OUR CHURCH HISTORY
First United Church of Christ of Easton (aka: First U.C.C. or First Church) was established in 1745. Here is but a brief history. First Church was the outcome of over thirty years of work and effort by the German Reformed congregation. As early as 1745-50, even before the founding of Easton, this congregation was organized in the Forks of the Delaware region. According to tradition, huge bonfires were lighted at the summit of Morgans Hill, south of the Lehigh River, on the night previous to services. These beacons informed members of the congregation of services on the following day. By 1745, a Reformed and Lutheran congregation was worshipping in a structure at the foot of Morgans Hill near the junction of Morgan Hill and Cedarville Roads.
In 1746, Rev. Michael Schlatter was sent to America by the Synod of Holland to gather together the scattered bands of German Reformed congregations. It is believed that Rev. Schlatter visited the Forks of the Delaware area between 1747-50. At this time, he presented the congregation with the famous “Schlatter Bible”, which is displayed in our sanctuary.
The first recorded baptism in the history of the Church was the baptism of Ludwig Knauss, son of Ludwig and Elizabeth Knauss, on September 28, 1760. The first regular pastor of the Reformed congregation was Rev. John Conrad Wirtz, who served the Church between 1745-49. By 1766, the congregation was worshipping in the newly erected county courthouse in Centre Square, Easton.
In 1755, a log building was erected on the northeast corner of Church and Sitgreaves Streets to be used for any Protestant services. There is little doubt that our ancestors also worshipped in this building.
John and Richard Penn, heirs of William Penn, became aware of the congregation’s need for a parcel of land on which to erect a church. For the sum of ten dollars, the Penn’s conveyed to the congregation three tracts of land for the purpose of erecting a church edifice. This grant was finally confirmed by deed dated November 27, 1800, to Nicholas Troxell, Nicholas Kern, and Peter Snyder, trustees for the congregation.
On June 8, 1775, the cornerstone of the present sanctuary was laid. Construction began immediately, and the Church was consecrated on November 17, 1776. Only the four stone walls remain of the original Church. The interior of the Church was also greatly different than the arrangement today. The Church could originally be entered by three doors; two were on Third Street and the other was on Church Street at the site of the present altar. The pews were originally lengthwise on the Third Street wall facing east. Pews were also located on the Church Street and northern sides of the building and faced inward. Galleries ran along the north, west, and south sides of the building. The organ was situated in the western gallery. The original pulpit was of the wine glass style like the present one, only it was located on the eastern wall of the sanctuary. Above the pulpit was a large sounding board. The altar was located beneath the pulpit and was surrounded by a railing. The pews were narrow with high backs. The original ceiling was dome shaped and ornamented with oil painted figures.
First Church played a prominent role in the turbulent years of the American Revolution. Since the Church and the courthouse were the largest buildings in Easton, both were used as hospitals for wounded and infirm soldiers after the battles of Trenton, Brandywine, and Germantown. It is believed Gen. George Washington visited these soldiers in the Church during one of his visits to Easton. In 1777, meetings were held at the Church between the peace commissioners appointed by Congress and representatives of various Indian nations. Thomas Paine, the famous Revolutionary pamphleteer and author of “Common Sense”, served as secretary to the commissioners at these meetings.
On October 17, 1779, a Thanksgiving service was conducted in the Church following the return of Gen. John Sullivan’s expedition against the Iroquois Indians of New York State. In 1778, the stone school house at the rear of the Church was constructed to replace an earlier log school built in 1755. Today it serves as the Church Office.
The Reformed and Lutheran congregations continued to worship in the Church until 1831, when the Lutherans sold their interest in the building to the Reformed. The Lutherans then erected St. John’s Lutheran Church at Fourth and Ferry Streets, and have worshipped there since that time. The separation of the two groups was harmonious. In 1832, when the steeple and vestibule were added to First Church, the congregation was allowed to hold temporary services in the new Lutheran church. Also in 1832, the pews were reoriented toward the south as you see them now. The altar and pulpit were also placed on the south (Church Street) wall.
Services at the Church were conducted in the German language until 1831, when English services were added. Both languages were used until 1871, when the German language was dropped entirely.
The oil portraits in the Narthex are of two of the Church’s most popular pastors. The portrait on the right is of Rev. Thomas Pomp who served as pastor of First Church from 1796-1852. During his long pastorate he performed 3,616 confirmations, 7,870 baptisms, 2,059 marriages, and 1,670 funerals. The portrait on the left is of Rev. Bernard C. Wolff. Rev. Wolff served as Rev. Pomp’s assistant from 1833-44.
In 1885, extensive renovations were conducted on the Church building, including the erection of the brick altar recess (Apse) on Church Street, new floors and pews, the stained glass windows, and the painting of the exterior walls in a grey color. The outer brick vestibule on Third Street was also added at this time. The eight stained glass windows were donated by members of the congregation in memory of loved ones. They consist of five scenes representing the life of Christ and three symbolic windows. [Learn more about the stained glass windows here.]
In the period 1947-51, extensive renovations to the Church were again conducted. At this time the interior of the Church was reconstructed to the 1832 period. The Cassavant pipe organ was installed in 1951. In 1966, the stucco was sandblasted from the exterior walls to reveal the original stone walls from 1776. The Parish House at the rear of the church was erected in 1970 to replace an earlier Church School building. [For additional information about our "Chime of Bells" please see this link.]
The “Schlatter Bible”, early catechisms, and the Church’s original Communion set dated 1746, are among the heirlooms preserved by the Church in a glass case in the sanctuary. Nearby hangs the Penn Deed for the land on which the Church is built. Tablets in the sanctuary and on the Narthex walls honor former pastors, noted Church members, and the congregation’s members who served in World War I and II. Memorial Hallway, which connects the Narthex and the Parish House, was dedicated in 1970 to honor Rev. George A. Creitz. Rev. Creitz served the Church as pastor from 1931 until his death in 1966. Woodcarvings in the Hallway symbolize the Church’s role in community history and affairs.
During the 1970's-80's, First Church was fortunate to have two ministers who were extremely important not only in the history of the congregation, but also in both local and national church affairs.
Rev. Dr. Stephen L. Sterner, a native of York, Pennsylvania, served as pastor from 1973-81. During his pastorate, the Church underwent significant growth in membership. He also had a prominent role in community affairs in Easton. Following his departure from First Church, he served in several administrative positions in the United Church of Christ. He is currently serving as a pastor in a church in Phoenix, Arizona.
Rev. John H. Thomas served as pastor from 1982-92. In 1987, during Pastor Thomas' tenure, the Century III Capital Campaign was undertaken. The Century III Campaign required contributions of $150,000 which were earmarked for several important projects in the Church: repair of the Church exterior walls and woodwork, repainting and repair of the sanctuary interior, refurbishing of the Church organ, and a sizeable donation to Phoebe Home. The campaign was a tremendous success. Rev. Thomas was also a prominent figure in Easton City affairs. Almost entirely on his own he founded the Safe Harbor Homeless Shelter and helped to organize the Downtown Covenant Churches Organization, as well as the Easton Advisory Council of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Following his departure, Rev. Thomas served as assistant to the U.C.C. President for Ecumenical Concerns, and went on to become General Minister and President of the National United Church of Christ, a position he still maintains.
During the pastorate of Rev. George Eckstein (1993-97) the Church celebrated its 250th anniversary. During the yearlong celebration, former pastors were invited to preach on Sundays. Many activities and events were held as well. Special bulletins were designed for Sunday worship, and special concerts and music were performed throughout the year. The events culminated with a banquet at Green Pond Country Club in the fall. Also during Rev. Eckstein's term, many members of Grace U.C.C. on College Hill joined First Church after Grace closed its doors in 1993.
FAMILY HISTORY & GENEALOGY
The history of First Church is long and storied! Because of that, we receive numerous requests from folks seeking genealogical information. While we are able to quickly search some of our computerized records, most of our marriage, baptism and funeral records from 1950 back through the 1700's are in handwritten record books which are locked away. In order to preserve these priceless records, we limit access to them. Periodically we will gather the requests for information and open these records to search for information. This is extremely time consuming!
We are in the process of determining a way to convert all of our historical records into computerized files that will allow much quicker retrieval of information but we have not yet completed that transfer.
We will do our best to quickly search the information in our computer and share with you what we find but more indepth searching will take time. Many churches and organizations charge for retrieval of information and while your free-will gift would be much appreciated, First Church does not charge for that service.
There are other sources that may help you find your family history in the mean time. Please check our local...
Both of these local Easton organizations are a treasure chest of historical info & documents. And both of them share copies of our earliest records and may be able to assist you in a more timely fashion. Other sources for family history records...
Mormon Church's most complete genealogical record source. Some of the publications available on this site are various Church records and the book "Some of the First Settlers of The Forks of the Delaware".
Some other 'general genealogical' info may be found at...
JOIN US ON THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY!
Sunday Worship at 10:00 a.m.
in our historic Sanctuary
(September through June)
Summer Worship at 10:00 a.m.
in the air-conditioned parlor
(June through September)