Written by Emily Mullins
Members of Salem Belleman's Church in Mohrsville, Pa., stepped back in time to worship the way their forebearers did earlier this month. A joint ministry of the United Church of Christ and the Lutherans, the congregation opened its 198-year-old historic building, which has no heat, electricity or plumbing, sang with the hand-pumped pipe organ, and utilized the intricate wineglass pulpit. For John Rausch, member and chairman of the church's historic committee, the service is a way to celebrate the congregation's rich history and enjoy the tangible artifacts – even down to the original carpet – that have been carefully preserved for nearly 200 years.
"The idea of going back and practicing in a building that our ancestors used is a plus," said Rausch, who has chaired the historical committee for more than 30 years. "The architectural differences of the building and the craftsmanship that went into it – I just like the history of it."
Each year, the historic building, built in 1815 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, is used for two regular Sunday worship services, a spring Hymn Sing, a fall Pennsylvania-German worship service, and five to 10 weddings. The joint congregation worshipped in the "old" building until its "new" building was built in 1924. The historic worship services are advertised in the local newspapers and tourism website, and bring in members and nonmembers from near and far. About 150 people attended the August service, which Rausch said has become a beloved tradition.
Continuing to keep the building updated can be a challenge though, Rausch said. For example, in the late 1980s the original wooden shingle roof began leaking and had to be replaced with a standing-seam tin roof, which a preservationist said was a historically accurate alternative. While some donations come from members, most of the funding for renovations comes from the fees associated with weddings, tours and the rental of the adjacent fellowship hall. Rausch would like to raise the money to get the brick resealed and the roof and woodwork repainted in time for the 200th anniversary of the building's dedication in 2015.
"The building is a major expense item at times and it's a problem getting funds," he said. "Continuing to keep the building updated can be a challenge."
But it's a challenge that interests the former history professor. In addition to being a long-time member of the congregation, Rausch also has family members buried in the cemetary located on the church's 13-acre property. His knowledge and memories of the building and the property span back decades. He remembers attending wintertime services at the "old" building in 1950 and 1951, while renovations were being done to the "new" building, with the only source of heat coming from a black potbelly stove.
"I like antiques," Rausch said of the building's historic significance. "Some people say I am one."