The ICAS Lectures

No. 2004-0814-AHJ

Founding Fathers of Boehm’s Church and Their Legacy

Andrew H. Johanson, Jr

ICAS Summer Symposium

The Korean Diaspora:
Challenges facing the Korean-American Community (KAC)
Identification, Critical Examination, Goal & Vision, and Strategy

August 14, 2004 9:30 AM -- 5:30 PM
Montgomery County Community College
Science Center Room 214
340 DeKalb Pike
Blue Bell, PA 19422

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3289

Biographic Sketch & Links: Andrew H. Johanson, Jr

Founding Fathers of Boehm’s Church and Their Legacy

Andrew H. Johanson, Jr., D.Min., LMFT
Pastor at Boehm’s United Church of Christ,
Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

It is a pleasure and an honor to be here with you, on the wonderful occasion of ICAS Summer Symposium. I would like to thank Dr. Sang Joo Kim and committee members for inviting me to take part in this special event. I would also like to acknowledge all of you. Your involvement makes this session very gratifying.

Last year you celebrated the 100th anniversary of your immigration to the United States. Boehm’s United Church of Christ of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania celebrates a similar history. It was formed from German immigrants. Our church was founded in 1740 by John Philip Boehm who emmigrated from Germany in 1720.

Let me began to tell you about our history by sharing a personal story. Several months ago I arrived at the church a half-hour early for an evening meeting. I wanted to walk around the church’s cemetery and read some of the gravestones. Gravestones fascinate me for what they represent - lives that have been lived. First, I was captivated by the sun setting over the church and the cemetery. The long shadows lengthened over the gavestones, bringing into the reality that life has its sunrises and its sunsets.

From where I stood in the cemetery, I looked toward the church and focused on the Boehm’s Church’s beautiful stained glass windows. One of those windows depicts Jesus being involved with other people and reaching out to them. This is the central core of Boehm’s Church; is to reaching out to all God’s people. In the front of the church there is a stained glass window given to the church by the descendant of the Schlater family. Michael Schlatter was the minister who succeeded John Philip Boehm. Outside the church on the farthest corner of the right hand side, is a plaque given by the Valley Forge Daughters of the American Revolution. During the American Revolution, Boehm’s Church was used as a hospital for the colonial soldiers. The inscription reads, quote"In memory of the soldiers of American Revolution who died in this church after the battle of Germantown. The soldiers were buried in the adjoining cemetery." End quote.

Continuing my cemetery walk on my left, I saw a stone marker with Peter De Haven 1st, born March 12th, 1668 and died May 23rd 1768. Peter De Haven was a remarkable man who lived 100 years. What stories he could tell those of us who sit here today, 264 years after the church was founded. He could tell us about the wooded area with its great oaks, large walnut, hickory and maple trees. He would tell us about their simple life, but a life that was fulfilling. The work was difficult growing their own food, planting corn, vegetables and raising their own animals. They even made their own clothing and essential items needed for their farm and home (Philadelphia Art Museum has an authentic early German room, the fireplace being the center of family life at night with spinning wheels, butter churner, chairs where women would sew at night, and where men would repair the horse’s harness ). The congregants worked from sunrise to sunset. But, it was good work; they were living in a new land of promise and religious freedom. Many of their neighbors were immigrants - first generation Germans, hard-working farmers. There was a longing for a religious leader in their community that was called Pigeon Town (before it was named Blue Bell). The lack of a religious leader in their community made life much more difficult when it came time for Communion, marriages, baptisms, and funerals. The community had to travel the distance to Philadelphia where Presbyterian Ministers performed these services.

Now let us turn to the church’s founder John Philip Boehm who arrived in Philadelphia in 1720. Just a little background on Boehm’s educational credentials. He was the son a Reformed Church Pastor, an accomplished organist, a schoolmaster, and a choir director at a parochial school in Worms, Germany. John Philip Boehm was a fiery man who did not hold back his opinions or his emotions. He left Germany, it is reported, because he could not get along with the church fathers in Worms. Within a few years of his arrival in America he was being asked to be a reader (lay minister) for Reform Church Services. In 1730 he moved to Whitpain Township where he purchased land and created a farm. He was asked to conduct church services in Faulkner Swamp, Wentz and many other churches in the area. He is credited for establishing 24 churches in his ministry. Just imagine - the mode of transportation was horseback. It is estimated he traveled over 25,000 miles during his ministry.

Now let us turn our attention back to Peter De Haven. Being a charter member of Boehm’s Church he might go on to tell us how he was involved with John Philip Boehm’s ministry. He might elaborate that Boehm was asked to conduct a service of worship when Boehm was on his own farm some weekend. We are told that Boehm’s family church grew to the point that they built their first building in 1740. We are told Boehm was also involved in physically building the church structure. He was a hands on minister who labored with his church members. We have also read that John Philip Boehm was a man of passion. It is reported that he would walk into many sect religious churches and condemn their teachings. He had a vibrant personality when it came to what he believed was right. Peter DeHaven had quite a story to tell about this church. He was there when Boehm started this church and died 28 years later.

The History of our church itself is remarkable. As mentioned it was established in 1740 and has been a continuously breathing and living congregation that has ministered to its community. It has ministered to the members with baptisms, sharing communions, marrying couples and burying the dead. Boehm’s Church is older than the United States of America by 35 years. A reasonable question to ask at this time, as we reflect on the long history of Boehm’s United Church of Christ, "What helped this church to survive, and to continue to serve the community?"

In reflecting on the foundation of a 264 years old church, consider Jesus’ parable of the house built on sand and the house build on rock. I call a parable a repeating story. You are never done with it; it keeps on presenting new meanings. Jesus tells the story of a man who built his house on sand with little or no foundation. Then Jesus speaks about a man who built his house on solid rock. When the rain came the house built on sand crumbled and fell down. When the rain came to the house built on solid rock it with stood the torrent of water. Jesus is not just speaking of the building, but also the foundation of one’s character. He is referencing the human foundation.

The foundation of Boehm’s Church was as solid as its founder, a man of fortitude and integrity. The 5 principles that have sustained the church include: (1) First, the church is built upon a trust in God and our relationship with him. (2) Second, that his house of worship has been built day by day. It was built with prayer that turned into actions within a communal life. (3) Third, that reaching into the community is the cornerstone and the mortar that ties the congregation together. It was noted that no one went hungry or without shelter in the community. The church leaders would reach out and bring them into the fellowship. (4) Fourth, Boehm instilled a belief that we have to take steps forward. For the only way you can get to the destination is by taking these steps. That step forward is a step of faith. We take these steps as a community and in relationship with God.

John Philip Boehm was a man who could do nothing other than to disseminate the loving message of Jesus. After being rejected by his religious community in Worms, his faith in God picked him up. He knew that he had to take a step forward and no matter how difficult it was, it was a movement to God. He felt that he was required to move to God.

(5) Finally, the fifth important principle that has sustained us is Boehm’s central theme that the church ministers to its church family. That love must reach out into the community to those who are in need of caring relationships.

I would like to share with you, as Boehm’s Pastor, some of the things I have learned by recently serving Boehm’s Church. These are the stories of members’ involvement in the church. When visiting with Walter - one of the oldest members - he reminisced about projects he was involved with in the church. I experienced the pride he had when he told me about painting the church’s steeple with a rope tied around his waist so he wouldn’t fall off. There were many wonderful stories that Leroy Jones told about the choir and the beautiful anthems they would sing. The pride factor came with his big smile.

A short time ago, the church had a Founder’s Day celebration. The planning of the celebration was put together by a committee of eight members who met many times to plan the special day. I was very touched by the energy and time they lovingly gave to the church. During the meetings we discussed having a German prayer to replicate how the worship services were originally conducted. Fred Frankl was kind enough to do the translation.

Let me tell you about Fred Frankl who was in his 90th year of his life. Fred was not a healthy man when he was asked to translate these prayers into the German language. He was in an acute care unit in a retirement home with oxygen tubes attached to him for his breathing. Fred was not able to be with us at the celebration, but his loving daughter read the prayers in German. His presence was felt through his daughter Barbara reading his translated prayers.

It is an honor to be the interim pastor of Boehm’s Church. The giving heart of Boehm was demonstrated many times this year. Two outreach projects were very touching. We were invited to be part of Church World Service by creating school bags for children who had no pencils or paper. Our church members got together and sewed many school bags, filling them with pencils, papers, rulers, notebooks and many other things. They wanted to be partners to people in other countries so that the children could go to school and learn. There was a call to the local churches to send money to the Church World Service so they could buy desperately needed blankets for individuals around the world who had no means of keeping themselves warm. Our small church responded with close to seventy-five blankets.

The church’s pride is felt in the Boehm’s Museum in the church that was established many years ago to preserve and display the letters of John Philip Boehm and his original saddlebag bible which he carried with him during his ministry. His saddlebag bible traveled these 25,000 miles on horseback. Another of the church’s cherished possessions is a portable camp organ which is over a hundred years old. It has a little carrying box which opens up into a pump organ that we use in our outdoor worship services. I would like to invite you to come to our church and visit our Boehm’s Museum and to join us for worship service.

There is a strong sense of commitment to the workings of this church. Boehm’s Church has a smile factor. When people are talking about their beloved church a smile usually spreads across their face. In many cases this smile has been handed down from generations, handed down from mothers and fathers to their children. There are church members whose families have been in Boehm’s Church for nine generations. I believe the key fact in their continuous membership is being part of such a supportive congregation, which finds joy in worship and being together.

As I come to the close of this talk I would like to reflect: What were the gifts that John Philip Boehm brought to America from his homeland Germany? First, he brought the gift of education, and secondly, the gift of his faith in Jesus Christ where he understood Jesus’ message that all people are created equally. His belief directed him to reach out to others in need. He believed in a loving God which directed him to create a congregation which reaches to all humanity.

His legacy is to experience every day and in every way our presence in the church community. The ministers throughout the years have built into the fiber of this Church that "studying and praying" is its foundation.

Boehm’s United Church of Christ is built on solid rock. I would like to read a poem written by one of the members Edith P. Sholler many years ago.

"Of all the churches in the world
Somehow this one seems best,
Because within the sacred walls
Our searching heart finds rest.
As Sunday after Sunday here
We drop our robe of cares
And join the congregation
In beloved hymns and prayers
We listen to the minister
In words divinely blessed:
Of all the churches in the world
Somehow Boehm’s seems the best."

This page last updated 1/3/2005 jdb

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