JERUSALEM EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH'S HISTORY
IS MORE THAN A LIST OF PAST EVENTS.
The history of Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church is a story of people coming together. A common faith led people to come together to worship God in moments of joy, trial, and tragedy.
As early as 1744, German Lutheran immigrants traveled into the area of what is now Schuylkill Haven. With the 1746 purchase of the territory north of the Blue Mountains from the Native Americans, other settlers from south of the Blue Mountains were encouraged to settle in this region. Settlement growth was inhibited by continuing Native American raids, the French and Indian Wars, the Revolution, and other hardships. Only after the wars and hostilities ended did the region see a substantial influx of immigrant settlers. Most of these settlers were from the Palatinate region of southern Germany.
Around 1806, Martin Dreibelbis, the founder of the borough of Schuylkill Haven, donated land for the establishment of a school, a church, and a burial ground. A small log schoolhouse was built soon afterwards.
On November 11, 1821, the log schoolhouse was consecrated to worship and service of God. During the next five years, this log structure transformed into a meeting place for religious services. The United German Lutheran and Presbyterian (or Reformed) congregations then formed the first church, Jerusalem, in Schuylkill Haven. In 1828, the United German Lutheran and Reformed congregations moved Jerusalem from the log school house to the first building actually built for worship. This building was referred to as “Old White Church.”
Unfortunately, discord arose between the Lutheran and the Reformed congregation members. One of the main issues was language. Several groups founded St. Paul’s Union Church on Dock Street because they wanted the preaching to be in English. (Only German was spoken at Jerusalem.) An English-speaking pastor was obtained from Pottsville. Membership in the new church grew for a time but declined when the pastor left.
Thirty members of St. Paul’s then worked together to establish a new English-speaking Lutheran Church. On October 17, 1858, they elected their first pastor, Eli Huber. This group worshiped in the English Methodist Church. A year after Pastor Huber’s arrival, the site for the future St. Matthew’s Church was purchased for $500. The church cornerstone was laid on August 7, 1859 and the church was dedicated for use in February of 1860. St. Matthew’s was enlarged several times throughout the next one hundred years.
From 1877–1882, Jerusalem Church erected a third building closer to Center Avenue in Schuylkill Haven which became the “New Jerusalem Church”. Because of disagreements among members regarding the location and aspects of the building project, some members withdrew from Jerusalem. They went on to found St. Mark’s Reformed Church in Cressona.
From 1905–1910, Schuylkill Haven had a sizeable influx of new residents who wanted to worship God faithfully. To meet the needs of these new congregants, the Jerusalem congregation, working with their own hands, built a church that would seat 305 “souls.” At a congregational meeting on May 3, 1905, the members decided the new church should be named “Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.”
On the evening of December 29, 1991, a catastrophic fire destroyed Christ Lutheran Church. The fire was not extinguished until the morning of December 30. The cause of the fire in is still unknown.
St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, located only a few blocks from where Christ Lutheran had stood, immediately invited the congregation of Christ to use its building for worship.
Both congregations agreed to merge to form a new church at a combined 1992 meeting of St. Matthew’s and Christ Lutheran Church Councils. The new congregation would be called “Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church”. Building and construction committees were formed and the decision to build on the site of the former Christ Lutheran Church was approved.
The current Jerusalem Lutheran Church building was dedicated on Sunday, October 29, 1995. Our building provides a place for people to gather for worship around the good news of Jesus Christ. Learning and fellowship opportunities for faith are formed and deepened here. It is a place from which disciples are sent into the world for daily witness and service. An important ministry is a weekday child care which joyfully serves children and parents in our community. Our building also hosts blood drives in partnership with the Schuylkill Haven & Vicinity Council of Churches. In addition, the building offers meeting spaces to Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and Cub Scout troops and provides space for many other community activities. Jerusalem Lutheran Church is a great asset to our Schuylkill Haven community.
The people who walk through its doors keep alive the Jerusalem story and God’s story. We thank God for one another and hope we can do our part in continuing Jerusalem’s story for generations yet to come. The information is taken from Jerusalem Church, a history book of Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church years 1821-1996, published by Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church, and printed by South Schuylkill Printing & Publishing, Schuylkill Haven, PA.