The Historical Society of the Bible Fellowship Church
It's camp meeting time. Some of you get a flood of memories of Mizpah Grove. Camp meeting meant good times, good preaching, good friends, good eating and lots of other good things. But we don't go to Mizpah anymore. We go to Pinebrook. When I hear people complain about that, I know they are not complaining too loudly. The air conditioned rooms of Pinebrook offer a bit better sleeping conditions than the tents of Mizpah though the fellowship couldn't be any sweeter.
What many people know as the Pinebrook experience had its beginning in the camp
meeting movement. I won't give a history of that. It was inevitable that camp meeting
would come to a group of Mennonites whose hearts were set in a revival movement. I
want to take you to the very roots of the Pinebrook experience by introducing you to the
first camp meetings held in our denomination. You will see that these were special
The invitation to the first camp meeting was issued in the Gospel Banner by the editor, Daniel Brenneman. In July, 1880, the call went out.
The camp meeting on the Bethel Circuit, of which previous notice has been given, will be held one
mile east of the Bethel Church, seven west of Goshen (Indiana), and about the same distance
south of Elkhart, three miles east and two and one-half miles north of Wakarusa, in a pleasant
grove, owned by Peter Fetters, to commence Friday evening, July 30th. Goshen and Elkhart are
the nearest R. R. stations. Ample provisions and grain and hay for horses will furnished on the
ground at moderate prices. Fresh water and straw will be supplied with all else necessary to the
comfort and satisfaction of those who come thither to worship God and receive the benefit of the
meeting. Should there be a lack of anything, we fear it might be in the line of tents, and hence we
suggest that there be not too much depending upon each other in this respect, but that all who
can, will come bringing their tents with them. We hope to see a general interest manifested on the
part of all God's people. Let all the dear pilgrims come accompanied by their young people
praying that they may be brought as acceptable sacrifices upon God's sanctifying altar and that
there may be a general revival promoted in the Church. People of the living God, your presence,
your prayers your labors and influence are needed and will do much to aid in the general interest
and success of the meeting. As we would be a blessing and benefit to the furtherance of the cause
of Christ in the meeting, let there be nothing sought but the glory of God, and the salvation of
precious souls. [Gospel Banner, July 15, 1880, page 108]Brenneman gave a subsequent
report on the meeting in the August edition.
Were we asked to give an estimate as to the benefit of our late camp-meeting, we should be at a loss to know from when to commence reckoning. Eternity only will reveal the proper estimate. Suffice it then to say that Christian men and women of the various denominations who attended the meeting, unanimously agree, so far as we have learned, in testifying to the perfect success of the meeting, and the complete victory over the opposing element there represented.
Best of all is the fact which cannot be denied that God was there in his mighty saving and sanctifying power. The altar of prayer, which was much of the time during altar services, thronged by those seeking pardon of sin and heart purity, varying from children and youth to old age, presented a scene beautious to behold on the part of God's dear children, especially encouraging were the many testimonies of seekers with occasional shouts of victory as well as physical prostration by the power of God's Spirit. Glory to God for his saving and sanctifying power. Among the dear and loved ones who sought and found the Savior precious to their souls were three more of our own household, for whom we have long prayed and longed to see the day of their conversion and consecration to God. 'Tis true, now that God has heard and answered our prayers, there is brought to bear in another direction, a new weight of responsibility, namely the care of leading them on in the narrow way; but our trust is in the Lord. Think us not selfish, dear friends, that we are made exceedingly glad, now that six of our family with us profess to love the Lord, but remember that there rests on us as parents, a special responsibility, which does not weigh on any one else. Aid us in this behalf, by your prayers, and by leading your own unconverted sons and daughters to Christ, thus destroying the influences of sin, out of the way of our young pilgrims.
Now that the camp-meeting is over, no doubt many who did not avail themselves of the happy privilege to attend, as also those who should have been highly gratified and glad to have been there, but were not able to do so, will want to know the results of the first Mennonite gathering of the kind. Suffice it to say that so far as present results are noticable, they have by far exceeded the general expectation of the people, besides it is believed that the future will yet reveal far greater effects. Besides quite a goodly number of conversions, many have entered into the higher life or blessed state of sanctification: - "Putting on the whole armor of God, that they may be able to stand against all the wiles and fiery darts of the devil."
The meeting continued ten days, and yet many seemed loathe to leave the grounds. The place where it was held, will doubtless remain sacred to the memory of many of those in attendance. The saving an cleansing power of the Almighty, was at times most wonderfully displayed during the meeting, as every true follower of Christ, who was present, will, we think, readily admit. Although there were, as a natural consequence, those on the grounds, who in their hearts and verbally, so far as their influence reached, were set in opposition to the work of the Lord, yet it is very gratifying to state that, "The foolishness of God was wiser than men, and the weakness of God was stronger than men," and complete victory seemed to prevail over the opposing element during the entire encampment, and many shouts were heard besides, "leaping and walking and praising God." One particular acceptable feature of the meeting throughout, was the general good order which prevailed - police forces were not needed, even had they been employed.
The general attendance was good. There were nineteen tents upon the encampment, which were generally well occupied. It was estimated that there were each Sabbath about 3,000 persons on the grounds, the greater part of whom were comfortably seated.
The services throughout were principly conducted on the line of holiness, and we are fully persuaded that many left the meeting with entirely different views on the subject from those they entertained in their hearts upon coming there. "Praise the Lord." The first Sabbath there was German and English preaching at the same time.
We are thankful to God, for the success of the meeting, and pray and believe this may be but the dawning of still greater and more glorious results, in a not far distant future. Souls are precious, and there cannot be too great effort put forth to save from sin and death, these heaven bought priceless jewels, so precious in the estimation of our God, to his name's honor and glory. [Gospel Banner, August 15, 1880, page 124]
These meetings were attended by Jonas and Lucy Musselman, Abel and Hannah Strawn and John Traub. They all hailed from the Pennsylvania Conference and were travelling together. Lucy and Hannah were sisters and probably enjoyed their time together. Clearly, they were taken with the meetings and could not wait to get back to Pennsylvania to tell everyone about what they had experienced. Their travels took them to Canada but soon they were home and plans were laid.
The following year, 1881, saw camp meeting come to the Pennsylvania Conference.
The site of the camp meeting was on Chestnut Hill. Today Beverly Hills Drive crosses
the hill and a library now watches over Chestnut Hill Camp Meeting. The house and
barn of Milton and Fanny Kauffman are just over the horizon, surrounded by a new
Jonas Musselman wrote an enthusiastic report of this new camp meeting to the Gospel Banner in September, 1881.
Quakertown, Pa., Aug. 25.
Dear Bro. Brenneman: - For the satisfaction of your readers, I wish to say that our camp-meeting closed Sunday, Aug. 21st. Our committee found a suitable place in a grove owned by Bro. Milton Kauffman, where on the morning of Aug 12th, we met with the brethren to rear the tabernacle for the first time. Having everything in readiness, we first went down upon our knees before the Lord to implore his blessing to attend the measures thus being entered upon to the glory of his great Name. By two o'clock the tabernacle was standing in readiness for use. We next put up a stand, with a sleeping room attached, in connection with several other sleeping apartments, besides other tents, and covered wagons were arranged for the accomodation of those in attendance. Also a large house near by was accessable. Thus, Aug. 13th, at two o'clock all was in readiness with plenty of seats. We secured also one hundred and fifty chairs for the large tent in which we held our prayer and class meetings. With the exception of a few days we could comfortably supply all with seats. The masses of people assembled upon the occasion, seemingly came to hear God's word. There was good order from beginning to end. The order of the meetings was as follows:
In the morning, at half past six, there was family worship; at half past eight, prayer-meeting in the large tent; ten o'clock, preaching; one o'clock, and half past six, prayer-meeting; two o'clock and in the evening preaching.
Oh, I can not express my feelings of joy and gratitude to God for the camp meeting. The brethren and sisters too are generally quite well satisfied with the results of the meeting. The meetings were conducted strictly on the holiness line, and quite a number entered the land of Beulah. Some at the commencement could not understand what these things meant, and were "in doubt whereunto this might grow." But as the power of God was so wonderfully displayed, many began to change their minds and concluded that after all it is better in the land of Canaan, than in the wilderness, after having gotten a glympse of the fruits that were brought from thence and concluded to stand and walk by faith, rather than feeling. Praise God for his power. Each day and night he gave us a new baptism of the Holy Ghost. On Monday morning, the 15th, baptism was administered in the stream near the encampment.
Oh, I can not express my feelings in regard to the work of the Lord! May God be pleased to move the ark forward with all speed. Last year some of us were permitted to attend the first camp-meeting held by the E. U. Mennonites in Indiana; this year we attended the first in Pennsylvania. I can not say as yet, how it will be in reference to the first in Canada, to commence September 14th; just as the Lord will. Oh, let us all pray earnestly for those who have entered by faith the land of Beulah, as well as for those who have not as yet ventured over, that God may give to the latter, boldness and faith to launch out upon his promises and to the former, sufficient manliness and integrity to stand firm upon the immovable Rock.
The power of God, as displayed at times upon the encampment, was such that a number were not able to stand, but were crushed to the earth. Some were not able to rise for over an hour. God's wonderful works and glorious saving power, were to a greater or lesser extent seen and felt in each meeting during the encampment. Glory to his name! Our Presiding Elder, Bro. Wm. Gehman, became so intensely interested in the work of the Lord, and so filled with his power, that he at once purchased the grove for the express purpose of holding annual camp-meetings there, as it is a beautiful location as well as a central point on our work. May God bless Bro. Gehman.
I can say that during my ministerial labors, I have never enjoyed myself better than I did during our camp-meeting. I heard a number saying that if spared to see the return of another camp-meeting occasion, there would move right to the encampment, and continue there to the close, as they had learned by experience, that home was no place of contentment during the time of a good camp-meeting.
Dear Pilgrims, let us live by faith, trusting in God, and whatever we need, let us bring it to God through Jesus in prayer. Oh, "What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer." "I am very happy," and just now I am "Sweetly resting."
Jonas Musselman [Gospel Banner, September 15, 1881, page 142]
Camp meeting was born in the Pennsylvania. The rest, as they say, is history. In 1898, the "doors" to Chestnut Hill closed for the last time. For several years, camp meetings were held in various locations. Finally, Mizpah Grove was chosen to be a home for camp meetings. The site of Mizpah Grove was selected as the location of a school for Allentown and the church, now known as the Bible Fellowship Church, was looking for a home for camp meeting. Pinebrook was eventually selected and we moved in. It has taken a good while but the joy is back. People from different churches now spend a week together. Children who attend those weeks keep in touch throughout the year. I suspect there may be a marriage or two that will come from young people who meet at Pinebrook. Ah, the good old days.
I need to quit now. I hope you will have a good summer. I hate to have to remind you of your assignments but it's my job.
1. Instantly write out a story you can share in our newsletter. It can be of Mizpah or Sunday School Convention or your church. I'm not picky on that score. Just do it. Don't forget to send it to me.
2. Look for historical records and materials in your church that will wind up in a trash bin if you don't rescue them. Find out from an elder in your church what they are doing with the old minutes that no one uses any more. They should be in the archives. I will be glad to take them.
3. Share this newsletter with someone who is interested in the history of the Bible Fellowship Church and entice them to become a member of our society. We would love to have them.
Enough. Below are the details for you to contact me.
Richard E. Taylor
723 South Providence Road
Wallingford PA 19086