Church marks 265 years of history dating to French and Indian War

October 07, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Salem Reformed Church congregant Pam Schnebly watches a slideshow Sunday during the churchs 265th anniversary celebration.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — When the church now known as Salem Reformed Church began 265 years ago this month, the church building served not only as a place of worship, but as a school and fort, Pastor Stephen Wagoner said.

Built a few years before the start of the French and Indian War, the original log cabin church had catwalks and rifle slits to defend against Indian raids, Wagoner said this past week.

“Salem’s first pastor’s wife slept in a tree some nights, for fear of Indian raids,” Wagoner told parishioners during his Sunday sermon.

The original log cabin church burned to the ground in 1820, Wagoner said. Parishioners sat Sunday in a sanctuary that dates to 1821, when the congregation rebuilt the church.

The congregation noted the church’s 265th anniversary during Sunday services, including an anniversary luncheon following Sunday school.

Salem Reformed Church, hugged by a bend in Salem Church Road, is northwest of Hagerstown. The church has about 400 congregants, Wagoner said.

The church began as Deyshere’s Church, and has gone by the names German Evangelical Reformed, Schnebly’s Church, Troxel’s Church and New Salem Church, Wagoner said.

Peter Rentsch gave 50 acres to the church in 1747, Wagoner said last week. After the fire, the church sold 35 of those acres to raise $2,500 to build a new sanctuary, he said.

That stone sanctuary, with an 1822 cornerstone, stands today.

Additions were built in the 1950s, 1962 and 2003, Wagoner said.

A solid divider runs down the middle of several of the center pews to demarcate how the men and women used to be separated during church services, Wagoner said.

The pews are on a raised floor, higher than the aisles. The raised floor for the pews traps air between the floor and subfloor for warmer feet in the winter, Wagoner said.

The step up to the pews provided farmers a place to scrape the mud from their work boots as they stepped in to sit, he said. Back then, the sanctuary had an exposed plank floor. Now the floor is covered with red carpet.

The current pews in the church date to before President Lincoln, Wagoner said.

“They were not designed by orthopedic back surgeons,” he said.

The pews are purposely uncomfortable to discourage sleep, he said.

No one appeared to be sleeping Sunday.

In addition to the sermon, hymns, prayers, communion and a lesson for the congregation’s children, Wagoner asked parishioners about their news, including anniversaries, illnesses and guests.

Through Oct. 21, Wagoner is providing incentives for parishioners to bring guests to church. Those who bring enough guests could get one of Wagoner’s peanut butter pies or a ride in his Ford Cobra, he told the congregation.

Asked why he thinks the church has lasted so long, Wagoner said, “Whenever there’s a crisis, the people rally around to help each other.”

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