St. John’s Lutheran

As early as 1740 Reverend John Caspar Stoever administered to the scattered Lutheran families in this part of the county from a small log structure. This church building was known as the Swatara Church and was located halfway between Jonestown and Fredericksburg. Little is known about the early history of this church, but in 1757 this structure was burned to the ground by the Indians during the French and Indian War conflict. Fighting took place along the Pennsylvania frontier as many of these early churches served as fortresses to protect and shelter the local citizens.

After the destruction of the church in 1757, the congregation worshiped in private homes of the families. This was done until 1766 when the Lutheran congregation with the support of the Reformed patrons built a church together for the purpose of worshiping. Much of the history of the Lutheran congregation follows very closely to that of the Reformed group. Both congregations worshiped together in the log structure for the next 60 years.

In 1819, Rev. John Stein was called to be the new Pastor of the Lutheran congregation in town. As early as November of 1820 questions were brought forward at a meeting to decide to build a new brick structure to be used as a Union Church. By 1826 what started as an idea had now become reality. The new building was brick in structure and the bricks that supplied the new building came from a brick maker 300 feet south of the building lot. The bell that was to be associated with the new structure weighed nearly 300 pounds and was purchased from Philadelphia at a cost of nearly $156.00. The building was fashioned according to the customs of the day and included a spacious gallery on three sides of the building on the interior.

St. John's Lutheran Church-circa 1960

St. John’s Lutheran Church-circa 1960

Because this congregation worshiped in the same building at the Reformed Church patrons, the church underwent the same structural changes and designs. In 1891 another major changed occurred. The old structure was torn down and a new improved church edifice built to take its place. Over the next 70 years continued interior improvements were made to the structure. An electric organ and chimes were installed and the building was painted. In 1952, the old oil burning furnace was replaced with a newer more efficient hot air heating system. The road in front of the church was resurfaced and pavements were built in 1954. In 1970 the Reformed congregation bought their own building and now the Lutherans families in the church now had their own place of worship separate from the other. The Lutheran Church still worships in the same building today.

St John Lutheran Ministers

The list of Pastors who served St. John’s Lutheran Church throughout her history;

John Casper Stoever, 1756-1774
Immanuel Shultz, 1774-1783
William Kurtz, 1783-1789
George Lochman, 1789-1805
Victor George Stoch, 1804-1805
No Record-1805-1812
Johann Heinrich VonHoff, 1812-1819
John Stein, 1819-1859
William Gerhardt D.D., 1859-1868
Henry A. Geisz, 1868-1906
Oliver R. Bittner, 1906-1911
Owen Reber, 1911-1923
John H. Diehl, 1923-1945
Otis O. Leidich, 1945-1946
Lester W. Stoneback, 1946-1951
Donald A. Steward, 1952-1973

Photograph of St. John’s Lutheran Church-courtesy of Anna M. Lauer. Photograph of Rev. John Stein  and William Gerhardt from Stories of Old Stumpstown-1910, Rev. William Gerhardt-   Rev. Oliver H. Bittner-courtesy of Terry L. Bicksler, Rev. Owen Reber from Jubilee Memorial Volume of the Danville Conference-1898, Rev. William H. Diehl-courtesy Lutheran Archives in Philadelphia, PA