About The Author
Dr. Kathryn Beck, daughter of Melvin and Ruth Beck, has deep roots in Zion. Her great-uncle, the Rev. John H. Beck, began his pastorate here in January 1877. Her grandfather, the Rev. E. M. Beck, was pastor from February 1918 until 1929 at which time the Rev. Melvin E. Beck became pastor. He served until his retirement in 1958. Her brother, the Rev. Robert F. Beck, recently retired from the pastorate of the United Church of Christ in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Her nephew, the Rev. Richard F. Beck, is the minister at Grace United Church of Christ in Uniontown, Ohio. [He retired in 2014.]
Kathryn moved to North Canton with her family in 1929. After graduation from North Canton High School, she enrolled at Heidelberg College from which she graduated as valedictorian of her class. Subsequent education led her first to a master’s degree and then doctorate in English history from Case Western Reserve University. She also did some study at Ohio State and the University of Wisconsin.
Her first teaching assignment was at Canton Township High School (now Canton South). She then taught at the Canton Branch of Kent State University until she received an appointment to the Geneseo campus of the State University of New York. Here she became acting head of the Department of History. Shortly before her retirement, she was named Distinguished Professor, only the second person in her entire school so to be named.
Dr. Beck has travelled extensively to Europe, Africa, and Asia but has always had a deep love for North Canton and Zion Church.
“Our Roots” is a labor of love for Kathryn and she spent endless hours in researching material and in writing this history. We are all deeply indebted to her for her dedication in preparing this extremely interesting treatise for our edification and that of future generations. The 175thAnniversary Committee
Our Roots 1814 – 2014
June 14, 1814 was a great day for two little congregations. On that day they laid the cornerstone of a log cabin which would be known as Zion’s Lutheran and Reformed Church. This little structure would serve the two congregations with the provision that “no two preachers should hold church here at one time, but when there are two ministers in this church the one shall hold church one Sunday and the other next.” And so it was until 1881.
The sharing of a building by two separate congregations was the general pattern for Reformed and Lutherans in Ohio. Germans had fled to the New World from a militaristic system enforced by regulations which individuals began to consider intolerable. At home German duchies, principalities and kingdoms were antagonistic toward one another which often led to war and increasing hardships for the people. The emigres sought a freedom which they felt they would never experience if they should stay where they were. They had come with great expectations, but part of their being had remained at home. They never forgot that their roots were in Germany. They clung to the German language with the same tenacity that shipwrecked sailors cling to flotsam. So it was perfectly natural for them to draw up in German the provisions for the use of their church, and the standard of conduct expected of its members and preachers.
On that June day submerged, if not forgotten, were doctrinal differences of the followers of Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin and the followers of Martin Luther. What was important that day was that they were Christians and Germans. The agreement which bound them began: “In the name of the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, let all be done. Amen.” They had united into Zion’s Church for “the glory of God and the edification of us all.” They gave to the elders and deacons the responsibility for guaranteeing that the teachers and preachers were God-fearing and living by the precepts of I Timothy 3:2-6 and Titus 1:9. An illegitimate child could not be baptized until the mother was “reproved of her sin in front of the Consistory.” Drunkenness, cursing, swearing, lying, cheating, adultery would bar a member from the Lord’s Supper.
This was an intrepid band of people. They had to be. They had endured hardships—weather, shortage of materials, poor communications, threats from Indians, the French and the British, all of whom were determined to keep them out of the fertile and beautiful lands comprising Ohio. But in the midst of their trials they had erected a building to the glory of God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. They had erected a building. Most unusual. Most congregations had no churches. In the records of the Ohio Reformed Churches references are made repeatedly to open air meetings, confirmations held in jails, services in barns. Zion’s had a church, an actual building dedicated exclusively for religious services. Obviously, there were two congregations prior to that June of 1814 in order to do what they did.
At that time Ohio was considered frontier with all the vices associated with that term. Life was hard. Much of the state was heavy forest inhabited by various wild animals. Since money was scarce, barter was the method of exchange of goods and services. By the time the two little congregations dedicated their log structure the struggle between the native Americans who fought to defend their land and the increasing number of white settlers who wanted that same land was virtually over. William Henry Harrison, two and a half years earlier, had defeated the Indians at Tippecanoe. The war of 1812 between the United States and Britain was still unsettled, but September 10, 1813, Commodore Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie. Twenty-five days later the dynamic Shawnee chief Tecumseh was killed. Thus the alliance between the Indians and the British was broken.
How much those congregations knew about the world and the nation that June day is a matter of conjecture. They probably were aware that James Madison was President, but they probably did not know that Napoleon had just been sentenced to life on the island of Elba. If they did know, they must have believed that the little Corsican was no longer a threat. They were not alone believing this, for even the most astute of world leaders were not aware that in nine months he would escape and seek to regain his empire. This would end in failure, but not before much of Europe was ravaged again and thousands of men would lose their lives.
The denomination, of which the Reformed members professed to be a part, was still struggling for identity and organization. Eastern Pennsylvania had the most people and churches, and it was referred to as the Mother Synod. As the years would go by the denomination would be organized into Synods which in turn were divided in Classis, groups of local churches. Every two years a Synod was supposed to meet with delegates from all the Classis to decide the general direction and make the laws for the denomination as a whole.
On May 1, 1820, the congregations in Ohio were organized as the Ohio Classis, composed of 5 ministers, 50 congregations, and about 1800 members. (Today in the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ there are 25 churches that are older than Zion.) Ohio was surely a ripe mission field. No longer could Ohio be ignored by the eastern church where the Synod of 1812 took steps toward forming a Home Missions Board, but an earlier request from “Miami Valley, Starke County and Lancaster, Ohio” for missionaries had been met with derision. “What! Leave family and home and venture on so long and perilous journey as a missionary?” In 1820, Ohio Reformed Churches could no longer be ignored. They were given (Ohioans would have said “earned”) recognition by the eastern establishment and named the Ohio Classis.
From the foregoing statistics it is clear that the 5 ministers were itinerant for they served those 50 congregations. Our Zion’s church belonged to the Canton charge composed of First Church at Canton, Osnaburg (East Canton), Paris, Martin’s (near Mapleton), Sherman’s (in Bethlehem Twp.), Heinrich’s (Warstler), Bethlehem (Navarre). The first Reformed minister in Ohio was the Rev. John Peter Mahnenschmidt, who was born in Pennsylvania. While still in his teens he had been thrust into the religious life as a lay preacher, for the Reformed congregations in southwestern Pennsylvania had a dearth of preachers. A death had occurred in the community, and since there was no clergyman the nineteen year old gave in to persistent pleadings and agreed to conduct the funeral service. Soon, in addition to his school teaching, he was conducting religious services. Ten years later in 1812 he was licensed by the Synod in Philadelphia. In that same year he came to Ohio and became the first Reformed preacher to the state. He spent the rest of his life in Eastern Ohio, serving churches in Columbiana and Stark counties. Records show that this tireless worker for Christ preached at times in the Canton charge, so it can be assumed that our forefathers were some of those who were influenced by this great man of God. His life was hard, spending most of his time away from his family, as he travelled by horseback ministering to dozens of congregations. He endured rains, snow, heat and cold, and the dangers of the forests through which he had to pass. He apparently possessed good health for he served Ohio for 45 years, dying at the age of 74.
During much of the nineteenth century American churches were trying to determine the way they wanted to develop. All of them had sprung from churches in the “old country”. While they represented a pattern with which the members were familiar, there were some aspects of that pattern Americans did not want to duplicate. They appreciated the United States Constitution which guaranteed that state and church should never be integrated, and they fought to maintain that separation in ways which may seem strange today. The early Reformed churches, just as the Lutheran and Presbyterian, were served by clergymen who had been educated in Europe. Some of them were truly Biblical scholars and versed in the tenets of the Reformation as well. As the years went by, an ever-increasing number of preachers were native born. They were long on commitment but short on education, for the opportunities for the latter were limited. Candidates for the ministry were trained by a clergyman, a method very similar to that used by students who read law with a lawyer, or doctors who learned their profession by spending time in a doctor’s office. The Eastern Synod decided that the time had come to establish a seminary and only seminary graduates could be ordained.
This pronouncement angered many Reformed people in the East as well as those in Ohio. The latter believed the Mother Synod had gone too far. Ministers who had students studying in their homes rejected the decision which seemed to cast aspersions on the type of education they were giving. Clergymen who had been trained by the means under attack replied by pamphlet, letter, and heated argument that their freedom was being threatened and the decision was contrary to the United States Constitution! They had not come to America, they argued, to be made slaves by others.
Only four years after the Ohio Classis was formed, Zion’s Reformed joined its sister churches in the move to reject the decision of the Mother Synod. The dissidents met on June 12, 1824 at the courthouse in New Philadelphia, for there was no church big enough to accommodate the delegates from 70 churches representing 2500 members. There they declared their independence and formed an independent synod to be known as “The High German Evangelical Reformed Synod of Ohio”. They pledged their allegiance to the Bible, the Heidelberg Catechism, the customs of the Reformed Church and the constitution of the Mother Synod, if not the Synod itself. It was understood that German would be the language used in worship.
Financial considerations also had contributed to the rebellion. Delegates from Ohio to the Mother Synod had complained of the hardships of horseback and coach travel and the expenses incurred. Many felt that the money used to send delegates so far away should be used to strengthen the churches in Ohio where the need was great. And indeed, Ohio was poor. The plight of the Rev. Benjamin Faust of Canton added fuel to the flame. That minister in 1823 had gone to the Synod held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He had been taken seriously ill from the rigors of the trip. As a result he had exceeded his allowance by $30.00. The Ohio Classis felt responsible for that expense incurred through his medical problems. It voted to reimburse the Rev. Faust. Four years passed before the churches by special collections could raise the $30.00. The debt was still not paid completely when the Classis took the step of declaring itself an independent synod.
Only ten years earlier Zion’s had dedicated the log cabin on Pittsburg Road. In that time it had seen an itinerant clergy develop and missionaries arrive from the eastern church. Now it was part of the uproar caused by the Synod’s decision that only seminary men could be ordained. Ohio to some extent was not opposed to a seminary as much as it was opposed to the plan to force future ministers into a seminary controlled by the Mother Synod, who in turn would also have the exclusive right to ordain ministers.
It can be presumed that Zion’s Church followed the customs of the day. Women sat on one side of the aisle, men on the other. Since there was no money for hymn books, the minister would read the hymns line by line, pausing between lines, thus allowing the congregation to sing. Services were conducted in German. The elders and deacons sat in the place of honor next to the pulpit. Sunday services were free worship; that is, there was no prescribed order of worship. Liturgy was used only on special occasions—marriage, baptism, the preparatory service, Communion, ordination of ministers, installation of the consistory. Participation in the preparatory service was a requirement for taking Communion.
The Reformed and Lutheran congregations in Zion’s were close. Clergy were shared as the two congregations worshipped together. The Reformed minister, the Rev. Peter Herbruck, reported that he taught catechetical classes with the Heidelberg Catechism in one hand and the Lutheran Catechism in the other. He confirmed by the choice of the catechuman, either Reformed or Lutheran. The relationship between the two groups remained cordial for many years. While the Reformed and Lutheran groups in the Union churches of the area split into separate congregations around the 1860’s, Zion’s church remained a Union church until 1881.
If the founders of the Ohio Synod expected all “sweetness and light” they were doomed to disappointment. From its inception it was faced with some difficulties and divisions.
Lutherans permitted Reformed students in their seminary in Columbus, and Lutheran and Reformed clergy were used interchangeably. Attempts for the merger of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Ohio, however, were turned down by the Lutherans while the Reformed favored them. No record has been found to show the reaction of Zion’s Church on Pittsburg Road to the controversy.
Intoxication was prevalent everywhere. Liquor played an important part in German homes and, in addition, Ohio was frontier country. The Ohio churches faced the issue much to the chagrin of some laymen and preachers. Nevertheless in 1841 the second district, of which Zion’s was a part, passed a resolution which read: “We consider the use of intoxicating liquor as being most injurious to the morals and health of the people; therefore we advise the members of the congregations and the pastors of our district to join the Temperance Associations; and we as ministers herewith declare that we will abstain from the use of such liquors.” Eight ministers protested this action, half of whom were from the Canton-Massillon area. Dissensions arose. The following year the same ministers attempted to rescind the resolution but failed. Members and clergy were divided into “wets” and “drys,” each faction trying to outdo the other in namecalling. The unhappy result was a decrease in the membership of the Reformed churches. Some left because their pastor was “wet,” while others decided to go elsewhere because their pastors were active in the temperance movement.
Another source of real concern for the Ohio Synod was the health of its ministers. Ohio was not yet a healthful place to live. Poor housing conditions, little medical care, long hours on horseback or on foot for pastors serving churches scattered over distances as great as 22 miles took their toll. Promising young ministers died suddenly of cholera, typhoid, or succumbed to consumption. At least one of Zion’s spiritual leaders died this way. Rev. Benjamin Faust, who had taken ill on his way to Synod in Harrisburg as noted earlier, died a few days after conducting a funeral service in miserable weather. He was only 34 years of age, leaving behind a young wife with four small children. His charge was composed of Uniontown, Manchester, St. James, Canton, Osnaburg, Paris, Martin’s, Sherman’s, Bethlehem, and Zion’s. For thirteen years he had labored increasing the membership in these churches and establishing Sunday Schools. The great Sunday Schools of the 1920’s through the 1960’s attest to the foundations laid by this young man.
The career of Peter Herbruck followed directly thereafter. Herbruck, born in Bavaria, arrived in Philadelphia in August of 1831, after an unforgettable journey of four months, including a 400 mile walk to the port of LeHavre, followed by an ocean voyage interrupted by a storm which made the ship unseaworthy. The eighteen-year-old had left home because he wanted a chance to become either a teacher or preacher, but where or how he could accomplish this remained uncertain. He began walking in a westerly direction, stopping periodically to teach school until he had enough money to continue his journey. By twist of fate he arrived in Stark County where he met Rev. Faust who took him into his home. Here Herbruck had his early theological training, a period of about three months. He preached a few times for his teacher, but when that teacher died, Herbruck was only twenty years old. Faust’s congregations, including Zion’s, elected him as their pastor. Then began the struggle to get the young man licensed and ordained by the Ohio Synod. While the Synod refused the license as well as the ordination, Herbruck continued to serve the churches for there was no one else who could or would do it. The Rev. J. W. Hamm of the Canal Fulton charge then became his mentor and aided him in his theological studies. “Owning neither an overcoat or horse,” as his memoirs tell us, he walked “eight, ten, fifteen and even twenty-four miles, on foot, through deep snows” to serve the congregations. In 1833 he used foot, canal boat, and foot again to go to the Ohio Synod meeting in Xenia where the Synod refused both the license and ordination. After the disappointment, a few months later the license was granted. Ordination would follow the next year. His main congregation was First Church, Canton, but the charge included Zion’s which he served from 1832-1872.
The question of a seminary remained a burning issue, even after the Ohio Synod was formed. The Mother Synod which had precipitated the struggle established a seminary at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which suffered from the beginning from a lack of funds. The Rev. J. R. Reily, pastor of the Reformed Church of Hagerstown, Maryland, conceived of the idea of going to The Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland to ask the Reformed Churches for help. He sailed on May 20, 1825, with the Synod’s blessing and armed with references from the Governor of Pennsylvania and Henry Clay. He returned six months later with $5,042 and 5,000 books. Within a short time even those funds were depleted and a $50 gift from John Jacob Astor and other gifts could not prevent the demise of the institution.
During 1834-1835 the Eastern Synod attempted to persuade Ohio to come back to its jurisdiction but to no avail. Ohioans continued to have cordial relations with the people of the Synod, but it continued to refuse to recognize that the Synod had any authority over it. For a few years western Pennsylvania allied itself with Ohio.
Ohio was also facing the issue of providing theological training for its ministers. In the fall of 1838 a seminary opened its doors in Canton. The professor, the Rev. Dr. J. C. Buettner, was to operate the seminary and preach at the churches of Osnaburg (East Canton) and Massillon for $250 a year. Buettner, a native of Germany, was a scholar whose standards were too high and his two students withdrew. By May the seminary closed its doors and Buettner returned home. His departure was caused by more than money problems and scholastic standards. According to Herbruck, the two men quarreled over First Church; Buettner wanted the jewel of the Canton charge and Herbruck refused to give it up.
Peter Herbruck was to become the dominating clergyman in this area of Ohio. Over the years he would serve 22 churches. Brash, courageous, and determined, he would rock northern Ohio not only by his sermons but also on the issue of revivals, liturgy, and language.
The mid-decades of the nineteenth century were turbulent times for the Reformed Church. The German states were shaken by the Burschenschaft. Although punished and declared illegal, it continued the agitation which would lead to the Revolutions of 1848, second only to the French Revolution in their influence on political and religious developments. The Burschenschaft was a student organization devoted to fostering patriotism and Christian conduct. It began in the Protestant universities, and it adopted the tri-colors of the Reformation. Black, gold, and red had been the colors of 16th century reformers which symbolized “from darkness into light by the blood of Christ”. For some unknown reason the students displayed the colors in the wrong sequence—black, red, gold. To them the flag still represented the Reformation as well as Germany itself. Put with that student fervor the increasing numbers of atheists and deists and the powerful slogan of the French Revolution, “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” and we have conditions ripe for unrest, dissent, and uneasiness. Nations and churches reeled from the blows of which the Burschenschaft was a part. In the United States the Reformed Church seethed, but in no place did their intensity exceed that which was found in North Central Ohio.
The Reformed Church perceived that the time had come to make changes so that the Gospel of Christ could be spread more effectively. But what changes? the answers differed widely. During the ferment the church continued to emphasize the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the fall of man and the atonement. The arguments developed on the methods to be used. The proponents of liturgy and ritual insisted that the only way to insure that ministers were preaching the Gospel was to formalize the worship by using a proscribed liturgy and scripture which would make sure that each service would emphasize some phase of Christian faith. Much of the eastern church would go this way. As a result, in that area even today the church is “high church,” meaning that the worship service is formal, emphasizing liturgy and ritual. Ohioans, no matter how they might fight among themselves, were united virtually in their abhorrence of those developments, especially the kneeling, which was considered “Popish.” The Ohio church would become “low” church.
The word “fight,” used above, has been used intentionally for fights and brawls literally developed over the direction the church should take. Some of the churches swung into prolonged revival sessions with testifying, weeping, prostrate bodies, interminable prayer meetings, and the “anxious bench,” a bench placed in a prominent place in the sanctuary or room, where the penitents sat and confessed their sins until such time as members of the congregation decided that the penitence was complete. Women particularly were involved in the prayer meetings where the men complained that they were too noisy as each tried to outpray the other. The woman’s place in the church was to be seen and not heard, they said. Along with this went the use of English, which an increasing number were using.
The Rev. Peter Herbruck could stand these developments no longer. Clergy rallied around the minister of the Canton charge to put a stop to the horrifying developments. Eight pastors decided that they could no longer accept the jurisdiction of the Ohio Synod, and they and their churches seceded to form a new Synod which came to be called by those who remained as the “Herbruck Synod,” although the official name was “The German Synod of the High German Reformed Church of Ohio and Adjacent States”. As long as Peter Herbruck refused to compromise or discuss the conditions, the schism remained. His tremendous energy was directed against those whom he believed were making a travesty of the Christian faith. He believed then as he continued to believe that German should be the language of the church. Our Zion was on the side of their pastor. Again the numbers within the Reformed denomination suffered, for members left to worship elsewhere. The fist fights which developed within the walls of sanctuaries made mockery of “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you”!
The leaders on both sides were Germans, and Germans do not give up easily. The Herbruck Synod lasted from 1846 to 1854. The dissidents made some concessions such as agreeing to allow some churches to use the Heidelberg Catechism. Out of chaos came a stronger church, dropping the extremes that caused the trouble in the first place. A weekly prayer meeting appeared in the churches. Some of the ill-placed enthusiasm was directed to the mission field. Seminary education was encouraged, for now a theology department was part of the brand-new college, known as Heidelberg, whose school colors were black, orange, red. Revivals found a place in the life of the congregations.
Whereas our area was marked by an effervescence which was misplaced, other Ohio areas joined the pietistic movement that placed a great emphasis on the priesthood of believers and a strong devotional life. Seventy-five years earlier the Rev. William Otterbein had brought with him from Germany pietistic beliefs. He served churches in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area. Although he never officially broke with his Reformed background—church records show him participating in Reformed convocations until his death—he is looked upon as the founder of the United Brethren Church. So it may be said that some of the pietistic beliefs were found early in the Reformed Church of the United States.
During the years of unrest the Zion’s congregations were worshipping in a new two-story frame church built in the classic style, for the log church was destroyed by fire in 1838. The cornerstone of the second church was laid by Pastor Herbruck. The first cornerstone was encased in the second.
Five years after Herbruck cut his ties with Zion’s to devote his time exclusively to First Church Canton a new pastor arrived, the Rev. John H. Beck. He represented the new breed of Ohio clergymen. Born in New York City, a graduate of Heidelberg College and the seminary, his zeal and commitment would equal that of the German pastors. His charge was the Uniontown Charge of which Zion’s Reformed Church was now a part. During his ministry it was decided the future for the church was in the village of New Berlin where the opportunities for growth would be greater. So in 1881 the Reformed congregation moved away from the original site into a new Gothic church on Main Street.
The decision to move was a hard one, for soon the problem of money to finance it became a cold reality. To the pastor the solution was in the hands of John Sheets. Beck, who had no timidity when it came to things of the Lord, asked the elder to give one-half of the cost of the venture. Quite naturally the man was reluctant. The preacher made several calls out there to no avail. According to family annals, the day arrived when Beck decided this delay had to end. He rode out to the Sheets farm for the confrontation. “John,” he said in his authoritative tone, “put your foot on the devil and give me that money.” The elder protested, “But, pastor, it isn’t the devil; it’s the old woman.” The move was made; the church was built; and John Sheets did give what he had been asked to give. The elder may have set the future pattern for Zion Church, for since that time whenever Zion has needed financial support its faithful members have come to its aid. At the dedication the President of Heidelberg College, Dr. George Williard, preached in English and the Rev. Herbruck in German, but obviously the English language was in the ascendancy. In spite of language differences, Beck and Herbruck, two strong, determined, energetic men, respected each other. Within two years Beck would move on to Mt. Eaton and then on to 6 other Ohio charges, erecting new church buildings and shaping a fellowship of believers.
The move into New Berlin was a propitious one. The little congregation of 44 members grew as it never did in the country. Pastorates might still be shared with other Reformed churches, but never again would Zion be in charge of nine or more churches with intermittent services. It took as its name the Reformed Church of New Berlin. In 1884 its new constitution, adopted unanimously, proclaimed, “Its object shall be to provide its members with the preaching of the Word, the administration of the Sacraments, and the exercise of Christian Discipline, in accordance with the Confession of Faith known as the Heidelberg Catechism.” Services still were not held every Sunday, but there was a regular pattern alternating between morning and evening. The records list the sermons preached and the scripture references. Communions were held two or three times a year. Names of communicants are listed and recorded as John Sheets and wife, John Reemsnyder and wife, John B. Roush and wife, etc. The church had much to learn about the role of women. For several years the records were kept either in English or German.
A lay pastor, Frank W. Brown, served Zion between the ministries of Beck and the Rev. John Novinger. Thereafter all ministers were ordained and seminary-trained. The Rev. E. P. Herbruck, the son of Peter, served as Zion’s pastor for five years but he made his reputation as the minister of Trinity Canton.
Times were changing. Ohio was no longer the frontier. The standard of living had increased. The simple log cabin with a fireplace as the only source of heat was replaced by a house using an iron stove. Looking at the pictures of Zion’s buildings over the years makes clear that barter was no longer the means of exchange. Stark County had grown to over 63,000 by 1880. Transportation and communication had improved but short distances were still great by our standards. Railroads crisscrossed the countryside where agriculture was the main source of employment and wealth. Travel on foot or with horse and buggy was still the means of private travel.
In the 1890’s a double framed two-story parsonage was erected a block south of the church. The Rev. I. U. E. Kunkle family was the first of seven ministers’ families to occupy the home. From the beginning the parsonage was used for church committee meetings. For some years the consistory met there regularly.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the church program was such as would be familiar to members of the 1950’s—Sunday worship services both morning and evening, an active and growing Sunday School, a mid-week evening prayer meeting, special weekday services during Lent with service every night from Monday through Friday in Holy Week.
The consistory minutes devote much time to the membership roll. Members were dropped for non-payment of pledges if appeals were ignored. Members who wished to transfer to another church were denied letters of dismissal for failure to fulfill their financial obligations. A doctor was approached for his arrears. He replied that there had been illness in the minister’s family. He had taken care of it, and therefore he felt he had fulfilled the sum of his pledge. One intriguing entry raises a lot of questions, for a letter of dismissal was refused, and Zion’s pastor was instructed to inform the pastor of the other church why. Failure to partake of the Communion could lead to erasure. A member was reprimanded for his unchristianlike conduct. But the church membership continued to grow.
The congregation still had its ties with the building in the country for it was paying one-half of its upkeep as well as that of the cemetery. On January 7, 1903, the congregation voted to sell its share of Zion’s Church building, but no settlement was reached. In 1905, however, the Lutheran congregation decided to move into New Berlin. The building was sold for $500 with the two congregational owners dividing the proceeds equally.
For a time St. Jacob’s Reformed Church in Cairo and the New Berlin congregation were part of the same charge, both sharing the expenses of the parsonage. The mortgage was burned on November 6, 1904, but within a year the consistory decided to sell the house. The sale never took place, for on that issue the consistory was overwhelmingly defeated in a congregational vote.
The Sunday School remained an important arm of the church. By 1905 there were 173 enrolled in the Sunday School with 10 officers and 14 teachers. It was divided into departments with the adult department being the largest. The consistory repeatedly called upon the Sunday School for financial assistance. The Sunday School was paying one-half of the coal bill, one-half of the cost of new hymnals, and a substantial share of needed repairs. When more Sunday School room was needed, a request for more room was turned down by the consistory, but that same body had no hesitancy four months later in asking for the Sunday School to pay for the services of a choir director, which it graciously did.
By the summer of 1908 the consistory reached the conclusion that a new church was urgently needed. When the plan was presented to the congregation, it estimated that a new building would cost about $12,000, a sum it hoped to collect over a five-year period. It offered to give 5% discount on pledges paid in cash. In less than two months, the congregation has subscribed $12,710. An additional twenty feet north of the church was purchased from J. O. Kreighbaum for $500. On February 14, 1907, a farewell service was held in the old church before the congregation would abandon it for temporary quarters in the Union Church. In the midst of all this, Rev. Rohrbaugh left for the Miller Avenue Church in Akron, and the Rev. Reichard replaced him. Within four months of his arrival, 37 new members joined the church. The building when completed cost $22,300 for plans were changed to accommodate a growing church family. During the construction, an interesting debate took place—whether the men should have an “inside closet” since the women were to have one!
Moving into the new building brought joy but also serious disagreements. Many of them stemmed from dissatisfaction with the music. The church now had a pipe organ of which it was very proud, but finding someone who could really play it was another matter. Numerous persons attempted it, but one poor soul received a letter from the consistory whose words sting even today. The organist was told that she didn’t know how to play, had been hard on the organ, had been a disruptive influence, and she was barred from ever using it again. Before things settled down, the choir came under severe criticism, and finally the “chorister director” was blamed for the whole mess for it was his job to get real music out of the choir. While this was going on the Rev. Reichard was sick, an illness that lasted for months. Maybe if he had been well, things might have been settled amicably, or maybe the whole uproar contributed to his long illness. One thing is sure—the language used on both sides did not contribute to an easy or early settlement.
The new building had increased Zion’s influence in the community. More and more events were scheduled to take place there—high school commencements, other community meetings whose numbers made Zion an appropriate place; even the Church of the Nazarene requested that it might use the church for a district conference, a request which was granted. The Boy Scouts were given the right to use the building “as long as they behave.” The records show that the congregation was more than ready to share its new building with those who had a legitimate need, a custom that prevails to this day.
The janitor with the increased use of the building found he was next on the consistory agenda. He was told that neither the pews nor the floors were clean, but cleanliness apparently did not improve. Later he was given a list of instructions. “The electric sweeper was to be used as often as necessary.” The pews and furniture were to be dusted every week and the lawn mowed.
The pipe organ continued to occupy much attention from the consistory. It was not to be used unless there was a “qualified organist.” Students of a qualified organ teacher were allowed to practice for 10¢ or 15¢ an hour. But the requests grew and finally the use of the pipe organ was limited to members of the church and their families, if qualified.
The year of 1914 was a significant one. One hundred and sixty-three members voted for the Rev. R. S. Beaver as their pastor. World War I began, but Zion paid little attention. It did not concern Americans. It was important that ushers remove all hand fans from persons using them, an order carried out. The Salvation Army was allowed to make appeals. The balcony was remodelled to make room for a young people’s Sunday School class.
In 1918 the Rev. E. M. Beck, a younger brother of John Beck, became the new minister. Young men from Zion were now in uniform, serving their country at home and on the battlefields of Europe. The church voted to take care of the dues (pledges) of “our boys in the service.” The village of New Berlin did not wish to be associated with the hated Germans who were blamed for starting the war and changed its name to North Canton. The congregation voted to adopt the new name and the church became the Zion Reformed Church of North Canton. Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage” and Osnaburg became East Canton. Being German was no longer a matter of pride and honor.
The war had created a different world. The map of Europe was redrawn. Austria and Hungary were separated and their monarchy overthrown. The new states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia appeared, carved out of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Poland reemerged at the expense of Germany and Russia. Germany lost its Kaiser, was given a government known as the Weimar Republic and saddled with a huge debt known as war reparations and the humiliation of being made responsible for the war. Japan, as a partner of the Allied Powers, was rewarded with territorial mandates for her victory over the German forces in the Orient. A new philosophy of government and economics had taken over in Russia when the Bolshevists gained control. For the first time, the world was looking at a communist country and it was fearful. Americans in a frenzy to protect their country began a “red hunt” to wipe out anything or anybody they suspected of having sympathy for the new Russian regime. The United States had emerged with a new role for it had become an economic power and the bastion of capitalism.
With the end of the war, Zion made some new turns. It began to look beyond its community. It raised money for the War Emergency Fund for relief of churches in Belgium and France. Offerings were taken regularly for the Foreign Missions Board of the Reformed Church, a drive spearheaded for many years by John B. Mohler who served on the national board.
The Canton area was changing, too. Barns and stables were converted to garages to store the family automobile. The street car that ran along Main Street linking North Canton and Canton was torn up, not to be replaced. Farms were giving way to an expanding manufacturing economy. Factories were turning out vacuum cleaners, steel, rubber, cleaning materials. One industry was about to be lost. The Dueber-Hampden Watch Works had been purchased by the Soviet Union and was to be shipped there. Ohioans would soon be referring to their state as the American Ruhr Valley, thus expressing the hope that the area would soon rival Germany’s former industrial might.
In October 1929, when the Rev. Melvin E. Beck was called by the congregation to succeed his father, the church had 561 members and a Sunday School of 1,000. The depression hit; money was scarce but North Cantonians were lucky as far as food was concerned. Their homes had been built on lots which could support gardens which now were in even greater demand. In addition, nearly every family had fruit trees. The parsonage lot was quite typical of other lots in town. It had white and red grapes, sour cherries, peaches, pears, red raspberries, purple plums; but the neighbors on either side, in addition, had apples, concord grapes, walnuts, sweet cherries, and quinces. The three families had more fruit than they could possibly consume whether fresh, canned or dried. They did what everyone else in the village was doing. Whatever one had would be shared with someone who did not. Unemployed men who did not live in the environs would ring doorbells asking if they could pick the excess, and they left with baskets of precious foodstuffs. Often they insisted on doing extra work for what they had picked.
The depression seemed to stimulate church activity. In 1934 The Reformed Church in the United States and The Evangelical Synod of North America merged to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church, thus uniting two denominations whose German background no longer mattered as they had entered the American mainstream years before. The denominations were taking an important step in the development of the ecumenical movement, thus demonstrating their belief in Christian unity.
As attendance continued to grow, Zion took an important step. It built an English basement, the first unit of a Church School Building. Plans for building the second floor had to wait, for the World War II intervened.
The 1930’s witnessed the growth of totalitarian regimes. Fascist states had emerged in Germany, Italy and Japan whose political philosophy gave dictators complete power to suppress opposition and criticism and regimenting all industry, commerce, politics, and religion into an aggressive nationalism. The youth of Zion went off to war in numbers greater than anyone anticipated. Committees were formed to keep in touch with them wherever they might be. Letters, Zeals for Zion, packages of toilet articles, cookies, candy, and popcorn were sent quite regularly to let them know that they hadn’t been forgotten. Some of them paid the supreme sacrifice, others returned with war injuries, and some were fortunate to return with bodies unscathed. They came back to North Canton and their church. A special department in the Sunday School was set up for the young veterans.
At home the congregation was dealing with shortages and inconveniences, but the morale remained high. During the war years, the membership continued to increase, and the vision of a more adequate building remained. Over $80,000 was laid aside for that new building during that time. The records of War Relief offerings, Prince of Peace Declamation contests, support for a refugee family, special preaching services at the First Christian Church and Zion, active Sunday School classes and Missionary Societies, the Men’s Brotherhood, mid-week prayer meetings (never overcrowded), Sunday worship services which jammed the building, Christian Education classes on week nights, Boy Scouts, Mission Band, Girls’ Guild, Cradle Roll, Sunday Evening Forum for Young People held at the parsonage attest to an active and vibrant church. The Week Day School of Religion which operated in the North Canton Public Schools was enthusiastically supported by Zion and other protestant churches in the village. Women took their places on consistory committees. The services of a half-time secretary became necessary.
One year after the war ended, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana contacted the Evangelical and Reformed Church asking if a partnership between the two denominations was possible. The African church formerly had ties with the Breman Society of Germany, but two world wars accompanied with Allied victories had phased out this German presence. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest self-governing churches in Africa, felt the need to have significant contacts with a strong protestant denomination. Since then, this partnership in mission has existed. The E. P. Church of Ghana remains independent, but our board supports some of its programs and responds to requests for specialized personnel. Thus Zion, through its missionary giving, became part of a growing Christian thrust in what was formerly the Slave Coast.
June 25, 1957, was a significant day. At that time in Cleveland, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches (a denomination formed by merger) united to form the United Church of Christ one more step toward Christian unity. The new church would unite two great traditions—the Pilgrim Fathers and the German and Swiss Reformers. The two denominations had much in common. Both had been champions of the principle of the separation of church and state. The Reformed Church had allied itself earlier with the Christian Endeavor Society, founded by a Congregationalist minister, and used its program for its own youth. At one time in the nineteenth century, the Reformed and Congregational Churches worked together on some mission fields. The Congregationalists had the oldest foreign mission board in the United States. That board had opened Hawaii to Christianity, but it also sent missionaries all over the world—to Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas. Thanksgiving day for all of us should be more than a national holiday. It should be a religious festival, for it was inaugurated by the pilgrims out of gratitude to God who had made their physical survival possible.
The Rev. Paul V. Helm, Jr. became the pastor on February 1, 1959, on the retirement of Dr. Beck. The church at that time had nearly 1800 active members. Five years later, a Christian Education wing was added which included a parlor, choir rehearsal rooms, library, youth room, and staff offices. An enclosed cloister opened into a courtyard. The old parsonage was sold, and newer ones were purchased for the Senior Pastor and Associate.
The 1960’s show an increasingly important role for music within the church, where seven choirs provided music not only for the regular worship services but for concerts as well. During the 150th celebration all choirs (166 voices) united for an evening choral service of psalms.
After World War II the consistory wanted to lighten the workload of the pastor. Over the years new staff was added—associate pastor, church secretaries, Christian education director, minister of music, youth minister as well as additional janitorial help.
Zion Church did not look inward exclusively. It fully supported a native Honduran preacher, the Rev. Martin Rodriguez. Later the Rev. and Mrs. Douglas Schneider, missionaries in India, received part of their support from Zion. The native Christian doctors, Raj and Mabelle Arole, established the Comprehensive Rural Health Program (CRHP) with Zion’s help. The CRHP in Jamkhed was a pioneer in delivery of health care to rural people, particularly through the training of village health workers. The Aroles were honored by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and world organizations for their contributions to community health care. When the U.C.C. in Ohio decided to aid this young couple, it did not foresee that they would be recognized throughout the world as the years passed as leaders in a new field of medicine. The money for the three U.C.C. missionary projects mentioned above was given by Zion people in addition to the regular contributions through the denomination.
The world was changing rapidly in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Disillusionment was rampant. The Korean war, and to a much greater extent the War in Vietnam, brought despair and unrest because they illustrated that American military might could not always win against Communist opposition. The Civil Rights Movement made Americans look at their society, and what they saw was not pretty. Women painted a dismal picture of themselves as the Feminist Movement gained momentum in the struggle for sexual equality. National and state leaders were charged with misusing the public trust. Questioning of everything was the order of the day—people’s motives, aims of organizations, authority of elected officials serving in public and private capacities, interpretation of the laws of the land as well as the Holy Scriptures. Every institution in the country was held up to ridicule. The organized church was no exception.
The same movements that shook the country shook Zion. Rumblings were heard within the churches and in Zion as well. Staff came and went in rapid succession as the winds of change swept by. Experiments in Sunday School curriculum and teaching, in co-pastorates, in Sunday worship services were tried. Demands for restatement of Christian beliefs and goals were met with a new church constitution.
The country was undergoing a revolution of words, protests, sit-ins, marches, terrorist activities. The assassinations of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy saddened, angered, sobered and frightened the nation. The unrest continued.
In another area the United States faced a rude awakening as foreign competition in the business community was becoming a reality. The “Ohio Ruhr” was badly hit. The area which formerly had produced 90% of the alloy steel of the country saw the making of the products go overseas. Foreign textiles, clothing, electronic equipment, typewriters, radios, T.V.’s, and later computers appeared in markets with prices with which American manufactured goods could not compete.
The social pattern was changing as people moved to where they believed more jobs were available. Young people went off to college, but after graduation they did not return to their hometowns. Zion, who had scores of young people who pursued higher education, had to get used to the idea that they would not return to enrich the life of the community as former students had done. North Canton became a city, and the old families were submerged by the new families whose roots were in all parts of the world.
The established churches, both Catholic and Protestant, were badly hurt. Church membership and church attendance declined. The United Church of Christ turned its attention to the disenchanted at home, particularly where the unrest was the greatest. The Board for World Ministries suffered great losses in income, and fewer young people volunteered for foreign service. The colleges and universities attacked foreign missions arguing that the missionaries had wrongfully encouraged natives to drop their local customs and adopt Christianity. The people would be better pursuing their own culture, they affirmed. The Board, stung by the criticism, decided it must do something to counteract that influence. In a meeting held in Ohio in 1972, it laid plans for an Overseas Youth Visitors Program for United Church youth between the ages of 18 and 25. Young people were given the chance to volunteer for three to six weeks for mission work in any part of the world where BWM had missions. The young people were responsible for their own transportation, but on arrival they would be furnished with food, lodging and whatever else they might need at no expense to them. Some Ohioans were among those who took advantage of the offer. Ohio young people went to Hong Kong, India, Ghana, Zambia, and Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe). They came back prepared to answer the critics from their own experience.
A century ago James Russell Lowell penned the now familiar words, “New occasions teach new duties.” The phrase remains true today as Zion continues to adjust to the new age with opportunities. Traditionally, Zion has been open to groups with legitimate needs, consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Today is no exception. A pre-school occupies part of the building as working parents must find a place during the day for their young children. The grief Support and Education Center transferred its headquarters to Zion through the encouragement of the Rev. Robert Jencks. This agency offers professional help to persons suffering from the loss of loved ones. Three groups of Alcoholics Anonymous meet weekly as they attempt to serve those addicted to alcohol or those whose lives are shattered by alcoholic family members. Although the three above are not official arms of the church, the congregation encourages them, believing that Christians must support those who are in need. A large chapter of A.A.R.P. meets once a month for a meal and a program.
Evangelism is still a priority. In addition to Sunday School and the two Sunday worship services, special classes meet during the week for those who want to grow in the knowledge and understanding of the Bible. A monthly Sunday evening worship service is sponsored by young adults. Mission trips for the young people and adults are planned so that the participants may learn by first hand knowledge the role of the church in our own country, and experience the joy of giving their time and talents. Recent trips have been to the disadvantaged areas of Boston and Cincinnati, to the Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, whose people eke out a living by fishing, and to an Indian reservation in South Dakota. Zion’s children have programs especially for them during the summer months—Vacation Church School and Adventure Camp. The children’s choirs, a delight to both children and adults, operate during the school year.
The outreach of Zion is far-reaching, planned and executed by innumerable committees such as Spiritual Council, Christian Nurture, Evangelism, Stewardship, Missions, Leadership Development, all of which are under the jurisdiction of the elected consistory. A trained laity ministers to the shut-ins. Missions are supported by the general budget, special gifts, the Octoberzest, and the circles of the Women’s Guild.
Zion United Church of Christ is a community in the true sense of the term. Its members are tied together by a common belief, a belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to earth to deliver humanity from the power and consequences of sin, who loves them and shows them how to live. Zion still proclaims the Gospel of Christ, for it has no other reason for its existence. The methods have differed over the years, but a vibrant church makes the adjustment to changing times. For 175 years, Zion has met the challenges of new days, maybe not without controversy, but it has met them and emerges stronger because of them. The motto which has guided Zion for many years continues to have significance. “Let us agree to differ but resolve to love.”
OUR ROOTS, continued, June 2014
Although Kathryn Beck is no longer with us, we continue to be grateful for the wonderful account of Zion’s history that she wrote twenty-five years ago for Zion’s 175th anniversary. Since then, many changes have occurred in the world, in the North Canton community, and at Zion. A major event happened on September, 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the United States. They flew two planes into New York’s World Trade Center towers and one into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania. These events dramatically impacted life in these United States. “Since 9/11” is a phrase often used now to denote how drastically life has changed from a more innocent time, especially concerning security issues in public places and events at which many people gather. In fact, Zion recently added a security system as a result of these societal changes.
The community of North Canton was greatly affected during the past twenty-five years as well, when the Hoover Company was bought out and eventually left town. Although this transpired over a number of years, the event was traumatic. North Canton was forced to adjust to life without the Hoover Company, including the challenges caused by the loss of jobs and of revenue. The encouraging news is that in the last few years, new tenants have moved into the facility—now called the Hoover Complex—and more are scheduled to do so. The church’s role in the community has also changed over time. Some members can remember when only four churches existed in North Canton, and now the number is about forty, which shows that the word of God is reaching many people in the area. Sadly, society’s focus on the church has diminished, leading to an overall decline in church attendance. At Zion UCC the loss of aging members has also been a factor. The two Sunday worship services have become one, and attendance now averages under 200.
In spite of those challenges, Zion continues to sponsor many activities, both within the church building and outside of its walls. Sunday school classes are held for all ages, including three classes for adults. In addition, Zion continues to support Boy Scout Troop #1 and Al-Anon, as well as missions such as Habitat for Humanity and the Total Living Center. Funeral lunches are still served by the Women’s Guild, which also sponsors the Lenten breakfasts; in recent years guest ministers from the community have been invited to speak. The Missions Committee promotes dozens of projects, and Beck Circle supports missionaries who travel near and far to underprivileged areas to spread God’s word. In 2014 technology has become a way of life; and Zion’s website (ourzionucc.org) is another outreach, with its photographs of the church, biographies of the staff members, the Zeal for Zion, and videos of the sermons.
Zion has also benefitted from the pastors’ unique contributions. For example, the Rev. Gary A. Smith, recently retired Associate Pastor, enriched us by teaching classes on the foods and flowers of the Bible. Additionally, his talents were evident in his support of a mid-week service with a light meal, as well as the Fall Festival. Through the efforts of the now-retired Rev. Roy Wagner, the senior members of Zion continue to be active, with social outings to help them grow personally and spiritually. The Rev. Eli O. Klingensmith, who joined us in 1997 as an Associate Pastor and became our Senior Pastor in 1999, provides Zion with strong leadership. In addition to his many duties, the Rev. Klingensmith conducts Prayer and Praise weekly, supporting those in need and celebrating how the Lord is working in people’s lives. Also, Consistory has become more structured. Because of scheduling issues, the separate meetings of the Deacons and Elders now take place prior to the Consistory meeting. Another benefit to Zion is the strength of its music program—the choir, orchestra, bells, and children’s chimes—all of which enhance the services. The faithful who attend Zion appreciate the strength of the ministerial team, the Bible-based sermons and meaningful services, and the caring attitudes and fellowship of the members.
The physical edifice at Zion has experienced changes, too. A new portico was added, the cloister was enlarged, and the floor was raised to make the sanctuary and cloister on the same level. Also, an elevator was installed for easier access to the newly-named Beck Fellowship Hall. On the north lawn of the church, a Biblical garden was created and the Pavilion was built. This is now the site of the Easter sunrise service, Vacation Bible School activities, and social events and meals in warmer months. The recent closing of the pre-school has led to changes to some classrooms. Revisions to the policies for Beck Fellowship Hall and the Pavilion encourage more rentals. Making other updates to the physical structure has been a focus of the Bicentennial Committee for the past few years: the stained glass windows have been restored, the 20-year old bus has been replaced, and the organ is being maintained. Plans are in place for another elevator so that the Education Wing will be handicapped accessible. In addition, the Bicentennial Committee earmarked 10 percent of the pledges to support various projects for Missions.
As we celebrate Zion’s Bicentennial, we enjoy reflecting on its rich history, yet we also look forward to a long and promising future. As the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, reminded us during our Bicentennial celebration, “God is Still Speaking” and is still offering hope to those who are struggling. Those reassurances are comforting as we go through life. Just as God has seen us through many trials in the past, we know that He will continue to watch over us in the future as we work to carry out our Mission Statement: to bring people to Jesus Christ through our preaching, teaching, and living of the Gospel so that God becomes the focus of our daily lives.
Shirley A. Dobry
ZION UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
415 South Main Street
North Canton, Ohio 44720
Dr. Carl Pace, Senior Pastor
The Rev. Eli O. Klingensmith, Pastor to Seniors
Michael Lucas, Director of Music
Ralph Morrison, Organist
Former Pastors of Zion Church Assistant and Associate Pastors
Rev. John H. Beck 1877 Rev. William Earl D. Wynn 1948
Rev. John A. Novinger 1884 Glenn Schwerdt 1952
Rev. E. P. Herbruck 1887 Carl Schroer 1953
Rev. J. P. Stahl 1892 Donald A. Buchhold 1954
Rev. I. U. E. Kunkle 1897 Lawrence T. Holmer 1955
Rev. H. J. Rohrbaugh 1903 Donald A. Buchhold 1956
Rev. H. S. Reichard 1910 Rev. Carroll C. Luckenbaugh 1961
Rev. R. S. Beaver 1914 Rev. Ingle O. Cook 1964
Rev. E. M. Beck 1918 Rev. Robert K. Turner 1966
Rev. Melvin E. Beck 1929 Rev. Edward K. Lopeman 1968
Rev. Paul V. Helm, Jr. 1959 Rev. Robert B. Jencks 1977
Rev. William Koshua 1970 Rev. Carol Atwood-Lyon 1980
Rev. Edgar Jones and 1973 Rev. Kristen Rouner 1983
Rev. Warner Siebert (co-pastors) Rev. Kenneth Hutchinson 1985
Rev. John Adams 1977 Rev. Eli O. Klingensmith 1997
Rev. Robert B. Jencks 1980 Rev. Roy V. Wagner 2000
Rev. Thomas Smith 1989 Rev. Gary A. Smith 2004
Re. Eli O. Klingensmith 1999 Rev. Eric Stricklin 2017
Members who have gone into full-time Christian Service
Neal Reid Glenn Royer
B. E. Reemsnyder Thomas V. Sell
Robert F. Beck Sandra A. Mullins
Paul R. Surbey Paul Schwitzgebel
Don R. Studer Edward Cox
Ronald D. Gerber (Navigators)
Dr. Dale L. Bishop, Middle East Regional Secretary – United Church Board for World Ministries. (Also carries Middle East responsibility for the Division of Overseas Ministries for the Disciples of Christ)