Souderton Mennonite Meetinghouse, circa 1910
Another article from the first year of the MHEP Newsletter features entries from the diary of William S. Hemsing (1866-1940) about his experiences at Souderton Mennonite Church. The full diary, subtitled An Intimate Look at Souderton, Pennsylvania, was published by Union National Bank in 1987 and is available to purchase in the Mennonite Heritage Center library for $8.00.
William Souder Hemsing, later to be Burgess of Souderton, was a teenage teller in the Union National Bank of Souderton before 1890. His mother was a Mennonite from the Rockhill congregation, and his father a Reformed from “Leidy’s Church” between Souderton and the Cowpath. The Hemsings lived near the recently built Souderton Mennonite meetinghouse on Chestnut Street, and young William often attended there. When, in his personal diary, he speaks of the Reformed he uses the word “church”, and when he visits the Mennonites he speaks of going “to meeting.” The following entries, written in his late teens and early twenties, provide a rare look into the Souderton Mennonite Congregation of ninety years ago. The diary is in the possession of William’s son Henry of Valley Forge.
–John Ruth, January 1975
These Franconia fellows
1885, February 1
I was at meeting in the afternoon. [Worship at Souderton Mennonite Meetinghouse was on Sunday afternoons; morning meeting was held in nearby old established congregations–Franconia, Rockhill and Plains.] We expected that Rev. Isaac Moyer [Meyer/Meyers, of Deep Run] would preach but as he did not and as Rev. Jacob Moyer [of Salford] preached instead we were a little disappointed. He is very unfortunate as a preacher. It is amusing to see these Franconia fellows file in in an almost endless line, and bound every one of them for the back seats. I happened to sit on one of these benches when in pours the stream of Franks pressing me in an uncomfortable manner.
1885, February 22
In the afternoon we all attended meeting. Rev. Jos. B. Detweiler [River Brethren] was there. He spoke a few words. He does right well for a beginner. I like to see preachers of different denominations come together. They throw aside all their differences and embrace as brothers. Rev. Abel Horning [of Rockhill] preached the sermon.
1885, April 5
Rev. Henry H. Rosenberger of the River Brethren preached the sermon. His text was Gal. iii-1. There was a full house. He preached a very forcible sermon.
1885, May 8
I attended meeting this evening. A minister from Canada preached the sermon. His chest is so compressed and his body so bent that his head seemed to rest on his shoulders. His voice in consequence was so weak that it was sometimes inaudible.
Preachers honest and earnest
1885, May 21
Rev. Moses Godshall [Gottshall] who preached at M[ichael] Alderfer’s funeral [at the Salford Meetinghouse, although Gottshall was minister of the Schwenksville (Eden) Congregation] is severely criticized for his plainness of speech. [Alderfer had hanged himself.]
1885, June 7
Christ Allebach [of Towamencin] and a man from Dauphin Co. [probably John Stover] preached here this afternoon. I believe that C. Allebach is an honest man and that he is in earnest.
1885, August 15
There was Harvest Meeting at the meeting house this afternoon. There were many people, the house being more than filled.
1885, August 23
This afternoon…Rev. Mr. Godshall [Samuel Godshalk] from Deep Run addressed the Sunday School in German. English is more easy for him to speak.
They speak German beautifully
1885, September 17
This evening there was a large meeting in the meetinghouse on the occasion of two Russians preaching [Jacob Stucky and John Ratzlaff]. The house was full. They are excellent preachers. They speak German beautifully. Rev. Van Ommeren [Reformed minister?] and wife sat together among the audience. Rev. Jos B. Detweiler was also there.
1885, October 8
This evening went to meeting. A preacher was here from Lancaster named John Landis and also a deacon. He holds that the outer actions, garb etc. are and ought to be a type of the inner person. He also laid much stress on the “defenceless” character of their sect.
1885, October 9
Mr. Landis’ [Jacob C. Landes, teller of Union National Bank] opinion of last evening’s sermon was that it was mostly old Fogeyism. He told old Herman so. Herman agreed with him. [Herman Gottshall/Godshall was a song-leader at Franconia, Sunday School Superintendent at Souderton, a founder of Union National Bank, and son of Bishop Jacob Gottschall of the Franconia Congregation.]
1885, November 8
Meeting by a Virginia preacher who had been a prisoner during the war was announced for Tuesday evening.
1885, November 10
Was at meeting. Rev. [Solomon] Beery of Virginia preaching in English.
1886, February 14
Went to meeting this afternoon. Rev. Mack [Andrew Mack, of Hereford (Bally)], a brother of John Mack, preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son. He is an excellent talker. I do not remember hearing him before. Many people have a great liking for him. The house was full and benches were brought in which were also filled.
1886, March 28
Was in meeting this afternoon. Bomberger preached. The house was full.
1886, April 27
There was a meeting down at the meeting house this evening. Rev. John Funk, editor of the Herold der Wahrheit of Elkhart, Indiana. Owing to the unsettled weather the attendance was not such as might have been expected.
1886, May 9
There was no Sunday School today owing to the meeting this afternoon in communion services at Franconia. Was in meeting this afternoon. Very little interest. Rev. Detweiler preached.
1886, May 16
Went to Gehman’s [Rockhill] meetinghouse with mother and Sam [probably Sam Alderfer, apprentice of William’s father]. Communion. Started about half past seven. Father went down to Leidy’s [Reformed Church] where the same services were going on.
Was in Sunday School this afternoon. Sam R. Swartley was here to lead the singing.
1886, November 21
A Russian from Dakota [Charles Schartner] preached in a sing song way which prevented him from being plainly understood.
1886, December 7
Went to meeting this evening. A Rev. [Joseph] Driver from Virginia preached.
1886, December 26
After dinner we started off to meeting. Rev. Loux [Jacob Loux, of Plains] preached.
1887, January 3
Was in meeting this evening. An English preacher’s [Josiah Brewer] visit from Maryland was the cause of the meeting. He preached on the text “The just shall live by faith.” The house was nearly full.
Glad when it was over
1887, October 2
Arranged to go to meeting this evening. There were a great many outside. Rev. Mr. Funk from Indiana preached. Was glad when it was over.
1887, November 20
Went to meeting with Sam. Rev. Abram Moyer [probably Abraham Moyer of Blooming Glen] preached.
1888 , January 5
A divine from Virginia [Gabriel Heatwole] preached, excellently in both English and German. He had a fine sonorous voice. His hair was dressed somewhat in the fashion of Henry Clay, and he was a very fluent speaker. I don’t believe he has read any good novels or he would believe in them.
1902, January 26
The Mennonites had baptism this [Sunday] afternoon, Fourteen being baptized. Thirteen in the meeting house and Annie Clymer, of across the street, was baptized in the creek. Jennie [Hemsing’s wife] and the girls went to see it. I stayed with the smaller children as I did not care to crowd into the mud out of mere curiosity. The meeting house was so full that Jennie had to come home. There was no standing room even. I went to Sunday School this afternoon and to [Reformed] Church tonight.
[Jennie Hemsing, who was raised Mennonite, later joined the River Brethren (Brethren in Christ) Church and was baptized by immersion on October 22, 1905 at Kilmer’s Dam near Silverdale. William disagreed with her decision to convert, though he attended her baptism and hoped that “now she will be satisfied and find peace.”]