History of St. Peter's Lutheran Church Chester Springs Upper Church
From 1842 until 1918, the two Lutheran congregations went their separate ways, and so we must write two histories.
Records of the Upper, or German, St. Peter’s, are complete from the founding of the congregation until the present day. From these we get a picture of congregational life in the mid-nineteenth century. The congregation met annually on Whitmonday or thereabouts to elect officers. One trustee, two elders, and one deacon were elected to a term of three years. The treasurer gave an accounting of the finances of the congregation. Frequently it was that the balance in the treasury was insufficient to pay the outstanding bills. In that case the council members were instructed to canvass the members to raise the required cash.
There was a succession of pastors during these years. On December 7, 1850, the Rev. C. Miller was unanimously elected pastor to preach once every two weeks for the yearly salary of $150. On February 5, 1855, the Rev. William Weaver commenced his time of preaching in St. Peter’s Church. The pastor’s support in those days was not only provided by cash and the use of the parsonage. On May 17, 1869, the congregation resolved “to furnish Mr. Miller with hay and corn, raise money for same by subscription.” In May of 1872 the congregation resolved to adopt the envelope system of collecting salary for the minister and the current expenses.
Throughout the early years the congregation shared a pastor with neighboring churches. The report of one of these pastors to synod, dated May 22, 1867, records:
“I continue preaching to the Germans in Phoenixville every 2 weeks in the afternoon, in the Mennonite Meeting House, things are encouraging. . . Besides attending to my 2 country congregations, I have commenced preaching in the English language in Springville (now Spring City), a thriving village in the bounds of my congregation which I consider important.”
This pastor was serving St. Peter’s and Zion’s, as well as providing care for the yet to-be organized congregations of St. John’s, Phoenixville, and the Spring City Lutheran Church. For a short time St. Peter’s was a self-supporting congregation. On January 30, 1875, the congregation separated from Phoenixville and called Mr. Benaiah Snyder, a senior student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia at an annual salary of $600. This was to be subscribed in monthly installments. Pastor Snyder resigned October 1, 1881, on account of failing health. For a time following this, the pastor at Phoenixville served as supply.
For the most part, the minute book records transactions of the local business of the congregation. However, in March 1853, it was recorded that $6.00 was paid toward missionary purposes. From a copy of the by-laws from these early years we learn that the twelve officers of the church council together with the minister shall be known as the Church Council, Vestry, or Board. Membership requirements were communing and worshipping regularly, and the payment to the church of at least $2.00 annually. One aspect of church life no longer with us is that males 18 and over were granted a vote. “Females may petition and offer opinions.”
During these years a series of improvements to the property was climaxed with a complete rebuilding of the church in 1882. In the summer of 1845 churchyards and shed walls were built. They contained 189 perches at 38 ½ cents per perch amounting to the sum of $72.76 ½. In May 1866 the congregation agreed to repair the church “by plastering the outside and repairing the inside by lowering the Pulpit and repairing the floor and repair the wall outside.”
A major building program was undertaken at a congregational meeting December 28, 1881. The building was to be lengthened by twelve feet; a new roof, gothic windows, new pews, repainting, and other necessary repairs were authorized. This work was to leave the building with the appearance, which it bears to this day. Short but lively accounts of the building progress were reported in the West Chester Daily Local. “June 23, 1882. Wagons of serpentine from Brinton quarries in Birmingham Township; passed through West Chester.” “December 9, 1882. New pews passed over the Pickering Valley R.R. a day or two ago.” The enlarged and renovated building was rededicated with appropriate observances on January 4, 1883.
With a new building the congregation soon called a pastor--- the Rev. John P. Deck of Toronto, Canada, whose time of service began June 1, 1883, at a salary of $550. We learn that facilities for heating the church were not always adequate in those days; on February 21, 1884, it is recorded that the congregation “met in the sheds, it being too cold and damp in the church.” Pastor Deck resigned in November, 1884, to be followed by Mr. Klingensmith, to whom a call was issued January 10, 1885, at a salary of $600 (or $500 and the parsonage).
Finances continued to occupy most of the attention at council meetings for the following years. In July 1886, the council voted to meet quarterly to keep the financial affairs of the congregation in good condition. Meetings were held during the following year periodically (but not quarterly) at which the council figured out how to pay the bills. Meetings were held in the homes of members. Although this was done because of the lack of heated facilities at the church, it surely contributed to the good fellowship of the men during the evening. One interesting financial resolution of 1890 is that “collecting synodical money be left in charge of minister.”
The time of the vestry was not wholly given over to finances. In October 1890, it is recorded that the use of violins and horns in the choir was permitted. Some socializing was discussed in 1893 when there was talk about holding a festival in Fegley’s grove. This is reported in a publication of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church---Our Banner--- August 5, 1893. “Matthew’s Choral Reunion took place in Fegley’s grove. Among the musical organizations present was Upper Pikeland Lutheran Choir. The day was very sultry, the dust in many places shoe deep.”
On June 6, 1892, Mr. Klingensmith resigned, to be followed by the Rev. C. Mader, who stayed only a short time. Then in March 1895, a call was extended to Mr. Edward Henry Trafford, a seminarian. Pastor Trafford served until 1903, when he was called as a missionary to India. He returned to St. Peter’s in 1915, and remained until 1919 as the first pastor of the (re)united congregation.
Although 21 years in the future, merger of the two Pikeland Lutheran congregations appeared on the agenda of the council March 24, 1897. As a result of overtures made by Middle Pikeland, a joint committee met on April 7, but no conclusion as to merger was reached. In the fall renovation of the church interior and the installation of a furnace was approved. Concern for travelers was expressed by this resolution from 1902:
“Resolved: That steps be taken towards having a well bored and that contributions be solicited from the members of the church, friends and public, believing that it will be a public good to all traveling over the hills.”
Heating the church was quite a concern of the council early in this century. In September 1908, it was decided to install steam heat in the church.
Pastor Trafford was followed by Pastor Wenner, who resigned effective July 1, 1908. Care of supply pastors during the vacancy was to be provided by one of the ladies of Kimberton for fifty cents a meal, and one of the members was to bring the preachers to church for a dollar a Sunday. The vacancy was a short one--- soon the Rev. Bernard Repass was elected pastor in August of 1908.
One action of 1916 which might be easily overlooked is a change proposed in the constitution. On December 24, 1916, the constitution was amended by the removal of the word “male.” The women had been granted suffrage in the affairs of the congregation.
Amicable relations with the Lower Church are reflected in the action of October 1918, in which the Reformed Church transferred the rod of ground in front of the Upper Church to this congregation in return for its putting a fence across the property line.