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Lutheran churches have rich history in Connellsville

| Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 6:51 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As part of the “It's a Connellsville Christmas” celebration set for this weekend, several local churches will open their doors for special tours. Throughout the week, the Daily Courier is spotlighting several of the churches participating in the tours.

Trinity Lutheran Church has a long, rich heritage in Connellsville.

During “It's A Connellsville Christmas,” church member Billie Sue Sandusky will present the chronological history as she points out the stained-glass windows.

“The windows of Trinity are some of the most beautiful stained-glass windows found anywhere. They are of divine beauty. We encourage everyone to stop in Saturday, noon to 2 p.m., to view their magnificence,” she said.

“The total cost of these windows in 1910 was $2,900 — irreplaceable today in beauty and value,” said Sandusky.

Trinity Lutheran, 126 E. Fairview Ave., is an offspring of little St. John's the Evangelical Church, right behind it on South Street. Originally a group of English-speaking children were organized into a Sunday School apart from the German-speaking members of St. John's.

According to historical accounts, a Mr. Boyts, who formed the group, appealed to the Somerset County Conference. The Rev. J.F. Shearer, a pastor in Somerset, created the congregation on Sept. 16, 1884. Though there were only nine people listed on that original charter, there were 30 others affiliated with the church from the beginning.

Services were first held in Goodchild's Storeroom on North Pittsburgh Street. With generous help from the Board of Missions of the Evangelical Church, a Rev. Sieber was obtained as pastor and served from 1884-90. During Sieber's term, the meeting location was changed to Newmyer Opera House, then to Newcomer's Hall and finally to a chapel on East Apple Street.

The lot for the chapel was purchased on July 28, 1885 for $3,700. The cornerstone was laid in June 1886. The chapel was dedicated in 1887, when the entire building was placed under roof. Only the chapel was used for services for several years.

The debt was paid off in 1906.

According to history, the second pastor was the Rev. Upton Hankey, who served from 1890-94, when he resigned because of declining health. The membership increased from 66 to 136. Taking his place was the Rev. Burgess.

The church became self-supporting in May 1900. Andrew Carnegie gave the church a pipe organ. A spire was built on the roof. The membership kept increasing and, at one time, the cradle roll had 186 youngsters registered — all baptized as Lutherans.

A larger church was needed, and in 1908 a lot at the corner of Fairview and Carnegie avenues was purchased. Plans for a Gothic-style structure were started — built of hard, white silica stone from a quarry in South Connellsville. The outside walls are 18 inches thick, and the entire building is trimmed in Indiana limestone. The cost of the completed structure was $75,000. The newly completed church building was dedicated on Sept. 10, 1911. That evening, the tower chimes — given by Henry K. Frick — also were dedicated. Roy Claybaugh was commissioned to ring the chimes which he alone did from 1911-39. In 1940, Claybaugh's son, Walter, took over this task.

“To all who enter the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church, one clear message is proclaimed: ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God' is cut in the stonework across the front of the church.

The theme of the Trinity is carried throughout the church. Three arches in the stone at the entrance, the windows with their Tudor arches, all with three panels, the triple arching at the front, all serve as constant reminders of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” said Sandusky.

At the end of 1919, Burgess resigned and Dr. Hetrick became the minister. During his time there, the Men's Bible Class on Sundays averaged 70 to 80 men. During his pastorate, the confirmed membership increased to 1,600.

In 1955 the Rev. H. Wahl Pfiefer was installed, and many improvements were made. In 1960 a Boy Scout Troop was formed. It still exists and meets at neighboring Otterbein United Methodist Church.

In 1970 a new Austin pipe organ was installed.

A handicapped driveway was one of many renovations. Pfiefer retired in July 1982.

The church was without a pastor through 1983. Alvin Sheets, a member of Trinity Lutheran, served in the capacity of vice president of the congregation and kept the church running.

Pastor Robert Keplinger came to Connellsville when both Trinity Lutheran and St. John's Lutheran churches were without pastors. In 1983, Pastor Herb Dubler came to Trinity.

The two pastors worked as a team to serve the needs of both congregations. Keplinger later was called to serve elsewhere, and Dubler took over serving Trinity Lutheran and St. John Lutheran. Andrea Dubler was called as associate pastor to Trinity. Both served until Herb Dubler's retirement in 1999. He is now back.

A Saturday evening service has been added at Trinity with much success. Sunday morning worship is at 8:45 a.m.

The upcoming Christmas Eve Service will begin at 11 p.m.

“Trinity with its long, rich heritage, is a mighty fortress,” said Sandusky.

Nancy Henry is a freelance writer.

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