All photography provided by Jared Chambers
History of the Stehman Memorial United Methodist Church
May 20, 2007 was Heritage Sunday and this church’s 150th Anniversary. So how did we get here? Christianity was founded on the blood of Jesus Christ.
During the Easter season, we were reminded of what Jesus suffered for each of us, to provide our salvation from sin. It wasn’t easy for Jesus to be our Savior. The soil on which Christianity grew was watered by the blood of thousands and thousands of Christian martyrs, starting with Jesus’ disciples, and continued for the first 300 years of the church’s existence. It wasn’t easy to be a Christian back then. Martin Luther dared to suggest that the church might be on the wrong track, and many who agreed with him lost their lives during the Protestant Reformation. It wasn’t easy to be a Protestant back then.
Many people fled Europe and came to America to seek religious freedom. They left behind family, homes and a way of life to start over in the New World. There were no churches to worship God in, until they had time to build them. It wasn’t easy to worship God with other believers back then.
Today there is no one to tell us we can’t worship God however we feel led to. We have churches on every corner and cars to drive in to whichever church we choose to go to. We could be Catholic or Protestant. We could belong to a major denomination or an independent congregation. Our choices are mind boggling. Maybe for us today it’s too easy to be a Christian and we forget how hard it was for our brothers and sisters in the past to worship God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So on Heritage Sunday, we’d like to say thank you to all those who have gone before us.
THE CHURCH BUILDING
Not only should we celebrate the heritage of our religion, but of our church as well. Stehman’s Church was built by Father John Stehman and his wife Anna. In 1839 Anna had a conversion experience at a church service that was held at the house that now belongs to Dave & Norma Frey on Stehman Church Road. Soon after Father Stehman was also converted. He became an itinerant preacher in the United Brethren Church and traveled throughout Lancaster, Lebanon and Dauphin counties on a little white horse.
He had a great desire to build a United Brethren Church on his property. He picked out a spot and every time he passed by that place he would pray and ask God to direct him in building a church. Finally in 1857 he deeded 1/4 acre of ground and built a church on the corner of our present cemetery at the site of our church sign.
A description of that church given by members says: It was a very plain church. We had no altar, but used a long bench instead, where we knelt; no brussels carpet, but plain floor, and the room was heated with two old-fashioned stoves. At first we had no musical instrument in the church, but a few years later an organ was purchased. The only piece of furniture we have from the original church is Father Stehman’s chair.
Father Stehman was never the pastor of this church. He chose to continue as an itinerant pastor. He did this for 46 years. He died in 1887 and he and Anna are buried in the cemetery. You can see their tombstones near our present church sign.
The congregation outgrew the original church and in 1896 they built a new church at this site at a cost of $3000. In 1913 a vestibule and bell tower were added to the church and the oil painting of Christ in the garden was added to the front. In 1923 the parsonage was built. It cost $8,000 to build. In 1926 four acres of ground was purchased and the pavilion and a band stand were built and the grove of trees was planted. In 1955 the Education building was built as a separate building. Then in 1969 the building was renovated, the sanctuary was turned around and the church and Education building were combined. Our last major project was tearing down some walls in the downstairs classrooms and adding a Fellowship Hall and kitchen area in 1992.
Father Stehman built the church as a United Brethren Church. In 1752 Philip William Otterbein came to America from Germany as a missionary. He became the pastor of the German Reformed Church in Lancaster. He attended a church meeting at the Isaac Long barn and heard a Mennonite minister named Martin Boehm preach. He was so excited by what he heard; because it was also what was in his heart; that he jumped up, threw his arms around Martin Boehm and said “We are Brethren.” These two men later organized and started the United Brethren Church.
At that same time Jacob Albright was converted at a United Brethren prayer meeting. He joined the Methodist Church and did missionary work among the German speaking people of eastern Pennsylvania and Maryland. Since the Methodist Church ministered mainly to English speaking people and he ministered to the German speaking people; he and his co-workers eventually formed their own church and called it the Evangelical Church.
In 1946 the United Brethren and the Evangelical Churches joined to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church. And Stehmans became EUB. In 1968 the EUB and the Methodist Churches joined to form the United Methodist Church. The founder of Methodism is John Wesley. In 1738 the Methodist Church was started in England as a result of the ministries of John Wesley and his brother Charles. It is said that no one lives in this world beyond his lifetime except as he lives in others. John Wesley lives through many others like George Whitefield, who was perhaps the greatest preacher of the eighteenth century. John Wesley, though not as great a preacher as Whitefield, knew how to prepare other men to preach. Francis Asbury came to America in 1771 and, along with other circuit rider preachers, spread the Methodist message in America.
And that is briefly how we became Stehman Memorial United MethodistChurch. We are the future of Stehman Memorial United Methodist Church. There has been a church on this property for 150 years and if we keep true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, this church will be a light on this hill until Jesus returns.