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Bern Reformed United Church of Christ

The following history appeared in Historical and biographical annals of Berks County Pennsylvania compiled by Morton L. Montgomery, published in 1909 (pp. 986-7). View Vol 1 online.View Vol 2 online.

Bern Reformed and Lutheran Union Church, Bern township.--Early in the eighteenth century the present sections of Bern, Penn and Heidelberg townships were settled by emigrants from the Palatinate and Switzerland. Their religion was not only found in their family Bible, Hymn Book, Palatinate Liturgy and Heidelberg Catechism, but their hearts were the consecrated temples of the living God. They remembered "the assembling of themselves together and to continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking bread and in prayers." Thus as early as 1738 Rev. John Henry Goetschey, preaching at New Goshenhoppen Reformed Church, Montgomery Co., Pa., frequented their midst and drew the pioneers together, forming the nucleus from which the present congregation has grown. Divine services evidently were conducted by him in private houses, but the fathers remembered Jehovah's words unto Moses, "In all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee," and because "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob" they were moved by the spirit to erect, as tradition has it, a log church at the entrance of the old graveyard. This may have been as early as 1743, in which year about fifteen acres of land was surveyed by the Penns and donated to the German Calvinists, as the Reformed were then sometimes called. It was legally conveyed in 1748 to Henry Rieser, trustee. In 1762 and 1792 additional land was purchased, until the aggregate amounts to about twenty acres. The former purchase was made from Daniel Hiester.

It is certain that the log church was in existence before Feb. 10, 1745, because on that day Rev. Mr. Lischy reports having preached "in" Bern church. {See "Reformed Church Review," January, 1907, page 76}. Sometime about 1762 the log church became succeeded by a larger building, of rough stone. The architecture was according to Colonial church style. Wine-glass pulpit and high galleries were found in the church. Behind the pulpit, on the wall near the ceiling, was a unique picture of a bear? The significance of this was taken from II Kings 2:24. Since the early settlers were familiar with Switzerland, may not the legend of St. Gall have had something to do in suggesting the painting of the bear?

This edifice, with parochial school and schoolmaster's residence, stood in the old graveyard not for from the entrance. The school was attended some time by Joseph Hiester, who later became governor of Pennsylvania. The congregation still possesses and prizes as sacred relics the Communion vessels used in this church. The set consists of a flagon, chalice and plate, all of pewter; there are also four collection plates of pewter. One of the plates bears the inscription "made in London." On the chalice is engraved the following: "Für die Reformirt Gemein 1769 in der Bern Kirche." The double door of the edifice a few years ago was stowed by Rev. George Zacharias into the organist's barn for safe-keeping. The church record wherein Goetschey entered the first baptism, and containing the baptisms for the one hundred following years, is also at hand. The first was that of Elizabeth, daughter of Stephen and Traxeta Brecht, in May, 1738.

In 1837 the present brick edifice was erected by the Reformed congregation assisted by the Lutherans, who were given a right in the property. Now the church became union. The corner-stone was laid on July 30th. The edifice was completed in the fall of the year. Much work was done free of charge, yet $4,325 was expended. The building committee consisted of Conrad Reber, Peter Kershner and George Weber. The church is located in the western extremity of the township of Bern. It is of post-Revolutionary church architecture, almost square, and the doors enter at three sides. The pulpit is on two high pedestals. On three sides are high galleries. On the one opposite the pulpit is the pipe-organ, dedicated on Whit-Sunday, 1850. The church has a seating capacity of about six hundred. The ceiling is very high. Two big stoves in front of the chancel generate the heat during winter. An agitation for remodeling is prevalent at present. In 1867 a dissension began in the Reformed congregation which continued for several years and reduced its membership. This was somewhat repeated from 1900 to 1904.

In 1887 the cemetery company was organized, land inclosed and burial lots sold. Gabriel Hiester's remains were the first to be interred in the cemetery which contains many graves marked by marble and granite tombstones, and a few monuments.

A flourishing Sunday-school exists during the summer months. The language predominating in the pulpit is the German, although English services are held very frequently.

Henry Zerby is the organist, assisted by his son Francis. He resides in the house on the premises, which with the barn and other outbuildings is kept in excellent condition by the congregation. There is comfortable shedding for a number of teams used by worshipers in coming to divine services.

The following pastors have served the Reformed congregation, which numbers 310 members: 1738-39, John Henry Goetschey; 1743-45, Jacob Lischy (he attempted to unite it with the Congregation of God in the Spirit, a movement of Moravian origin); 1746-47, Frederick Cassimer Muller; 1749-52 (?), numerous baptisms in the record but no name given; 1752-55, baptisms entered by one hand, unknown, but possibly John Henry Decker, since he preached at Hain's Church during those years; 1765-66, John Waldtschmidt, as it appears from his private records; 1772-82, Ludwig Lupp; 1784-88, at least, John William Boas (he may have served longer); 1815, congregation vacant and asks Synod for a minister; 1817-1821, Phillip Moyer; 1822-1830, Benjamin Boyer; 1831-32, John Hautz; 1833-1835, A. Berkey; 1837-38, William T. Gerhard; 1840-64, Isaac Miesse; 1864-73, Frank Schwartz; 1875-83, Aaron S. Leinbach, D. D.; 1883-1904, Samuel A. Leinbach. On Aug. 6, 1905, Mabry L. Herbein was elected and began his pastorate. He was in his youth confirmed in this church by his predecessor, Rev. S. A. Leinbach.

The Lutheran congregation reports 340 members. It has had as pastors the following clergymen: 1836-43, George Minnig; 1843-52, D. Keohler; 1852-65, Thomas T. Iaeger; 1865-69, A. Finfrock; 1870-88, Thomas T. Iaeger; 1889, E. S. Brownmiller, D. D. [Contributed by M. L. Herbein.]

Bern Old Graveyard Records