Our Story

The history of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church


Our Beginnings

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.

Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church is Built

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.