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Jerusalem (Red) Church

Jerusalem (Red) Lutheran
and United Church of Christ Church
(Union since 1812)

by William A. Brobst

Just a quarter mile northeast of Stony Run (formerly Wessnerville), Pennsylvania, on the road to Lynnville, is the site of the Lutheran Jerusalem Union (Red) Church, home of the first Lutheran Allemaengle congregation, established personally by Rev. Henry Melchoir Mühlenberg, the father of the Lutheran church in America. The present small village of Stony Run is in the immediate area where the many of the German immigrants settled, including Philip Jacob and Johann Michael, and their families, as well as the Stambach and Kistler families. It lies on the Lynn Township (Lehigh County) line, just a few miles from the present Big Valley Ski Area.

According to one record, in 1740, the 50 acres of land for this church was bought for Pastor Mühlenberg by his father-in-law, Conrad Weiser, for the purpose of construction of a church building for the new Lutheran congregation. In 1746, he secured in his own name a warrant for those 50 acres "situate above Maxatawny", and invited the Lutherans to use this land for a church and school.

Mühlenberg had made a previous visit to the area in 1743, and found "many German people, poor and destitute, and in want of spiritual and material sustenance. Many grew into a state of wildness, and no longer paid heed to church or school." He was alarmed that the Moravians, whom he disliked intensely, were moving into the area and proselytizing the German Lutherans. This provided a great motivation for him to establish Lutheran churches in that area.

In March 1747, Mühlenberg wrote in his journal:
"... on this land they were to build a wooden schoolhouse or church and, if in time they became able to support a school master, the children would at least be given some help. The schoolmaster was to read a sermon for them on Sundays, and I proposed to visit them once or twice during the year. It appeared as though the majority were agreed to approve the proposal and they went ahead and built a wooden church."

The new settlers accepted the invitation, organized their efforts, and in 1747 began to construct the first Lutheran church there, a log structure, and also a log schoolhouse. The church was formally dedicated later in 1747 by Pastor Mühlenberg, even though the building had no roof and construction was not completed until 1756, the same year that an Indian massacre killed many members of the congregation. They withstood an attempt by the Moravians to take over (discussed in more detail later), aided by the fact that the land was now in Mühlenberg's name.

The early log church was located down the hill from the present church, on Wessnerville Road in the direction of Stony Run, about two hundred yards. The location is marked with a white granite marker, erected in 1997, after the site was discovered recently by Floyd Kistler, a Brobst/Kistler descendant.

One document gives some history of the church:
"Though the date of the organization of the Jerusalem Church is usually given as 1748, there are a number of facts which, if considered, will allow an earlier date. The visit of Mühlenberg in 1743 to the Tulpehocken region, his sending of (Rev.) J. N. Kurz in March, 1746, to Allemäengel; his own visit to members who had moved from New Hanover to Allemäengel in 1747; his request that Conrad Weiser, his father-in-law, should purchase for him a tract of fifty acres to be used for church purposes in 1746; all these things considered show that it is not presumptuous to claim an organization as early as 1745 or even earlier. The writer inclines to 1743 because a communion flagon, in the possession of the congregation, contains the initials G. F. and C. B. and the date 1743. (A communion cup has the date 1766 -- Matthias Probst.)

Though the lack of funds prevented the initial completion of the church, services seem to have been held therein. Mühlenberg preached in it in 1747 even though it had no roof at the time! The church was heated by two pot-bellied stoves in the center of the church; oil lamps were used for illumination. Brobst family members were major players in the initial church planning and operation. For many years, it was called the "Erste Evangelisch Lutherische Kirche im Allemäengle," and also referred to for a short time as "Brobst's Allemäengle Church".

The church membership grew quickly with the influx of German Lutherans into the area. Rev. Mühlenberg later wrote, "The congregation, barely exceeding one hundred in membership, has furnished eight sons for the gospel ministry. They were: Samuel Kistler Brobst, Reuben Brobst Kistler, Alfred W. Kistler, William U. Kistler, Charles E. Kistler, Edwin L. Kistler, D. Elmer Fetherolf, and Jonas O. Henry." All names common in Brobst history! It is also noted that there are more Kistlers -- over 200 -- buried at the church than members of any other family.

The Moravians became interested in the church, much to Mühlenberg's dismay. In 1746-1751, persistent efforts were put forth by the Moravians from Emmaus to cooperate in completing the church and in carrying on the work of the congregation. While the first log building was a'building, the Moravian emissaries from Emmaus (Bethlehem), PA, appeared on the scene and proclaimed themselves the genuine Lutherans. This was an echo of the "Tulpehocken Confusion" and the controversy that raged between the three parties which sprang up was quite bitter. Operations were suspended before the roof was placed on the structure. The Moravians, thinking they had gained some advantage, undertook to complete the edifice "with the understanding that it should be a Brethren Church." But the title to the property being in the name of Mühlenberg, the attempt by the Moravians to gain a permanent foothold failed. They resigned and began their own congregation and church in 1751.

The record shows that Rev. Mühlenberg actually kept title to the Red Church until July 10, 1770, at which time he deeded the land and building to the trustees appointed by the congregation of the new Evangelical Lutheran Society -- Philip Stambach, Jacob Gortner, Jean Valentine Brobst (1724), all of Albany Township, Berks County; and to Matthias Brobst (1736) and George Kistler of Lynn Township, Northampton County. While most of the family members of the early church lived in Lynn Township, Lehigh County, the church stood just across the county line in Albany Township, Berks County. Indeed, the county line runs through the back part of the church cemetery, adding some confusion in the records as to where some family members were buried! Some of the graves are in Berks County, some in Lehigh County!!

It was in this church that Rev. Daniel Schumacher, who served the church from 1755 to 1770, greeted his flock on Sunday mornings with the words, "Guten morgen, meine Freunden, besonders alles was Küstler heist." (Good morning, my friends, especially everyone who is called Kistler.)

But Rev. Mühlenberg was able to return to the Allemaengel area once more, and urged improvements in the church. A second log church, built in 1768, either took the place of the first, or the first log church was greatly improved, under the supervision of E. Fossellman, G. Lambert, G. Kistler, P. Stambach, J. Gardner [Gortner], M. Haas, and M. Hollenbach."

Later in 1768, the Rev. Schumacher allowed the members of the Reformed Church the privilege of holding services in the church at such times as would not interfere with the regular services of the Lutherans. The Rev. Schumacher served both this church and several others in the neighborhood, but many the members of this church were concerned with what they saw as conflict of interest. He was a controversial figure, and the church board dismissed him in 1770. Mühlenberg came once again to preach, and a peaceful union was developed with the Reformed congregation for joint use of the church. This union proved most useful when it came time to rebuild the church in the late 1700s. The second church was painted red, including the roof, which resulted in its being referred to as the "Red Church".

It became a Union church in 1812 when the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed an act permitting the Lutherans to sell an equal part of the church to the Reformed congregation. At that time, the name "Jerusalem" was also chosen. At that time, a new church was begun, jointly supported by both congregations. The cornerstone was laid on Ascension Day, May 7, 1812. The third church -- the current one, completed in May 1814 at a cost of just under $2000 -- has a red door in commemoration of the second church, and is faced with brick, with unusual stained glass windows. The building committee for the 1812 rebuilding was Michael Brobst, Samuel Kistler, John Weiss, and Jacob Bachman; the Treasurer was John Probst.

In 1881, it was renovated, adding a bell and bell tower, and completely rearranging the interior, moving the pulpit and choir loft. In 1908, another renovation project was approved, and was completed around 1911. It is still called the "Red" (or "Red Door") church to distinguish it from another nearby Jerusalem Church with a white door. The confusion with the Moravians had resulted in Rev. Schumacher withdrawing from the Red Church, with many of the members, and building a separate church about a half-mile to the south, also near Wessnerville. This church was called the "New Allemäengel" or "White" Church; the latter name still clings, as does the name "Red" Church for the original church. The White Church is now officially named the Frieden's Church. So much for confusion -- around the 1900 era, the Jerusalem (Red) Church was also referred to as the "New Jerusalem Church"!

In 1908, major improvements were made to the interior of the church. New commodious pews and altar furniture, new carpet, and a new pulpit were placed in the church. The church interior was painted and frescoed. It was rededicated on October 25, 1908.

The church is one of few left in the area that is "pulpit centered", i.e., the pulpit is raised up and back of the alter. Balconies are along the north and south sides, and at the west end. The organ and choir loft are on the west balcony.

Rev Mühlenberg's influence is still felt in Berks and Lehigh Counties. Muhlenberg College is in Allen town. Rev. Samuel Brobst was the co-founder, along with Rev. Mühlenberg.

The cemetery has many dozens of Brobsts buried there, most of whom are descendants of Christophel and Philip Jacob. Among them are Hans and Elisabeth Probst Vosselman, Phillip Jacob's sister and brother-in- law; their new grave marker is shown earlier in this report. Complete records of the cemetery burials may be found at the library of the Berks County Genealogical Society in Kutztown.

Early Lutheran ministers who served the church as pastors included Tobias Wagner (1749 to 1754), Casper Kirchner, Daniel Schumacher (1755 to 1770), Peter Mischler, Andrew Friederichs, Frederick Miller (1778 to 1779), and Daniel Lehman (1784 and possibly earlier to 1810). Some were regular pastors, others were itinerant ministers who came to the church during those periods of time when the regular pastor was absent. There appeared to be no regular pastor from 1779 to 1782.

Reprinted here with permission from: "Brobst, William A., CDR, USNR (Ret.)," The Brobst Family Chronicles, A History of the Early Brobst/Probst Families in Pennsylvania, (Kitty Hawk, NC; July 1, 1997).

This page was last updated on Monday, 21-Feb-2011 18:18:50 MST
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