|Skippack Historical Society
Celebrating 140 Years!
In 1863, Skippackville had approximately 29 houses, a post office, a general
store, a few hotels, a printing house, several commercial businesses, and one
church. That was the Trinity Christian church, still located on Church Rd.
near Skippack Pike.
The old structure represents the story of people. Those advanced thinkers of the 1850's who, because of their desire for higher education for their children, were excommunicated from the Mennonite Church, and thereafter established congregations at Collegeville, Rahns, and Skippack. In the midst of the civil war, this courageous group built a house of worship for themselves and their children.
This church owes its origin to a feud in the 1840's that divided the Mennonite congregation, the predominant religion of the surrounding area. More importantly, the roots of this church begin with the Hunsicker family of Skippack who should receive the credit and honor in establishing the Trinity Christian church here. Original settler Valentine Hunsicker (see the section about the Hunsicker family) instilled values in his family that also emerged in his grandson Abraham, who became a Mennonite Bishop. It is Abraham who founded Trinity Christian, and the Hunsicker family who supported the construction of the church. (the farm of the Hunsicker family was along Heckler Rd. and Mt. Airy Rd, three of their homesteads still stand today)
Abraham was a Bishop during the feud among Mennonites over "old order" issues versus progressive ways. About 1847, the feud culminated in the members leaving the church , those who favored progressive change. In 1848, he left the church and founded "Freeland Seminary", now Ursinus College, a school of higher education for boys (the Mennonites considered higher education to be progressive). Then, Bishop Abraham, compelled by his liberal Christian principles of non-sectarianism, built the Trinity Christian church at Freeland in 1853 (now Collegeville). He intended it to be an independent church, open to evangelical ministers of good standing and people of all and every Christian denomination. He welcomed them all. (Hunsicker 30-31)
Bishop Abraham Hunsicker knew Abraham Grater, who was a minister that also left the Mennonite church and agreed with more progressive ways. On April 4, 1855, Abraham Grater bought a building on Skippack Pike, called "Literary Hall". It stood in the parking area across from the "Parc Bistro" restaurant. This small, 2 story building was constructed in 1847 by a group of men that formed "The Skippack Association for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge", according to James Heckler's "History of Skippack", also known as "Literary Hall". Here, Abraham Grater was now holding his own worship services, preaching from the Book of Revelation based on his own ideas, Heckler wrote. It was written that people went to hear Abraham Grater just to get a laugh from his ideology and form of preaching. After several years of Abraham Grater's religious services, Bishop Hunsicker may have started to contemplate the formation of a Skippack congregation of his Trinity Christian church. This would build a formal and more organized church than the rambling services of Abraham Grater, who may have been viewed as more of a comic than a minister. (Heckler)
The early members of the church existed for some time as an unorganized group
of worshipping Christians associated with the Freeland Church movement in
Collegeville. (65th Anniv.) We learn from Mr. & Mrs. Emil Schultheisz of an
interesting story that was handed down by the prior owners of their residence
which was the home of Henry Swartley, built by him in 1856. The story tells of
meetings that took place in this home, to organize the congregation of the
Skippack Trinity Christian church. A group of 'Christian people interested in the
prosperity of the Redeemer's Kingdom and the salvation of souls' met 'at the
residence of Henry W. Swartley in said Skippackville, Thursday afternoon,
September 17, 1863, for the purpose of taking into prayerful consideration the
propriety, expediency, and practicability of erecting a suitable church building
for the solemn worship of Almighty God in or near the said village of
Skippackville'. (qtd in Historical Sketch)
Minutes of the meeting referred to above further state: 'after a somewhat detailed account of the Lord's work during the last two years, and the bright prospect in view of the rich harvest of ungathered souls all around, of accomplishing much greater good in the future under favorable circumstances, and after it became fully apparent that the presently adapted place of worship was a hindering cause to the prosperity of religion, on motion of Rev. Abraham Hunsicker, it was resolved: that a church building be erected in Skippackville as soon as practicable, the particular location to be determined in the future'. The second meeting was held on September 28, 1863, with 'a greater interest being manifested than at the previous meeting. A motion was made to purchase a lot of ground containing about three acres, at a cost of $288.33. A building 45 feet by 35 feet was to be erected, containing a basement (first floor) not less than ten feet in height and the room proper not less than sixteen'. (qtd in Historical Sketch)
To raise funds, a subscription book was passed among the interested people of the community, and $756 was subscribed. The building cost was $1794.77 Bishop Abraham Hunsicker paid the difference. The lower part of the church was dedicated with two services on Saturday, January 9, 1864 (one in German and one in English). The second floor was completed in 1868 at a cost of $888.62. The name of the church was "Trinity Christian Church at Skippackville".
At the Skippack church, Bishop Hunsicker placed the Rev. Joseph Hendricks in charge. He was the minister who helped organize the congregation and served it for 42 years, until his death in 1905. He was also pastor of "Trinity Christian Church of Freeland", at Collegeville, and at Ironbridge Chapel (in Rahn's Station, now Rahns). His services were generally in German. (140 Years, 7)
Rev. Hendricks married Bishop Hunsicker's daughter , Catherine (b. 1/9/1840) on 10/21/1858. He was born on 12/21/1834 in Upper Providence Twp., died 11/21/1905. They had 5 children. Raised on his father's farm, Joseph entered Freeland Seminary in 1851 under principle Rev. Henry A. Hunsicker (Abraham's son). He attended the Seminary during summer months and taught in public schools for four consecutive winters. In 1856, he was appointed to assistant teacher in the Seminary, and then to vice-principle of the institution two years later. While performing these positions he was chosen and elected to the ministry by the members of the Trinity Christian Church in Collegeville, being installed in April, 1862. This required so much time that he resigned from the Seminary. The Church merged into the Reformed Church in 1888 (against the wishes of his brother-in-law Rev. Henry A. Hunsicker who wanted to preserve his father's work of building a nondenominational church). Rev. Hendricks has the distinction of having served the same charge longer than any other living pastor in Montgomery County (as of 1911). He officiated at more than one thousand funerals. He was greatly loved by his congregation and in much demand outside of his own church. He was a fluent and forcible preacher, speaking entirely extempore, in a rapid, earnest and convincing manner. In June, 1881, Ursinus College awarded him a degree of M.A. and in June, 1897, the degree of D.D. He is buried at the Collegeville cemetery of the Trinity Christian Church which he served so long and faithfully. (Hunsicker 66)
In 1906, Rev. F. C. Yost became Pastor, serving both Skippack and Collegeville. He was promised a salary of $445 /year. This was in sharp contrast to Rev. Hendricks who accepted whatever was given in the free-will offering. From 1912 to 1921, Rev. William Clapp was Pastor, giving an occasional service in German. About the end of his service, it was decided that a pastor was needed for each church. Rev. Carl G. Petri was then elected minister, from 1921 to 1950. Then, Rev. Edward S. DeChant served from 1951 to 1959. Rev. Paul E. Dershem arrived in 1959, retiring in 1976. He was honored with the title "Pastor Emeritus", still recognized today. From 1977 to 1987, Rev. James W. Adam served the congregation, with emphasis being placed on youth programs. Rev. Richard Adinolfi became the next Pastor, from 1988 to 1997, initiating and overseeing necessary renovations to the structure. (140 Years, p8-10)
Near the west side of the building was a long, open shed to park the horses and carriages. The original steeple was struck by lightning about 1906. Long time resident Dott Reiff-Kiehl remembers when the house at the corner of RT.73 was used as the parsonage until 1921.
Today, Pastor Gerald Smith serves the Skippack congregation, since 1999. Change continues with the name now reflecting the original, as Trinity Christian United Church of Christ. The church has an organ and choir, and is now able to telecast the services and record them for those people who are not able to attend. There is a separate auditorium and education building where Sunday School and many events are held throughout the year, including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Once a month there is a special Sunday evening Worship Service. Now celebrating their 140th Anniversary, the church continues to evolve into the 21st century. Trinity Christian welcomes all people. (140 Years, p10-11)
Outline of the Church's History
1863 - Church founded as Trinity Christian church,
Trinity Christian UCC
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