Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church
On July 18, 1971 a merger of three local churches took place: St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of North Bangor, Faith United Lutheran Church of Johnsonville and Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of East Bangor became the newly consolidated congregation now known as Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church. This merger became effective January 1, 1972. Reverend Lynn Rothrock, the pastor at Grace Church at the time of the merger, was called as the first pastor of our new congregation. Reverend Rothrock resigned on January 29, 1973, and by June 3, 1973, the Reverend Robert F. Hoenich was called as pastor of Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The history of the three founding churches are as follows:
The BETHEL LUTHERAN CHURCH and BETHANY EVANGELICAL and REFORMED CHURCH worshiped and worked together in the same building for more than a century in Johnsonville (Roxburg). The property was purchased from Mr. Christian Miller for $55. Both congregations had their origins at Christ Church in Stone Church, where two congregations had been worshipping on alternate Sundays since 1774. Roxburg (now known as Johnsonville) citizens went to Stone Church, frequently walking the entire distance.
The date of organization of the Johnsonville church is generally said to be 1850. It was not, however, until 1854 that an application was made for a Charter of Incorporation. This Charter was granted to the Evangelical Lutheran and German Reformed congregations on June 25, 1855.
The relationship between both congregations was most cordial over the years and somewhat unique in that the elders, deacons and trustees were always chosen at joint congregational meetings. Monies were dispensed through a treasurer of the union organization to care for all church expenses. The building was renovated several times, with the most extensive work being completed in 1952, when the church was moved twenty feet back from the roadway. The ground underneath it was excavated to give an additional three rooms for Sunday School purposes and social gatherings. These renovations cost $13,558, and a great deal of voluntary labor was furnished by the memberships of the congregations.
In May of 1968, after a study committee completed its task, a suggestion was made for the two congregations to become one. It was discussed and voted upon. By the end of 1969 the Bethany Church would continue as one congregation, a Lutheran congregation. It now needed a new name, Faith United Lutheran Church.
ST. PAUL’S LUTHERAN CHURCH originated with a Sunday School. In 1890 a Sunday School under the direction of Mr. Horace Miller was started in the Wolfe School House, North Bangor. On February 11, 1894, with advice, aid, and direction of Reverend B. F. Apple, the Sunday School took on the Lutheran affiliation, but was soon disbanded. However, in the spring of 1895, Reverend E. A. Yehl, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Bangor, organized a new Sunday School. From this came St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which was organized on March 6, 1898. John Stiles and the Reverend E. A. Yehl presided at the organizational meeting held in the Wolfe School House in North Bangor. A building committee was appointed and the cornerstone was laid on April 3, 1898.
A decision was made in 1899 that part of the church lot would be used for a burial ground and any member would have the right to bury therein without charge.
During the year of 1955, under the direction of Pastor of Reverend William E. Dennis, the church was extensively renovated; the basement, kitchen, additional Sunday School room and central heating were added.
St. Paul’s always enjoyed a close association with Trinity, Bangor, since the Pastor at Trinity also assumed the same duties at St. Paul’s -- holding regular church services, communions and generally seeing to the operation of a Lutheran congregation. The tie was broken by mutual agreement on January 1, 1963 and St. Paul’s became a self-sustaining congregation with supply service from Pastor Louis Ewald of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Pen Argyl.
GRACE LUTHERAN CHURCH originated on May 2, 1893 when Mr. J. A. Long presented and Mr. D. F. Long seconded the motion that a congregation be organized in East Bangorand that this congregation be known as the Grace Lutheran Church. While the history of Grace Church began with the adoption of this motion, preparation for a congregation had been made during the 23 years prior to the organizational meeting.
As early as 1870, the Reverend Benjamin Apple had conducted services in East Bangor, then called Delpsburg. These Lutheran services continued irregularly in what was known as Continental Hall, until 1888. For the next five years, services were bi-weekly.
The organizational meeting of the new congregation was called by Pastor Apple and held, with him serving as chairman, on May 2, 1893.
A week and a day after the congregation had been formed, members met to consider building a church and had a reception for the new members. The cornerstone was laid on August 26, 1893, and the building was dedicated on February 25, 1894.
Especially noteworthy events in the congregation’s history included the building of a parsonage in 1907; remodeling of the church, addition of a new Sunday School room and installation of a pipe organ in 1927; exterior remodeling of building in 1944; installation of a new heating system in 1950; and purchase of a Parish House and property along Central Avenue and High Street in 1958.
In 1965, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod began talks to have four area churches merge together to form one strong unified congregation. The congregations in question were St. Paul’s, North Bangor; Grace, East Bangor; Good Shepherd, Martins Creek; and Bethany, Johnsonville. (The Mt. Bethel Parish consisted of two churches: Bethany and Good Shepherd.)
A study meeting was held on July 20, 1970 involving the Martins Creek, North Bangor, East Bangor, and Johnsonville churches. Discussion centered around how the North Bangor church wasn’t favorable on the new union. During this meeting, another discussion was had about the distance between the Martins Creek church and the Johnsonville parish. The decision was made to continue having services at both locations.
During the process to make this happen, there were many surveys, discussions, and background work from the Synod. Even though this seemed a wonderful concept from the Synod side, it was an uphill battle to make it happen. These churches had their own identities, buildings, properties, cemeteries, and some had parsonages. They were located in different areas of our county, with different backgrounds. One was located in a town. Another was located in a country setting with a small town near-by. The other two were located in the country. Miles separated them, as did their philosophies of existence. Life in the country was different from life in a town setting. And if you go back far enough, the small town was like a big city compared to the back woods lifestyle of some parishioners.
Even though many meetings were held between the years of 1965 and 1970, we need to first discuss two of the churches. The Johnsonville and Martins Creek church already had a union. They shared a Pastor, and were thought of as sister churches. During the preliminary talks of a merge, Martins Creek did not want to be involved because of the distance involved from the other churches. The remaining three churches were separated by an approximate ten-mile radius. The Johnsonville congregation was now faced with thoughts of staying in their initial parish or breaking from that parish and becoming a congregation on their own. By 1966, they voted to become a separate congregation (which later merged with the UCC congregation sharing their building, as noted above). In the early part of 1971, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod approved the consolidation of the congregations. After December 31, 1971 all churches would be merged. On January 23, 1972 the first congregational meeting was held. The charter membership included 405 confirmed members.
Worship services continued at each of the three buildings after the merger. North Bangor had a service at 8:15am, Johnsonville at 9:30 with Sunday School following the services. East Bangor had Sunday School before their scheduled service at 10:45am..
In September 1970 as the three churches continue talks on how to merge, one big obstacle was what to do with the properties. What to keep, sell, and where to become one unified congregation were among some of the big obstacles.
Proposed names for the new congregation were accepted. Through the process of elimination (on the basis of congregational balloting), the name “Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church” was selected as the name of the congregation.
A special committee was appointed by church council to investigate sites for our new building. The main thought that they had was to find a site localized between all of the congregations. It needed to be a neutral parcel that didn’t have an association with one of the existing churches. A proposed site was across from the Bangor Area High School. It was a large field located approximately 1 mile from the current site of Prince of Peace. However the landowner, a farmer, wouldn’t sell. After much consideration, the committee suggested that the land in Johnsonville would be the most viable.
Even though this was an exciting time, it was also an upsetting time. There was a joint decision that one church building was to be built to accommodate the new congregation. The only location that would accommodate everything that they wanted was at the Johnsonville site. Even though we were becoming one, there was sadness from each congregation. North Bangor church was to be sold first. The contents and the building were sold. Today it is an apartment building. The Johnsonville church, 2nd oldest Lutheran church in our area, was to be stripped of its contents, stained glass windows, and anything that could be sold. It was then razed to the ground, and its entity was gone. Everyone now congregated in the East Bangor location. This is where we began worshiping as one. The three Sunday Schools, now meeting in East Bangor, decided they needed to provide transportation for the students. The congregation purchased an older school bus to transport members to church. Not only did this allow the students to continue, but also welcomed new members who could not attend before.
By June 1975, building plans were approved. The building process had begun. Construction started in August 1975. Many worked tirelessly to create our new “home.” Though this was an exciting time, it was also the beginning of a difficult time. Everything we knew during our lives; our differences in worship, friendships, locations, even our growth in our church lives were different. Just the philosophies from where we grew up, made us different. How we thought about things separated us. It was an uneasy transition. The realization that we couldn’t survive without each other kept us going. We had to deal with the sadness of not worshipping in the buildings we once loved and where we had fond memories of our past. At least the East and North Bangor church buildings still exist. The one in Johnsonville must remain a distant memory in our mind.
On Sunday May 16th 1976, a Desacrilization Service was held at the East Bangor Chapel. At 8:15am, there was a congregational procession to the site of the new church: Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Johnsonville. Some drove, some walked from East Bangor to Johnsonville (approximately 4-5 miles). By 10:00am a dedication service was held at the new site.
As was written in a postscript from a history book from Grace Lutheran, “this story of a church of men and women, and the things that they have done.” This is the story of Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church, but is much more than that. “It is a record of how God used men and women and all the ordinary things in their lives- buildings, offerings, meetings, organizations, and countless others- to build his kingdom. One cannot see or measure God’s kingdom. It is not compiled in records or statistics, but written in the hearts of men and women. To herald a church’s success, or to take task to its failures, are not our prerogatives, but God’s. The successes of a Church are measured by God’s standard, not the world’s; and its failures, we trust, are mercifully cloaked in his forgiveness.”
We have now started to create our new reality. The building process continues. We continue to recognize our future. All of our hard work and sacrifice is coming to fruition. If you would ask people from the three
predecessor congregations, they would say there were definite differences. However, if asked today, they probably would say that those differences weren’t really a big deal. Time has a way of healing old wounds. Time gives you comfort knowing that the struggles we thought were unmanageable weren’t worth the struggle.
In closing, here is the recessional hymn that was sung on the day of the dedication of the current building.
1. I love thy Kingdom, Lord