Address – Elder G. N. Falkenstein, Historian, Philadelphia
“Home-Coming,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the First Church, Church of The Brethren, York, Pa..
I accept the subject assigned me, ‘”The Church,” for some brief discussion and contribution to this program for this Memorable Anniversary Occasion.
As we think of this subject, there is one outstanding text that instantly comes to mind, and I want to quote it as our foundation thought: Matt. 16:15-18.
15. “He saith unto them, but whom say ye that I am?
16. “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
17. “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18. “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The New Testament Church. The time had come in the teaching of Jesus, when he would reveal to His disciples the real character of the work which He would establish, and they should perpetuate. He wanted them to think first, of the attitude other people had toward Him and His mission and purpose. And 2nd, He wanted them to think what was the attitude in their own hearts. The answer was a most marvelous climax. Jesus said, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This, then, is the foundation of “‘The Church,” the “Rock” on which He would build it; viz, upon His own divinity, and not upon Peter, as some pretend. When Jesus said, “Thou art Peter,” meaning a stone; He used a different word. When he says, “Rock,” He used another word, vastly different in its application of profound contrast. And from this time forward, He teaches, and emphasizes, His divinity, as never before. He at once states coming events. He “charged His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ.” But told them he must go to Jerusalem, “Suffer many things, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” This is the pattern which we should always have in mind, When we think and speak of “The Church,” and let that be the Standard as we honor this “Anniversary Day,” as I believe it was the Standard fifty years ago, and at the birth of this congregation; and also at the birth of the Codorus congregation, 175 yeas ago, of which you were a part, at the time of your organization.
Fifty Years Ago. We are here this morning to commemorate an epochal event, that transpired half a century ago. Much history was made since in the York City Church and in our own live’s, those of us who have lived through those years. Most of the history of the Church and in our own lives is unrecorded, and it is astonishing how large a part of that history passes out with our own lives.
York Fifty Years Ago. I think I should stop very briefly and give you something of a background, a brief setting of conditions, and material things when the work began in York. Maybe you will not object if I go back 5 or 10 years beyond the 50. I remember some of the business people, especially on the Square. Going with someone on business, 60 years ago, we went into the private office, and I met these very unusual men, P. A. and S. Small, and remember them very well. About the same time, I was called into court as a boy-witness in a will case, and learned to know the Judge, and three or four of the most prominent lawyers. A few years later I attended the funeral of Judge Jeremiah S. Black, who had a national reputation, and was perhaps the most brilliant lawyer and Judge York ever produced. When I attended the York County Academy, I met some of the principal educators of that Period. Dr. Charles Ness was our family physician for a time. Dr. C. H. Bressler was my personal dentist, and his grandson now ministers to the suffering of the present generations.
The material expansion of the City in territory, business and industry is very impressive to me. When I attended school in York, I boarded in the home of Bro. Daniel Gladfelter, adjoining the cemetery and near North George St. I remember no buildings north of the cemetery where North York now is, except farm buildings. On the east, the houses were built along one street, now Market, like a country village, called Freystown. On the south, there has been little change. Beyond the large estates, there was a very narrow valley along the small creek with wooded hills on either side. The stream still ripples down its narrow confines, no longer used to fill the ancient ice dams, and the wooded hills remain. A few houses are scattered along the main thoroughfare running south. There was no room to expand southward. But by far the greatest possibilities for expansion were westward, and here I think was the largest and most rapid development, and of course, best known to me, for where West York is now situated I worked in harvest fields on the farm of Bro. Jacob Aldinger during school vacations. At that time, there were only farms west of the railroad.
To plant this infant congregation in the midst of a background still in the making, required wise forethought. The striking results of the work prove the venture under guiding hands.
The Days of Beginnings. I much appreciate some of the familiar details of growth and developments in the new Congregation carved out of dear old Codorus. I desire to add a few incidents and reminiscences. I remember very distinctly when it was said, “There are three members living in York.” One of these three requested that a meeting or meetings be held in York. Bishop Jacob Shamberger, then Elder-in-charge of the Codorus congregation, authorized such meetings be held. I cannot now recall when such meetings were first held, nor where–there was interest at once. In due time the interest increased to such an extent that some members talked about erecting a Church building, and soliciting began in a small way, and quickly.. A solicitor asked me if “I wanted to contribute.” I wanted to, but did not have much money. I was home on vacation, and had succeeded in finding a job that promised some cash besides board. (You see there was job hunting in those days.) I decided on the amount I would give. It was not very large. It was big for me. It was, I think, the largest contribution I ever made, and brought the largest blessing. Well, it was more than the legalistic requirement of my summer’s earnings. It is not in the cornerstone, but you will find it somewhere, deep down in the invisible foundation. I shall continue to be grateful for this opportunity of contributing. I was not at the dedication. I was at school. During the years of ministry, I have often returned with joy of heart to this sanctuary altar which you have here builded, in honor of Him who said, “Upon this Rock, I will build my Church.”
The Period of “Church Building” There is something very interesting in the building of the material house. It always should indicate legitimate expansion, and should make for further growth and development, and for more efficient work. We do well, therefore, to commemorate and celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of the House of Worship. And such occasions should be a re-dedication of the house, and a re-consecration of the worshiper. In the Codorus Congregation, and her original territory, there was a definite period of a well-marked building program, the study of which is of intense interest and full of significance. This building program began 62 years ago and continued approximately 50 years. In this approximate period, all the 7 church-houses of the three congregations that constitute the original territory, were built, besides repairs, alterations, and additions for enlarging. This is most unusual, such expansion in growth and development of the material things, and largely increased facilities for accommodations and carrying forth the Church work. A very striking and significant result in the last few decades, was a largely increased membership. While you were building houses in these congregations, the Lord was building His Church. This is Good News. One day, 62 years ago, I was walking down the valley from Loganville toward Grandfather Ness’, when a wonderful scene met my wondering gaze. The bricklayers were laying up the first corner of the Codorus Meeting-House, the first house of worship, built and owned by the Church of the Brethren in this vast Church territory. This then was the beginning of a new epoch. I have lived thru it all, so you need no longer wonder at the emphasis I have made.
The Period of the Home Sanctuary. By that I mean the public sanctuary in the home. This is by far the longest period of the history of the Codorus congregation, of which you are a part. This is a period of 113 years before the Brethren had a church house of their own. Before discussing briefly these high spots, I want to refer to one exception. Before this time when the Brethren had a house of their own there was what we call Bupp’s Union Church today, a Church schoolhouse. It was called union in that day because there were 5 denominations interested in this Church. Besides, it was a union of Church and schoolhouse. I wish we might be able to get a history of this Church. It meant so much to the Codorus Church in a time when they had no church building of their own. I suppose my grandfather and my father served in that Church at some times as they had services once every two or three months for a period of 30 years. It was my privilege to go to school one winter in that church schoolhouse. School during school time was in the part of the building. When there were church services, the partitions were lifted and there was the church. I hope that sometime we will have a history of the home sanctuary of the Codorus church. It would be worth while for someone to put on record by pen and picture one of the most interesting things in the history of any church congregation. We go back 113 years and that time before church buildings, and you will understand that the congregation was small as already indicated and the houses were small. I suppose the first ones were log houses. At a later period there were large houses built and they were built with special consideration of providing an assembly room. We have notable instances of that kind. I shall refer to only a few of these because I really do not have a complete list. Talk about the facts of history 175 years; it is pretty hard to find. They have gone out with the actors of that period. I refer to a few of these that were built with special reference to an assembly room.
First, the Elder Andrew Myer home, now owned and occupied by Brother S. B. Myers, was built with special reference to an assembly room. The assembly room was upstairs for a while. In the course of time the building was old and the Codorus congregation increased. They feared that it was not altogether safe anymore to have the audience upstairs and they decided to make the assembly room downstairs and you will find there the wooden partitions to this day where the large assembly room was in the main building. I remember distinctly attending services in the Andrew Myer homestead.
Second, another one was my grandfather’s homestead, Elder Jacob Falkenstein, who built a very large assembly room. There were no partitions, it was one big room used for other purposes too. That was built in 1817. It served its purpose as a home as well as a sanctuary. Now, with many of these ancient sanctuaries, it is out of existence. It was torn down and a residence rebuilt.
One of the very oldest I think, is the Henry Keeney homestead down near Shrewsbury, owned by Andrew Eby. My great-great-grandfather, Andrew Eby, bought that farm and gave it: to his son, John, John Eby, and I suppose, Elder John Eby deeded it by will to Henry Keeney, now owned and occupied by Emanuel Keeney. I remember attending services in that building. These are a few of the older ones I think.
Then there was the Elder John Keeney homestead, below Loganville, long since torn down and another built across the road where George Keeney now lives. There are two later homesteads which many of you remember that do not remember those former ones. I shall only add a few in conclusion.
There were services in the latter part of the 113 year period at places like the Feigley homestead, the David Brillhart homestead, George Ness homestead, where we will remember that when it was time for meeting we went to the cellar and put up supports and props to play safe for the congregation upstairs. That was a common thing, to take precaution that the homesteads were safe so the increasing of the congregation would not endanger the lives of the audience.
I would like to refer in conclusion to a few things. It is very interesting to me this morning my dear Brethren and Sisters, when I think of the Codorus congregation and no matter how much you think of York City congregation, your ancestors, many of whom, were in the Codorus congregation.
The Church of .the Brethren was organized in Schwartzenau in 1708. Then in 1719 the first group of emigrants came over and the second group came in 1729. About 4 years after the first emigrants, 1719, the Germantown Church was organized in 1723. Now if you have never thought of it I am sure you will be interested to know that within 15 years of the organization of the Germantown Church, there was organized work in York County. The first church was built in 1738. The history of York County especially and Codorus Congregation goes right back into the very heart of the Church of the Brethren in America.
I want to relate a few incidents .of Alexander Mack and his son; and I am always wonderfully impressed Dear Brethren and Sisters and friends, when I think of the spirit, of the devotion, of the loyalty that characterizes our spiritual ancestors and our natural ancestors too. You know Alexander Mack did not come over with the first emigrants but he had come over in 1729. He only lived in America six years. When he came to die he called his three sons to his bedside. “Now, when I am dead do not mark my grave.” He felt that they might some day, I think, want to erect a monument over his grave. He did not realize then that it would not be necessary to erect a monument on his grave. His loyal devoted sons possibly protested that they did not want to lose sight of his grave. He gave them permission to put over the grave his initials, the date of his birth and the date of his death; only his initials. It was my privilege in 1894, by the help of the descendants of Alexander Mack and the folks and friends in Germantown, to have the remains of Alexander Mack removed from the original resting place, bring them up to the Church to our own burial grounds and there re-interred them. I held the skull of Alexander Mack in my hands.
Once in a while we get a glimpse of the fact that it is just a little ways back there, not far; and so today Alexander Mack remains reposed in the space on the grounds where the First Church was organized in America.
Alexander Mack the second, his son, was a man of similar character. He wrote his own epitaph and requested that it be put on his tombstone and I’ll let you judge the spirit of the son of Alexander Mack, Sr. I will give the inscription in the German translation first as some of you will understand and be glad for the spirit of the German because it can’t be translated so beautifully in the English language. “God who created us out of dust and brings us again to dust will certify His wondrous power when we wake with his likeness.”
Long live the York City Church. God Bless You.