Schwenkfelder Churches still flourish in southeastern Pennsylvania. Though the membership has changed from predominantly Schwenkfelder descendants to a multi-cultural church community, the values of the Schwenkfelders, rooted in religious freedom, tolerance, charity, and education, are undercurrents in all church activities.
Interested in visiting a Schwenkfelder church? Check out their web sites, or call individual churches or the Heritage Center for more information.
History of Norristown Schwenkfelder, Olivet United Church of Christ, Olivet-Schwenkfelder United Church of Christ
The Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center kindly thanks Rev. Leslie Kearney, from Olivet-Schwenkfelder UCC for compiling this history to share.
The Norristown Schwenkfelder Church began humbly in the homes of local Schwenkfelder families who wanted to gather for Bible study and worship. In 1904, the first worship services and Sunday school classes were held in the Chain Street School building in Norristown, with the aid of the Schwenkfelder Mission Board. In the following months a scarlet fever epidemic prevented worship at the school, furthering the need for an actual church building. In 1905 the congregation purchased the Grace Lutheran Church building at George and Marshall Streets in Norristown. The first service in the new house of worship was held Sunday, June 11, 1905 at 2:00PM. By the end of the year, church membership had grown to thirty-three. Norristown Schwenkfelder Church petitioned the Mission Board for its independence in 1917. From those early days onward, Norristown Schwenkfelder Church was a faithful presence in the city of Norristown, proclaiming the Gospel and honoring the rich heritage of the Schwenkfelder immigrants.
Olivet Reformed Church of Philadelphia grew from similarly humble roots. The congregation’s first worship together was an open air service during the summer of 1907, with eight people in attendance. For the pulpit, they used a packing box wrapped with an American flag. Their first building was a green shingle chapel on the corner of Fifth and Rockland Streets, Philadelphia, built in 1909. Originally not affiliated with an organized denomination, Olivet joined the Home Mission Board of the Reformed Church in 1911. The small congregation knew it needed a better location if it was to grow. During the winter of 1914-1915 the chapel was physically moved on skids over open fields to Tenth and Ruscomb Streets in the rapidly developing Logan area. A new edifice was built in 1922. However, begin-ning during the Great Depression, families moved out of the Logan area of Philadelphia. The members of Olivet knew they needed to move once again if their ministry were to continue. On September 22, 1957 Olivet (by this time Olivet United Church of Christ) dedicated its new church in East Norriton. Since that time, Olivet UCC ministered to the growing population in the suburbs of Norristown.
The winter of 1995-1996 was an especially stormy one, with a historic blizzard in January. The snow accumulation and ice kept the congregation of Norristown Schwenkfelder Church from accessing its building for worship. An invitation went out from Olivet United Church of Christ, offering the use of its facilities during the storm. From those earliest days of cooperation, the two congregations recognized their similar needs and goals. Throughout 1996, both congregations held meetings and retreats focused on future sustainability and growth. Following months of study, prayer, and reflection, both Norristown Schwenkfelder and Olivet UCC voted on merging. Both congregations voted overwhelmingly in support of becoming one church. Olivet-Schwenkfelder United Church of Christ was born, blending and celebrating the rich heritage of both traditions. The Schwenkfelders sold their church building on George Street in Norristown, and moved into the Olivet building in East Norriton. The UCC members welcomed Norristown pastor, Rev. Gene F. Jerge, as their new minister. On May 18, 1997 – Pentecost Sunday – the new congregation officially gathered as one.
Schwenkfelder Affiliated Organizations
Schwenckfeld Manor–a retirement community in Lansdale serving low-income residents since the 1970s. See Welcome to Schwenckfeld Manor
The Perkiomen School–a college coeducational preparatory boarding and day school founded in 1875. Perkiomen School serves grades 5 through 12. Schwenkfelder descendents and church members have historically been a part of Perkiomen School's leadership and founding. www.perkiomen.org
The Schwenkfelder Gemeindehaus in Berthelsdorf–In the 18th century, Schwenkfelders that remained in Europe lived around the Harpersdorf/Silesia area. In 1726 Schwenkfelders sought refuge on the estate of count Nicholaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf at Berthelsdorf. The only surviving church building of the 18th century Schwenkfelders is the Schwenkfelder Meeting House in Berthelsdorf. To read more about the Gemeindehaus history and the effort behind its' preservation see The Schwenkfelder Gemeindehaus in Berthelsdorf