FAITH BIBLE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH
151 DONERVILLE ROAD       LANCASTER, PENNSYLVANIA 17603       717-285-1900
AWANA NEWS
HOME
CHURCH NEWS

HISTORY OF FAITH BIBLE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH
1950's
1960's
1970's
1980's
1990's
2000's
BRIEF HISTORY OF MENONITE BRETHREN IN CHRIST/BIBLE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH

                                  THE FABULOUS FIFTIES

It was the fifties and war raged in Korea until an armistice was signed in 1953. General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower became president. The first hydrogen bomb was detonated. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death for treason. Castro led an uprising in Cuba. Many school districts in the South defied the Supreme Court ruling on segregation.

It was the fifties and Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine. Russia launched Sputnik and America launched three earth-orbiting satellites. Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states. Oh yes, U.S. first class postage was increased to four cents.

It was the fifties and the Three Stooges made their television debut. I Love Lucy and Dragnet became favorite TV programs. Mr. Potato Head became the first toy advertised on television. David Seville produced The Chipmunk Song and a singer by the name of Elvis skyrocketed to fame.

And, during this time, great things were happening for a new congregation of the Mennonite Brethren In Christ Church, in Lancaster. A charter membership included 31 members: Earl and Harriet Gentzler; Clara Hagens; Horace, Aletha, and Barry Kauffman; James and Beulah Koch; Merle and Bertha Lefever; Allen, Elsie, and Robert Minnig; Parke, Margaret, Kenneth, Shirley, Ruth, and Esther Rankin; Harry, Alice, Donald, Daniel, and Kathleen Sheffy; Raymond and Elizabeth Snyder; Mary Sturgis; Mr. and Mrs. Harry Tyson; Herman and Helen Wollwerth. During the first ten years this new congregation had its membership grow from 31 to 47 and its Sunday School attendance grow to an average of 106.

1950 James G. Koch assigned as founding pastor
7/22/50 First meeting in tent at Broad and Orange Street. First Sunday School session on August 6 saw 28 in

    attendance with Horace Kauffman, Mrs. Beula Koch, Parke Rankin and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Sheffy

    serving as teachers
9/3/50 First meeting in Malta Temple, E. King Street
10/17/50 First church social, Thanksgiving party, held at Malta Temple

2/7/51 First local conference with Jansen E. Hartman as chairman
4/30/51 Congregation approves resolution to have church built by Benjamin Groff at cost of $23,177.
5/23/51 First election of officers (S.S. Supt.-Harry Sheffy, Steward - Horace Kauffman, Building Fund
  
      Collector - Raymond Snyder, Merle Lefever and Horace Kauffman, trustees
7/51 Groundbreaking for new building
8/11/51 Tent meetings held at Old Lafayette School. First VBS held.
8/51 Cornerstone laid for new building
9/51 First class leaders elected - Parke Rankin and Horace Kauffman
11/1/51 First services in basement of new church at Prospect and Hager Sts.

First Church Building on Prospect Street

1/1/52 New building dedicated (A.G. Wooding-scripture, F.B. Hertzog - prayer, P.T. Stengele - message,
       Jansen Hartman - dedication, W.F. Heffner - prayer,

       R.C. Reichenbach - benediction)
4/2/52 Womens’ Missionary Society organized
11/14/52 Annual Conference recognizes congregation as
Mission Church

6/9/53 Menno Youth organized
9/8/53 Congregation chooses name of Faith Mennonite
Brethren In Christ Church

10/54 Frank L. Herb, Jr. assigned as second pastor
3/25/56 First meeting of Official Board

2/12/58 Congregation purchases 532 Prospect St. as a parsonage at a cost of $14,500.
9/17/58 Annual Conference grants status as self-supporting church
9/17/58 Congregation votes to recommend name change to United Bible Church
9/58 Church choir formed with Barry Kauffman as director
10/58 Rudy H. Gehman assigned as third pastor

6/23/59 Name changed to Faith Bible Fellowship Church

top

                                  THE STUNNING SIXTIES

It was the sixties and John Kennedy was elected president. The Bay of Pigs invasion failed and the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the edge of nuclear war. John Glenn orbited the earth. The Berlin War was built. The world was stunned when President Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson became president.

It was the sixties and Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Civil rights marches continued. The war in Vietnam expanded. Riots and protests abounded. Draft cards were burnt. Dr. King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Richard Nixon became president. Three American astronauts orbited the earth in Apollo 8. First man walks on the moon.

It was the sixties and Cassius Clay became the heavyweight champ. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali and announced his allegiance to the Nation of Islam. The Beetles took the country by storm. Thousands flocked to Woodstock. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In became a TV favorite. Etch-a-Sketch became a top seller. And, oh yes, Wal Mart opened its first store.

During the sixties, bearing a new name, the Faith Bible Fellowship Church of Lancaster continued to grow. By the end of the decade the membership grew to 100, the Sunday School attendance grew to an average of 165
and total receipts reached $26,666.

8/16/61 Death of Pastor Gehman
10/61 Norman H. Weiss appointed as fourth pastor
1/24/62 Congregation voted to eliminate feet washing
8/15/62 Incorporation of Local Church authorized

11/20/63 First church budget approved (General $5772, Missions $1350, Pastor $3840, Sunday School
          separate)

9/12/64 Land adjacent to church was purchased at cost of $16,472

7/66 Christian Education added to church budget
5/67 Parsonage sold for $13,500 and new parsonage was constructed at 608 Prospect St. at a cost of $22,075
10/67 John Dunn assigned as fifth pastor

5/68 First new piano purchased for church at a cost of $675
9/30/68 Position of elected building fund collector eliminated

2/16/69 Building committee appointed
7/31/69 Position of steward eliminated
8/3/69 Construction approved for new building to be built by Abram S. Horst at a cost of $119,000.
8/6/69 First unified budget adopted ($34,400)
8/10/69 Organ purchased and installed for $1,400
9/21/69 Groundbreaking for new building
11/69 First church bulletins mimeographed

top

                             THE SHIFTING SEVENTIES

It was the seventies and Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter served as president. Nixon and V.P. Spiro Agnew resigned under threat of impeachment. Jim Jones and 900 followers died in a mass suicide. Unmanned space probes explored the moon, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Uranus, and Venus. Nineteen were killed in terrorist siege at Munich Olympic Games. Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal. Radioactive leak happened at Three Mile Island.

It was the seventies and a new vocabulary sweep the world - floppy disk, microprocessor, Atari games, VCR, ultrasound, DNA, Earth Day, test tube babies, Watergate.

It was the seventies and Star Wars became one of the highest grossing films ever. Roots, Brady Bunch, Happy Days, Saturday Night Live became popular on TV. The term “rock & roll” became almost meaningless as music changed. The Beetles broke up and Elvis died. The average salary was $15,757 and the minimum wage was $3.10. Oh yes, a BMW cost $12,000.

Faith Bible Fellowship Church continued to grow with a new building and a bus ministry. During this decade the congregation reached a membership of 131 and an average Sunday School attendance of 213. Giving reached $57,936.

Second building, Seymour and Prospect Sts.

6/7/70 Position of janitor approved
8/2/70 First service held in new building.

2/20/71 Local Conferences reduced from four to two
6/15/71 Service times changed to 9 a.m. for Sunday School
        and 10:15 a.m. for worship
71 Church library started by Gary and Marlene Varner

3/72 Church hosts adjourned session of Annual Conference
5/7/72 First nominating committee appointed
5/72 First mother and daughter banquet
5/24/72 Congregation approves plans for CE building renovation, including a kitchen ($1949),
emergency lighting ($2066), and dividing curtains ($6530)
5/24/72 Congregation approves formation of a nine-person elder board
8/27/72 Parking lot addition approved at cost of $2047
9/72 First Ladies Bible study begun by Dianne Kauffman
10/25/72 1961 Reo bus purchased and bus ministry established

1/21/73 Pastor Dunn attends Bus Ministry Conference at Thomas Road Baptist Church
4/73 Church softball team established
6/10/73 Ken Good, a son of the church, appointed as student pastor
8/73 Summer film festival on church parking lot established

8/25/74 Church accepts gift of 12-passenger limousine
9/14/74 First visitation program established

4/13/75 Approval given to purchase a 1967 International bus
5/16/76 Board approved sale of bus and limousine
10/10/76 Church buys 1975 Plymouth van for $6,100

5/5/77 Board of Elders begins study of establishment of deacons

6/7/79 Pastor Dunn announced his plans to retire on September 30, 1979
6/15/79 Congregation approves repair and sealing of all parking lots and alleys ($3,353)

top

                               THE ELECTRIC EIGHTIES

It was the eighties and Ronald Regan was president, followed by George Bush. It was the time of hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts, and mega-mergers. It became the Me! Me! Me! generation of status seekers. It was a time of binge buying and credit. The vocabulary now included video games, aerobics, minivans, camcorders and talk shows. Personal computers became common in homes, offices, and schools.

It was the eighties and the Challenger exploded. 52 hostages were released after 444 days of captivity in Iran. The Berlin Wall came down. Sandra Day O’Conner became the first woman Supreme Court Justice. AIDS took its toll.

It was the eighties and news shows blossomed - Nightline, CNN Cable News, 20/20, 60 Minutes. 60 percent of homes with televisions received cable service. It was the time of the Smurfs, E.T., Cabbage Patch Dolls, and Rubik’s Cube. Oh yes, the average salary was $13.57 an hour and the minimum wage jumped to $5.15.
The eighties continued to be a time of change and growth at Faith BFC. Membership during this decade reached 220 with a high Sunday School average attendance of 201. Giving grew to $224,314 a year.

3/6/80 Middle Adult Fellowship recognized
7/13/80 David A. Thomann called as sixth pastor
12/80 Men’s Prayer Breakfast established
12/7/80 Congregation approved addition of air conditioning for church at a cost not to exceed $15,000 and
         installation of sound system at a cost not to exceed $6,000
12/7/80 Pastor Dunn hired as Pastor of Visitation

2/15/81 Evening church service changed to 7:00 P.M..
3/81 Sunday School evaluation conducted by Norman Jerome

1/82 Awana established
1/82 Comprehensive church survey conducted
8/7/82 Committee Night concept approved
11/13/82 Elders Care program initiated

1/83 AWANA holds first meeting
5/15/83 Board recommends hiring of a secretary
5/15/83 Board recommends budgeting for a pastoral intern
10/03/83 Bob Johnson appointed as pastoral intern

6/17/84 New Allen Model 520 organ approved
8/5/84 Building Committee approved
9/84 Representatives sent to be trained in Evangelism Explosion
10/10/84 Purchase of 1984 Plymouth van approved

3/31/85 Congregation approves building project at a maximum cost of $372,000
4/14/85 Groundbreaking held for new church addition
6/2/85 Sacrificial giving goal of $25,000 surpassed

Addition joining two buildings on Prospect St.

3/15/86 Used 1985 van purchase approved
6/8/86 Pastor Thomann resigned to become Director of
         Pinebrook Bible Conference
6/15/86 Church By-laws approved

6/14/87 Congregation approves call to Pastor Thomann to return as pastor
10/87 Pastor Dunn resigns to move to Florida

5/15/88 Pat Whalen hired as pastoral intern
6/88 Church sponsors summer missionary trip to South Dakota

1/15/89 Two morning worship services instituted
2/15/89 David E. Thomann hired as Pastor of Visitation
9/17/89 Dan DeLozier appointed as Pastor of Ministries

top

                               THE NUMBING NINETIES

The nineties brought the electronic age. The World Wide Web was born in 1992, changing the way we communicate (email), spend our money (online gambling, stores),  and do business (e-commerce).  By 1994, three million people were online.  By 1998, 100 million people were connected and were using internet lingo like plug-ins, FAQS, SPAM, FTP, ISP, and  phrases like "See you online", "The server's down",  or "Bill Gates". And, everyone had a cell phone.

It was the decade of the Persian Gulf War, the election of Bill Clinton, a major league baseball strike, Ronald Reagan announcing that he had Alzheimer’s Disease, the car bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the bomb at the Summer Winter Olympics in Atlanta, the reelection of the Clinton-Gore ticket, the deaths of Princess Diana (36) and Mother Teresa (87), the impeachment of Clinton, the NBA labor dispute, and the shootings at Columbine.

The trend in book selling included online bookstores and publishers like amazon.com. Borders, or Barnes and Noble. The booming economy led to record low unemployment.  The stock market reached an all time high as individuals learned to buy and trade via the internet. Fads included Tae-bo, in-line skates, beanie babies, Furby, Tickle Me Elmo, WWJD, Yo-yos, tattoos and body piercing, and video games. The ten most popular tv shows were Cheers, 60 Minutes, Home Improvement, Seinfeld, E.R., Touched by an Angel, Friends, Veronica’s Closet, NFL Monday Night Football, and Frazier.

This decade was also an exciting time of change, challenge, and growth for Faith Bible Fellowship.

5/15/90 Calendar fiscal year approved
7/15/90 Resignation of David E. Thomann accepted
8/5/90 Congregation approved housing allowance for pastor with parsonage to be used by Pastor of Ministries
        and basement for congregational use
8/11/90 Word of Life approved
11/11/90 Major renovation of Junior Department approved at cost of $25,088
11/11/90 By-laws revised, including the establishment of a Board of Deacons

91 Strategic Planning Committee appointed
91 Founding of regional Missions Consortium
4/28/91 Deacons elected for first time
6/16/91 Kevin Gehman appointed as Youth Pastor
9/91 First Celebration of Worship and Praise service
91 Renovation of primary department and construction of new office completed
91 Project Widows program developed by deacons

92 First 50-Day Spiritual Adventure held

1/22/94 Strategic Plan adopted by elders and deacons
2/27/94 Strategic Plan presented to congregation
2/94 Resignation of Kevin Gehman accepted
94 Hungary Missions Venture sends 36 to Word of Life in Toalmas, Hungary
94 Elders approve Save 1-Give 2 offering project

2/7/95 Architect presents his review of current facilities
7/26/95 Resignation of Daniel DeLozier accepted
7/95 Relocation Committee appointed
10/95 Shepherding Program approved

3/17/96 William J. Whalen hired as Pastor of Ministries
96 Church groups sent to minister in France and South Dakota
9/96 Elders set minimum price for sale of church property

2/23/97 David E. Thomann hired as Pastor of Visitation
6/97 Team of 12 sent to Brazil to help Millers with construction of a CE building
10/97 Ministry of Arts approved
10/4/97 Men of church participate in Stand in the Gap rally in Washington D.C.
11/97 M.I.G.H.T. and Women of Faith ministries approved

2/22/98 Approved purchase of property at Woods of Round Top for $730,000
4/98 Building committee appointed
6/28/98 Rudy H. Gehman Leadership Award created and given to Selma Burdess, Horace A. Kauffman, and
        Monroe Kreisher
7/13/98 Team of nine sent to help with construction of Seneca Adventure Christian Camp
8/98 Rev. John Dunn named first recipient of Pastor Emeritus Honor.
12/6/98 Brian D. Frable hired as Youth Pastor

5/30/99 Rudy H. Gehman Leadership Awards given to Barry Kauffman and Richard Gehman
7/99 Woods of Roundtop option abandoned due to rising land development costs and zoning problems
12/5/99 Approved purchase of Weaver Road property, 23 acres for $650,000
99 Sale of parsonage

top

                    THE TROUBLING TWENTY-FIRST

The new century began without all the predicted Y2K computer crashes, although the “I Love You” virus did disrupt computers worldwide. SARS and Mad Cow Disease became part of our vocabulary. George W. Bush was named president after a disputed, close election featuring controversy, hanging chads, and recounts in Florida.  Four years later he was elected to a second term.

On September 11, terrorism came to the United States when hijacked jetliners destroyed the twin towers at the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon. Within days, Islamic militant Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist network were identified as the parties behind the attacks. Anthrax-laced letters were sent to media and government officials. Suicide bombings became common worldwide. The United States battled terrorism by sending troops to Afghanistan and then to Iraq. Hussein was captured by US troops.  Insurgents lengthened the war in Iraq causing many casualties. Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the area in that part of the country caused mass evacuations. The price of gasoline and heating oil skyrocketed.

Enron came under investigation, WorldCom filed for bankruptcy, Martha Stewart was indicted, the New York Time’s editors resigned over plagiarism, at least 789 children were reported being sexually abused by 250 priests in Boston, a gay bishop was approved by the Episcopal Church, and gay marriages began to get approval and recognition. Researchers cloned an Idaho mule, the Space Shuttle exploded killing all seven crew members, and two snipers killed ten and wounded others in Washington D.C.

The Ten Commandments came under attack in many areas and Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore was removed from office for failing to remove a 5,280-pound monument of the Ten Commandments. Reality television and The American Idol became the new entertainment fads and a film, “The Passion of the Christ”, raised much controversy.

The new century also presented Faith Bible Fellowship with many changes, new opportunities, and new challenges.

00 Beginning of Joshua’s Men leadership program
6/18/00 Church property sold to New Song Fellowship Church for $525,000
7/22/00 50th Anniversary banquet at Farm and Home Center
00 Plan developed for the transition of William Whalen to ministry with A.M.F.
11/00 Congregation holds Sunday services in Ramada Inn
12/1/00 Approved hiring of a full-time custodian, Will Harris
12/00 Congregation begins to worship in transition facility, the former Calvary Church

2/26/01 Land development plans approved
4/8/01 Rudy H. Gehman Leadership Award presented to Marcella Rampy, Pat Laxton, and
Richard Matthews
4/8/01 Gregory A. Uhrich hired as Pastor of Ministries to begin employment in June
4/20/01 Settlement for new property
5/1/01 Pastor Thomann begins sabbatical
6/12/01 Pastoral Care Policy adopted
7/22/01 Dedication of new property
8/20/01 Stewardship Campaign implemented
10/31/01 First Fruits Sunday
12/31/01 Resignation of Brian Frable accepted

2/24/02 Article XI of the Bylaws removed from Bylaws and placed into an Appendix
6/02 Groundbreaking for new building
02 Marriage Savers program approved
02 Child Abuse Prevention Policy approved
8/18/02 Rudy H. Gehman Leadership Award presented to Clair E. Harstad
9/19/02 The Purpose Driven Church Plan approved
02 Dissolution of Women’s Missionary Society approved
02 Short-term Missions Policy approved
02 David E. Thomann named Pastor Emeritus

Donerville Road Property

6/15/03 First service in new building
7/20/03 Dedication of new church building
8/3/03 Open House held for new church building
10/03 Claire E. Harstad hired as Associate Pastor

1/04 Implementation of Purpose Driven Church
2/29/04 Revision of bylaws approved
2/29/04 Pastor David E. Thomann retires to relocate to
         Fellowship Terrace in Whitehall
8/01/04 Friend Day/Community Open House
04 Second service reintroduced at 9 a.m.
04 Membership Covenant adopted
07/04 Gena Bulgrien approved for missionary service

01/05 Forty day “Purpose Driven Life” ministry
03/05 Youth move ministry to Thursday nights
05 Plans begun to remodel horse barn into a youth center
08/05 Gift of $250,000 received from Hatfield Meats toward new youth center
09/25/05 Community Open House

New Softball Field

02/06  Campaign begun for $20,000 to complete softball
           field
5/13/06  Softball field dedicated and first game held on
          new field
08/08/06  Softball team wins championship of 
         Fundamental Softball League
09/23/06  Pastor Thomann honored by congregation for
          25 years of ministry at Faith

Original Horse Barn Before Upgrade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

06/21/07  Softball field named "HA Kauffman Field"
08/01/07  Softball Team wins championship of Fundamental Church League
09/09/07   Horse Barn dedicated and named
Stables Youth Center
09/16/07   Keith Long begins as youth pastor

Stables Youth Center Completed

02/08    Newer church van purchased
06/08    Pastor Thomann begins three-month sabbatical leave
07/08    Softball team wins division title of Fundamental Church League and is third place in state church tournament

 
1976 CHAMPIONS
1990 CHAMPIONS
2000 CHAMPIONS
FIRST PITCH
2006 CHAMPIONS

2007 CHAMPIONS

CELEBRATING 5 YEARS AT DONERVILLE ROAD - JUNE 15, 2008
THE BEGINNINGS
THE EXPANSION
TEMPORARY RELOCATION
THE NEW PROPERTY
DEDICATION OF PROPERTY
GROUNDBREAKING DAY
GROUNDBREAKING
CONSTRUCTION BEGINS
LAND DEVELOPMENT
DIGGING THE FOUNDATION
BUILT ON A FIRM FOUNDATION
UP GOES THE STEEL
TAKING FORM
ALMOST DONE
READY FOR INSPECTION

top

2010's

            A BRIEF HISTORY OF OUR DENOMINATION

              Mennonite Revivalists        Mennonite Brethren In Christ        Bible Fellowship Church

A Fellowship of Evangelical Mennonite Revivalists


Seven Mennonite revivalists, under pressure from their bishops to give up their style of evangelism, huddled at a farm house in Milford Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. It was Friday, September 24, 1858, just two weeks before the next high council. Should they acquiesce to restrictions upon the freedom of expression they enjoyed in their revival and prayer meetings? No, they would not. And so they established the Evangelische Mennoniten Gemeinschaft (Evangelical Mennonite Society). In their new fellowship which would remain Mennonite in doctrine, they would continue enthusiastic evangelism. Within two weeks all seven--elder William Gehman, bishop William N. Shelly, preachers David Henning and Henry Diehl, and deacons David Gehman, Joseph Schneider and Jacob Egoistical outside the New Mennonite association (now the General Conference Mennonite Church). One year later, the first Tuesday in November 1859, they held their first semi-annual preachers conference in the Evangelical Mennonite Meeting House in Haycock Township, Bucks County. Eleven days later they dedicated a new meeting house in Upper Milford Township, Lehigh County. Thus began the Bible Fellowship Church.

The prayer meeting crisis -- The crisis which led to this new fellowship of Mennonite revivalists had erupted in the Upper Milford Mennonite Meeting House, "number two." Nummer zwee, as the congregation was called in the local dialect, was one of the new progressive congregations which had come out of the Franconia Conference of the (Old) Mennonite Church in 1847. John H. Oberholtzer, bishop of the Swamp Mennonite congregation, had resisted the pressure to wear the traditional unrolled coat collar. He also urged the conference to allow written minutes and a constitution (German, Ordnung). Division followed, some congregations separated from the conference and a few new congregations emerged. Into the progressive Upper Milford congregation came a young convert named William Gehman. Evidently a magnetic individual he was soon selected preacher by vote and by lot.

Gehman preached and conducted prayer meetings wherever he gained entrance. In 1853 the high council of the "New" Mennonites discussed their type of prayer meetings and allowed them to continue. Some evidently remained suspicious of these enthusiastic meetings; more discussion ensued. In 1856 the bishops restricted these prayer meetings. The following year bishop William N. Shelly, one of the bishops who had enjoined the prayer meetings, had a change of heart and entered a formal protest. He attempted to demonstrate to the council that these prayer meetings were in accord with the Gospel. The vote went against Shelly. These prayer meetings had to cease. Thus his name was stricken from the list of preachers in May 1858 and the others had until October to conform.

Unacceptable restrictions -- A controversy over the ownership of the Upper Milford meeting house followed. The congregation by one vote rejected Gehman's claims on the meeting house. Through a financial settlement and contributions he and his followers began to erect their own meeting house, which was known as nummer drei(number three), in the valley. In it he preached, prayed, exhorted and from there went forth to homes and nearby churches spreading the joy of the message he loved. He inspired many young men from his congregation to follow him into ministry. Possibly the most significant was his wife's cousin, Jonas Musselman, whose three sons became preachers.

The Fellowship Reaches out -- In 1861 Eusebius Hershey, a traveling preacher from Rebersburg, Center County, Pennsylvania, joined the Evangelical Mennonite Society. He inspired many as he traveled widely conducting protracted meetings and prayer meetings throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Ontario, Canada. He also kindled interest in overseas missions. After years of travel in America and as an old man he moved on to Liberia, West Africa where he preached the Gospel and soon laid down his life.

As other young men joined the preachers in revival, the organization developed. In 1866 they published their Glaubenslehre which contained a statement of faith and church order along with a constitution for their mission society. The articles of faith were essentially the Mennonite Dortrecht Confession of Faith of 1632. The organization was doubtless derived from the Ordnung of the East-Pennsylvania Conference of Mennonites. The missions constitution may have been their own creation. It certainly was what they were all about. Their mission was to proclaim the Good News everywhere they could and to help others do the same where they could not go. They added meeting houses and preaching stations from Coopersburg, Pennsylvania to Wadsworth, Ohio. Congregations in the Lehigh Valley survived; Wadsworth passed away. It was just too far away for proper nurture.

Mennonite Brethren in Christ, Pennsylvania Conference

Union with like-minded Brethren -- Other Mennonites were influenced by the same revival winds which blew through southeastern Pennsylvania. In Canada Daniel Hoch spread the Word. He encouraged the Evangelical Mennonites, but many opposed him in Canada. Other Mennonites in Canada and the midwest came under the spell of the revival tides. Among these were Solomon Eby of Ontario and Daniel Brenneman of Indiana and their followers who were excommunicated. They joined forces to become the Reformed Mennonites (1874). Some New Mennonites, followers of Daniel Hoch, united with these Reformed Mennonites to become the United Mennonites (1875). These kindred spirits found the Evangelical Mennonites of Pennsylvania and together became the Evangelical United Mennonites (November 1879).

With the new union came a church paper, greater structure and new theological emphases. The Gospel Banner edited by Daniel Brenneman provided reports of evangelistic activities, stories to challenge the heart, and doctrinal articles which developed a new way of thinking. When the preachers conference excommunicated those who refused to relinquish their life insurance policies, the Banner cheered. Reports from camp meetings challenged people to seek entire sanctification and healing. Articles selected from Methodist sources pointed away from Mennonite emphases. A new understanding of the Return of Christ to establish His earthly kingdom gained acceptance.

William Gehman, the only active preacher of the founding seven, was elected the first presiding elder of the Pennsylvania Conference in 1880. At the time there were five active congregations: Zionsville, Coopersburg, Quakertown, Fleetwood, and Springtown. It was about this time that a stationing committee began to assign preachers to the congregations.

In 1883 a small group in Ohio which called itself Brethren in Christ merged with the Evangelical United Mennonites to form the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. This was the last merger of the Pennsylvania Conference. At the time many wondered whether it was time to drop Mennonite from the name of the denomination. Tradition and the concern to allow young men to be certified conscientious objectors in Canada preserved the name.

Leadership for the new century -- New leadership arose in the final decade of the nineteenth century, from which issued the leadership for most of the first half of the twentieth century. They launched new efforts at evangelism and church planting. Tabernacle or tent meetings were conducted in various places where homes were not obtainable. The first Sunday School Convention was held in 1889.

In 1892 William Brunner Musselman became the second presiding elder. A man of boundless energy, he developed the first denominational hymnal; created the Gospel Worker Society, an organization for women's ministries; inaugurated a new magazine, the Gospel Worker Society Herald; and began a printing organization known as Union Gospel Press. Later he moved the press and his organization to Williamsport, Pennsylvania and eventually to Cleveland, Ohio.

Charles Henry Brunner, writer, poet and musician, succeeded his cousin as presiding elder and chairman of annual conference. C.H. and his wife established the Gospel Herald Society for men. Together with the Gospel Workers they planted many new congregations on the edges of Conference. He promoted foreign missions in the Pennsylvania Conference through the newly formed Christian end Missionary Alliance in which he became an honorary vice president. He edited the Gospel Banner and for many years, the Annual Conference Yearbook (1896-1941).

The Conference began to commission missionaries to diverse parts of the world, Henry and Kate Weiss to Chile, Calvin and Phoebe Snyder to China, and Rose Lambert to Armenia, Turkey. Others soon followed. For the early decades of the twentieth century the majority of missionaries were associated with The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

New articles of faith were debated and approved. The Wesleyan emphasis on a "Second Blessing" or second work of grace, was evident in the article on Entire Sanctification. According to this teaching, the sin nature could be eradicated and the sanctified person be free from all conscious or intentional sin. The new articles on the Return of Christ reflected the widespread preoccupation with the impending end of the age.
The leadership of the Pennsylvania Conference until the fourth decade of the twentieth century was essentially the same. Presiding elders Harvey Brunner Musselman and William George Gehman controlled every aspect of the Conference. Musselman chaired annual conference and Gehman governed the Gospel Herald Society during a period of growth. Interest in outreach and missions increased. The vision of reaching beyond the old boundaries and into nearby urban areas inspired many.

World War One, the Great Depression, and the outbreak of World War Two did not dampen the spirit of evangelism. By 1920 the Conference was double what it had been in 1900. In the next twenty years it doubled again.

Loyalty was a central theme during this era. Most people trusted and submitted to their leaders with little resistance. Disloyalty was unacceptable. A drift from the Wesleyan doctrine of the late nineteenth century grew as the twentieth century progressed. The Wesleyan notion of eradication of the sinful nature was replaced by the idea that the tendency to sin was counteracted by living victoriously in the Spirit as taught by Keswick sources. This was the beginning of an emphasis on the process of sanctification rather than on a second work of grace. Pastors began to write Sunday School lessons for the Uniform Lesson Series which were published by the Union Gospel Press. The Conference had its own hymnal, Rose of Sharon. The first history of the denomination, History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, edited by Jasper Huffman was published in 1920.

New leadership and new directions -- The end of an era began with the death of W.G. "Daddy" Gehman in 1941. Four years later H.B. Musselman became emeritus. Paul Timothy Stengele and Timothy D. Gehret provided transition to a new, post war era. Relations with the other Mennonite Brethren in Christ conferences were not good. Doctrinal and ecclesiological disagreements were magnified by personality differences. When General Conference in 1947 voted to change the name of the denomination to United Missionary Church, the Pennsylvania Conference resisted. Pennsylvania was allowed to use the old name, but five years later voted to separate from the other conferences. The official reasons included differences over the doctrine of holiness, foreign mission programs, educational plans, financial autonomy, church government, and objection to a projected merger with The Missionary Church Association.

The Gospel Herald Society became the Home Mission Society; later it became the department of Church Extension. Other changes followed. Berean Bible School was opened in 1950 to prepare pastors, missionaries and Christian workers for the church. A shortage of ministers was stemmed and new missionaries were commissioned. After eighteen years as a three-year Bible school, the school became Pinebrook Junior College. The college closed in 1992. College and Seminary had become the preferred preparation for ministry. To compete with existing theological institutions which were considered acceptable did not seem wise to many.

The Bible Fellowship Church 

In 1959 the Conference adopted a new name, Bible Fellowship Church. New articles of faith were ratified which reflected more accurately the beliefs of the Fellowship. The practice of feet washing was dropped. The title of presiding elder which had recently become district superintendent became conference superintendent when there was only one such officer for the denomination. Finally when a more presbyterial structure of government was adopted, the position was dropped altogether.

An important feature of the Conference was camp meeting. This was the place where the whole Conference came together. Here they heard other preachers and met brothers and sisters from other congregations. They worshipped, prayed, fellowshipped and ate together. The first site was Chestnut Hill, near Coopersburg, in 1881. Other locations were used until the purchase of Mizpah Grove in East Allentown in 1910. There and at Edgewood Grove near Shamokin many encountered God in special ways and made lasting commitments. Evangelism, Bible teaching, reports from missionaries, children's meetings, and youth meetings inspired the campers. A children's camp, Victory Valley, near Zionsville, opened in 1956. In 1968 the Fellowship sold Mizpah Grove and purchased Pinebrook Bible Conference. Pinebrook became the center for summer and winter spiritual vacations and retreats.

A home for the aged and for orphans was begun in Center Valley around the turn of the century. An autonomous board controlled this operation until the title was transferred to the Conference in 1954. Few aged and fewer orphans lived in the home. A new home for the aging was opened in Nazareth in 1960. Two years later the original home and farm were sold. A larger facility for the aging was recently opened near Allentown.

The pursuit of a biblical basis for every facet of the denomination characterized annual conferences and ministerial conferences. A multitude of study papers, discussions, and recommendations focused on a wide range of topics such as, eschatology, inerrancy, finance, ordination, church government, the relationship between the Annual Conference and the particular church, divorce and church membership, church discipline, total abstinence and church membership, and the role of women in the church. Abortion, homosexuality, the aids crisis, and other social issues were addressed.

From a loose association of Mennonite revivalists, influenced by the holiness movement to a Wesleyan denomination to a Reformed fellowship holding to believers baptism, the Bible Fellowship Church stands today. Once each congregation was autonomous. Later they came under the strong hand of presiding elders in a modified episcopal system. Today particular Bible Fellowship Churches are ruled by local elders. Each particular church sends elders along with their pastors to Annual Conference. New churches continue to be built, education facilities are being added and new congregations and daughter churches planted.



BACK TO TOP           
NEXT PAGE
HOME