In 1723 Conrad Weiser, an Indian
Agent in New York State, led a large group of German families
down the Susquehanna River to a spot near Middletown. Among
them were the Wenrich family, who had come to America in 1710.
It was this family who later donated land for Wenrich's Church.
The first settlers in Paxton Township
were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians and English Episcopalians.
By 1720, they had established a school and church. Soon,
German Lutheran and Reformed immigrants joined in using the log
church which had been built. Many missionaries, including
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, preached in this first church.
Services continued there until after the American Revolution.
In 1793 the German Lutheran and
Reformed congregations which had shared the log church with other
denominations decided to become a union church and drew up Articles
of Agreement. The church was to be called Wenrich's
Church. This second church building, constructed in
1794, was a 35' by 40' frame building, built of timbers donated
by the members. Worshipers brought their own small stoves
or foot warmers to provide the only heat. The ministers'
horses, which were housed in stables behind the church, were fed
with hay and feed paid for by the congregations.
By 1856 Wenrich's Church (1794)
was deemed too old and too small. The new Wenrich's Church
(the third building for the Lutheran and Reformed congregations
who were to share it) was begun in August 1856 with the cornerstone
laying. By the following summer the church was completed.
Dedication services took place on October 4, 1857. This
building, now altered, stands today and is home of St. Thomas
United Church of Christ, a congregation descended from the former
German Reformed church.
For a long time there was no stove
in the new church (1857), as there were many objections to heating.
Finally it was agreed to install a stove. On the first Sunday
the stove was in place, but not yet in use, an elderly woman,
who had strenuously objected to it, constantly fanned herself
throughout the service remarking "See, I told you it would
be too warm in here!" She was no doubt quite embarrassed
to learn that there was no fire in the stove. In 1862 a
reed organ was purchased to accompany singing. The merchant
who sold it to the church played it the first Sunday it was installed.
In 1891, 35 years after the new
Wenrich's Church was constructed, it was decided that remodeling
was in order. The gallery at the rear of the church was
removed, and doors on the sides of the building were eliminated
in favor of front doors. A new, taller steeple was built.
In 1913, its 120th year, Wenrich's
Church continued serving its community with improved facilities.
Included in a remodeling was a new furnace in the basement and
a 1,000 pound bell, the heaviest in the area. The old coal
oil lamps used at Wenrich's Church were replaced with electric
lights, with power for the lights drawn from the home of A. E.
Kreiser. The congregation paid $2.24 a month for this privilege.
In 1930 the Rev. Lloyd W. Kleinfelter
became the Lutheran pastor at Wenrich's Church, Shell's in Shellville,
Zion near Grantville, and Bindnagle's near Palmyra. Each
of the four congregations held worship services every other Sunday,
alternating morning and afternoon schedules.
By the mid-1940s the Lutheran congregation
at Wenrich's Church had grown large enough to think about having
a building of its own. Mr. and Mrs. H. S. Koons offered
the congregation the use of a tract of land along Mountain Road
and formerly known as the Crum Farm.
On November 13, 1949, the congregation
at Wenrich's Lutheran Church accepted the use of a tract of land
for a new church building and chose the name Christ Evangelical
Lutheran Church. The cornerstone was laid on November 4,
1951. Dedication services for the new church building were
held on July 6, 1952. Worship services were held in the
basement until completion of the nave in 1955. The price
tag for the fellowship hall, kitchen, and nave was $150,000.
While our church building was dedicated
in 1952, the nave was not completed until 1955; a service of dedication
was held on July 24. Only two years later, on October 20,
1957, ground was broken for an addition, which now houses offices,
a library, rest rooms, and a youth ministry room in the lower
level. In 1968, an education wing with a courtyard, and
a room for choir rehearsal was added.
The Rev. Ronald VanBlargan served
as pastor from 1971 to 1986. No renovations or additions
were made during this time, although some minor renovations were
made in the summer following his departure.
The Rev. Dr. William Stickley, arrived in July 1987. During his pastorate,
a Master Plan was developed. This eventually led to a major
renovation of our worship space and additions to the building
to make it totally wheelchair accessible; dedication services
were held in 1997. A Memorial Chapel and Columbarium were
completed, both of which were dedicated on November 4, 2001.
The final portion of our building
Master Plan was completed in 2006 with the construction of the
Great Room. This large fellowship area just off the main entrance
is used for coffee hours between worship services on Sunday mornings,
and for a variety of small group events.