HOPE, OR HOFFMAN'S, EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH, SOUTH HUNTINGDON TOWNSHIP. WESTMORELAND COUNTY, PA.
Huntingdon was one of the original townships, of Westmoreland county, laid out in 1773, when the county was erected. In 1790 it was divided into North and South Huntingdon, and later East Huntingdon was established. There were settlers in South Huntingdon before 1770, and between 1770 and 1780 quite a settlement was made on the Big Sewickley, for we have learned that the Sewickley Presbyterian Church was organized in 1776. Among the early settlers we may mention a few names: Plumers, Dicks, Robbs, Blackburns, Markles, Robertson and others.
Isaac Robb laid out West Newton in 1796, which, for many years, was better known as Robbstown, though Mr. Robb himself had given it the name, West Newton, when he laid it out. Smithton is another point that was occupied very early. A house is still standing and occupied as a dwelling, which is said to have been built 140 years ago as a block-house. This is proof that there were people in this vicinity who needed protection.
The community of Hope Church was also old, though not as old as the Sewickley community. But this German settlement that organized Hope Church no doubt began before the Revolutionary War, and was well established as a community before 1790. There was no doubt a provisional organization here between 1794 and 1800, which was served by missionaries. The first house erected for the use of this congregation was a school house, which stood a short distance southwest of the present church, and was both used as a school and as a place of worship till the first brick church was built. Revs. John M. Steck of Greensburg, and John Stouch of Jacob's Church, Fayette county, both did service here. Father Stouch cooperated with Father Steck in ministering to the German settlements in Westmoreland county, till he removed to Ohio in 1806.
The records of the ministerial acts of these pastors are imperfect and do not cover the first year of their labors. We have records reaching back to 1811 and 12, but we know the church was here before that time. The records of the early years of this congregation have not been preserved, and have therefore, not been handed down to us but we have sufficient data to convince us that this church was here at the beginning of the Nineteenth century.
Without a doubt there was a provisional organization here in 1798, when the late Henry Hoffman made his will and set apart his farm of 49 acres, which was to be sold after the death of his wife and the proceeds applied to the building of a Lutheran church in this community. He died in 1802 and was buried in the cemetery belonging to the Lutheran congregation. His wife died a few years later, and Andrew Findly, the executor of the estate sold the land for $341 to George Frick, and the money was appropriated as had been provided by the testator.
The first brick church was a plain building, about 30x40 feet in size, finished and furnished without any unnecessary ornamentation. It stood in the cemetery, a short distance north east of the present church, by which it was replaced in 1866, because it was no longer fit for use.
The growth of this congregation was quite slow during the early years of its history, like that of many others and, no doubt, for the same reasons. The experience of the people of South Huntingdon was the same as that of the people of Hempfield, Mount Pleasant, Ligonier and Donegal. The same causes were active here that were found there, and produced the same results. The same trials had to be endured; the same dangers to be met and the same burdens to be borne that were the common lot of the early settlers.
The fathers of this church knew something of the Indian troubles, that hung like a dark cloud over this county for many years; they shared the burdens and experienced the waste of the war of Independence, and were not exempt from the excitement and embarrassment occasioned, as noted elsewhere, by the "Whisky Insurrection" and not a few of them were called upon to take part in the War of 1812. All these military and political disturbances seriously hindered the progress of civilization, and greatly retarded the growth of the church.
Among the names of those who seem to have been prominent in those early times, and appear on our church record, we may mention the following: Hoffmans, Pricks, Momyers, Pores, Coders, Merits, Houghs, (Hochs) Shupes, Rhoades, Heplers, (Heblers,) Smiths, Hengstellers, Hohenshells and others.
Descendants of most of these are still in the church, but we have not held as many of them as we should have done. This is no doubt owing to several causes, some of which are easily understood, whilst others lie deeper and cannot be fully accounted for. The language question was one cause, and another was, too little public service.
It may be proper to state, here, that the Reformed also claimed an interest in this church for some time, but as their interest was always very small and was not cared for with much earnestness it died out in the course of time altogether. It does not appear after 1842. The Lutheran congregation has been preserved only in spite of many trials and hindrances.
The good people of the generations past as well as those of the present who have stood by this church, supported it and kept it alive and have handed it down to the present time, are to be congratulated and deserve our hearty thanks for their loyalty and fidelity to the church. It is to be hoped that the children of the fathers, who laid the foundations here long ago, will show themselves worthy of the noble sires, who now sleep in yonder God's acre besides the church.
According to the records that have come down to us there have been 15 pastors in this congregation (not counting several supplies) since its organization under Rev. J. M. Steck, who was pastor of it from the time of its permanent organization till 1820. The records indicate that Rev. J. M. Steck conducted services with a good degree of regularity, though not frequently; he performed the baptism of children, held communion at least once a year, sometimes oftener, and performed such other ministerial acts as were necessary, such as marriages, pastoral visitations and burial of the dead.
At the first recorded communion service held by Father Steck, 14 persons were present; other communions were held in the years following with gradually increasing numbers. In 1820 Rev. John M. Steck resigned this congregation and early in 1821 Rev, Jonas Mechling became his successor. He served this congregation for 21 years in connection with a number of others, for he had a very large field of labor. He could not give this congregation much attention beyond holding one service a month and sometimes less frequently. The membership gradually increased as the communicant list shows. During his pastorate there is a record of 290 infant baptisms, 74 confirmations and the highest number that communed at one time was 69. At the last communion service in 1842, 61 persons were present This would indicate a membership of at least 75 or so, estimating the usual number of absentees.
In 1842 Rev. Jonas Mechling resigned this congregation and Rev. C. H. Hussey became his successor, who had pastoral charge for two years. In 1842 an English constitution was adopted, and the name Hoffman's Evangelical Lutheran Church was given to this congregation, in honor of Henry Hoffman, who was a benefactor of this congregation, as has been noted, and a monument has been erected in the Hoffman's cemetery to his memory by members and friends of this congregation, which marks the place where his remains were buried.
Under the ministry of Rev. C. H. Hussey this congregation suffered great loss. He was a Lutheran, not from conviction or by education, but by accident. He had no proper knowledge of the history, doctrines and usages of the Lutheran Church, nor had he any sympathy with the true spirit of Lutheranism. He broke up the congregation known as the "Fork's Church," and sadly wrecked this congregation by his new methods, which gave offense and drove not a few from the congregation. He divided the church into two parts. He had only some 30 communicants while his predecessors had over 60. Some one has made the following record after Rev. Hussey had resigned Hoffman's church. "Some spiritual libertines have injured the cause of Christ here, the evil of which will take time and grace to remedy. God grant to enlighten the people and bless and save the church."
After the resignation of Rev. Hussey, in 1844, Rev. J. Selle, of the Ohio Synod, served this congregation for a short time, as a supply in connection with West Newton. In 1845 Rev. Michael J. Steck took charge of this church, and was pastor of it till the autumn, of 1847, as his record of ministerial acts shows.
Soon after the resignation of Rev. Michael J. Steck, Rev. W. S. Emery was called, who became pastor of this congregation in connection with West Newton and Seanor's Church. He served continuously for nearly n years, and faithfully ministered to the people in word and sacraments. He held services on each alternate Sunday as far as possible and administered the holy communion twice each year. He added a number of adults to the membership, baptized 96 children and conducted a number of funerals. He resigned the parish in 1858, in order to accept a call from the Lutheran Church, in Indiana, Pennsylvania. His resignation was followed by a vacancy of one year.
Rev. George Gaumer, recently called to his reward, held one communion service, and Rev. Simon's also rendered some service. In 1859 Rev. S. B. Lawson became pastor of Hoffman's church and served it in connection with the West Newton parish till February, 1865, when the Master called him to his reward. Rev. Lawson. like Emery, preached to this congregation on every alternate Sunday, and he held two communion services annually. He baptized 33 children and added a number to the membership of the congregation. He was succeeded by Rev. J. P. Hentz, who was pastor for one year. He was a faithful man, and did good work among the people during his short pastorate. We have heard him spoken of in words of praise.
In 1866 Rev. H. J. H. Lemcke received and accepted a call from this congregation He served it for six years, yet there are only a few recorded ministerial acts by which we may form an estimate of his work ; but we know from the testimony of the people who were under his ministry that he won their esteem and approbation for his fidelity and worth as a minister of Christ. He did not add many members to the congregation, but he left it in peace and harmony, which is in itself an element of success.
It was during the first year of his pastorate that the present church was built. In April, 1866, a congregational meeting was held at which it was resolved to build. In May following another meeting was held when a soliciting committee was appointed and Adam Pore, George Momyer, and George Frick were appointed a building committee. The lot on which the present church stands was purchased from Henry Shupe for $50, the deed for which was made to Adam Pore, J. B. Hepler and J. C. Merrit in trust for the Hoffman's Church.
In the summer of 1866, the work of church building was carried successfully forward. About midsummer the corner stone was laid, and by the first of October the church was completed, and on the 16th of the same month it was set apart to the worship of God with joyous and appropriate services.
Rev. J. K. Melhorn was present on the occasion and preached the dedication sermon and Rev. H. J. H. Lemcke, the pastor, performed the act of consecration. The church is a plain brick building, situated on a very beautiful spot alongside of the cemetery and is well built on a good stone foundation, with slate roof. It is finished and furnished without any unnessary ornaments. It has recently been neatly papered and painted. It is 30x36 feet in size and cost $1,750.
Rev. Lemcke continued his pastorate till 1872 when this large parish was divided and rearranged, as has been noted elsewhere. Hoffman's church was united with St. Paul's, Seanors, to constitute a new parish, Rev. John Singer was called to become pastor. He took charge in 1873, and served it very faithfully till August, 1876, when he was summoned by the Master to lay down his office. After the death of Rev. J. Singer the parish was vacant and a Mr. A. G. Wilson, from Ohio, on his own recommendation, came into this church and preached to the people for a short time, but suddenly departed. In 1877 Rev. J. S. Fink, of Manor Station, became pastor and served the congregation quite successfully for five years. He baptized 9 children, confirmed 27 adults, and received others by letters of transfer. The congregation did well under his ministry and he was esteemed among the people, but, unfortunately, on the 25th of October, 1881, he was compelled to lay down his office. Rev. S. K. Herbster became his successor soon after, as Hoffman's was again united with West Newton parish, and served it for 9 years faithfully with word and sacrament. He left only a few data on the church record, but he has a good record among this people. We find a record of 4 baptisms of children and 14 confirmations, and the number of communicants 37. The membership was about the same when he resigned as when he took charge. At the first and last communion service 24 persons were present.
Rev. Herbster resigned in 1891, and accepted a call from the Irwin parish, soon after his resignation. Rev. J. H. Kline, of Scottdale, took charge of this church in connection with St. Paul's Scottdale, and held service here every alternate Sunday. At his first communion service some 24 people were present. He awakened a new interest in this congregation and in April, 1892, he received 16 persons into the communion of the church by baptism, confirmation and letter of transfer, and at the second communion 62 were present. He continued to labor in this field till 1895, when he resigned the Scottdale parish on account of decline in health and accepted a call from Donegal parish. He was succeeded, soon after his resignation, by Rev. J. C. P. Rupp, of McKeesport, who also ministered to this congregation as Rev. T. H. Kline had done on each alternate Sunday. He was Pastor of this congregation for four years and has reported 3 baptisms, 5 confirmations and received several others by letter of transfer.
Rev. Rupp resigned Hoffman's church in 1899, and the Southern Conference at its spring meeting in Saltsburg, in 1899, requested the Rev. E. I. Reed, to supply this church on every alternate Sunday afternoon, which he did for three months beginning with September, 1st 1899, and held one communion service. In December (1899) Rev. Reed requested Rev. W. F. Ulery, of Greensburg, to relieve him of the responsibility of taking care of Hope church because it imposed too much additional work upon him. The latter accepted the offer and began to hold services on the third Sunday in December, 1899, and has continued to minister to these people till the present, on every alternate Sunday. He has instructed and confirmed 10 persons, has baptized 10 children, married three couples, buried two of the members and administered the Holy Communion six times to the congregation, as well as to a number of persons privately.
There are some 60 names on our church roll; but there are only about 40 active members connected with the congregation. Two have died within the last year, and five have been dismissed.
During the summer of 1900 the church was neatly papered and the ceiling and all the woodwork painted at a cost of about $50. A Sunday School was organized and carried on successfully for a few months, but as the church services were only conducted on every alternate Sunday, the school was not so well attended on the off Sundays. Then as fall approached the people living at some distance from the church did not get there in time for Sunday school services, thus by and by it was broken up. No attempt was made the next year to reorganize it.
In October, 1900, Hoffman's Church celebrated its centennial with a good degree of interest. The services began on Sunday, October the 21st and continued five days". Rev. Edmund Belfour, D. D., president of the Pittsburg synod, and Rev. R. G. Roseubaum, president of the Southern Conference, Revs. A. LYount, D. D. and J. Sarver, D. D., and S. K. Herbster, E. L. Reed and Luther D. Reed assisted the pastor on this interesting occasion.
On the 18th of November a congregational meeting was called, the object of which was the consideration and adoption of a new constitution and the election of officers. After the constitution was read and considered, it was unanimously adopted, and the following named persons were elected as the church council: Elders—George Pore and Paul Hough, Sr.; deacons—Frank B. Momyer, Jacob L. Hough, William Albig, and William E. Momyer; trustees—Joseph Momyer and Lafayette Shupe.
The following is the list of pastors of Hoffman's church :— Rev. John M. Steck, from organization till 1820; Rev. Jonas Mechling, 182 1 till 1 842; Rev. C. H. Hussey, from 1842-1844; Rev. J. Selle, supply, 1844-1845; Rev. Michael J. Steck, 1845-1847; Rev. W. S. Emery, 1847-1853; Rev. Simons, supply, 1 858-1 859; Rev. S. B. Law-son, 1 859-1 865; Rev. J. P. Hentz, 1865-1866; Rev. H. J. H. Lemcke, 1 866-1872; a vacancy, supplied by one Wilson; Rev. Jacob Singer, 1873-1876; Rev. J. S. Fink, 18771881; Rev. S. K. Herbster, 1882-1891; Rev. J. H. Kline, 18911 895; Rev. J. C. F. Rupp, 1895-1899; Rev. E. L. Reed, supply, three months; Rev. W. F. Ulery, December, 1899 to the present.
The cemetery was originally laid out about the time that the congregation was started. At first it only contained about one acre. Some time afterwards one acre and a half were added, purchased from Henry Shupe for $1 35, and last year another addition was made containing about half an acre, at a cost of $1 50. The cemetery was incorporated in 1 889 under the title of Hoffman Cemetery Company, controlled by a board of trustees, which is self perpetuating. Hoffman's cemetery has a beautiful location. The situation and lay of the ground, as well as the value and beauty of its tombstones and monuments, make it the equal of the best cemeteries of its size in Westmoreland county. There is a long list here waiting for the resurrection morning. There are many quite old graves, for many of the prominent people of South Huntingdon township are buried here, as well as most of the founders and early fathers of this congregation.
Pages 157-166. History of the Southern conference of the Pittsburg synod of the Evangelical Lutheran church; William Frederick Ulery, Adolphus Le Roy Yount; Church Register Co., 1903
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