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A Brief History of the United Church of Christ and St. Paul’s UCC

The United Church of Christ is a merger of two great Protestant denominations in 1957. The Evangelical and Reformed Church came from Germany and Switzerland, and the Congregational-Christian Churches came from England (the Puritans and Pilgrims).

As early as 1740, there was record of local folks gathering for worship at Trexlertown, the oldest town in the area. In 1874, St. Paul’s Union Church, made up of a Reformed and a Lutheran Congregation, was formed and a church erected. The original building served the two congregations until 1922. In 1925, the present impressive stone building was dedicated.

In 1986, the Lutheran congregation vacated the building and relocated in their present location just west of Trexlertown on Route 222. St. Paul's changed from a Union Church to a United Church of Christ under the leadership of Rev. Robert Titus.

In 1988, the Rev. Robert Titus retired after 32 years of ministry at St. Paul’s UCC. In July, 1990, the Rev. Jim Knappenberger was called to be the spiritual leader of the congregation.  Rev. Linda Lennon was called as an Associate Pastor in 1997. On November 1, 2007, Rev. Knappenberger retired after 17 years of service. The church was temporarily under the guidance of Interim Minister Rev. Harry W. Keppley Jr. as we search for a new senior pastor.

On July 19, 2009 the Rev. Al Bastin and his wife the Rev. Carol Bastin were called to serve as Co-pastors. They began their ministry at St. Pauls on October 1, 2009.


Church History

As the 1730’s dawned, the New World, America, became the object of the dreams of many of the persecuted class of Europe. The colonies in turn expanded and grew in order to meet the needs of the floods of immigrants. They came from all nations: Great Britain, France, the Netherlands. German immigrants, especially those from the Pfaltz region, otherwise known as the Polatinends, came in huge numbers to what would later become known as the Lehigh Valley. Here, nestled in the furtive region between the Delaware and Lehigh rivers, these sturdy people, most of whom had indentured themselves to work on the farms of rich landowners in order to pay their fare across the Atlantic, began their new lives.

They brought very little with them. Most arrived with only their family, their language and customs, their craft, and their religion. Between the Puritan dominated New England colonies, and the Roman Catholic haven of Maryland, lay the true bastion of religious toleration under the law to which these Germans flocked: Pennsylvania, Penn’s Woods.

Once here, these kindly people set up primitive religious worship in their homes using Bibles and hymnals carried by hand from the old country. The church was the only strong tie to the lives they left behind in Germany, and it sustained them as they struggled against the hardships their new life presented.

By 1752, the population of what is today Lehigh County had reached 2,000 people, mostly of this German heritage. Several individual churches had sprung up around the valley, including Mennonite, Lutheran and Reformed congregations, yet no one governed body coordinated the efforts of these separate religious groups. The county continued to develop in this way, no longer the untamed frontier of 1730, but by now a well established agricultural area. Allentown, the largest town in the district, quickly became the meeting place for merchants and craftsmen from throughout Northampton County, as it was then known.

Some miles west of Allentown, on the road to Reading, lay the oldest town in the community, Trexlertown, founded in 1729 by Peter Trexler. After he purchased 138 acres of land, many of his fellow immigrants, looking for limestone valleys similar to the German polatenid, joined him here. The oldest road in the county began at Jacob Trexler’s Public House in 1736. Later, in 1753, the road from Easton to Reading, which at that point was little more than a trail, ran through Wescosville and Trexlertown. In time, traffic grew heavy as settlers came West from New York City to find open farm country. Only a few hundred yards from this road in 1772, a congregation began to talk of erecting a proper church building.

As early as 1747 on June 25th, the Dutch reformed missionary Reverend Michael Shodler, active in the spiritual needs of the new county, visited the congregation here. In 1749 when he found himself unable to respond to the congregation’s request that he perform communion in Trexlertown, Shodler sent the Revered Philip Bame in his place. At this point all record of religious activity in the town disappears, only to resurface again in 1772.

By this time the sons and daughters of those who had received communion from Bame wrote to King George III of England requesting a charter for a union church to encompass the needs of both reformed and Lutheran Christians in Trexlertown. At last, after almost 50 years of lay instruction in private homes, the people of the town would receive their sacraments from ordained members of the clergy in a house of worship constructed of their own hands.

The union church had begun in Germany as a political decree by the religious leaders of oppressive regimes that ruled the independent German states. In disunited Germany, rulers of tiny kingdoms grouped the followers of Luther, found mostly in the Eastern states and those of John Calvin that populated most of the Western German states along the southern Rhine River together in one building. These rulers, still often loyal to the Pope in Rome, hoped that the Protestant movement would simply die out if the two groups were left to quarrel between themselves. But when the two groups came to America, the union church was adopted as a tradition begun in the old country. Additionally, the utilization of one building by two congregations proved more economically feasible to the poor immigrant Dutchmen. And so when George III transferred some land from Joseph and Susanna Albrecht to four trustees of the two groups, he intended that such a building be raised on the premises.

Revolution swept through the countryside however, and the plans were put on hold. Men went to war to fight the British crown and its unfair laws of taxation. The existing Zion Reform Church in Allentown and the Emmaus Moravian church were used at this time as emergency military hospitals. When the men of General Washington marched into battle, members of the Trexlertown congregation marched with him. Finally, on September, 3, 1782, the war ended in far away Yorktown, VA.

Then on May 26th 1784, four trustees from each congregation adopted resolutions to build on the spot assigned. According to these resolutions 12 children, six from each group, placed the four old grains; wheat, rye, oats, and buckwheat, along with a bottle of wine, the church’s constitution and the creed of each domination into the cornerstone of the building. Children did the job so that no criticism might be passed by an enemy of either congregation as if one of these two congregations tried to seek advantage over the other. In the same document, it was stated that reform would always appear first in the name of the church and that this too should have no effect on how one congregation was viewed in relation to the other. Thus, the relationship of the reformed and Lutheran congregations began.

Building progressed smoothly through the summer and fall of 1784 however, during the construction, Joseph Sch walm, a mason, fell to his death from a wooden ramp leading to the roof of the structure as he carried a load of bricks on a handcart. He was laid to rest aside 70 sons of the American Revolutionary forces in the adjoining cemetery. Following the completion of the interior, the 46 by 60 foot structure was consecrated for holy worship by the Reverend John H. Helfrich of the reformed church and the Reverend J. Casper Dill of the Lutheran congregation on April 17, 1785. Services commenced in the building along with a schooling program for the congregation’s children in order to serve the community.

A system of democratic government with all members being allowed to express their individual views, in addition to the election of reformed and Lutheran trustees, served as a shining example of the democratic traditions for which the members has fought just three years before. The church stood this way until 1879 when a steeple was erected on the north side of the church. An 1,100 pound bell was placed in the new steeple in order to toll the various services performed by the St. Paul’s Union church. The building’s steady presence provided the emotional comfort of an expanding area and town and it stood for 138 years casting its shadow on the cemetery below.

Throughout this time, the reformed congregation was served by only six pastors and two organists, all of whom established the tradition of long and loving service to God and community within those four walls and beyond. The members of the Sunday school and union choir provided their services each week for over 100 years. Finally, however, the congregation began to out grow the structure by the side of the road. Under the leadership of pastors M. H, Brensinger of the reformed congregation and the Lutheran D. C Kaufman, the two bodies voted on April 17th, 1922 to build a new structure at the same spot for an estimated cost of $75,000. The final service in the old church was a union service held on May 28th, 1922 by both pastors. On Memorial Day of the same year, the old structure was razed to the ground in order to make room for the next generation of St. Paul’s Union church to serve the area.

Though no structure stood at the corner that had been it’s home since 1785, the congregation of St. Paul’s continued its services proving that a church is much more than merely mortar and brick. St. Paul’s held services in the Grange hall of the rural community while the new church building took shape. Sunday school classes during the construction, attended by children of both congregations, took place in the Trexlertown public school building. Meanwhile, in the ground where the old wooden structure had once stood, a glorious new building arose. Descendents of the PA German craftsmen that had built St. Paul’s union church on that plot in 1784, unloaded scores of trucks loaded with native stone cut from the nearby quarries of Seisholtzville. Begun on June 24th 1923, with a cornerstone laying ceremony similar to that which had taken place almost 140 years before, the new church grew up under the watchful eyes of the congregation as well as the members of the surrounding community throughout the year 1924.

Then, on March 22nd, 1925, the congregation of St. Paul’s union church once again gathered by the side of the road in celebration. This time the reverends Brensinger and Kaufman consecrated the church building for holy worship. The dedication celebration lasted for an entire week with choirs from neighboring churches assisting in the services. Each evening after supper, the members of the congregation would gather in the church for a service, leaving their horses in the stables which stood in back of the old cemetery along Church lane. The final service of the celebration took place one week later on March 29, 1925. The union service was led by both pastors and attended by both congregations. For many years afterward, as had been done in the past, each pastor led a service every other week. Members of both congregations attended both the Lutheran and reformed services, and often the chapel had to be opened to accommodate the overflowing crowd. Once each month, Sunday worship was conducted in high German (Hoch Deutsch) in keeping with the heritage of St. Paul’s founders. St. Paul’s was once again a vibrant and spirited church, which continued to grow.

In October of 1929, however, depression gripped the nation as the stock market crashed, leaving St. Paul’s with a $110,000 mortgage on the new building. Though the entire nation felt the effects of the collapse, the members of St. Paul’s, mostly self providing farmers, weathered the storm well. They realized, however, that their church needed them now more than ever. While services continued every Sunday, the congregation banded together to find new sources of revenue for the church. The first ice cream and strawberry festivals came to Trexlertown. Picnics along church lane and oyster suppers became part of the church calendar. New groups sprang up, including the quilting group, who through the sales of their goods raised enough money to buy a new organ for the church. The women’s guild and men’s brotherhood, originally intended to be study groups, became service organizations ministering to the surrounding community. A new group, the young people’s society became active in 1932 and donated the bulletin board that still stands in the front yard of the church. Electricians and carpenters donated their services to the church when the building needed repair. Because of the efforts of the congregations of St. Paul’s, the church survived the depression and was there to provide comfort to the people of Trexlertown when even bigger clouds appeared on the horizon.

Before long the United States and members of St. Paul’s were fighting in far flung places around the globe. Attendance at St. Paul’s increased during the war, families praying for husbands, and fathers and sons to return home from the war filled her pews each Sunday. Reverend Althouse took time out each week to write a cheerful note to the members of the church stationed oversees during the conflict. Pageants and plays put on by the children of the church kept those on the home front entertained during the war as well, with members donated their talents to ensure the productions’ success. Throughout the lean years of the depression and the dark days of World War II, the church by the side of the road remained a constant in the lives of the citizens of Trexlertown. Just as they had given their talents and time to it in it’s time of need, so the church gave comfort and relief to them in a time of great uncertainly and worry.

Friends made in the church could be counted on for support and love; they were friends for life. It was into this tradition of nurturing and caring that a new generation was born to the church. For the coming of Reverend Robert Titus in 1953, the youth movement in St. Paul’s began. Under his leadership, the youth fellowship comprised of both the Lutheran and reformed youth, came into being. Together the youth of both congregations began to form the backbone for a new era for the history of the church. However, things would never be the same for the post-war St. Paul’s.

Beginning in the 1950’s the Lutheran church, beginning to feel that the union format was an idea whose time had passed, began having trouble finding pastors who would serve such an organization. In 1955 the two congregations voted to keep separate financial records, the first sign of separation within the church. Ten years later in 1965 it was decided to hold two services per Sunday rather than maintaining the alternating pattern, which had been in existence as long as anyone could remember. The move prompted the disbanding of the union choir as each congregation provided its own music. The parishioners, eager to save the traditional system called in a consultant to study the situation. Two forces were at work now in the church. In many of the older families in the church, one parent was Lutheran and the other reformed. To the children it made no difference since each Sunday both parents had gone to the same service. Naturally people felt attached to the building in which they had spent all of their spiritual lives. However, the newer families that moved into the area following the war to take advantage of the opportunities of the Lehigh valley had to offer could not understand the old traditional ways of the German union church. In 1967 the vote was finally taken to dissolve the union church of Trexlertown, however the traditionalists won and the union format remained.

Even during the pain of separation, the church did not fail to move forward. In 1968, services were first broadcast to the Mosser home so that older members of the congregation as well as other guest of the home could still “attend” St. Paul’s on a weekly basis. Also, in the mid 1970’s the interior of the church was remodeled to fit the changing needs of the congregation and community that now played host to Air Products and Mac Trucks. New faces intermingled with those that had been raised at St. Paul’s and they soon found out what long time members had always known: once you’ve made friends with a Pennsylvania Dutchman, you’ve made a friend for life. It was for this reason, however, that the inevitable separation of the two congregations was particularly painful. The end finally came in 1982, when the vote by the congregation determined that the Lutherans would build a new church leaving the reformed church, by now knows as the United Church of Christ, as the sole tenant for the building. Many families opted to stay at the old location, unable to tear themselves away from the tradition and heritage of their youth.

Thus still under the leadership of Reverend Titus, the UCC church moved forward, mindful of it’s rich past, yet eager to face the future. For the first time in the church’s history, an associate pastor, Reverend Afaf Darcy was called to bring new life into the church, as well as to coordinate the activities of the youth of the congregation. Many new members joined bringing a fresh spirit to the traditions held dear by the old members. In late 1988 with Rev Titus’s retirement near and Reverend Darcy’s work done, the two ministers left the congregations in the hands of senior interim minister Reverend Robert Stevens, and assistant interim pastor Reverend Betty Ondrechen.

For two years the committee made up of both long time and new members searched for the right pastor to lead the congregation into the new decade. On April 29, 1990 The Reverend James L. Knappenberger was called to serve St. Paul’s United Church of Christ Trexlertown. Under his leadership the church continued to find its roots in the traditions of the past while remaining eager to break new ground on its spiritual journey. New groups such as the aerobic group and children’s celebration group shared St. Paul’s space with traditional groups such as the quilters, the craft group and the choir. Pastor Knappenberger retired on October 7, 2007 after 17 years of service to the church.

Reverend Linda Lennon was called as an Associate Pastor from July 1, 1998 to February 8, 2009. As our assistant pastor, she was the spiritual leader for our Christian Education and Care Core programs. She brought enthusiasm and new ideas to each program and increases participation. In her ministry, she was a faithful, compassionate servant to our hospitalized and homebound members through visitation and personal communion service. As a member of the Spiritual and Church Councils she promoted planning and working together as a community. Pastor Linda is an effective counselor during conflict and a friend to members and strangers.

Following Pastor Knappenberger's retirement, the Reverend Harry W. Keppley Jr. served as Interim Sr. Pastor for two years. During this time he guided the church in spiritual ministry. He facilitated the creation of a Pastoral Search Committee who successfully found new pastors for the church.

On July 19, 2009 Reverend Al Bastin and his wife Reverend Carol Bastin were called to server as Co-pastors. They began their ministry at St. Paul's on October 1, 2009.

As we look ahead to the future, the people of the church by the side of the road will continue to face it with renewed strength, together.


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