The history of Peace-Tohickon Evangelical Lutheran Church traces its roots back to the mid-18th century, when a group of German immigrants settled an area of William Penn’s Walking Purchase near the Tohickon Creek. Early settlers worshipped in private homes, but by January 14, 1743, a small log wooden church/schoolhouse was built, and the Lutheran and Reformed congregations worshipped together in the St. Peter’s Union Church. By 1749 this first congregation divided into Lutheran and Reformed entities when more pastors became available. Early leaders included some vagrant preachers who were not officially sanctioned by Henry Melchoir Mulhenberg, charged with overseeing this area of Lutheran churches.
The first official pastor was John Martin Schaeffer, who served for three years, beginning in 1750, and was not the preferred choice of Muhlenberg. Schaeffer also worked as a school master. Around this time the Tohickon Union group split from the Keller’s Lutheran group. Tohickon wanted the right to choose their own pastor, while Keller’s accepted the recommendations of Muhlenberg.
The French and Indian War (1754-1763) led to increased attacks by Indians on the local community when the British were defeated. The second pastor, Jacob Frederick Schertlein, only served for one year, and complained of Indian attacks as he traveled among six churches located from Bucks county to Macungie.
Pastor John Joseph Roth was the third pastor for three years (1755-1758) and was a former Roman Catholic. In his absence the local school teacher led funeral services and read sermons for worship.
Next came Pastor John Wolfgang Leitzel for five years (1760-1765) and he also worked as a school teacher. Complaints later surfaced about the incomplete baptismal records he kept for church members.
The fifth pastor was Philip Henry Rapp (served 1765-1773), a strong leader who preferred to serve congregations opposed to Muhlenberg’s ideals. During his tenure the first stone church was built in 1766, and the text used at the dedication came from I Kings, chapter 8: 28-29, which mentions a “temple of peace (or prayer),” thus giving the church its name “Friedenskirche” (Peace church).
With the coming of the American Revolution Peace had a change of heart and now desired pastors who were approved by the Lutheran Ministerium. The sixth pastor, Conrad Roeller, served for 21 years (1774-1795) and apparently met the job description of “gifted preacher.” He also ran a gristmill and sawmill for extra income while he served three churches. Now that Peace was a part of the Lutheran Ministerium, they had to adjust to using a regular liturgy and follow a structured church policy in the administration of church affairs. At Roeller’s death, lay members ran things during a brief pastoral vacancy.
Roeller’s brother-in-law, Frederick William Geisenhainer, became the seventh pastor for a three-year term (1795-1798). He had been tutored by Roeller, as there was no Lutheran Seminary in America yet. Members of the union church moved easily between Reformed and Lutheran, and some “intermarriage” took place between members. The first organ was installed, a one-manual instrument without pedals. It was built by the famous Moravian organ builder, David Tannenberg, of Bethlehem and Lititz, Pennsylvania.
The eighth pastor, John George Roeller, served for a lengthy 42 years(!) (1798-1840) and was the son of the previous Pastor Conrad Roeller. The son worked hard to create a stable congregational life, and the membership grew to 500 souls. In 1817 Lutherans celebrated the 300th anniversary of the Lutheran church, and decided to continue using German exclusively in worship services instead of switching to English. As a result, some young people left the church to join other English-speaking congregations.
A new stone church was built in 1838 for Tohickon Union Church with close cooperation between the Lutherans and the Reformed. It cost $3000, and had a wooden floor (instead of dirt) and interior heat. The next year a new organ, built by Krause, was installed. This period of time included a lot of strong volunteerism from the membership.
Pastor Engelbert Peixoto of Austria was the ninth pastor from 1841-1864. He was first ordained as a Roman Catholic priest, but later converted to Lutheranism. He had 11 children, and his conservative philosophy meshed well with the doctrinal nature of synod in the mid-19th century.
During the Civil War, the N. Pennsylvania Railroad came through Perkasie, and the 10th pastor, Frederick Walz, served from 1864 to 1892. At one point he was responsible for seven churches in the parish, but normally served just three. Membership in the three churches (Tohickon, Old Goshenhoppen and Indianfield) reached a very healthy 1150 members, and Pastor Walz also founded new churches, including St. Michael’s in Sellersville. Some Tohickon members transferred to St. Michael’s for its closer location.
In 1872 there was controversy over adopting a new constitution for the Lutherans alone to follow (as opposed to using the existing constitution of the union church). Issues included reducing the pastor’s salary by half, but this was later resolved with extra Christmas gifts to him that year. The rural population of the Tohickon church had time-consuming duties at home on the family farm. They were not able to volunteer much time to help out the charity and missionary societies of the town of Perkasie. This lack of time also affected the slow development of Sunday schools at the church.
In 1880 a bad storm took off the leaking roof of the union church. Subscribers from both entities quickly raised money for a new roof and other improvements. The congregation now desired some services to be held in English. Pastor Walz, a native of Germany, resigned in 1892 partly because he was unable to offer this.
The 11th pastor called was Clinton Fetter, born in Bedminster, PA, who served for 29 years (1893-1922). He encouraged the church to become more resourceful, and modernized the by-laws for the better management of church life. The average attendance at Holy Communion services was 250. In 1917 the cemetery property was transferred to church ownership. An electricity line was run and donated to the church around this time and electric lights installed. A new Durner organ from Quakertown was installed in 1918, and remains at St. Peter’s today. Organist and choir director H. C. Detweiler served for 50 years until 1921.
A union Sunday school was begun along with a Sunday school orchestra. Harvest Home services in the fall brought in the largest donations of the year. Non-perishable foods went to the Orphans Home in Germantown, with perishable foods going to the pastor. Wagon sheds near the church to park horse and wagons were replaced in 1933 with a parking lot as people began driving cars to church. With the convenience of driving cars people began to request more frequent church services than the twice-monthly gatherings they usually had. The union church began to experience problems with scheduling more services to accommodate the separate Lutheran and Reformed entities. This was the beginning of some discontent with the union church situation. The Lutherans wanted extra evening services, but their proposal was rejected when the majority did not want to change the union schedule.
Edward Trafford was the 12th pastor for eight years (1924-1932), and began as a supply pastor before becoming the regular one. A strong and opinionated leader, he exhorted members to spend more time serving the church instead of local clubs and community organizations. He pushed young people to attend Luther League, and praised the Peace Ladies Aid Society for producing two quilts a day! He asked the parish churches (Peace-Tohickon, Kellers and St. Paul’s, Appelbachsville) to provide a parsonage for the pastor, and in 1935 a house was purchased in Perkasie at 5th and Vine Sts. The Depression era brought concerns over money by Church Council, but Pastor Trafford encouraged members to cooperate and help each other out during the bad economic times. Members gave more of their own time and labor to support the work of the church even if they had little money to offer.
The 13th pastor was Wilmer Furman (served 1934-1943), a compassionate and gentle leader. Church organizations expanded to include the Missionary Society, Luther League, Ladies Aid Society, Usher’s Union (Brotherhood), Children of the Church, and the Union Cemetery Association. Pastor Furman resigned in 1943 to serve as a chaplain in the military during World War II. Twenty-two men from the church also enlisted to serve in the armed forces in Europe.
Pastor Merwyn Shelly became the 14th pastor for 29 years (1943-1972). A dynamic leader, he inspired increased church attendance after the war ended, and 78 children in the Sunday school had perfect attendance one year. Indoor plumbing was added to the church, and members spent many hours microfilming the church records for preservation. In the 1950s local community groups such as Boy Scouts held their meetings at the church; a Vacation Bible School was begun and a nursery was added during worship to enable mothers to attend. The post-war baby boom generation filled the union church, yet it increased the problems of scheduling conflicts and crowded space. In 1953 the church bought two nearby one-room school houses and Sunday school classes were held there. By 1957 it was again too crowded in the union church, and with the earlier encouragement of the Ministerium, Peace-Tohickon severed its union of 215 years with St. Peter’s Reformed Church. Both Peace and St. Peter’s voted separately to dissolve the union church, with St. Peter’s agreeing to do so by a larger majority than did Peace. The minority concerns from older Peace members included 1) resistance to change; 2) money to pay for and maintain a new church building, and 3) fear of taking that risk.
The next year (1958) the two-church Lutheran parish of Peace-Tohickon and Keller’s church also separated. Pastor Shelly decided to stay with the former as they would need strong and continuous leadership during the construction of a new church building.
The cornerstone of the new church was laid on July 19, 1959, and the church property occupied land bordered by Rt. 313, Old Bethlehem Road and Branch Road, about one-half mile away from the former union church. Various church groups, choirs and local community groups added donations to the private gifts from members to pay for the new building. A service of dedication of the completed church was held on July 24, 1960.
During construction a Roosevelt organ was bought from the Keneseth Israel Congregation in Philadelphia, and was installed in pipe chambers at the front of the church behind the altar. This activity helped to unify the Peace congregation after their separation from the union church, as everyone was involved in helping to bring an organ to the new church. The men helped to pack and transport the organ parts in their trucks back to Hagersville for storage in their barns until summer. The women cut thousands of leather pieces needed to rebuild the organ, and other men made organ parts in their own shops. The organ contractor remarked that he had worked in many churches, but “had never seen anything to beat the spirit shown by the members here.”
A new church building brought new challenges to Peace-Tohickon. Pastor Shelly wrote that “this is the first year in the 218 year history of our congregation that we walked alone with God…we become more and more aware of our responsibilities and privileges; and also that the future is influenced by the decision of today.” Shelly averaged 1300 pastoral calls each year (more than three a day!). An evening Bible study helped in the training of new Sunday school teachers. Several Girl Scout, Brownies, Boy and Cub Scout troops began at the church. The church also sponsored athletic teams in softball and basketball, and one player (John Tomlinson) later entered the ministry as the first “son of the congregation.”
Stained glass windows were paid for and installed over a 20-year period beginning in 1965. The congregation presented Pastor Shelly with a new Ford automobile in 1968 (his 25th anniversary, and the church’s 225th) and there was a mortgage burning in 1971, only 11 years after the dedication of the new church building. A son of Pastor Shelly, James Shelly, entered the ministry in the 1970s and became yet another “son of the congregation.”
Arthur Frieburg became the 15th pastor in 1972 for ten years. He was active in the local community through the ministerial radio broadcasts WNPV from Lansdale, and as a chaplain at Grandview Hospital in Sellersville. Church groups of all ages at Peace were very active in the 1970s, including the Teen Group, Social Ministry, Evangelism and Stewardship committees, and Lutheran Church Women.
The 16th pastor was David Schaeffer who served for eight years (1982-1990). During his tenure a “daughter of the congregation,” Pam Gabel, graduated from the Philadelphia Seminary. Some women began a liturgical dance group at Peace, and Lenten soup suppers added fellowship opportunities. Youth traveled to Indiana for a “Power in the Cross” youth event. Pastor Schaeffer continued service in the WNPV radio broadcasts and as Chaplain for Grandview Hospital. The new church building was re-dedicated in 1985 at the 25th anniversary of its completion.
Dean Bickel became the 17th pastor in 1990 and served for 18 years until 2008. He helped to bring the church office into the computer age, and initiated a contemporary worship service called “Full Circle,” now known as “New Spirit.” Peace celebrated its 250th anniversary in 1993. An additional Early service was added to the Sunday schedule, and organist and choir director William Heefner retired after 51 years of service. Large bequests by several longtime members added to the financial security of the church. The music program expanded with the hiring of three musicians to lead various vocal and instrumental music groups. The youth program benefitted from the leadership of several young seminarians who served as Christian Education Directors and/or Vicars.
Peace-Tohickon Evangelical Lutheran Church is now in the process of seeking its next pastor to guide the church in the coming years. The faith of the congregation from generation to generation for 265 years continues to be strong as it looks forward to new leadership in 2009.
–Lou Carol Fix, Congregational Transition Team
(I am indebted to many members who spoke to me about the church’s history, but especially to Lola Stever and Melissa Moyer who shared their written historical accounts and scrapbooks with me. My report is also drawn in large part from the book written by Susan Wombwell Clemens, Faith and Community: A History of Peace-Tohickon Evangelical Lutheran Church, Perkasie, Pennsylvania, 250th Anniversary, 1743-1993 (Indian Valley Printing, Ltd., 1992).