Church History - Chapter 1
The Early Years 1725 - 1790
Families, predominantly from Germany, began to settle in the area known as "Forks of the Delaware" from 1725 to 1750. The area did not get its name because of the confluence of the two rivers, the Delaware and the Lehigh, but by reason of the numerous Indian trails which forked into various directions to reach the few passes in the mountain. The area, approximately 8,300 acres of land now known as Lower Nazareth Township, in which our Church is located, was known as the "Drylands" because of the lack of springs and brooks. The Indians called the area "The Barrens". This entire area was a vast treeless plain, having for ages been burned by the Indians to chase game through the mountain passes and trap it on the way.
Our Church records indicate that a church was built in 1759 by the Reformed Congregations or Religious Societies along the road between the Moravian settlements of Bethlehem and Nazareth. The road in those days was known as the Great Road and is supposed to be the same distance from Bethlehem to Nazareth as in the Holy Lands. The church was built of logs and had a thatched roof and Christian Gross was paid three Pennsylvania pounds to put mortar between the logs. It was called the Dryland Church.
The first regular pastor of the Reformed Church was Casper Weyberg. The Lutheran Congregation, which shared the church, was formed by Rev. John Frederici on February 2, 1763. On May 22, 1763 he confirmed a class of 21 and in addition 107 Lutherans communed.
It was not uncommon in those days for a pastor to serve more than one church. When traveling from church to church or ministering to the sick, they had to be on the lookout for hostile Indians. The last Indian massacre in this area occurred in 1763 and the settlers took refuge at the Moravian settlements in Nazareth and Bethlehem.
There is in our possession an old account book which some light on the time of the building of the school and graveyard. We would know more, but the first and important dates, as well as other entries have been destroyed by silverfish.
In 1763, the trustees paid Christian Nauman 3 Pennsylvania pounds 3 shillings to mark the graveyard, construct a fence and gate. Right above this entry is an entry of 5 shillings 7 pennies for shingles for the house. There is another entry showing the purchase of 300 nails costing 3 shillings.
In those days a Pennsylvania pound (gold or silver) was equal to 1/2 of the English pound sterling which was valued at about $4.84. The Pennsylvania pound was then worth about $2.42. A shilling was 1/120th of a pound and a penny was 1/12th of a shilling. In 1765, a stove was purchased for the school house for 1 pound 1 shilling (about $2.55). The funds to erect the graveyard and school house may not seem like a lot of money today, but to the early settlers it was a heroic sacrifice to come up with this money. Many of them were poor and when they arrived from Germany they had very little in the way of possessions.
In 1766, Rev. Henop of the Reformed Congregation reported 36 children in the school. In 1785, the log school house was torn down and on the same site a gray stone two story building was erected. School was held on the lower floor or basement while the school teacher lived above. The Bible and Catechism held prominent places in the school, in fact it was known as the Bible School in those days. Classes were conducted in the school until around 1818 or 1820 when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania introduced public schools. When this happened, religious training until 1846, became a thing of the past. The school house was never demolished and is still in use today. It is the present sexton's home and is one of the oldest buildings in this area.
The log church built in 1759 was demolished in early 1790 and much of material was used in the construction of a residence located nearby. The second church, a stone structure, was erected in 1790. It was rectangular in shape and was situated a little to the North of our present building with the side toward Route 191. The doors opened into the church from the North and South. There was also a door on the side facing Route 191. The pulpit was on the side toward the graveyard. It was shaped like a goblet or as some term it, a "swallow's nest", resting on a high pedestal. A stairway led from the North side into the pulpit, and the Pastor, when in the pulpit, would close the door behind him. The chancel was circular in shape and was in front of the pulpit. The pastor, when coming down from the pulpit, entered the chancel by a door in front of the pulpit.
To give you some idea of how high the pulpit was, when the church was crowded, people actually sat under the pulpit. I guess one could say that in those days preaching had its ups and downs. In the center of the chancel stood the communion table, and the people when communing formed a circle around the chancel, which had a high railing. Opposite the pulpit, on the gallery on the East side was the pipe organ and choir loft.
In those days most churches had seating arrangements, ours was no exception. The church officers sat on the North side of the pulpit. Behind them sat the men who were advanced in years. The pews for the aged ladies extended from the door on the North side backward to the side toward the street. These pews had footrests to make them more comfortable. The pews on the South side, and the Southwest corner were occupied by the girls, and those pews between the girls and the aged mothers, by the married women. The men and the boys sat in the galleries.
The church was dedicated on August 15, 1790. The archives of the Moravian Church in Nazareth state that an extraordinarily large concourse of people from the surrounding countryside were present at the dedication ceremony. Special music was furnished by musicians from Bethlehem and Nazareth. Toward 10 o'clock in the morning the church was opened with a dedication prayer offered by the Reformed Pastor Fred H. Herman, after which the Reformed Pastor Winkhouse, of Saucon, preached the sermon. The second sermon was preached at 1 o'clock in the afternoon by the Lutheran Pastor. The third sermon was preached at 3 o'clock in the afternoon at the request of the consistory and pastors of both congregations by Moravian Pastor Reichel, of Nazareth. At the opening and closing of every service the musicians played appropriate selections.