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The Church and the Dialect
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor

            It was a March of 1918 when area clergymen confronted the topic of whether or not to continue to conduct their services in the Pennsylvania-German (Pennsylvania Dutch) dialect or to convert to the use of English language only.

            In many cases, preaching in the Pennsylvania-German dialect was not

exclusive and was only performed once or twice a month.  English prevailed for most services.

            But, some members of the clergy feared that eliminating the dialect all-together would alienate the older members of the church – who happened to be the largest donors at the time. 

            However, keeping the dialect for services kept younger members away from the church because they didn't understand it.  It was an interesting dilemma of the time worthy of hearing the opinions of those involved.                                                                                           

                                                                                                                           Rev. Cyrus Held

            Most churches in Montgomery County had already dropped the use of the

dialect in their services because of the war with Germany.   Around the upper end of the county, older residents weren't in a hurry to change.  After all, they were reared and  confirmed in the dialect.

            The Town and Country newspaper contacted clergymen throughout the area back then and asked their opinion and what they would do in their churches.  It was an opportunity for newspaper to bring their general opinion before the residents of the area.



    Rev. William Kistler       

            Most area pastors responded and we'll present a few of them now.

            It was a time when some area churches were Union.  They would hold Lutheran services one week and Reformed services the next.  As such, there were pastors who would alternate between churches to minister to their charge.

            Dr. O. S. Kriebel, principle of Perkiomen School and pastor of the Palm Schwenkfelder Church said "All German services in our churches should be discontinued for the present, at least, and probably during the entire period of the war as a matter of loyalty and patriotism."

            Rev. Cyrus E. Held, of Sumneytown's St. John's Lutheran Church commented that "It is not the language we are fighting but the ideal … Older members of the congregation demand the German and as the older members are the financial backing of the church it's a question of the church's survival."  But, he believed there would be better attendance in church if the services were conducted in English.  St. John's was holding services in the Pennsylvania-German dialect once a month at the time.

            Rev. William Kistler, pastor of the Lutheran congregations at St. Mark's Church in Pennsburg and St. John's Church in Spinnerstown, always advocated for the use of English in his services saying, "I hail the day with great pleasure when our congregations will demand the services of the Gospel in English."

            Rev. Calvin Delong, pastor of New Goshenhoppen Church said that, "As far as I'm concerned I prefer preaching German to English but I do believe there would be considerable opposition to eliminating the German from the services from the older members of the congregation."  New Goshenhoppen was holding English services twice a month at the time.

               Times change, people change, and opinions change.  It is interesting to stop and take a look at issues of yesterday, think about how they relate to current ones, and ponder how we address similar problems today.





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