SELLERSVILLE — The stones that were used to build St. Michael's Evangelical Lutheran Church were quarried from neighboring fields.
Local residents did the work to build it almost a century and a half ago.
"People literally built this with their hands and their hearts," Pastor Julie Berghdahl said.
The congregation is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, with the first major event in that celebration being a 150th Anniversary Worship and Luncheon on Sunday, May 5, she said.
In May of 1869, an application for incorporation was filed, which was approved in September of that year, St. Michael's member and local historian Tim Hufnagle said.
"The premise was to build a church. It was a union church between what was then Reformed and Lutheran, and in order to do that, they had to raise funds," he said.
To do that, the existing burial grounds at the property were expanded, and burial plots in the cemetery were sold, he said.
At the time, it was common in the area to have union church buildings that were shared by more than one denomination, he said.
"They each had their separate charters, their separate funds, their separate congregations," Hufnagle said.
"You couldn't afford to have two churches," he said. "You had to share."
Although not yet formally organized, Lutheran, Reformed and Mennonite groups had been meeting in a schoolhouse on Walnut Street in Sellersville since 1859, with itinerant pastors serving what at the time were mission congregations, Berghdahl and Hufnagle said.
While their involvement was before the church was formally organized, the Rev. Ferdinand Berkemeyer, whose work with the Sellersville congregation began in 1859, and the Rev. Frederick Walz, who joined the work in 1865, were two of the leaders in the formation of the church, along with having helped start several other Lutheran congregations in the area, Berghdahl and Hufnagle said.
Most of the local Lutheran congregations formed as an offshoot of what is now Little Zion Lutheran Church in Franconia, at the time known as Indianfield, Hufnagle said.
"That's often referred to as the mother church," he said.
In May of 1870, the cornerstone was laid for the new Sellersville church building.
"By 1872, the entire building was under roof, but the upstairs wasn't finished," Hufnagle said.
For the next two years, services were held on the lower floor, he said.
On May 2 and 3 of 1874, consecration services were held for the now completed building with the sanctuary on the top floor.
An estimated 2,000 people were on hand for one of the consecration services, with some of those people having to remain outside, Hufnagle said.
Those taking part in the consecration services included the first president of Muhlenberg College, a professor from Philadelphia Seminary and the principal of what was then Keystone Normal School, now Kutztown University, Berghdahl said.
"It's just so interesting to me how this church was so connected to, not just Sellersville, but all the way up to Allentown and into Philadelphia, Norristown, as well as all of this area," Berghdahl said. "It was really a sense of a wider church."
Several early Sellersville officials and business people also were involved in the process of building the church, Hufnagle said.
Building and furnishing the church cost $18,000, he said.
In the early days, sermons were preached in German, Berghdahl said.
In 1904, the church became the first public building in Sellersville to have electricity, she said.
Information from 1874 included that the church had a chandelier constructed to burn either petroleum or gas, Hufnagle said. That's what would have been used to light the building before electricity was added, he said.
In 1900, the union church at the site ended when the Reformed and Lutheran congregations voted to separate the property, except for the cemetery, which remained jointly owned, Hufnagle said.
"One of the primary reasons for the split was the growth of both congregations," he said. "They just got too big. It wasn't like an angry split or anything like that. It was just more out of necessity."
Berghdahl, who has been at St. Michael's Lutheran for 11½ years, said she is the 13th pastor.
Dr. John Waidelich, who pastored from 1889 to 1941, had by far the longest tenure, Berghdahl said.
"This was his only parish. He was here 52 years, and he died in office," she said.
The church is at one of the highest points in Sellersville, Hufnagle said.
"When you drive into the town from whatever direction, you see the steeple," he said.
On May 5, there will be only one Sunday morning service instead of the usual three. It will be at 10:15 a.m., Berghdahl said. Pastor Rick Summy, who was St. Michael's pastor when the 125th anniversary was held, will preach at the service. Some of the children of previous pastors who have since died will also be taking part in the May 5 celebration, which will include an anniversary luncheon and program on the church's history from noon to 2 p.m. at the Lutheran Community at Telford, Berghdahl said.
In September, the church will be open for building and cemetery tours during this year's Sept. 15 Gallery of the Arts, she said.
On the following Sunday, Sept. 22, there will be another 150th anniversary celebration. The Rev. Patricia Davenport, bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Pastor Thomas Lang, who pastored St. Michael's for 10 years and was the most recent pastor before Berghdahl, are expected to take part in that service, Berghdahl said.
St. Michael's community activities include community meals and taking part in a community garden providing food for Pennridge FISH and Keystone Opportunity Center, along with providing space for Scout groups, a preschool and recovery groups, she said.
"It's a very, very busy facility during the week," she said.
While he's not comparing St. Michael's to Notre Dame Cathedral, Hufnagle said, in the aftermath of the devastating fire at the cathedral, he notices a similarity.
In both cases, there are some who say it's just a building, he said.
"But it's not just a building," Hufnagle said. "It's a building, OK, but it's not just a building. It's a legacy that marks what love and passion people invested in it."