 22-27. Harvey B. Musselman was chairman. Charles H. Brunner was secretary.
"The first meeting was opened at 8 A. M., according to announcement, by singing, 'Jesus, Lover of My Soul.' This was followed by a season of prayer during which the Lord touched our hearts. This was a time of thankfulness and praise to the Lord for His gracious help during the past year and prayer for His guidance during this conference session, and for the blessing of God upon the officers and members of the Conference as well as upon our beloved lay members of the various congregations at home who have stood by the Pastors and the Conference so nobly during the past year. This was followed by singing, 'I Need Thee Every Hour.'
The Chairman, H. B. Musselman, Presiding Elder of the Bethlehem District, read the One Hundred and Thirty-ninth Psalm followed by a very needful and helpful message."
Report on Minutes
"Report of the Committee to Examine Quarterly Conference Records: We beg leave to report that we have examined all the Quarterly Conference Records and find them all correct except the following:
No record of revising of Church Records in the Fourth Quarter of the Mt. Carmel minutes.
A mistake in transferring Steward's money in the Fourth Quarter of the Lehighton minutes."
"Whereas, A great number of parsonages are already equipped with ranges and heaters which is very convenient in the event of a Pastor being changed, therefore,
Resolved, That we recommend each class to purchase a suitable range and heater where none are installed as yet."
Literature Sale Encouraged
"Whereas, We realize the value and importance of spreading good wholesome, sound literature in these last days when false doctrines are being widely circulated through the pulpit, stage and printed page, and thereby the untaught in the truth are being ensnared by error and Satan's deceptive seductions, therefore,
Resolved, That we urge all our Pastors to spread as much Gospel literature as possible and thereby help spread the truth, and further
Resolved, That whenever Pastors sell literature for which the[y] receive the retail price, the same shall be reported on the schedule accordingly. When they sell through their members on the charge, allowing them a certain commission, the Pastors shall report only the net proceeds, and further,
Resolved, That whatever literature is sold , the amount of the price of which has already entered into the accounts, such as the 'Christian Life Missionary,' etc., the same shall not be reported by the Pastor on the Schedule, and further,
Resolved, That we recommend that no Pastor shall make it a practice to do any wholesale literature business by employing agents.
No Offerings Lifted
Resolved, That we lift no offerings for the Secretary of the respective Sunday School Conventions, and the Annual and Semi-Annual Ministerial Conventions, but give him a donation of two dollars on each occasion out of the treasury of the Sunday School Convention and out of the Collections for expenses for the Ministerial Conventions respectively."
Annual Conference - 100 Years Ago
The Annual Conference met at Faith Chapel, Reading, Pennsylvania, beginning on February 19. William B. Musselman was chairman. C. H. Brunner was secretary.
Moving Mission Message
"The Presiding Elder gave a touching address concerning the increasing interest in the missionary work manifested in our church. At the close of his address he made the question, 'How many of those present are willing to go to the foreign field as missionaries if the Lord calls you, will you rise to your feet?' Whereupon a dozen or more rose to their feet under a deep impression through the Holy Ghost. Many were moved to tears under the operation of the Spirit. Brother William Gehman, our dear Ex-Presiding Elder, who has founded the work here in Pennsylvania, and has been at the head of it for more than forty years until within the last few years, rose to his feet, after the others sat down, and said, 'If I were a young man again and would see the great need of the missionary work as I see it now, I would go myself. I have often wondered, ' he said, deeply moved, 'Why some of our young men are not called to go as missionaries.' Brother A. Strawn then rose up and made about the same expression."
Charges against Pastors Investigated.
"Committee to Examine Traveling Elders reported as follows: They were all passed except Wilson Steinmetz, M. D. Haws, George A. Campbell, W. C. Betz and M. A. Zyner. Received.
"Resolved: That the charges against the above be investigated by a committee consisting of all ministers who are Conference members."
"Certain charges of neglect of certain duties had been brought against Elder W. Steinmetz and others were likewise investigated and brethren acquitted.
"Whereas charges were brought against Elder M. D. Haws concerning his financial standing, therefore this committee having investigated the matter and not finding him a man according to 1 Timothy 3:4,5, therefore this committee requests the Stationing Committee not to give him a charge for the present.
"Whereas 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."
"Resolved: That a committee consisting of William Gehman, A. Strawn, C. J. Shelly, C. H. Brunner, A. B. Gehret act on the proposed resignation of M. A. Zyner.
"Above committee reported as follows:
"Whereas Elder M. A. Zyner refused to humble himself and comply with the conditions laid down in the resolution concerning the charges brought against him, therefore
Resolved: That this conference does not recognize him as a member of our Conference or denomination from henceforth."
Where Sunday School Should Meet An Issue
"Whereas the Quarterly Conference of Reading has referred to this Annual Conference the question, 'Is it advisable to take our Sunday Schools out into the woods and hold religious services with them if too inconvenient to attend camp meeting?' Therefore, the question was discussed and it was Resolved: That it is not advisable."
New Church in Norristown
"Whereas the Lord has led Brother W. W. Dill of Norristown, to build a church at that place and to present it to this denomination, handing the keys over to the Presiding Elder at the dedication, January 1, therefore
Resolved: That this conference tender a hearty vote of thanks to the Lord and the dear brother for his kindness and liberality, and ask the Lord to bestow His richest blessings upon him, and use the church as the birthplace of hundreds of souls."
From the Statistics
Ordained Ministers - 14
Baptized - 168
Members - 733
Value of Church Property - $40,242.31
[Quotes and Facts for 100 Years Ago taken from Verhandlungen 1859-95]
From Dave Thomann
On February 7. 1896, Allentown (Bethel) was host to the Annual Conference for the first time. Since then, Annual Conference was held at Bethel 24 times. There is only one other church in our Conference that has that record....Bethlehem.
The first recorded minutes that were first put into print for the public were done here in Allentown in 1896. The Conference opened on a Friday morning at 8 a.m. and lasted until Monday morning. In those days, a Sunday Conference was held with emphasis on preaching and fellowship. This practice continued yearly until 1941 when the last Sunday Conference sermon was preached by the late H. B. Musselman in Bethlehem.
It is interesting to note that in the minutes of this 24 page Year Book, it is recorded that pastors gave oral reports of their work ....this continued for 60 years until 1956.
There have been many changes. Men who were interested in entering the ministry expressed the nature of their calling before the Conference Body and then were questioned on the Conference floor "concerning their consecration to the exclusive work of their high calling and their willingness for self-denial, sacrifice. and suffering."
Our Conference in 1896 showed that one Presiding Elder served 34 appointments; then two Presiding Elders in 1898 served 35 appointments, and later, three presiding elders served 37 appointments, However, in 1901 there was only one Presiding Elder serving the churches. So we can see there were changes in the number of Presiding Elders but there was never a time when the Churches were without a superior Elder.
It will be of some great interest to you concerning our Foreign Missionary Department. Gathering some material from the old Year Books. I found the following facts: "For the first 25 years (that is, since our first congregation began in Zionsville in 1859) there were no records of any offerings for Foreign Missions. It was about this time, however, that a few of the churches fastened two tin boxes at the door of the church marked, 'For the Heathen' and 'For the Poor. ' Offerings from the churches that year (1883) amounted to $12.64. During the first 8 years, till 1890, the sum of $80.36 was sent to A. B. Simpson, President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance for foreign Missions."
Our first missionary. Brother Hershey. went to the field when he was 68 years old, getting no financial support from our Conference. He lived only six months in Africa, and in the providence of God, fell asleep in Jesus and was burled in the land of his calling. It was this incident that stirred up the Conference toward a greater interest in foreign missions.
In the spring of 1893 a Sunday School convention was held in Allentown. Again. I quote from the 1914 Year Book, "The subjects of instructing the Sunday Schools along the line of Foreign Missionary Work and receiving offerings from them was discussed. And although this aggressive step was opposed by a few of the older and more conservative members, it was decided that each Sunday School should hold an Annual Missionary Day and take up an offering for this cause. As the Sunday School at Graterford had already adopted the barrel system, it was recommended that the system be adopted throughout." Immediately the offerings for Foreign Missions in the Sunday School began to increase. There was a time in our Conference, in later years, that the Sunday School's giving to Foreign Missions was greater than those taken by pledges.
The lowest giving for foreign missions was in 1885 with $1.76 given.
For a little comparison. I submit:
The first 32 years of giving, 1883 to 1914 $80, 159.00
1915-1924 $ 150,799
1925-1934 148, 234
On Friday, September 14, 1900, at 8:30am, the Seventeenth Annual Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church of Pennsylvania, was opened by the chairman, C. H. Brunner in Reading, PA. The Chairmen brought the message to the 13 ordained ministers and 15 delegates present (2 ministers were absent). Among the delegates that day was the father of Byron and Willard Cassel, E.N. Cassel. Other familiar names of delegates were: Kauffman, Kline, Miller, Wentz and Manney. Some of the committees appointed then are the same as we have today: Committees on communications, finances, statistics, examination of quarterly conference records, auditing and resolutions.
It was at this conference that W.S. Hottel and J. C. Roth expressed the nature of their calling before the Conference. The Conference which began on a Friday morning, adjourned on the following Monday afternoon. A Sunday Conference, with preaching in both the morning and afternoon was held. Three men were ordained that Sunday afternoon, Elders R.L. Woodring, J. B. Shireman and W.J. Fretz.
It was in this year that two of the pastors fell asleep in Jesus: Brother George A. Wentz, pastor at Nazareth and Brother A.B. Musselman (father of P. Ward Musselman) who was the pastor in Reading. Two years prior, in 1898., the father of a past chairman, A. B. Gehret, died. All of these 3 pastors were taken from the active ministry early in life; Wentz at 32, Gehret at 31 and Musselman at 28!
During the conference, a resolution was made by the committee on the reading course that Field's Hand Book of Theology be removed from the course with this statement: "We recommend not more theology, but rather more Bible."
Three Districts were formulated: Schuylkill Valley, Lehigh Valley and Central, PA. The last district comprised of the various missions charge of the Gospel Workers Society.
Problems of insufficient pastors existed then as it sometimes does today. At that conference some 4 missions had to be supplied. Some of our Home Missions were: GirardviIle, Northampton, Cementon, Washington and Hackettstown, NJ, Erwinna and Belvidere, NJ
Four missionaries were supported by the Conference in 1900.
Two resolutions seem to be different: "Resolved that the price of the year book be....15"
"Inasmuch as the ministers frequently labor very hard, often before and after the Camp meetings, wearing both shoes and clothing, therefore,
Resolved, that in case any money is left, it be permissible for the respective Presiding Elders to divide a sum amongst the ministers according to the amount of work done by each one, the said sum not exceeding $40 (of remainder of camp collections after all expenses are paid). In case more is left it shall be paid to the Home Mission Treasurer." The camp meeting offering that year totaled $1,678.30.
A few statistics for that year Support for the ministers were at two extremes: Erwinna paid their pastor $100 for the year; Bethlehem $488. There were 284 baptisms and 188 received into church fellowship... total members 901. Foreign Mission giving amounted to $1,784 and Home Missions to $1,313. And,... believe it or not.... the statistical secretary was none other than... .E.N. Cassel.
One of our deceased pastors, E.E. Kublic, held a quarterly conference license.
The Annual Ministerial Convention was held the day prior to the Annual Conference in Reading, PA. During the Convention, several essays were read. One in particular was entitled, "The Minister: His Home and Family by Elder J.G. Shireman. Included was the statement, "The minister is one ordained of God to be about the master's business only, and should be too busy to find time for a vacation, for fishing, hunting or animal recreation.... In his borne he is supposed to be master of the situation and worthy of being called lord by his wife, and should command the respect of his children."
Reading has been host to Annual Conference ten times (1887, 1995, 1900, 1902,1906,1910,1918,1919 and 1966).
Letters have been kind of sparse recently. I am not sure if you are avoiding me or not. I sure would like to get a letter from you with a story or a submission that I can include in the Newsletter. By the way, I have had no one contact me about home movies that we can use in our 1996 meeting. We have the equipment and are ready to make a video of your movie. Please let me know.
Have a great summer. I am waiting to hear from you.
723 South Providence Road
Wallingford, PA 19086