Three hundred years ago, the United States had yet to be established. In 1723, there was still a lot of history to unfold within Northampton County and beyond. But Emmanuel’s Lutheran Church in Bath and its congregation would be there to see all of this history unfold: from the French & Indian War to the founding of the United States, from the Civil War to the invention of the automobile.
This year marks a significant milestone for the church: its 300th anniversary. It’s a milestone not even many historic universities around the Lehigh Valley can claim.
Emmanuel’s (which means God With Us) was founded by German immigrants from the Palatinate, a district in Southwestern Germany. According to Ray Walker, the church’s unofficial historian, most of these immigrants were Pennsylvania Dutch. They came to Northampton County for the same reasons many like them came to the Thirteen Colonies centuries ago: for a livelihood in farming and, most importantly, religious freedom. With them, they brought their Bibles, printed in German.
The original church was a log cabin. When that fell into disrepair, the congregation started to meet in a schoolhouse they had built in the 1760s. This schoolhouse is what earned the church its first official name (on record): The Old Schoolhouse Congregation. It wasn’t until the 1850s, about 100 years later, that the original brick church was built. In 1969, Emmanuel’s became a Lutheran congregation and remains so to this day.
The church may have seen a lot of changes through the centuries, but one thing has remained the same, says Sue Monroe, a member of the congregation and the church’s 300th Anniversary Committee: “Our faith in Christ as the Redeemer.”
Monroe and her family have been members of the church for over three decades.
“We have members here whose families have been here for centuries,” she says. “We have those, like us, who are relatively recent, and others who are newer. It’s a living and growing church that is happy to be here for the community and its members.”
The diversity of this congregation can be seen in the church’s cemetery. Native Americans, Pennsylvania Germans, and many other ethnicities are at rest there. Meanwhile, the one-room schoolhouse was in service to the community until the 1960s. Many members of the congregation have fond memories of their time there as children.
“Our church has gone from a small one-room log church serving both Lutheran and Reformed worshippers to a brick building with two additions added to accommodate a growing congregation that is now completely Lutheran and offers both traditional and contemporary worship opportunities,” adds Monroe.
That sense of community extends to today. The church is a proud supporter of local organizations like Behavioral Health Associates, as well as regional and global organizations such as Lutheran Disaster Response of Eastern PA, ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran World Relief.
Winfield Miller, a member of the congregation whose family has been involved with the church for centuries, says that Emmanuel’s is “music, miracles, and munchies.”
The church is a member of the Bath Council of Churches, spreading joy through music. Emmanuel’s is also a happy supporter of the Bath Area Food Bank.
As for miracles, Miller himself can attest to that. He survived a severe car crash and medically induced coma. He says his life was saved by the church’s support and prayer. Monroe adds that the church has a strong tradition of prayer for those in need.
There are plenty of events planned to celebrate the church’s momentous milestone. An open mic night is planned for September 15 at 7 p.m. An outdoor fall festival will be held on October 7, featuring food, festivities and fellowship, plus a Martin Luther Lookalike Contest, polka dancing, and a dunk tank. A hand bell invitational concert is scheduled for October 29 at 2 p.m. and a Christmas Cantata with a brass ensemble will be held on December 17 at 2 p.m.
All events are open to the public and free to attend, though a good-faith offering will gladly be accepted. Everyone in Bath and beyond is welcome to experience the “music, miracles, and munchies” Miller speaks so fondly of.
As for what’s in store for the next 300 years for Emmanuel’s, Monroe says, “We hope to continue on in our celebration of the faith of Jesus Christ.”
The congregation also plans to continue providing innovative and spirited worship opportunities via its welcoming community, and engaging in social ministry and outreach activities.
Adds Monroe, “As one of our contemporary worship hymns reminds us: ‘We are the church where everybody’s welcome’ – and we work together to keep it that way.”