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‘Almost like touching history’: St. Peter’s Kierch to mark 250th anniversary of cornerstone laying

By David Barr davidbarr@pressandjournal.com
Posted 7/11/17

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone at St. Peter’s Kierch, at the corner of Union and High streets, with a special program at …

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‘Almost like touching history’: St. Peter’s Kierch to mark 250th anniversary of cornerstone laying

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St. Peter’s Lutheran Church is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone at St. Peter’s Kierch, at the corner of Union and High streets, with a special program at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 13.

“Remembering that and being there 250 years later is an amazing moment, a faith-forming moment, to give thanks for what they did and all that has happened in the years since then. It’s almost like touching history and in a spiritual way, touching our ancestors in the moment,” the Rev. Richard Eckert said.

Eckert will give a brief talk on the laying of the cornerstone, the order of worship probably used when the cornerstone was laid, and the contents in the cornerstone.

Following Eckert will be Dr. Irwin Richman of Penn State Harrisburg. Richman will speak on the architecture of the kierch, followed by a question-and-answer session. A concert by Brassworks, an all-brass band playing hymns and other songs, will conclude the activities.

“We wanted to talk about some historical issues and that seemed to be a good night to talk about some of the architecture and the history and music is always a good thing to do, so it was a combination of the reflection on the history, the meaning of exactly what happened that day and the music,” Eckert said.

Dauphin County was established in 1785, meaning St. Peter’s is the oldest church in the county, since it was established in 1767, eight years before the county was founded.

In 1764, Middletown Lutherans were given permission by King George III to collect funds to build a place of worship. The cornerstone was laid on July 13, 1767. Construction took two years; the first service was held Tuesday, Sept. 12, 1769, by the Rev. Dr. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg.

A remodeling project took effect in 1850. The congregation raised $1,700 to make the following changes: transforming the two tiered windows into one; closing the High Street entrance and converting it into a window; moving the pulpit from the north side of the building to the west side, which allowed the gallery to be extended on three sides; and adding a main entrance vestibule with enclosed staircases on each side leading to the upper gallery.

The final regular service for the kierch was held Jan. 26, 1879. The next week, service was conducted at the new church, located at the corner of Spring and Union streets, where services are held to this day.

The word kierch means church in German. Normally, the kierch is only used for special occasions or services, such as Labor Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, and the first Sunday in December. This year, it and the new church are the host sites for various events for the public. These are free and open to everyone.

One of these activities is a wedding vows reaffirmation scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 15th at the church at 121 N. Spring Street. Advanced reservations are necessary and for those interested, reservations can be made by emailing cantor@stpetersmiddletown.org or calling 717-944-4651. Currently, 15 couples have been confirmed for Saturday's event, but church officials thought there could be as many as 20 couples renewing their vows.

Richard Ammon, chairman of the 250th anniversary committee, said they want the entire community to feel welcome.

“A lot of things don’t last 250 years, so this is a big deal that this church was founded,” Ammon said. “Not every year is the 250th, so we wanted to make a big deal out of this.”

Planning included researching the church’s history of what took place in 1917 and examining what other churches in the area did to commemorate their special anniversaries. The biggest thing the committee noticed that enticed people to come are music and food. There will be plenty of music-based events this year, and refreshments will be provided as well.

Eckert said the yearlong festivities will allow the church the “opportunity to do more things and have an opportunity to celebrate the magnitude of what has occurred and is occurring.”

According to anniversary committee member John Ziats, the significance of celebrating the laying of the cornerstone is that it “promoted an entire community to grow up in central Pennsylvania and a group of people who were committed to practicing their faith and sharing their blessings with everyone.”

“It was tangible evidence that the kierch was going to be not only begun but completed and that these people with deep faith in God would have a place to gather beyond their homes with a larger group of people to worship God,” Eckert said. “For the town, I think it’s a reminder of what we share with each other and with those that have gone before us. It’s kind of a statement of the strength and vitality of the faith here in God and also a sense of unity and what we share as people in this community. This is one of those things that can really renew our sense of community and care and commitment for each other, our community, and give thanks for how we’re different but also to celebrate how we are alike.”

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