Bible Verse of the Day

Romans 10:9-10
“If you declare with your mouth, ?Jesus is Lord,? and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

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The history of St. John's Lutheran Church of Gibraltar goes back to 1793 when the congregation was first organized. Prior to this date, a plot of ground on which the present St. John's U.C.C. stands, was sold on April 29, 1791 to Valentine Geiger and Herman Umstead by Elias Retge, Jr. and Elizabeth Hunter Retge, in trust for use of such Christian congregations as should contribute to the maintenance of a graveyard and a church to be erected thereon. This original piece of ground consisted of one acre and ten perches which was sold at a cost of five shillings or about $1.25. The deed states that the ground had been used for some years as a burying ground, (known as "Redcay's Burying Ground"), by Valentine Geiger and Herman Umstead and others of Robeson Township. At the time the deed was written, there must have been a wall around the enclosure for there is reference in the deed to a "Burial Ground Wall."

As mentioned above, the plot was used as a burial ground before the construction of the church building. J.W. Early, a Lutheran historian, recorded that there were some tombstones which recorded deaths as early as 1762. A former Reformed minister, the Rev. J.V. George, D.D., wrote: "Prior to 1791 there were religious meetings held in houses in this vicinity. They were in all probability conducted by Rev. Alexander Murray, an Episcopalian minister, and were the forerunner of the first log building. There is also a tradition which tells of a log meeting house in the vicinity of the present church building, but it cannot be verified.

In 1809 the first known church building was erected, sometimes called Redcay's Church. It is not known who was instrumental in the erection, since all the documents besides the deed were mislaid or destroyed. The edifice was a plain, small stone structure, and the architecture was of an antique style. According to Rev. J.V. George, "the building erected in 1809 was approximately 45 feet square. The pulpit was on the south side of the church. There were three entrances, one in the west wall and one in the east wall. The third entrance was in the north wall. There was also a gallery with steps leading to it near the east and west entrances. (The gallery was probably on the north, east and west walls with a goblet style pulpit of that day on the south wall.) The pews on the main floor had doors to them. There was one main aisle running from the west entrance to the east entrance with the chancel and pulpit to the south of this aisle in the middle of the south wall. This building accommodated approximately 300 people." This original edifice stood unaltered until the enlargement of the church and the erection of the tower around the years 1892-1893.

Although the organization claiming control of the church was nominally Lutheran and Reformed, there is no evidence that they began worshipping in this building from the very beginning. However, it appears that the Lutheran congregation occupied the grounds before the Reformed since V. Geiger and H. Umstead were probably Lutherans. It is known that the Episcopalians worshipped in this building from the very beginning. In fact, four congregations, Lutheran, Reformed, Episcopalian, and Baptist, held worship services in the church at one period on a rotation schedule with each holding a service once a month. This church was probably the mother of St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Birdsboro.

On June 9, 1851 the church was chartered by an act of the state legislature which had been previously approved March 24, 1851 by Governor William F. Johnson. The name of the incorporation was: "The Independent German Reformed and Lutheran Congregation of St. John's Church of Robeson Township." The purpose of the chartering was, evidently, the uncertainty of the ownership of the building and opposition to Sunday Schools which had caused much trouble in 1850. The church was to be used solely by ordained and regular clergymen of Lutheran and Reformed denominations. The trustees named in the charter are: Jacob R. Hill, Benjamin H. Hill, Henry Moyer, Philip Hartz, Benjamin Clouser, and John Haws.

On June 9, 1851, the constitution of St. John's Church of Robeson Township also became effective. The officers of the association which consisted of equal number of Lutheran and Reformed members were: four elders, four wardens, and one treasurer. All persons who annually contributed to the pastor's salary and church expenses were entitled to bury in the graveyard without charge. The grave digger was not allowed to charge more than $4.00 for digging and walling out one large grave, and not more than $3.00 for an ordinary grave according to the By-Laws.

At the time when Rev. Zenas H. Gable became pastor in 1873, St. John's was part of a parish which was known as the Geigertown Parish. This Parish consisted of St. James', Geigertown, Plow of Robeson, Allegheny, Trinity, Gouglersville, and St. Mark's, Birdsboro. After Gable's death in 1909, the parish was divided and the Birdsboro Parish was formed by the Reading Conference, consisting of St. John's, Gibraltar, St. Mark's, Birdsboro, and St. James', Geigertown. This parish was served by Rev. Willis F. Deibert.

St. john's - 1890

In 1893 the church building was remodeled, every part of the building having been removed with the exception of the rear wall. It was enlarged by 25 feet, now measuring approximately 75 by 45 feet with a seating capacity of about 500. The pulpit was moved from the south wall to the east wall and raised on a platform with a chair in back for the minister to sit. There was a communion table on the lower level in the center, directly below the pulpit. Also at this time the church tower was built and a bell weighing 1800 pounds was placed in it. A cornerstone was laid in the spring of the year and the dedication service held on November 26, 1893 was conducted by Rev. M.C. Horine, D. D., who preached for the Lutheran congregation, and Rev. Samuel R. Bridenbach, D.D., who preached for the Reformed congregation. The building committee was composed of Henry C. Seidel, John Bucher, and Issiah Brown. The pastors were Z.H. Gable, Lutheran, and J.V. George, Reformed.

In 1901 a pipe organ was installed by Raymond Mohn, a contractor from Birdsboro. Also, at this time, stained glass windows were put in the church. In July 1900 Mrs. M. Louisa Seidel bought an acre of ground from Elisha Brown and presented it to the congregation. This plot joined the church yard on the south. The stone wall separating the two plots was removed and a new wall built to enclose the plot. A driveway with an ornamental entrance gate was constructed. This additional plot was dedicated on September 9, 1900 by Rev. Z.H. Gable.

On September 19, 1912 the Helping Hand society was formed at the home of Mrs. Howard K. Winnings. This society was composed chiefly of women from both congregations for the purpose of being of assistance in the work of the local church. During the years 1916-1918, the St. John's Burial Fund was organized for the maintenance of the cemetery. On July 8, 1923 the Adult Luther League was organized. The elected officers were: President Benjamin Blood, Vice-President - Mahlon Pott, Financial Secretary – Thomas Hoyer, Recording Secretary - Alice Bitler, and Treasurer - Mrs. Lewis Levan.

In 1920 the Shillington Parish was organized through the action of the Reading Conference at its Fall meeting in 1919. This parish consisted of Grace, Shillington; Robeson, Plowville; and St. John's, Gibraltar. The Rev. Corson Snyder became the first pastor of this parish. The parsonage was in Shillington. This three church parish continued until 1934 when Grace, Shillington called Rev. Victor Kroninger as their full time pastor. St. John's, Gibraltar and Robeson, Plowville remained together as the Robeson Parish and called as their first pastor, The Rev. John C. Dries, in 1934. A home in Seyfert, on the north side of the canal was rented as the parsonage until 1941.

In 1930 the entire church was renovated inside and outside. The original plan was to redecorate the interior only, but through generous response on the part of the members, there were adequate funds to do the outside of the church as well. A few new windows were also installed at this time.

In 1936 a new pipe organ was dedicated. Then in 1938 the chancel area was altered by Charles Potts and Chester Darrah, from a pulpit centered church to an altar centered church. The platform was lowered and the altar was placed in the center against the east wall with the lectern to the north side and the pulpit to the south side on the platform. It has remained the same until this day.

In the summer of 1941 a parsonage was built in Gibraltar at present-day 233 Proudfoot Drive, at a cost of $7,296.96. The plot of ground on which the parsonage was built was donated to the Robeson Parish by Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Kohl. Rev. Frank Radcliffe was the first pastor to occupy the home. In 1952 storm windows and screens were installed and the driveway was paved. In 1956 the parsonage was renovated and remodeled. An extension was added as a garage and the original garage was remodeled into a parish office. The entire interior was either papered or painted. The kitchen was re-arranged to utilize every inch of space. A new sink was installed with additional cupboards and new flooring. The macadam driveway was widened to include parking for several cars. Additional property in the rear of the parsonage was purchased in June, 1959 from Mrs. Minnie Kohl at a cost of $150. In the summer of 1961 and again in the Fall of 1966, the exterior of the parsonage was painted. Also, additional storm windows and storm doors were installed in 1966. Before the coming of Pastor Schweitzer in 1968, the parsonage was painted and papered. Also, a new stove and cellar door were purchased.

The Adult Luther League obtained the title to the Old Band Hall in 1950 to provide for social activities of the church as well as community projects. This building was secured through the efforts of councilmen Thomas Hoyer and Vernon L. Rhoads, and by cooperation of the few remaining members of the Gibraltar Band who had built the hall during the height of band activities. In 1957 the League built an addition on the rear in order to have better kitchen facilities. During the same year additional lots were purchased in order to have more room for parking.

In 1951 partial excavation of the church basement was completed. This provided rest rooms and a small Sunday School room. On January 18, 1952 the congregation voted to sell the Sunday School playground to the Gibraltar Playground Association for $2,500. In 1953 the Rev. Clyde I. Fry became the first son of St. John's to be ordained in the ministry. In 1954 the plaster exterior of the church was removed, and the original stone finish was restored .

On December 30, 1956 a rededication service was held to commemorate the renovation of the interior of the church at a cost of $6,083.34. New chandeliers, chancel lights, stained glass windows, and carpet were added. In 1958 the entire basement was excavated and completed for Sunday School facilities. The refinishing of the outside church and the excavation of the basement were done under contract with Percy Brown Nursery and Contractor. Eight stained glass windows were installed in 1960 at a cost of $2, 140, replacing the windows installed in 1893. A dedication service for these new windows, plus altar coverings and book rack was held on May 1, 1960.

After much discussion a wall was erected on the north and west side of the parking lot in 1961 at a cost of $3,275 to fulfill an agreement with the donors when the land was given to the church for parking. This work was also done by Percy Brown Nursery and Contractor. In the fall of 1962 the exterior of the church was painted at a cost of $455.

A few miscellaneous items should also be mentioned. On March 19, 1956 the congregation voted to increase the number on the church council from nine to twelve. In August, 1957 the council voted to purchase the new Service Book and Hymnal to replace the Common Service Book. However, it was not until 1959 that they were finally introduced to the congregation. In September, 1959 the first" newsletter" was published which later became known as the "Parish Echo." A movie projector and a mower for the parsonage was purchased in 1960. At a special congregational meeting on August 9, 1959 it was decided to co-sponsor a Boy Scout Troop along with the United Church of Christ of Gibraltar. A new constitution and By-Laws were adopted at the annual congregational meeting on January 22, 1960.

St John's - 1958

Also in 1960 a young peoples' Luther League was organized by a group of Luther League caravaners from different states. These caravaners worked four days with the young people of St. John's. In 1961 the council approved moving confirmation from Easter to Pentecost. That same year, 1961, new junior choir gowns were purchased. A youth canteen was organized in 1961 with 72 registered members. Dances were held by this group every Saturday evening at the Adult Luther League Hall. Again in 1961 a Girl Scout Troop was organized in conjunction with the United Church of Christ with 20 girls in the Troop. In May, 1962 the council approved the purchase of a typewriter and chair to be used in the parsonage office. The confirmation instruction was extended from one year to two years in September 1963. In 1964 the new curriculum of the Lutheran Church in America was introduced in the Sunday Church School. At the annual congregational meeting on January 16, 1966, a new constitution, recommended by the L.C.A. and replacing the 1960 constitution, was approved and adopted.

The grass roots of dissolution of the union church go back many years. However, the first official action taken by the congregation to begin the momentum for separation took place on July 18, 1949 when a special congregational meeting was held to discuss the problem of having weekly Lutheran Sunday School. At this meeting it was decided to study the problem further before final steps were taken. The U.C.C. would not grant permission to have Sunday School to the Lutherans until they could do the same. At this same meeting the congregation decided to set aside a fund to build a new church and see what the U.C.C. would give as the Lutheran share of the building. However, nothing was decided until 1951 when a building fund for a new church was established.

On the first Sunday in January, 1951, the Lutheran congregation began holding service every Sunday, alternating, weekly, between 8:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. On January 28, the Lutheran Sunday School was organized with Thomas Hoyer - President, William Hoyer• Superintendent, Mrs. Edna Kline - Vice-President, and Mrs. Vivian Kleinsmith - Secretary. From this time on the Lutherans held Sunday School each Sunday, alternating weekly, between 9:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Occasionally, Sunday School was held in the evening.

At the annual congregational meeting on March 19, 1956, the congregation voted to take action to incorporate the church. It was not until November 30, 1958 that the congregation gave approval to incorporate the church with the name "St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Gibraltar." The main purpose for incorporating at this time was to enable St. John's to purchase Robeson's share of the parsonage. The Court of Common Pleas at Reading issued the Charter of Incorporation on April 6, 1959 on motion of Henry M. Koch, Esq. The charter was then signed and sealed on April 24, 1959 by Paul A. Adams, Prothonotary. The four councilmen who acted as incorporators on behalf of St. John's were Thomas Hoyer, Elmer Bitler, Robert Quinter, and John Fehr.

At a special congregational meeting on April 11, 1957, the members voted to proceed to employ a full time pastor. It was suggested that the council try to secure Pastor Verne Snyder as fun time pastor for St. John's. However, at the annual congregational meeting on January 17, 1958, the congregation was informed that the Robeson Church was not in favor of parish separation at present. It was also noted that St. John's finances were also low and therefore it was moved to side-track the idea for the time being. It was not long, however, when instead of that the council on May 28, 1958 moved to draw up a resolution of dissolution of existing parish to be presented to the congregation on July 13, 1958. The result of this balloting of both congregations of the parish was 181 in favor of dissolution and 21 opposed.
At this July 13, 1958 congregational meeting, it was also decided to sell St. John's half of the Hamilton property to Robeson for $2,375, and to buy Robeson's portion of the parsonage at $9,500 which included the office equipment. It was not until September, 1959 that the fmal negotiations were made and settlement was accomplished. On February 8, 1959, St. John's voted to call it's first full time pastor, Rev. Walter O. Reimet, Jr., who began his pastorate July of that year.

1960 was an important year in the development of dissolution of the union church at St. John's, Gibraltar. At the annual congregational meeting on January 22, 1960 the following resolution was passed: "WE the members of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Gibraltar, Pa., move that the union church situation be studied by the church council of St. John's Lutheran Church and that this be the first step leading toward the dissolution of the union church situation at St. John's Union Church, Gibraltar, Pa. " At the following council meeting, February 18, 1960, it was moved to contract Dr. Roy Winters, Executive Secretary and Director of the Rural Church of the Synod, to come and tell the council what procedures are necessary to begin separating the union church. This meeting was held on March 28, 1960, 12:00 Noon at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading. It was decided to hold a joint meeting of the council and consistory on May 17, 1960 to discuss steps toward separation.

At the May meeting it was agreed to set up a joint council/consistory study committee to examine the union situation. Those appointed to this committee to represent the Lutheran congregation were: Thomas Hoyer, Curtis Fritz, and Robert Quinter. This study committee met for the first time on July 14th, 1960. In a report by a subcommittee of this study committee on November 9, 1960, it was recommended that before separation could be made, "real devotion and stewardship would have to be in evidence by the congregation who ventured forth in a building campaign. Perhaps after a number of years the picture would change sufficiently to see a clear path in the right direction." It should also be noted that during this time there was some talk in consolidating with Christ Lutheran Church, Grill.

However at the April 18, 1961 meeting, the study committee voted in favor of separation of the union church and submitted this same action to respective council and consistory. At this point, the union discussions became stalemated.

It was not until February, 1962 that the union study committee was reactivated. The Lutheran representatives were now: Robert Quinter, Paul Moser, and Bill Ritter. At the May 9, 1962 study committee meeting, there was much discussion of the appraisal of the church property. Harold Stoudt, Realtor of Reading, submitted a valuation of $42,000 for the church building and property. This was considered to be too low by the committee. After much debate each member present submitted an estimate and a figure of $59,600 was agreed upon. On May 27, 1962 a joint congregational meeting was held to discuss the possibility of dissolving the union church. On June 10, 1962 a special congregational meeting was held at which time the Lutheran congregation voted 94 to 48 in favor of dissolving the union church. The U.C.C. vote was 66 to 61 in favor. On another question, the Lutheran congregation voted 59 to 46 in favor of leaving the present church building if dissolved. The U.C.C. vote was 27 to 77 against leaving. The monetary value of the church, established at $59,600, was accepted by the majority from the two congregations.

On November 25, 1962 a legal resolution of dissolution was voted on by the two congregations which gave the proper officers legal right to execute the separation of the union church. The combined vote was 181 to 35 in favor. It was also agreed by a vote of 163 to 49 to transfer all real estate and structures erected on property to the V.C.C. for the sum of $29,800. It was also agreed to enter a lease with the U.C.C. to rent the church at $125 a month until the Lutherans could move into their new building. On December 14, 1962 the Executive Board of the Synod gave formal approval for St. John's Lutheran Church to dissolve the union situation and to move to a new location.

The law firm which provided legal services for the union church dissolution was Bingaman, Hess, Coblentz & Bell at a total cost of $923 .90. On February 25, 1963 the Honorable Judge Albert S. Readinger, of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas, approved the union church dissolution. The final legal settlement was made on Monday, March 18, 1963, at the Penn Title Insurance Co., Reading. Representing the Lutheran congregation were Robert Quinter and Paul Moser.

The beginning of the actual building program began at the annual congregational meeting on January 20, 1963. At this time, approval was given to establish nine building program committees along the lines of the L.C.A. manual for organizing and managing building programs. Those appointed as chairmen of these committees were Melvin Gaul, Survey; David Piper, Worship and Fine Arts; Mrs. Solon Marburger, Parish Education; Michael Rapak., Fellowship and Recreation; Mrs. Paul Moser, Administration; Elmer Bitler, Furnishings and Equipment; Paul Moser, Finance; Richard Ester!y, Promotion; and Solon Marburger, Plans and Construction. Robert Quinter was elected Executive Chairman to co-ordinate all building program committees. Elmer Bitler was appointed his assistant. The above committees worked conscientiously throughout the year, and at a special congregational meeting on November 24, 1963, the members voted to accept the report of the study committee as a satisfactory statement of the goals for building a church for St. John's. This report stating the needs of St. John's was then submitted to Dana W. Gangewere who was engaged as architect on October 30, 1963.

On January 19, 1964, the congregation voted to purchase a used organ from the U.C.C. church in Mount Penn for $1000.

The problem now became how to pay for this new building. At the annual congregational meeting on January 19, 1964, it was unanimously agreed to hire the Lutheran Laymen's Movement as the fund raiser for the building program. Therefore, on May 25, 1964, the LLM began their campaign to raise money for the church building. A kick-off congregational dinner was held on June 8, 1964 at the Birdsboro Fire Company Hall. The goal was to obtain $80,000 in commitments over 156 weeks.

The biggest problem seemed to be the location of the new church. Many sites were discussed. Finally on March 15, 1964, the congregation voted to acquire approximately eight acres, on which there was a barn and attached out buildings, from Paul McCord at a cost of $5,000.

Preliminary drawings of the new church building were approved by the congregation on May 10, 1964. They were also reviewed by the Lutheran Church of America, Commission on Church Architecture which gave additional recommendations. During the summer of 1964, the barn was removed by Ted Bitler. It was not until March 14, 1965 that the contract was given to David G. Welsh of Sanatoga, Pa. Mr. Welsh's base bid was $175,760, and the total bid including alternates was $188,948.

On March 21, 1965 the groundbreaking service was held on the site of the new church. Members of all ages, as well as the architect and contractor, turned over a spadeful of earth.

It was now necessary to make arrangement for payment of the new church. Thus, the congregation on March 14, 1965 approved a $160,000 loan from Peoples Trust and City Bank on a 20 year mortgage at 5% interest. After depletion of the building fund which was begun in 1951, loans were taken from the Peoples Bank as needed beginning August 15, 1965, until a total of $152,680.04 was borrowed.

On October 31, 1965 the cornerstone was laid after a brief service. Below is a list of those items placed in the cornerstone:

Copy of the Decree of Dissolution of the Union Church, copy of the agreement between the United Church of Christ and our own congregation, a list of chairmen of the building committee, a church calendar for the year 1965, a sample copy of the approved preliminary drawings for the new church, a building fund brochure and commitment card, a copy of the resolution of the congregation to execute the mortgage through Peoples Trust City Bank of Reading, a copy of the mortgage settlement at Penn Title Company, the front page from the "Sunday Eagle" newspaper of Reading, an uncirculated set of coins, Sunday bulletin for Reformation Sunday, October 31, 1965 (day the stone was placed), a copy of the anthem sung that morning "Jubilate Deo", a copy of the September-October issue of the "Parish Echo" our monthly newsletter, a copy of Martin Luther's "The Small Catechism", a card file listing the present membership, a King James version of the Bible, a copy of "The New English Bible-New Testament", and a Sunday Church School pamphlet for this day from the kindergarten class.

Finally on Palm Sunday, April 3, 1966, the new church was dedicated. The Rev. Clyde I. Fry, a son of the congregation delivered the message. There were 344 in attendance. Indeed, this was a day of rejoicing.

On March 15, 1968, Rev Carl Schweitzer began his ministry at St. John's. The year was highlighted by the celebration of the congregation's 175th Anniversary.

On December 14, 1969, the stained glass windows in the nave were dedicated. The windows were designed by Mr. Janis A. Pontags under contract by James M. Kase, Inc of Reading. They were donated by the Adult Luther League, the Willing Workers, and various individuals as memorials.

In 1970, St. John's published a picture booklet titled "This is Your Church". It was also the year that 2500 white pines were planted between the church and the river as an Eagle Scout project of James Satterwhite who was a member, and Scout in the Lorane Scout Troop. Only a few of these trees remain today.

In 1971, the church began the "Bethel Bible Series", an intense Bible study program. It also constructed a maintenance shed behind the church for the purpose of storing lawn care equipment. 1971 was also the first year that females were allowed to be ushers and acolytes as a part of the worship service.

Church council studied and approved changes to the confirmation process in 1972. Under new L.C.A. guidelines, early communion could be given to 5th grade children after instruction. Confirmation would be offered to those youth in the 10th grade after completing the catechetical course, but it was another major event that would mark 1972.

On Thursday, June 22, Tropical Storm Agnes ravaged the east coast, and St. John's was to be deeply affected. By mid-afternoon, two feet of water had to be pumped out of the parsonage basement. Although the river was checked several times during the day, there was little apprehension that the church building was in danger. Around 4:00 P.M., the Pastor and a neighborhood youth went to the church and began moving things to a higher level. Other members arrived and anything that could be was moved three feet off the floor. Everyone was sure that if the water would rise, only a few inches would come into the church. By evening, a second check was performed, and water began coming over the parking lot near 7:00 P.M. Nobody still imagined the rate and amount of water that was to come. By dusk, water had just crept over the top step on the south end of the Sunday School wing. With no more light and that dismal picture in everyone's mind, the church was left for the evening.

The river had crested about 6:00 A.M. the next morning, and as it grew lighter, the devastation the river had on the community was revealed. Water had come to within 25 feet of the Gibraltar firehouse, and the overflowed Allegheny Creek prevented anyone from checking the state of the church. Rumors had it that water was over the roof of some parts of the church. By mid-afternoon, the water had receded enough to see the damage. Water had risen to within a foot to the top of the south Sunday School wing door. By 8:00 P.M., members were able to cross the parking lot to investigate the damage. Four to six inches of thick black river mud had engulfed everything in the church. Pianos were toppled, papers and books were everywhere, hardwood flooring was buckled, and carpeting thrown up over the pews which had blistered and warped. Approximately 6 feet of water had covered the entire church. Nothing could be done that day.

The next morning, members, friends, and the community came out to help with the cleanup. By noon, piles of books and papers waiting to be discarded, furniture, including the pews, was moved out to the parking lot. Close to 90 people helped by the time all was done. The fire company used high-pressure hoses to rid the walls and floors of the building of mud. Any equipment and paperwork that was salvageable was taken to the parsonage and Luther League hall to sort, clean and dry out. By Saturday, June 24, the entire church was washed out and chairs, tables, and other items that could be saved were placed back into the church. Church Council had decided to hold a worship service that Sunday, and a Communion Service was held in the fellowship hall where six feet of water had been only two days earlier.

In the next two weeks, contractors and the original architect were consulted, and a special committee was organized to handle the cleanup. Over the next few weeks, members, and volunteers from other congregations cleaned and re-cleaned a seemingly endless amount of mud from everything in the church. The township brought in a grader to help remove the mud from around the exterior of the building. Donations of supplies and money were received. Council arranged a $25,000 loan from the Small Business Administration to help cover the immediate cleanup efforts. Throughout most of the summer and fall, church was held in the Fellowship Hall. In September, after failed attempts to repair them, it was decided to rip out all the plaster walls in the Sunday School rooms, hallways, lavatories, narthex, pastor's office, and sacristy rooms. By October, they had all been replaced. Meanwhile, flooring was replaced and woodwork was stripped and re-stained. The church was ready for worship on November 5, but on chairs, as new pews would only arrive the second week of December, just in time to hold Christmas Eve Service, with 263 in attendance. In February of 1973, the walls of the Fellowship Hall were tom out and replaced. The tiled floor of the Sunday School wing were replaced with carpet to match the nav.e. By March of 1973, approximately $24,473 had been received by friends, other congregations, and strangers, $7,205 from our own members, and countless services by local businesses and individuals to aid in the cost of our flood repairs. Final painting and work was completed late in March, and on April 15, Palm Sunday, a special service was held at 3:00 P.M. to re-dedicate the building. Invitations went to all who helped in our Hour of need. Rev. Clyde Fry, son of the congregation, delivered the message as he had done at the original dedication in 1966. The Synod President, the Dean of the West Berks Mission District, and several former pastors were in attendance. God had put us to a test, and we found the strength to overcome. It was also the time to purchase flood insurance for the church.

1973 saw a push toward evangelism. The Key '73 program was the focus as members delivered booklets throughout the community. A memorial fund was established to account for long-term donations and memorials. In 1974, the congregation began investigating the construction of a pavilion and courts on the church property for fellowship events. Work on a softball field was started in the area between the church and the river. The flat portions of the roof were replaced due to constant leaking. The Sunday School program was restructured, and a banner depicting the Eagle symbolic of St. John was donated by Irene M. Johnson and hung prominently at the front of the church.

Music was on the up-rise during the mid 70's. St. John's first dramatic cantata "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" was performed by the choirs. This would be the first of many such cantatas performed over the next few years. Others included "Cool in the Furnace" in 1976, and a repeat of "Joseph" in 1978. Celebrating our country's 200th birthday, two special bicentennial services were held, and the 'bicentennial wagon-train' passed through Gibraltar. Rev. Henry Wuerz was called as pastor, and water and electric were run to the maintenance shed behind the church.

1977 and 1978 were years for growth in our ministry. By January 21 , 1979, Pastor Wuerz asked the congregation to reach out and support a South Vietnamese "Boat Family" and assist in giving them a new life in Gibraltar. The congregation approved the expense of resettling them, and a great effort was made by the congregation to assist in their acclamation to life in America. Housing was found in a rental unit near the parsonage, and work was found for the family members. A new mission statement for the church had been approved after a study was done for Parish Life Mission Development. It would broaden the social programs our church would reach out to. 1979 also saw changes to the musical leadership of the church, as we went through two hirings in the year.

Rev. Robert C. Reier was installed as Pastor on September 6, 1981. It was during this year that the new green Lutheran Book of Worship was first put into use. It was also the beginning of discussions related to selling the parsonage and a start was made on a pavilion on the church property. A bell was secured from Incarnation, Reading and installed on the steel tower in front of the church. A new sound in the community was heard on Sunday mornings as a call to worship. 1981 also saw organist Cindy Warmkessel hired, and carpeting replace the linoleum tiles in the Fellowship Hall. As a result of discussions at the 1982 congregational meeting, circulating fans and electronic temperature controls were purchased and installed in the nave in 1983. This year also saw the formation of the 50+ Club for older church and community members.

It was with great fanfare that on Palm Sunday, April 15, 1984, a special service was held 3:00 P.M. for the purpose of celebrating the retirement of the $160,000.00 mortgage debt. A crowd was on hand, and invited guests included key people in the planning, construction, and operation of the new church building since 1964. A copy of the mortgage was burned. A sound system was installed in the church, and new recording equipment made more and better tapes of the service available to shut-ins.

By June 1, 1986, St. John's was again without a pastor, and in 1987, Rev. Raymond Burdick was called and installed. It was a big year for the church at large, as the Lutheran Church in America was rEHlrganized and renamed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The parsonage, which had served pastors since 1941 was sold, as the new trend was to give a housing allowance to pastors rather than providing them with a home. That, along with the rising cost of maintenance, prompted the decision. A large bulletin board representing Scouting at St. John's was hung in the fellowship hall, and a new driveway access to the parking lot was constructed. The men and women of St. John's started organizing groups for fellowship and service. A pictorial directory was produced, and the Adult Luther League discussed the installation of air-conditioning for the church. By 1989, the air conditioning system had been installed, and new carpeting had been laid in the Fellowship Hall. On November 9, 1989, at a meeting of the Adult Luther League, a motion was passed to dissolve this group. The "Social Hall," as it was known, had already been sold to the True Faith Independent Holiness Church. The fellowship hall in the church provided the space to accommodate the needs for activities formerly held in the Social Hall. Membership and activity of this group had diminished substantially because of increasing age and death of it's members. The few remaining members felt that a younger group could more adequately serve the congregation. A three phase project to replace the roof on all portions of the church was also started. A new evangelism brochure was produced, and St. John's went to the community to spread the Good News.

By 1990, the Council was again faced with the task of finding a new Pastor. It was also a time of sadness as the congregation lost organist Cindy Warmkessel to cancer. A new organist, Patricia Loos was hired and began on Palm Sunday of that year. An entire year passed without a full-time pastor at St. John's. But the ministry continued under the guidance of former Pastor Verne Snyder serving as interim pastor. The church celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the building in 1991, and new lights illuminated the cross and bell tower for the first time. It also marked the return of Girl Scouting to St. John's. Building improvements continued into 1992, as the Fellowship Hall was air-conditioned and new lighting was installed in the offices and Sunday School rooms.

By late Summer, the call committee was making final preparations to call Pastor Susan Fox, and in September, the first female Pastor to lead St. John's was installed. Under her leadership, a 200th Anniversary committee was organized, there were changes to the order of the service, and a new children's church school was offered for children during the worship service.

And so we arrive at 1993, the bicentennial of St. John's as a congregation. 200 years of ministry had passed. Many events, many people, many friends were made along the way. A whole schedule of events were planned, and took shape throughout the year. A new pictorial directory was undertaken. Many joint activities between the United Church of Christ (the "Church on the Hill") and our own (the "Church by the River") were conducted, celebrating the relationship we have shared, and our common roots as congregations. Other social events for fun, fellowship, and celebration were carried out. And on September 26, a grand celebration service and dinner honoring this moment in the life of our church.

We have come far, and done so much, and through the power of God, we will continue to grow in our ministry in Christ. The future history of St. John's is yet to be decided by the words and actions of its members. God bless us in this mission.

Source: Taken from the program of the 200th Anniversary Celebration of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1993.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 14:36