church33-685x1087Church History

Church

Records indicate a small congregation was meeting for worship as early as 1725-1730. The first official recognition occurred on October 18, 1734 in a letter from Reverend John Philip Boehm, founder of the German Reformed Church in the United States to the Synods of North and South Holland. Thomas and Richard Penn (sons of William Penn) were true and absolute proprietors and governors in chief of the province of Pennsylvania. All land purchases had to be obtained through their land office. In 1681 Penn got the land as a payment of debt because the king had borrowed a lot of money from Penn’s father to support a war. The survey and land grant was made in 1738 and quit rent paid by the congregation until 1762 when the deed was issued and a full title obtained. Until 1762 the congregation couldn’t raise enough money to purchase the land.

 

Back then Lehigh County was part of Bucks County and later part of Northampton County.

December 16, 1762 the third year of the reign of King George the 3rd of Great Britain, the Great Seal was affixed to the deed in Philadelphia. 113 acres and 70 perches of land were now owned by the German Reformed Calvinist Society. The cost was 17 pounds, 11 shillings and 7 pence ($31.82 in today’s money).

 

The English never included “German” in the name of the church. Taxes paid each year were ½ penny in sterling for every acre. Until 1762 the congregation existed as a union of Reformed and Lutheran members. We were united with Old and New Goshenhopen as a charge and shared a pastor.

 

It is declared that the congregation had existed as a union of Reformed and Lutheran members, down to 1762.  Some Lutheran names occur in the original enrollment.  It is said that the two organizations appointed two men to patent the land in trust for both- elder Sheets of the Lutheran and elder Everhart of the Reformed.  The former, instead of accompanying the latter, that both might transact their duty in common and to the mutual benefit of both congregations, hurried on ahead.  Elder Everhart, hearing of this over-much haste, proceeded ‘by express’ to Philadelphia, and entered the Land Office, in advance of elder Sheets, and secured a title for the Reformed congregation exclusively, whilst Sheets, who reached the city first, had leisurely indulged in a glass of wine at the hotel.  After they met on the steps of the Land Office, Sheets intending to transact the business, Everhart having already attended to it, both were surprised, the one sadly, the other gladly. After a few moments of awkward silence, followed by a short parleying, they returned to the hotel to explain. It resulted in the following dialogue:

 

church150x203Everhart: Neighbor Sheets, do you know the difference between the Lutherans and Reformed?

Sheets: Well, they vary in the Lord’s Prayer, the former using “Vater Unser” usually, whilst the latter say “Unser Vater.” Besides, they differ in several views of the Lord’s Supper.

Everhart: There is still another difference, is there not?

Sheets: I am not aware of any other difference; what may it be?

Everhart: I will tell you: The Reformed first attend to duty, and then indulge in wine, whilst the Lutherans first sip their wine, and then attend to duty.

 

No further explanation was needed.  And as both elders indulged in a glass or two of good wine, they started on their home-road in good fellowship.  The Lutherans then withdrew apart, and built a church on a spot which elder Sheets donated for that purpose. That is why for years the church was often referred to as Sheets' church.  

 

Also founded here was the 1st school in Lehigh County in 1736. They are not sure where the school or congregation met, but the 1st building was a log structure and tradition places it near the old cemetery. The church and school probably used the same structure.

 

This log church was replaced by a stone church in 1772 at or near the first church. The 3rd structure could seat 600 and was erected in 1837 for $1800. The pastor was Reverend Dr. Daniel Weiser. The structure contained the first organ purchased for $600 in June 1848. The 4th structure was erected in 1872-1873, which is our present building at a cost of $21,186.31. It was dedicated debt free November 19, 1873. The building contained the 2nd organ. Charles Hintzelman was the builder at a cost of $2025. The church building has undergone 8 or more renovations and redecorating projects. Included are the removal of upper side pews, a 3rd organ purchased in 1946, and the present organ purchased in 1980. The pulpit, lectern and baptismal font are made from the walnut wood from the old organ.

 

 

The present Christian education addition was built in 1963-1964 and cost $134,119.41. The present parsonage was built in 1977-1978.

 

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Great Swamp in German is Groton Schwamm and means “frog swamp.” The German word for toad is Kroten. This name was supposedly used because of the abundance of toads and frogs in the area. Many think grotten is just a misspelling of grosse-German for big or large. Schwamm in German means meadow or bottomland. The land was very fertile and great for agriculture. Our area also includes East Swamp, West Swamp, Swamp and Falkner Swamp church names.

 

Pastors

 There is some confusion on two issues: who was the 1st pastor and how many pastors there were in the history of the church.  The 1st appears to be Kasper Steber (Stoever). He was having a quarrel with the congregations because they didn’t want to give him the salary they promised him.  They are said to promise something, but when he preaches and applies the truth too strongly, they become rude and refuse to pay him.

The 2nd pastor (1734) was Peter Miller who could not bring the people over to his opinion.  He quit the ministry and became an oil miller.  He later became a monk-Brother Jabez at the Cloister in Ephrata-also known as the Dunkers.

 

The next minister was John Henry Goetschy in 1735.  He was referred to as the “Boy Pastor” as he was only 17 years old.  A day after he and his father who was an ordained reformed pastor arrived in the US, his father died and young John took over for him.  The 1st school master at Great Swamp was J. Ch. Seyfert in 1739.  Although Goetschy mentions a schoolhouse had been built in 1736 at Great Swamp, it is possible that the church and school house were one and the same.

 

George Michael Weiss was pastor from 1747-1761.  Pastor Weiss and his wife Anna owned a family of Negro slaves.  The man’s name was Gideon, age 44, and he was a cripple.  His wife was Jenny, age 42.  They had 9 children ranging in age from 6 months to 20 years.  When Pastor Weiss died, they were considered property, and they had to be appraised.  Jenny and her 6 month daughter were worth 30 pounds. A twenty year old son was worth 50 pounds.  An eighteen year old wench was worth 40 pounds.  The lowest was 15 pounds for a 4 year old boy.

 

Mrs. Weiss would hire them out for income.  In her will she directed upon her death the Negro family freed.  She left them the remainder of her belongings, and she left them 14 acres and 6 perches of land in then Douglas Township in Philadelphia County.

The family lived on the church property and after the Weiss deaths, they didn’t want to move.  A lengthy lawsuit followed and by 1776 it was still not resolved.  It seems the Revolutionary War caused a change in priorities.

It should be pointed out that the early pastors served 3 churches, Old and New Goshenhoppen and Great Swamp.

 

At some point in our history this was changed, and we shared a pastor with Chestnut Hill Church.  Both William J. Rupp (1936-1952) and Morgan S. Haney (1952-1965) ministered to Chestnut Hill Church.  That ended in the sixties, and we finally had our own pastor.

Over the years we had 3 father and sons for Pastors.  They were:

John Theobald Faber Sr.  - 1766-1779 & 1786-1788
John Theobald Faber Jr. -  1792-1807 & 1819-1833
Frederick Wm. Van Der Sloop Sr. – 1784-1786
Frederick Wm. Van Der Sloop Jr. – 1812-1818
Daniel Weiser D.D. – 1833-1863
Clement Zwingli Weiser D. D. 1863-1893

These ministries served our church for a total of 112 years.  Morgan Haney 1952-1965 and Jack Haney 1966-1968 were not related.

 

Stories

 Faber Sr. served twice, the 1st time he left to serve a church in Lancaster. He said he didn't like the city life and returned to Great Swamp. The church in Lancaster issued a call 3 times for him to return which he did. He again decided to return to Great Swamp so the church in Lancaster offered him 225 lbs. lawful money, 60 bushels of wheat and rye, use of a parsonage, fuel , and the hay in the meadow to remain. He declined and returned to Great Swamp.  After returning, he was halfway through a sermon about death when he was stricken and died 1 ½ hours later and was buried under the alter.  His son Faber Jr. also served here twice.  Like his father he was conducting a funeral service, took suddenly ill, was carried away and died 10 days later.  He was buried beside his father under the chancel.  Over the tomb the inscription, “approach lightly, depart softly.”


Van Der Sloat Sr. (1784-1786) had left a wife and child in Germany and married a single woman here. When his father-in-law here found out about the wife and child in Germany, he took his daughter back home. Van Der Sloat Sr. was locked out at both Goshenhoppen churches, but Great Swamp allowed him to preach.  He eventually left. In 1812 Van Der Sloat Jr. was called and stayed to 1818.


The Sunday School was started in 1840 by Reverend Daniel Weiser, sometimes called the “pope.” This was because many considered Sunday School too Catholic. This was the 1st Sunday School in local churches.  There were 2 classes-1 in German and 1 in English. It was reported that there was loud, determined and at times fanatical opposition by many against the Sunday School.  It was short-lived and by 1842 other churches were encouraged to start Sunday Schools in their churches.  The earliest Sunday School record at Great Swamp was 1849 which stated that there were 55 males and 54 females enrolled.

 

People

 

The 1st members were of German Heritage, commonly called Pennsylvania Dutch.  German was spoken and over the years it changed enough that the Pennsylvania Dutch had their own language.  The 1st German Settlers arrived in America on October 6, 1683. They were mostly Mennonites and were fleeing religious persecution.  They settled in a newly formed community called Germantown. This was planned by William Penn as an experience in tolerance. The port of Rotterdam was the gateway for all German immigrants.  The citizens of Germantown were the 1st in America to denounce slavery as an evil.


During the late 1600s and early 1700s the English Government made special efforts to attract German immigrants.  Swiss Mennonites also started to arrive in Pennsylvania.  The Swiss Government provided free passage down the Rhine on the condition they never return.


In 1717 the 1st large group of Palatinate Germans arrived in Philadelphia.  The Governor tells London he fears they will outnumber the English.  The English thought them rude and crude.  A loyalty oath to England was required and a 2lb. fee.  Not all who came did it for religious freedom; they also left because of constant wars, poverty and taxes.


The ship’s captains sent out agents to “sell” or “recruit” passengers because of all the open space and opportunities this new land offered.  More passengers-more trips-more money. The trip was not an easy one.  A 3 month voyage with sickness, death, rats and starvation.  One ship left with 150 and only 50 were alive when they arrived.  The ship’s passenger lists only included the men. Women and children were excluded.  Early church rolls also were men only.  Women were referred to as Mrs. (man’s name.) Those who arrived late in the season lived in crude huts with little food.  The people that came did so of their own free will and were not supported by a mother country.


They were considered the world’s best farmers and worked their way north and west and eventually owned their own farms.

 

* Researched and compiled by Willard and Gladys Benner.

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