Sunday, June 28, 2015

Worshiping with an Ancestor

Today I got to do something unique. I attended church with the congregation of an ancestor.  

Over two hundred years ago my 4th great-grandfather Adam Kreiligh immigrated to America. Eventually he ended up buying land in Upper Mahanoy Township, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.[1] Because Adam and his family were Lutherans they began attending Himmel Church which was about 5 miles away.[2] The church was just an old log building built along the banks of Scwaben Creek and served both the Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed congregations of German-speaking immigrants in the area.[3] Adam was an active member and participated in a resolution to build a new stone church. On 14 June 1817 he contributed $16 along with other members who gave what they could.[4] The new church was completed in 1818 and stood until 1903.[5]

Himmel Stone Church and Cemetery[6]

This stone church was “built in the old Pennsylvania style, with a one-story main room and gallery, an old-fashioned pigeon-box pulpit, and a seating capacity of four hundred.”[7] When $800 was left over it was used to purchase a pipe organ which became the only one for miles around.[8] Eighty years later the congregation outgrew the building. It was replaced in 1903 and then had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1959.[9]

When I found myself in the area I decided to attend a service at Himmel Church. It still serves both Lutheran and United Church of Christ (formerly Reformed) congregations. I thought I was visiting on a whim but as I sat in the pews I discovered my ancestor had brought me there for a reason. 198 years, almost to the day, after the historic congregation decided to build a more permanent church the current congregation was contemplating disbanding. With an aging and dwindling congregation, lack of member participation and an ever-increasing deficit the church was in crisis.

During the worship service a special congregational meeting was held to vote on closing. I knew there were many descendants of the founding congregation sitting around me as their families had stayed in the area. But I was the only Kreiligh descendant. Adam and his children moved to Rice Township, Sandusky County, Ohio, in 1834.[10] I think my 4th great-grandfather wanted one of his descendants to be in his church today. It certainly felt fitting that I was there. And it seemed like he was there with me during the emotional but tender service.

I was proud to be in my ancestor's church today. Especially when the congregation voted unanimously to continue and keep the church alive for future generations.

[1] Northumberland, Pennsylvania, Deeds, V: 359, Kreitigh to Kreitigh, 1 September 1823; Northumberland County Courthouse, Sunbury.  He bought the land on 31 May 1815 and in 1823 sold it to his son. Adam’s name is spelled three different ways in the deed: Kreitigh, Kreiligh and Kreider.
[2] “Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, 1774-1846: Schwaben Creek,” ( : accessed 27 Jun 2015), Adam Grehlich, communicant, 11 May 1816. Ibid, Ann Maria Kreiligh, baptism, 28 March 1819.
[3] Jack L. Pensyl, The Baptismal Records of Himmel’s Union Church, Rebuck, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, 1774-1846 (Northumberland County Historical Society, 1996), i.
[4] John H. Carter, “The Himmel Church” in The Northumberland County Historical Society Proceedings and Addresses VIII (1936): 97.
[5] Pensyl, The Baptismal Records of Himmel’s Union Church, i.
[6] Carter, “The Himmel Church” in The Northumberland County Historical Society Proceedings  VIII (1936): 66.
[7] Ibid, 82.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Pensyl, The Baptismal Records of Himmel’s Union Church, i.
[10] Sandusky, Ohio, Chancery Court, 6: 86, Michael Yeagley vs Jacob Krielich, 8 Jun 1847.