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‘Brick’ church marks 200 years

By Staff | Feb 15, 2017

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Louise Eakin of Montgomery and Pastor Viking Dietrich pose in front of the the St. John Lutheran 'Brick' Church which is celebrating its 200 year anniversary.

MONTGOMERY – Such a small group of people can do many great things. From a small community group worshipping in a barn in 1811 to serving a congregation 200 years later, the St. John Lutheran ‘Brick’ Church of Montgomery continues to be an integral part of its community.

Three times the church had to be rebuilt and each time it became stronger from log to stone and then brick; it was always built in the same spot according to Louse Eakin, one of the committee members organizing a series of celebrations for this year.

A kickoff catered dinner was held January 15 with a quilt dedication. Two new banners made by Mary Steele and a quilt made by Nancy Jarrett were dedicated to the church. “They are replicas of stain glass windows,” said Eakin as they hang on the walls inside the church. During this time recognition was given to present and former church council members.

Sue Burkholder, chair of the committee said that a group of 8 members started to work on the church’s 200th anniversary in November of 2015 and since then they have been meeting every month planning events for each month in 2017.

On February 19, 2017, St. John Lutheran Church will recognize couples, past and present, who were married there and couples married 50 or more years will be honored. A tureen dinner will be held at 5 p.m. with the renewal of vows at 4 p.m. “Everyone is invited to attend. So far 11 couples are committed to renew their vows.”

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary This quilted wall hanging was made by Mary Steele for the 200th anniversary of St. John Lutheran Church in Montgomery.

On March 19th the bishop will come to do the service and recognize those members who were baptized at St. John Church with a reception afterward.

“We want to recognize everyone,” said the committee with planned activities for graduates, veterans, employees, choir members, secretaries, organists, mentors, volunteers, youth advisors, and Sunday School teachers. Anyone who donated time and service toward the “fellowship and well being” will be recognized.

The committee members are Julie Bennett, Louise Eakin, Nancy Eck, Rae Ann Karichner, Kelly Puzio, Nancy Jarrett, Shirley Smith, Pastor Viking Dietrich, and Suzanne Burkholder, the Committee Chair. They have acquired memorabilia and photos to share and have them on display at the church. They are always looking for more items if anyone has anything they want to share.

The first church was built during the winter of 1817 and 1818 and was “a substantial log structure” serving the Black Hole Valley. The deed was dated Feb. 17, 1818 and conveyed one half acre of land by Philip and Elizabeth Rance (Rentz) to John Heilman and Jacob Metskar (Metzger) trustees for the German Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations. “Consideration being one dollar” as recorded in Deed Book No. 107. The land was originally conveyed to Michael Diffenderfer by John Penn and Thomas Penn proprietors of the William Penn estate. After the death of Diffenderfer and his wife, Mathias Young inherited the property on June 1, 1811 which he held until Nov. 4 when William Miller became the next owner and later conveyed it to the Rance’s.

The history of the church has stood throughout time, and to this day serves many descendants of the first lot of members those 200 years ago. “A lot of our members are still part of the farming community,” said Eakin.

PHOTO PROVIDED This photo was taken in 1943 of an early Sunday school class from the St. John Lutheran ‘Brick’ Church in Montgomery. If anyone can identify the names of any of the children, please call the church at 570-547-6423.

The current pastor, Viking Dietrich, said that many of the pastors were traveling pastors in the rural areas. The first religious services were in a barn on what is now the Frederick Metzger farm. In these early years the ministers served several churches in the area.

In 1937 D.W. Shollenberger, a Montgomery resident, assigned the task of compiling the church’s history into a booklet. In it he referenced the church “as a home of Christian people under the leadership of the pastor Rev. Adam P. Bingaman.” It was Rev. Bingaman’s first parish and he served from 1932 to 1972.

St. John Lutheran Church has stood well over the years. As time progressed, 55 members who belonged to the stone church grew to 120 in 1942. Statistics reveal that the membership in the par and post war years went from 120 to 240 and now stands at 330 members.

Membership remains active in this Montgomery parish. Pastor Viking replied, “All congregations are struggling todaylosing a sense of spirituality, losing a sense of identity. The strength of a congregation depends on friendship where friends have met.”

“It’s a church family,” added Eakin who has been a member for the past 47 years. “My mother was originally from here.”

The church conducts monthly clothing drives. Members knit and crochet prayer shawls that are given to nursing homes and those of the congregation who are going through surgery or illness. “These are special tribulations.” They are given also to newborns, and those baptized are given a baby blanket.

Boy Scouts meet at the church, as well as a senior’s group, a youth group and an exercise group. A blueberry festival is held every August during the first week and two large church dinners are served throughout the year. The winter one will be held Tuesday, February 21st.

Summers support vacation Bible School and world mission projects through the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. “Through this we support world hunger and a missionary in Liberia,” said Pastor Dietrich. “We also participate in the Crop Walk in Williamsport.”

A new family event was introduced last fall. “Trunk or Treat” became a favorite for children to come and enjoy some trickery and treating.

A new music director was hired and music programs were added including two children’s choirs that play musical instruments under the direction of Shirley Smith.

The ‘Brick’ Church is up with technology by using social media. According to Rev. Dietrich they now have a Facebook page in addition to their website. “We can use digital imagery during worship and produce DVD’s for shut-ins,” he said.

“Christmas caroling is a lot of fun,” remarked Eakin. “We had a huge group last year with a social and light refreshments.”

Parishioners are now preparing for Lent services and devotions. On April 14 there will be a chancellor drama, a live performance during Holy Week with puppet ministry. On Good Friday there will be a cantata service.

The public is welcome to participate. “We always welcome new members,” said the Pastor. “There is a lot of history here.”