Hempfield church gives thanks for its founding in 1772
Celebrating 240 years of worship is a milestone that lights the spiritual future of Harrold Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“It was a delight to be there for the two services (last) Sunday,” said Bishop Rev. Kurt Kusserow of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, which oversees the Hempfield church that began in 1772 with German settlers worshipping in a nearby one-room schoolhouse.
The first recorded events of the church were baptisms performed by Lutheran lay minister Baltzer Meyer, a schoolmaster.
The settlers began building a log structure to hold their services but had difficulty finishing the building, mainly due to Indian attacks, according to the church's history.
“To me the joy of being there with the congregation of the longest existing church in the synod, and highlighting the past, was setting the intention of looking ahead for a bright future,” Kusserow said.
The celebration recognized the church's retired pastor, the Rev. Reinhold “Dutch” Weber, and his 65-year anniversary as an ordained minister.
As the pastor in 1955, Weber was shepherding two separate congregations, German Reformed and Lutheran, when they made a decision with a lasting impact.
The two factions had split in 1885. In Hempfield, a second church was built nearby.
The church was separated for 70 years, until Weber began serving both congregations.
He said the moment is seared into his soul when the vote was taken to return to one body that would worship together.
“I still remember that Sunday afternoon vividly when the two church councils were meeting,” said Weber, 91, who is still active in the church and the Passavant Retirement Community in Zelienople, where he now resides.
“When one member brought up the motion to become one church, my heart was beating so hard ... it was an unusual experience,” he said. “It was the Lord working in mysterious ways and an enormous lift in spirits to unite the two factions.”
Weber enjoyed returning last weekend to see many of the couples he married throughout the decades.
“I am thankful to the Lord for every day. I feel so strongly about it .. the Lord has been so very good to me,” he said. “If I felt any better, I'd be 100.”
After the loss of his wife of 67 years, Lois, three years ago, Weber has kept busy writing to family members scattered across the country when he's not helping others. He has four children, including an adopted Korean son, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
“Pastor Weber did a great job,” the current pastor, the Rev. John Smaligo said before the celebratory weekend. “I think it's also good to know that there are members of this congregation, who were here at the time of the merger, who hold him in high regard.”
Despite its age, the Hempfield church is growing.
“We are in a very strong growth mode in this church,” Smaligo said. “We have a balance of new families and long-standing members who work and worship well together.”
In addition to new members who joined earlier this year, 10 new families have become part of the church within the last two weeks.
A Saturday evening service had to be added in January to accommodate additional worshippers, Smaligo said.
Other visiting celebrants for the anniversary services included a pastor emeritus, the Rev. Robert Free; a former intern, the Rev. Elaine Hower of Lower Burrell; the Rev. Michelle Nicodemus of Ohio, who grew up in the church, and Michelle Kunkle, another former member who serves as the Christian education director at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Irwin.
Rose Domenick is a freelance writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Middling Steelers must make a statement
- Westmoreland land bank purchases former Monsour Hospital property
- Predators winger Neal caught ‘blindsided’ by trade from Penguins
- Steelers’ Adams delivers in pinch against Texans
- Arrest made in connection with Rostraver home invasion
- Ferrante cyanide trial resumes with ER doctor testifying
- Nationwide drug ring was centered in Homewood, prosecutor says
- Primanti Bros. to mail sandwiches nationwide
- Steelers free safety Mitchell is still settling into role on defense
- Red Wings rally, shock Penguins in overtime
- Report linking field surface to cancer elicits Mt. Lebanon protest