HISTORY OF LOWER SKIPPACK MENNONITE CHURCH
On June 8, 1717, van Bebber and his wife, upon the receipt of fifteen pounds of silver and in consideration of ".. the true love and singular affection he the said Matthias van Bebber bears to them and all theirs…" conveyed 100 acres of land to seven trustees --Henry Sellen, Claus Jansen, Henry Kolb, Martin Kolb, Jacob Kolb, Michael Ziegler, and Hermanus Kuster. This land was given in trust with this express proviso and condition that it shall be lawful for all and every of the inhabitants of the above said Bebber's Township to build a schoolhouse and fence in a sufficient burying place upon the hereby granted 100 acres of land there to have their children and those of their respective families taught and instructed, and to bury their dead..."33
The first officials were Preachers Jacob Godshalk and Martin Kolb. It should be mentioned that Godshalk, ordained at Germantown, October 8, 1702, seems to have been a very vigorous leader, both in the church and the community. His name heads the list of a great many ecclesiastical and civil documents.
At the 1725 Conference of American Mennonites, Godshalk's name headed the list of subscribers to the Dortrecht Articles of Faith (see page 3, Mennonites in Europe). The other signers for "Shepack" in 1725 were Bishop Henry Kolb ( died 1730), Preacher Martin Kolb (1680-1761), Preacher Claus Jensen (1658-1745), and Preacher Michael Ziegler (c. 1680-c. 1764). Already Skippack was the leading settlement in the district. Old people referred to this conference district as "Skippack."34
In March 1725, the seven trustees executed a Declaration of Trust in which they recited the conditions of the original deed, attempted to extend its purposes so that the land could be used ".. for the benefit use and behoof of the poor of the said people called Mennonisten (alias Menisten) in Bebbers Township and for a place to erect a meetinghouse for the use and service of the said people"35 The second Mennonite meetinghouse in America had been erected in (1719).
The 1719 Meetinghouse was a sandstone building with a wooden shingle hipped roof and leaded glass windows. The interior had unpainted backless benches, stoves, and along the northwest wall, a long, old fashioned Mennonite pulpit. It was located near the rear wall of the present old cemetery to the left of the cemetery lane.36
Christopher Dock emigrated to America in 1718, opened a school at Skippack, and proved to be a very successful teacher. In 1728, after a decade of teaching, he decided to try his hand at farming. In 1735 he bought one hundred acres of land in what is now Upper Salford Township for fifteen pounds and ten shillings. His good Mennonite friends would not allow him to spend his time raising crops. Others could farm but he could teach. He said, "I was solicited in the matter until, finally, it came about again that (I) kept school in these two townships of Skippack and Salford, three days a week in each township." It was in 1738 that he returned to the school room. He taught the boys and girls of Skippack and Salford until his death in 1771.37
A new meetinghouse, a one-story building measuring 50 feet by 60 feet, was erected in 1844. The Building Committee consisted of Garrett Hunsicker, Abraham Tyson, and Abraham Hallman. Three years later came the division led by John H. Oberholtzer of the Swamp congregation. It was after that time the Skippack meetinghouse came to be called "Lower Skippack."38
The chief figure in the formation of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America was an eastern Pennsylvania minister, John H. Oberholtzer (1809-1895), ordained in the Swamp District of the Franconia Conference in 1842. Oberholtzer was a school teacher and locksmith, and a man of progressive views. For refusing to wear a "plain" coat, for urging the keeping of conference minutes when the elder ministers were opposed, and for writing a constitution and trying to get it adopted, he, along with fifteen other ministers and deacons, including the conference moderator, was excommunicated by the Franconia Conference on October 7, 1847. Three weeks later, most of Oberholtzer's party, consisting of one bishop, 'five ministers, and six deacons (there were 12 present in all) met in the Skippack Mennonite Church and organized a new conference, now the Eastern District of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America. The new Conference claimed six of the 22 meetinghouses of the Franconia Conference, built two new ones, and worshipped every two weeks in six others, alternating with the old congregations.39
The Oberholtzer party retained possession of the Skippack meetinghouse in the division of 1847. By the year 1851 there was considerable disharmony in the Lower Skippack congregation. Both the congregation and the Conference agreed to the appointment of a committee to advise in the situation. The committee consisted of the following: Preachers Samuel Weinberger, Jacob Button, John H.. Oberholtzer, Joseph Schantz, William Gehman, Deacons John Detweiler, Henry B. Shelly. Preacher Abraham Grater and Bishop Abraham Hunsicker were found to be out of order as too liberal in their views for the Oberholtzer Mennonites. The main point of contention was apparently in regard to secret orders. In 1850 the Conference passed a regulation against lodge membership which was somewhat moderated in the same year in the interest of unity. Nevertheless, the end result was the beginning of the Hunsicker group. But still Lower Skippack was unsettled. Again in an effort to maintain unity, the Conference, in 1851, encouraged the observance of foot washing which was strongly advocated by Preacher Henry G. Johnson. After several successive sessions, Conference decided against the observance of foot washing and Johnson no longer attended the Conference. Henry G. Johnson was declared out of order in 1859 and was formally expelled by Conference in 1861. Although retaining the Skippack meetinghouse, there was no longer affiliation with the Franconia or Eastern District Conferences.
On December 2, 1847, Henry G. Johnson was ordained as preacher of the congregation; Henry H. Johnson was ordained March 30,1878; and Henry M. Johnson (son of Henry H. and grandson of Henry G.) was ordained on April 25, 1915. Thus the name "Johnson Mennonites" was attached to the Lower Skippack Mennonite Church.
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