St. Peter's Lutheran Church Chester Springs History

St. Peter's Lutheran Church Chester Springs

St. Peter's Lutheran Church Up Through the 1960's

The era of the United Lutheran Church on Pikeland Hill began, as did the previous epochs, as part of a nation-wide movement. In conjunction with the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Reformation, three national Lutheran organizations--- the General Synod, the General Council, and the United Synod of the South, joined in forming the United Lutheran Church of America on November 18, 1918.

Less than two weeks later, the General Synod congregation and the General Council congregation on Pikeland Hill united into one congregation. Faced with the loss of the building of Middle Pikeland, and realizing that the differences which divided them in the past century no longer applied to the twentieth century, the two congregations met as one, elected a new council for the United congregation, and set in order the financial affairs. The Rev. Edward H. Trafford, who had been pastor of Upper Pikeland, was elected pastor of the United congregation on December 1, 1918.

Pastor Trafford resigned from the parish in July 1919, on account of health, and was succeeded by the Rev. G. S. Seaman in November 1919.

Certain improvements to the property were undertaken during the first years of the United congregation. In August 1919, the council authorized the tearing down of the walls of the Middle church. This was done and the ground leveled and sown in grass. A portion of the corner stone of the Middle Church can still be seen today lying along the cemetery fence near the place where the church building once stood. In 1919 a wall was built in front of the church, a fence placed upon the wall, and the ground leveled to the height of the wall. In 1920 the choir space at the church was enlarged. Extensive repairs in 1923 included the replastering and repainting of the outside. In 1925 a curtain was placed around the gallery for Sunday School classes, and in 1926 book racks were ordered for the church. Improvements to the parsonage in Kimberton during 1919 and 1920 included the construction of a new stable or ďgarageĒ on the grounds. Lumber was purchased to build an outside toilet at the parsonage and Pastor Seaman offered to do the work. The parsonage was electrically lighted in 1923. In 1924 the Sewing Circle purchased an enameled range for the parsonage and an automatic water system was installed in 1926.

The 150th anniversary of the congregation was celebrated on August 29, 1920. Pastor Seaman prepared a brief history of the congregation, which was published for the occasions. At the morning service the Rev. H. A. Weller, D.D., president of the Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania addressed the congregation. At the afternoon service greetings were brought by former pastors and those pastors of congregations affiliated with St. Peterís over the years. The guests present that day signed the book in which the minutes of congregational meetings are kept to this day. Their names may be found following page 83 in this minute book.

In April of 1922, a group of ladies of the church met in Kimberton to form the Sewing Circle.

Rev. G. S. Seaman resigned at the end of December 1926. During the following year the council concerned itself with the endowment fund of the congregation. On November 7, 1927, and January 16, 1928, money was invested in stocks and bonds of various utility companies.

On January 8, 1928, the council resolved: ďto establish a permanent fund for the upkeep of the cemetery and the Church Council was directed to make provisions for the same.Ē Here it might be appropriate to say a few things about the history of the cemetery. We assume that the cemetery was begun the same time as the congregation. In fact, there is a tradition that ďprevious to the worship of God on Pikeland Hill by the Protestants, there existed an Indian burying ground. This is borne out by several stones being cut with figures of hearts and trees, which may possibly be Indian markings. The oldest date and stone is 1690.Ē Originally the cemetery was jointly controlled by the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. When the Lutherans divided in 1840, the desire to worship near the graves of their ancestors was cited by the German Lutherans as a chief reason for erecting a second church on this hill. Again in 1889 when the English Lutherans withdrew from the Union Church, nearness to the cemetery was cited as the reason for building across the road.

A deed in the Chester County Historical Society dated 1870 indicates that by that time lots were sold to individuals and clear title to the use of the land given to the lot owner. Such was not always the case. Only two years before the council of the Upper Church ordered that strangers were to pay $2.00 for each burial in the old graveyard, while for contributing members there was to be no charge. This indicates that lots were not sold but that appropriate arrangements were made for each burial. Lots were sold by the Upper Church by 1873, when $8.00 was set as the price of a lot in the burying ground. Other charges relating to burials are mentioned over the years. In 1891 a charge of $2.00 was set for the use of the church for funerals to all persons outside of the congregation. In 1906 and again in 1910 it was first requested and then ordered that lot holders pay at least one dollar annually for the upkeep of the cemetery.

The establishment of the trust fund in 1928 put the care of the cemetery on a firmer footing. In July of that year the congregation executed an agreement with what was then the Phoenixville Trust Company to set up and manage a fund for the purpose of maintaining the cemetery. Income from this fund was to be used for the maintenance of the cemetery, with unused income being added to the principal each year. After the fund reached $10,000 or more, excess income could be used for other purposes of the church. If the congregation should cease to exist, the bank will take care of the cemetery, and pay excess income to the denomination for use in mission purposes.

For a number of years persons were paid to mow the cemetery. Then from the mid-fifties until the mid-sixties the members of the congregation mowed the cemetery as volunteers, during which years the fund was built up well past the $10,000 aggregate envisioned by the council in 1928. Today income is sufficient to pay persons to mow the cemetery as needed during the summer.

In 1928 there began the longest pastorate in our congregation since that of the first pastor--- the ministry of Lewis S. Trump which lasted twenty years. The installation of a pipe organ was a highlight of the early part of Pastor Trumpís ministry. The congregation agreed to purchase this in 1930 after discussions which had been going on at least since 1927. In that year the council contacted the societies of the church for contributions toward the purchase of a pipe organ. This was dedicated with appropriate services which included the observance of the 160th anniversary of the congregation in 1931.

For a number of years the endowment of the church was invested in real estate. In recent years many hours were spent at council meetings discussing the upkeep of these houses. They were all sold by 1966.

Among improvements made to the church during these years was the painting of the interior in 1936. Installation of electric service at the church was approved in 1937. This had first been discussed in 1928. The contract in 1937 called for a minimum charge of $2 per month--- costs have risen since then.

In 1947 a concrete block building at the lower end of the parking lot was constructed. The sheds which stood along the wall had been removed in part as early as 1929, and the remainder were destroyed by fire during the early 1940ís. In March of 1948 the Rev. Lewis S. Trump presented his resignation. He had served at West Pikeland almost 21 years and 45 years in the ministry.

After the Second World War the American churches experienced a period of boom that lasted about fifteen years. St. Peterís shared in this period of prosperity for churches. The new day dawned with the calling of Mr. Robert W. Kiefer, a student at the Philadelphia seminary, as pastor in April 1948. With the coming of a young pastor, several changes were made in the worship life. Candles were placed on the altar; Lenten services were held jointly with Centennial, Kimberton, with the offerings designated for Lutheran World Action; the Advent Wreath was introduced; new hymnals were purchased and the racks enlarged; gowns were purchased for the choir; Rogation Sunday was observed with the planting of shrubs around the church; an acolyte and server were selected to assist in The Service; a missal and missal stand were placed on the altar; a bowl was purchased for the baptismal font; the parish register was brought up to date by the removal of the names of those who were no longer active in the congregation. Renovations included the placing of new cushions on the pews at a cost of $600 and the painting of the inside of the church. Beginning in 1950, the annual congregational meeting was held in conjunction with a covered-dish supper. Lodge halls, a private home, and the basements of other churches were used until 1957, when our own basement was completed and used for the annual meeting. In September of 1952 Pastor Kiefer presented his resignation in order to enter the Navy as a chaplain.

In January of 1953, Seminarian Paul Howells was elected as pastor of the West Pikeland Parish. One of the first activities he reported was a cooperative Vacation Church School with Kimberton. Held at Centennial Church, the school had 13 teachers and 80 pupils enrolled. Previous to this time, Vacation Church Schools had been held in cooperation with a number of churches. For several years, all-day outdoor sessions were held at St. Peterís with children from this church, St. Johnís, and Central of Phoenixville, and Centennial, Kimberton.

At the annual congregational meeting, January 29, 1954, an offering was received to start a Parish House Fund. With this building program began a series of improvements which continued for a number of years. Prior to the agreement to build new facilities at the church, an altar rail was installed in July 1953, and a screen put in front of the organ. During the year 1954, the windows were removed and releaded at a cost of $2100. At the congregational meeting in 1955, plans were presented by the building committee for excavating the basement. At the next yearís meeting, it was decided to excavate the basement instead of erecting a parish house as a separate structure. In 1955, the Sewing Circle sponsored the first annual Country Fair on the fourth Saturday in August. The money realized from this activity was applied first to the cost of the basement, and since then has helped to finance many improvements to the churchís property. Work on the basement was begun April 1956, with a basic contract for $13,495.

During the time of the construction of the basement, Pastor Howells resigned, and the Rev. Ralph A. Boyer, III, was called as pastor by Centennial and St. Peterís. A reception for Pastor and Mrs. Boyer in December 1956 was the first dinner in the new basement for the entire congregation.

At the congregational meeting in 1957, the Long Range Planning Committee outlined its functions. Under the guidance of this committee subsequent improvements to the property were made. In March 1959, the partition wall which had formerly been used for the primary department was torn out by the men of the congregation to make a spacious narthex. This was one of many projects carried out by work parties to finish the basement and remodel the nave. Improvements to the church had a slight setback in December 1959, when a puff-back of the oil burner soiled the church. The cost of cleaning the walls and ceiling was covered by insurance. In the beginning of 1960, the church was painted, the timbers were stained, and new red cloth drapes for the choir and balcony were installed. June of 1960 saw the authorization of cement walks. In December 1961, plans for new flooring, carpeting, and refinishing of pews were revealed. This was completed, and the new furnishings were dedicated September 23rd by Pastor Boyer. In October of 1963, the paving of the parking lot and driveway was approved. In April 1965, a work party installed the communion card racks on the backs of the pews.

About the time of Easter 1965, the organ, installed in 1931, stopped functioning. After much investigation by the Worship and Music Committee, the congregation met in June and accepted the recommendation to purchase a Baldwin electronic organ for the sum of $4395. In June of 1966, a work party installed folding partitions in the basement to make individual classrooms for the Sunday Church School.

About this time the West Pikeland Parish was divided, and St. Peterís became an independent congregation. The details of the division will be discussed at a later point. As far as building programs are concerned, the division made plans for a parsonage necessary. In May of 1966, the parsonage on Hareís Hill Road, Kimberton, owned by St. Peterís for many years, was sold and the money set aside for construction of a new parsonage. As early as 1964, members of the congregation had been negotiating with neighboring landowners with regard to purchasing a plot of land near the church. During the summer of 1967, a small plot adjoining the church was purchased from the Lower Church. On this was erected a parsonage. A contract for $27,500 was given in October of 1967, and excavation begun on October 31, 1967. Construction proceeded over the winter, and Pastor and Mrs. Conz moved in May 10, 1968. The parsonage and organ were dedicated at The Service on September 29, 1968. One more change to the church property should be mentioned before the close of this section. In May of 1967, the four trees that stood in front of the church for many years, were cut down and replaced with four young trees. It will be a number of years before shade is again enjoyed in front of the church.