Trinity United Church of Christ had its origin in 1790 when a group of German Christians, led by Rev. George Troldenier, of Holland, organized a church body. They met in a log cabin school room adjacent to our present building.
On January 27, 1812, the foundation for a “union church” was laid at the present location by the German Reform and German Lutheran congregations. English was introduced into the service in 1832 and six years later the first church school was organized. In 1836 a number of members, who had formed the Christ Lutheran congregation, left the “union church” and in 1850 the St. James Lutheran congregation decided to dissolve the union church as well.
The present church’s cornerstone was laid on May 22, 1851. It was remodeled in 1892 with the addition of a vestibule, tower, and stained glass windows. In that same year, its name was changed to Trinity Reformed Church.
In 1863 this building served as a hospital for wounded soldiers of both armies during the “Battle of Gettysburg.” In 1918 it served as a “Y” hut for the soldiers of Camp Colt during World War I.
In 1934, in a merger with the Evangelical denomination, the name was changed to the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The addition of a Fellowship Hall was completed in 1950. In 1957 a merger was consummated with the Congregational Christian Church. At the Uniting General Synod in Cleveland, Ohio that year, the denomination’s name was established to be the United Church of Christ.
The congregation’s bicentennial celebration was observed in 1990. During that year a major renovation of the building was completed which involved remodeling and realigning the interior of the sanctuary. New additions included the chancel and gathering area, parlor, and offices along with the remodeling of the Fellowship Hall and church school classrooms.
The congregation has called 20 pastors over these many years. In addition, four members of the congregation have been ordained as ministers:
Rev. William Swisher – 1962
Rev. Timothy Weible – 1991
Rev. Kim Blocher – 1995
Rev. Joel Weible - 1999
Interested in History?
A History Interest Group is forming. Trinity has a rich and important history that needs to be shared with our members. If you are interested in learning more about Trinity's past, please join us. You may contact Jane Malone (334-1679) or email@example.com) for more information.
BITS OF TRINITY HISTORY
A Bit of Trinity History
Communion is one of only two sacraments observed in the United Church of Christ. (The other sacrament is baptism.) Communion has been offered on this corner for over 200 years, but it has not always been offered the same way. When our congregation was founded in 1789, communion was offered using a single cup or chalice for the wine. That “common cup” practice was continued until 1899. On April 2, 1899 individual cups were offered for the first time. Rev. Dr. Thomas Barkley, pastor of Trinity Reformed Church, wrote: “I am delighted with the change from the old mode of administering the wine from one cup; and as far as I have heard the members of the congregation are equally well pleased. It is clean, sanitary, neat, and without any of the unpleasant things unavoidable in the old way.” This aspect of communion we would recognize if we were able to attend a service post 1899. But would it be identical to our current communion? Probably not. In our church history it is noted that the distribution of communion in the pews began in 1949. My guess is that we had communion at the altar rail. If you can help fill in this blank the History Interest Group would love to know. Please let Sue Henderson, John Fuss, or Scott Dolly know how we “used to take communion”, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Bit of Trinity History
As I picked up my envelopes for 2014, I reflected that our system of weekly envelopes is almost 100 years old. Our current system was first used at Trinity on January 1, 1917. It replaced a monthly system of envelopes which began on December 13, 1907. These envelope systems reflect the struggle our congregation faced in the nineteenth century to secure sufficient funding to carry on the work of the church and to pay its bills.
How did we collect church money in the 19th century? The answer is, “with great difficulty”. The church depended, as it does now, on what was put in the plate. The difficulty in the plate collection before 1859 was that the amount collected was totally unpredictable in amount and frequency. On August 2, 1859 at a congregational meeting it was decided to adopt the practice, current in many area churches, of collecting pew rents. Families rented “their” pews for a yearly fee. A chart of the rented and unrented pews was posted so that no one sat in a wrong pew. The vote to move to the pew rental system was far from unanimous. The final vote was 34 to 32. That many in the congregation did not like this system is clear from the number of members who are cited in consistory records as being delinquent in their yearly rent. If a member could demonstrate an inability to pay pew rent, they were allowed to sit in unrented pews reserved for “indigent persons”.
It is interesting to think of how churches funded their operations in the past, and to consider that at some point our current system may be as curious as pew rents.
Trinity has three cornerstones. Our oldest, laid in 1851, is actually inside our building.* It was laid on Thursday, May 22, 1851 in a ceremony to which the public was invited. The announcement of the ceremony appeared in the Republican Compiler beginning on May 5th and each week until May 19th. Four clergy were present at the dedication, and two sermons were preached - one in English and one in German. The following items were placed in the cornerstone; a Bible; a copy of the Catechism and our constitution; an English hymn book; the German Reformed Messenger and Kirchen Zeitung; copies of the Republican Compiler, Star and Banner, and Adams Sentinel; a gold dollar and three cent piece (latest issue). The cornerstone items also included a paper on which was written the following: “The German Reformed congregation at Gettysburg having purchased the right of the Evangelical Lutheran congregation in the ground and edifice lately held by them jointly together with the additional ground specified in the deed of conveyance given by the latter to the former, the - the German Reformed congregation - have now in course of erection for the worship of the true God, erected an edifice of suitable size for their comfort and convenience and lay the cornerstone this day May 22, A.D. 1851.” Construction on the new church building was completed in the spring of 1852. The cost of construction and new furnishings was a little over $3,000. The new church building was dedicated on Saturday, May 1, 1852.
*To see this cornerstone, go down the spiral stair at the back of the sanctuary to the first landing. The cornerstone is on the wall ahead of you.
A LITTLE BIT OF TRINITY HISTORY-150 YEARS AGO
It is an interesting fact, that a majority of the pastors of Gettysburg's churches in July 1863 left their congregations and moved on within one year of the battle. Theodore Park Bucher of the German Reformed Church was one of those pastors. His pastorate in Gettysburg lasted four years-- four challenging years.
Rev. Bucher was born on October 2, 1829. He graduated from Marshall College (Lancaster) in 1854 and taught at Milton Academy before becoming superintendent of the public schools in Perry County. By 1859, Rev. Bucher had graduated from the Mercersburg Seminary and accepted his first call to the Gettysburg Charge which included the Reformed churches in Gettysburg, Flohr's and St. Marks. The times, however, were difficult and Rev. Bucher, in particular, faced a number of challenges. He was a slight young man who suffered from ill health, often having hemorrhages while preaching. It was his decision to avoid politics in his -sermons -that prompted some--both in an out of the congregation, to accuse him of disloyalty to-the Union. Bucher's sermons and the number of Democrats in the congregation contributed to the slur the Church incurred-being the "Rebel Church". After the battle, Rev. Bucher was accused by a member of the Gettysburg congregation of trying to defraud the U.S. government by inflating the amount of damage sustained by the church.
What really happened? It is hard to say. What we can do is note the following about Theodore Bucher. When war was declared in April 1861 a number of young men in the county joined local militias. Theodore Bucher was no exception. In May 1861 he is listed as a member of the newly formed Gettysburg Zouves serving as First Lieutenant. The September 23, 1862 issue of The Sentinel reported that communion at the German Reformed Church was postponed because "Pastor Reverend Bucher has been the past week in Boonesboro." Pastor Bucher had taken supplies from the Gettysburg Ladies Union Relief Association to Keedysville for the Union troops wounded during the Battle of Antietam. He stayed to assist in their care. During the battle in July 1863, Rev. Bucher was in the church building ministering to the wounded brought into the church-mostly Union men. When the post-battle accusations were made against Rev. Bucher he submitted his resignation to the consistories of the churches he served. They refused to accept his resignation noting, at their joint consistory meeting, that the pastor was not disloyal and they approved his practice of" ... avoiding the introduction and discussion of politics in his ministrations, believing that politics are for politicians, and that Christ and Him Crucified are the proper themes for the pulpit and the Christian minister." The Gettysburg consistory suspended Rev. Bucher's accuser from the privileges of the church for one year. That member later apologized to the congregation and was reinstated as a member in 1864.
Pastor Bucher pressed for acceptance of his resignation and on October 10, 1863 it was accepted. Theodore P. Bucher then accepted a call from First Reformed Church in Dayton, Ohio.
TRINITY AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION?? YES, WE MAY HAVE A CONNECTION.
George Washington never worshipped here, but Reverend John William Runkel, was pastor of our church from 1815 to 1828, may have served with Washington's army at Valley Forge.
A native of Heidelberg (a city in the Palatinate, a state in southwest Germany), John Runkel was born in 1749. He came to America with his father at the age of 15 and settled in Pennsylvania. According to Dr. James I. Good, a nineteenth century Reformed Church historian, Runkel was at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778 with the Continental Army. Isaac Potts, the owner of the house occupied by General Washington as his headquarters, described John Runkel as " ... the most devout Christian and patriot. He was one of the hardest workers in the cause of religion and his presence among Washington's men was always attended with good results." Good says that Runkel served a military as well as religious role that winter. "When Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben" a Prussian officer in Washington's army, "began drilling the raw recruits he had great difficulty in making them understand his orders as he could not speak English. He struggled on until one day he noticed Runkel, who, he found spoke German. Runkel translated the commands for Col. Harry Lee and von Steuben's difficulties vanished. Runkel was a man of great physical endurance. On one occasion, while following Washington's army on foot from White Marsh to Skippacksvile, he found a soldier whose feet were so torn by the rough road that he could no longer march and had fallen out of the ranks. Runkel took him on his shoulders and carried him to Norristown where he had friends."
Runkel was ordained on July 30, 1778 in the German Reformed Church in Carlisle, PA. He served as a missionary and later served churches in Frederick, MD and in 1802, Germantown, PA. He accepted a call to New York City in 1805. In 1812 he returned to Germantown and in 1815 accepted a call to serve three churches, Gettysburg, Emmitsburg, and Taneytown. He made his home in Emmitsburg until 1821 when he moved with his family to Gettysburg where he continued to serve until 1828.
Rev. Runkel's physical strength was evident into his seventies. His son, Dr. William Runkel, shared the following story: "On a very cold and stormy Sunday in March of 1821 he was returning home from Taneytown, faint and weary [when] he horse fell with him throwing him furiously to the ground. He lay for a while in a state of unconsciousness. Recovering, however, from the shock and arriving here in time he preached to a large ... congregation."
William Runkel kept a regular journal in which he recorded the story of his ministry "replete with historical facts of the Reformed Church in this country .... " [He] made his last journal entry on 28 April 1830, his 81st' birthday. He lived yet two years after this entry. But at length, in November 1832, the silver cord was loosed and the golden bowl was broken and he fell asleep, full of years and full of honors, aged 83 years," Rev. Runkel was buried beside his wife, Catherine Nies Runkel whom he married in 1770, in the cemetery of the "old stone church" at Emmitsburg (St. Elias Lutheran Church).
All quoted material is from '”A Historic Sketch 1789 -1930" by Rev. Paul Reid Pontius (1922)
Our church served as a hospital during and after the Battle. Wounded men of the Union Army 11th Corps that fought north of Gettysburg were brought to this church during the day on July 1.
A written account by wounded Sergeant Rueben Ruch indicated that at least ten operating tables were set up in the lower room. Arms and legs were removed. Then the Louisiana Tigers of the Confederate Army occupied this area until July 4. There was very little food available during that time.
Other accounts tell about the Confederate sharpshooter in the bell tower and other action in and around our church. Testimony later for a claim for damages told of blood being on the seats of the church. Holes were bored in the lower floor to let the blood drain out. However, there is no record that the government paid the claim. Jennie Wade was buried in the church cemetery until her later removal to the Evergreen Cemetery.
When you enter our sanctuary, it is impossible to miss our central stained glass window on the eastern wall - Christ Blessing the Children. What may not stand out is the name of the women to whom this beautiful window is dedicated - Hannah Winebrenner. She was impossible to miss during her time in the German Reformed Church.
Hanna Grove was born in Maryland in 1817, and married John Winebrenner in 1840. By 1842, the couple was residing in Gettysburg. In that year, John bought a tan yard at the south end of Baltimore Street. The family would live in the home that came with the tan yard (now Mr. G's Ice Cream) and raise three daughters there. Their oldest child, a son, would drown in one of the tan yard vats at the age of three.
Mrs. Winebrenner joined the German Reformed Church in 1846. For the next forty-five years, she was an active worker in home missions and the Sunday school. Rev. Thomas Barkley, pastor of the church from 1882 to 1915, wrote an obituary for her which appeared in The Missionary Guardian (volume 1, 1891.) In it he praised her dedication. "Neither heat or cold nor storm kept her from the services of the sanctuary. When the burden of years and increasing infirmities began to press upon her, she often remained in the church, after morning service, in order that she might meet her Sunday school class in the afternoon." When she died, The Star and Sentinel included these words with the notice of her death: Mrs. Winebrenner "was a consistent and beloved member of the Reformed Church and her taking off will be regarded as a personal loss by the members of that congregation, as well as by a large circle of friends."
The plans to honor Hannah Winebrenner began in her lifetime but she did not live to see the tribute the Sunday School wanted to give her. The renovation, which included the placement of the windows, began in July 1891. On November 8, 1891, the Star and Sentinel reported that our stained glass windows were put in place the previous Saturday. "The central window of Christ blessing the children is inscribed to Hannah Winebrenner by the Sunday School." The windows are described as "beautiful specimens of art work in glass."This beautiful piece of art should bring to mind Christ's special relationship with children, and also the extraordinary dedication to the congregation by one if its Saints. Hannah Winebrenner is a worthy example for all of us to follow.
Through the 1840s, our congregation shared a house of worship at our present location with the St. James Lutheran congregation.
At the same time, we owned a property on High Street west of Baltimore Street. It was called the lecture room. It evidently was used as a Sunday School or teaching area. Perhaps it was used at times when the Lutherans were using the church building.
In 1850, our Reformed congregation bought out the Lutheran ownership in the church. The Lutherans moved to the location on York Street. Our congregation erected the present church a few years later, with a lecture room below the main sanctuary. The property on West High Street was sold and became the property of the Catholic church.
THE TRINITY BELL
Our church bell has been ringing since 1822. It may be the only piece of the 1814 church left to us, and it may be the oldest bell still ringing in Gettysburg.
The bell was the largest of a pair of bells bought by the Union (German Reform and Lutheran) congregation that built our first brick and mortar church in 1814. The church was not completely finished until 1821, when the church tower was completed. The next year, Henry Wertz brought the bells on a turnpike wagon from Baltimore, and they were put in the newly completed 100 foot church steeple. Together the bells weighed 1000 pounds and cost the princely sum of $500. When the German Reformed and Lutheran congregations split in the 1840s, St. James took the small bell.
Our bell developed a crack and was recast in 1859 and rehung in the 1852 cupola by the workers who were part of the construction crew building the Courthouse. Those who heard the new bell said it had a truer ring. The recasting resulted in a smaller bell. The bell originally weighed 634 pounds. In its recasting it lost 22 pounds but, according to those who heard the before and after ring, it gained a truer and more beautiful sound.
Next time you hear the bell ringing, stop and listen. You are hearing history.