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History of Zion's (Spiess) Reformed and Lutheran Union Church, Upper Alsace, Pennsylvania

This history appeared in Morton Montgomery's 1908 edition of The History of Berks County, p. 984.


Zion's (commonly called Spiess) Reformed and Lutheran Union Church, Upper Alsace.-This church is located on a high elevation in the eastern section of the township. It has always been held that the first edifice for religious services was built of logs, in 1774, the year in which Victorius Spiess donated the land for church purposes. The trustees then were Victorius Spiess and Paul Feger, who was an officer at the battle of Paoli. Tradition has it that this log church was built on the tract about five years before Spiess made the donation. The present church book of the Reformed congregation is marked Volume II. On one of the opening pages it is stated to be a continuation of the book started by the congregation in 1774, which is Volume I. Also in the beginning of Volume II, where mention is made of the building of the stone church in 1810, the following is recorded, by which tradition is laid aside and even an earlier date established with certainty. "Diese Zions Kirche ist erbauet worden im Jahr Christi 1810 auf die Stelle einer alten verfallenne Kirche die die ersten Ansiedler im Jahre A. D. 1757 erbauet hatten." There is no reference made to a church built in 1774, or five years previous, but, in plain writing, in 1757. With this year the Reformed congregation begins its history. Why 1774 has always been accepted is because of the donation of the land in that year, and no church record of ministerial acts such as baptisms, confirmations, etc., is in existence bearing an earlier date. This record beginning with 1774 was opened by Rev. John William Boas. Who preceded him is not known, probably irregular supplies, and thus no ministerial acts were recorded. One of the doors of the 1757 church is still in use at the dwelling of Daniel Angstadt, near by.

In 1810 a commodious two-story stone edifice was erected in post-Revolutionary architectural style. The building committee consisted of Paul Baer, John Babb, George Schade, Peter Knabb. Later a pipe-organ was installed. J. P. Harline served as organist from 1839 to 1858. He was succeeded by W. C. Keller, from 1858 to 1891. Mr. Keller became succeeded by Prof. Henry M. Moyer, who has continued to the present time.

A cemetery company was incorporated on April 16, 1861. The charter members were William Knabb, Valentine Hartman, Frederick Hinnershitz, Gottfried Lutz, George Schlottman, Daniel Schmeck, Peter Fies, Benjamin F. Seidel, Jacob Folk, Peter Hartman, George B. Hartman, Jacob Hoch, Matthias Moyer, Nathan Knabb. This "God's acre" occupies a lovely situation and comprises twelve acres. There are many fine tombstones and monuments thereon.

Until the public school system was accepted the congregation had its parochial school in the house still occupied by the janitor, Samuel Folk.

In 1887 the present spacious edifice was erected upon the site of the old church, which on account of its small size and marks of time was demolished. The building committee consisted of Mahlon Knabb, Jeremiah R. Hartman, Harrison Seidel and David Babb. Hiram Hartman had the contract. It is a two-story brick edifice, 85 feet long and 54 feet wide. At the eastern end is a steeple 170 feet high, containing a bell weighing 3,200 pounds. This edifice is an ornament to the community. The basement is out of the ground and is well furnished for Sunday-school and society purposes. In it are two massive hot air furnaces, for heating purposes. The entrance is at the side. The main auditorium is reached by a gradual ascent on the front which leads into the wide vestibule of the church. Beautiful stained glass windows admit subdued light. Three wide aisles extend from the vestibule to the chancel. The frescoing is of a neat design. In the pulpit recess is a beautiful oil painting of the Ascension of Christ. To the right is a panel oil painting of the agony of Christ in Gethsemane, and to the left, one of Christ blessing little children. These paintings are of excellent execution. The architecture is Romanesque. The pews are of oak, with walnut trimmings. On the altar is a beautiful polished brass crucifix. The auditorium, with galleries on both sides and end, has a seating capacity of 1,200. On the end gallery facing the pulpit is the organ and choir loft. Two ante-rooms are behind the pulpit recess, the one for the convenience of the pastor, and from which he enters the chancel at the opening of the service, the other for the business affairs of the consistory. In it is a fire-proof safe, containing church documents, etc. A stairway leads from the basement into the pastor's room, also one from the basement into the vestibule of the main auditorium. In the vestibule are the wide stairways leading to the galleries. Much work was done free of charge, in addition to which $17,000 was expended in building.

The attendance is very encouraging considering the scattered membership. Peace is within the palaces and prosperity within the walls.

The services were conducted exclusively in the German language until July 4, 1897, when Rev. M. L. Herbein, the Reformed pastor, conducted an English service, preaching on Psalm 44: 1-3. The Reformed congregation then began to have services on two Sundays each month, one rendered in German, the other in English; also four Holy Communion services a year instead of two. Two of these services are in English and two in German.

The Lutheran congregation, worshiping once a month, in 1899 began to render occasional English services, which in 1907 became as regular as the German. The services of both congregations and in both languages are strictly liturgically conducted.

In 1904 Rev. M. L. Herbein obtained from Andrew Carnegie of New York the amount of $750 in behalf of a pipe-organ provided the congregation would raise an equal amount. Plans and specifications were sent to different organ-builders, who returned their bids, asking twenty-five hundred and one twenty-eight hundred dollars. Elmer E. Palm, a reputable organ-builder at Mt. Penn, four miles away, offered to build and guarantee it for $1,500. The contract was awarded to him. On Aug. 21, 1904, the organ, the first of its kind in the new church, was dedicated. During the day it was estimated that 2,500 people were present. At evening, paid subscriptions, contributions, collections, etc., from all sources, amounted to $921.72. The long-felt need of a pipe-organ was overcome. The instrument is a powerful two-manual mechanism with a pedal bass, containing two stops, one of eight-foot and the other of sixteen-foot tone. The two manuals contain fifteen stops; all necessary couplers and accessories are to be found. The organ is on the end gallery farthest from the pulpit. There is an excellent choir.

The Reformed congregation numbers 480 members, the Lutheran 375. This congregation became incorporated by charter given by the court of Common Pleas of Berks county April 18, 1876. This congregation is very liberal. The contributions and collections have already amounted to as high as $4,200 in one year. Substantial sheds accommodate the teams of worshiping members. The Sunday-school meets every Lord's Day during the entire year. Prof. Alvin Seyler is the popular superintendent.

The following pastors have served the Reformed congregation: Unknown, 1757-1774; John William Boas, 1774-1810; Frederick Lebrecht Herman, D. D., 1810-1830; Augustus L. Herman, 1830-1873; Aaron S. Leinbach, D. D., 1873-1895; Mabry L. Herbein, 1897- .

The following pastors have served the Lutheran congregation: C. F. Wildbahn, 1782-1796; Daniel Lehman, 1796-1801; Henry M. Muhlenberg, D. D., 1803-1829; Jacob Miller, D. D., 1829-1850; Reuben S. Wagner, 1850-1854: Thomas T. Iaeger, 1855-1888; E. S. Brownmiller, D. D., 1889-

In the stained glass window to the right of the pulpit are the names of the Reformed pastors and their period of service, to the left the Lutheran. On May 23, 1908, the congregation heard the glad announcement of the cancellation of the debt. In 1909 the sum of two thousand dollars was expended in newly frescoing and generally renovating the entire edifice. Artist Bertholt Imhoff did the work.

[Contributed by M. L. Herbein.]

Gillis Sampler

Last Modified Thursday, 16-Oct-2008 21:07:50 EDT

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