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Monday, March 28, 2016

Stauffer Mennonites

I was delighted to get a copy of this rare photo of the Stauffer (Pike) Mennonite Church last week. The date is uncertain but I believe it was sometime around 1920. This church is located along Route 322 near Hinkletown, Pennsylvania. The road appears to be dirt road. The church was originally a stone building but by this time an addition had been made on the far (west) end. Two of the stone walls can be seen on the east end. There is a wooden hand pump in front of the building.


Compare that picture to more recent ones. Only one portion of the stone wall remains in the center with an extension on each end. Otherwise, it has changed very little.
 
 
The rail fence still stands along the road and cemetery on the west side.

 
My husband and I both have many ancestors buried in the cemetery at this church, including our common ancestor, Jacob W. Stauffer, who was one of the founders of the Stauffer Mennonite Church.

 
However, this building is slated to fade into history this year. Since Stauffer Mennonites do not use electric, they have no sound system and the noise from the busy road was interfering with their services. Early this year they moved into a new, larger building that was erected behind the old one to provide more room and distance between the church and the road.
 

Again, there has been little change on either inside or outside. Stauffer Mennonites do not have a pulpit. The ministers stand behind the table with the German hymn books and Bibles. The men who lead the singing sit on each side of another table that extends out from the center of the preacher's table in the center aisle.

 
 
Historians are sad to see the old building go. An attempt was made to move it to another location but the cost was prohibitive. One thing that will not be touched (according to my understanding) is the horse barn. This is the only original horse barn still in existence in the nation. It is surrounded by buggy sheds. The new church building is on the other side of the sheds.
 
 
This congregation was part of the Lancaster Conference and known as the Pike church because it was along the Downingtown-to-Harrisburg Turnpike (now Route 322). In 1845, the congregation broke away from the Conference  when Bishop Jacob Brubaker of Juniata County, and Jacob W. Stauffer and Jacob Weber, preachers in the Lancaster County Groffdale district, could not concur in the decisions of the Conference bishops. Stauffer wrote a 430-page book in self-defense and as an attack on the bishops of the conference. It was not published until after his death. The title is Eine Chronik oder Geschicht-Büchlein von der sogenannten Mennonisten Gemeinde. Zum Dienst und Lehre für alle Liebhaber der Wahrheit, durch die Gnade und Segen Gottes. Aus Geschichten, Vorfällen, Begebenheiten oder Exempeln, und aus heiliger Schrift zusammengezogen (Lancaster 1855, 1859, Scottdale 1922).
Jacob Stauffer and Jacob Weber became the leaders of the new group, their membership being mostly in East and West Earl townships of Lancaster County and in Snyder County, Pennsylvania. The Pike meetinghouse (east of Hinkletown) was granted to the new group.
Stauffer Mennonites are often mistaken for Amish because they do not use electric and travel by horse and buggy. They are Old Order Mennonites and have no connection to the Amish. While Amish require their men to wear beards, the Stauffer Mennonites maintain a no-beard rule. The women are allowed to wear dresses made of fabrics with small prints while the Amish insist on solid colors. Stauffer worship services are conducted in German and they use German hymnbook, Unpartheyisches Gesangbuch, first published in 1804.
Attending a Stauffer worship service is like being in a living history museum except that it is not a re-enactment. It's part of their normal life. Although I am not willing to give up my modern conveniences to live as they do, I have a great respect for them and their diligence in maintaining their heritage. Way back in 1845, Jacob Stauffer thought the Mennonite church was becoming too worldly. I wonder what he would say if he saw what it has become today. "Any dead fish can float downstream with the current; it takes a live one to swim upstream."
 
 (Image is blurred. Stauffer Mennonites do not permit photography.)

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