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Together again at the Stone Church after 76 years apart

By Staff | Dec 21, 2018

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Sharing a pew after leaving the Stone Church as children 76 years ago, Herbert Weller (left) and JoAnn Murray reunite to share how their families connect with the land and church.

MONTGOMERY – Standing today December 15th as a testament to those communities of the White Deer Valley, the Christ Lutheran (Stone) Church of Brady Township remains as adherents from by gone days as they continue to return.

After 76 years, two former parishioners returned Dec. 15, 2018 to tell how as youngsters, they’d been baptized at the church. Herbert Weller of Mt. Joy and JoAnn (Page) Murray of Montgomery, shared a church pew they’d left in 1942 when the last service was held in April. At that time, both Weller and Murray were three years old and had no recollections of the event. A photo taken in front of the church following the congregation’s final service shows JoAnn as a toddler in the front row.

The church’s closing was caused by the federal government which took over lands to build a munitions plant during WWII. Once the site of a fertile farming valley, it became known as the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works.

Herbert’s parents, Alfred and Helen (Lindauer) Weller were one of several families evicted. “The site is Track 126 known then as the McCormick farm. I had two older sisters when we moved to Milton for a year, then near McEwensville where we dealt with the government again in the building of Interstate 80. From there, I went to school in Watsontown,” Weller said.

More information was given when Weller said, “My aunt (father’s sister) had a dress shop in Montgomery; her name was Mary Rissel.”

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Cathy Buck (left) of the Montgomery Area Historical Society served snacks to those attending the Stone Church Candlelight Service including Eileen Shrey and Debby Bieber.

This was Weller’s first time back to the stone church. “I learned about the services this summer when we spent a week camping in Montgomery. Someone began telling me the history of the area when I interrupted saying I knew it, as I’d been born in the Alvira area. That’s when I was told about the service and decided to drive up,” Weller said.

About the only thing in common between Weller and Murray is their age and the church. JoAnn said, “My parents didn’t live on the confiscated land, but we went to church here.” The daughter of Merle and Barbara (Albeck) Page, JoAnn remained in the Montgomery area and is an active member in the Eagle Grange. Her older brother, the late George Page, would have also attended the Stone Church. “I think this service in wonderful,” JoAnn said, while Weller wishfully stated, “I wish my sisters were alive, so they could experience it too.”

In addition to Weller, another former native returning was Eileen Shrey currently of New Freedom, PA. “We left the area for jobs but have a place in town where we hope to move back someday. My husband Paul and I return often and have been to this service three or four times before,” Shrey said.

Attending for the first time, Debby Bieber of Watsontown said, “This church is gorgeous, I don’t know why it took me all these years to get here. My aunt, Hazel Reitmeyer had 11 acres of land she was forced to leave. Married and divorced, I think at the time she was living with and taking care of my grandparents,” Bieber said.

Approximately 170 persons attended the service with several coming and going to view memorabilia during the hour prior to the service.

Readings appropriate to the Christmas season were read, prayers said, and at the direction and accompaniment of Shirley Smith, a choir of 21 vocalists sang. The service concluded with the lighting of candles and all singing “Silent Night.”

The event is sponsored annually by the Montgomery Area Historical Society in cooperation with the Federal Correctional Complex at Allenwood.