SNYDERTOWN - St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, one of the oldest churches in Northumberland County, will function as a place of worship for the last time Sunday.

After 187 years of keeping faith in this small community, a final service will be held 9 a.m. The service will be followed by a luncheon and social hour.

Following years of declining membership, parishioners were faced with a heartbreaking decision to sell the church, which was built a little more than a hundred years ago. It was purchased by borough council, which intends to use it for public gatherings and borough meetings.

The last service is expected to draw past and current members, including the Rev. Eric Deibler, who will preach, and the Rev. Jean Eckrod, who will assist. Both pastors served the church for many years.

This will also be the last service at St. John's for Pastor Mary Peterhaensel and Galen Deibler, who has played the church's piano for 56 years. Deibler will be joined by several musicians during the service.

"We had no young people coming. They have grown up and moved on to live somewhere else," Deibler said Friday before holding one of his final rehearsals with singer Betty Phillips. "We tried all sorts of things, but we never got support."

Deibler said the church has always had a small congregation, averaging around 40 per service decades ago. In the past six months, attendance has dwindled to about 10 people. This led the congregation to decide to sell the church.

History

St. John's was first organized in union with the Reformed Church in 1828. An acre of land was presented to the congregations along Snydertown Road, where a frame church was erected. The remainder of the land was set aside for use as a cemetery and remains in use today.

In 1870, the two congregations purchased a lot on the opposite side of the road and erected a brick church measuring 2,400 square feet at a cost of $4,108.66. The Lutherans decided to split from the congregation and build their own church. A meeting to discuss whether to build a new church was held March 29, 1897.

Records dated April 17, 1900, indicate the church was built for $4,097.42 and the cost was paid in full at the time of dedication. A total of 66,000 bricks were used at a cost of $313.50 and a 1,750-pound bell from the C.S. Bell Company was purchased by 98 contributors for $75.65.

In 1938, the church was redecorated at a cost of $685. Payment for the cost of repairs was made in full. On Nov. 24, 1957, another dedication service was held after the church floor was sanded, varnished and new carpet laid. A new roof was also put on the building. In 1962, a parish hall was added.

Preserving history

The church is well maintained and even survived a lightning strike and subsequent fire that destroyed the steeple, damaged the belfry and roof, and filled the sanctuary with smoke on June 9, 1993. It has outlived two other churches in the borough, the Reformed Church and Methodist Church, which were sold and eventually torn down.

"We didn't want to see it fall down and wanted to avoid it being sold to someone who was going to make into apartments," Deibler said. "The borough is interested in preserving the last cultural and historical building in the borough. They were the best option."