A riot over language in church
Well, didn't Lancaster's Unitarians air their dirty linen in public last week?
Amid financial challenges and other bickering, a recent president of the board of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster was quoted as saying, in a front-page story, that she would not rule out a schism. (Full disclosure: the Scribbler is a member of the church.)
Of course, church splits are nothing new in Lancaster County. German Anabaptists, in particular, have splintered repeatedly over issues ranging from a preference for automobiles to a distaste for bundling.
Most of these arguments have been relatively peaceful, with the two sides simply parting ways.
However, an ongoing dispute among German Lutherans over language used in the pulpit turned violent before a church schism in the 1830s.
The riot story is included in a history of Lancaster's Zion Lutheran Church written by James Gerhart and published in the new issue of The Journal of Lancaster County's Historical Society.
Zion Lutheran Church, 133 E. Vine St., split from Trinity Lutheran, 31 S. Duke St., after Trinity introduced English to church services in the 1820s.
The High Germans walked out and began Zion Lutheran, where English was forbidden.
The new church was chartered in 1828. The riot occurred seven years later. Zion Lutheran's pastor rented the church to the city's Universalists, who did not have a church of their own.
The Universalists (who united with Unitarians in 1961) invited a guest minister to present sermons in English Jan. 17-19, 1835.
Most of the church vestry had approved this arrangement, but Zion's congregational president and others continued to disapprove and refused to attend vestry meetings.
The dissenters were removed from the vestry, which prompted the entire congregation to take sides on the increasingly volatile issue.
On Jan. 17, a large number of Universalists assembled at Zion to hear the initial guest sermon in English. A number of Zion members who supported the Universalist gathering accompanied them.
But when 25 or more Zion members who opposed English also appeared, a "riot'' ensued. Michael Muller, one of the German supporters, threw a brick at the head of Carl Schaeffer, who was protecting the Universalists.
Schaeffer was severely injured.
The mayor and police arrived and ended the melee. They also canceled the church service.
Police arrested 15 Zion members on charges of "disturbing the peace'' with "force and arms, to wit, with clubs, sticks, stones brick bats and other dangerous and offensive weapons.''
In addition, Schaeffer charged Muller with assault.
Muller counter-charged that Schaeffer had assaulted him.
A Grand Inquest was convened to hear evidence on both sides. The inquest decided there was insufficient evidence for a jury trial.
That was the end of that.
But the rift in the congregation did not end.
The pure-German supporters forced the other group out of the church. Two years later, in a judicial decision that seems questionable today, they won a court judgment of more than $1,100 from the dissenters because they had maintained the church while the dissenters were gone.
However, the two sides soon were reunited and peaceful services continued in German. The church membership grew larger than ever.
This situation continued until 1900, when another generation of Zion members who wanted to use English walked out and began Mount Calvary Lutheran Church.
Seven years later, Zion itself finally introduced English in some services.
Thereafter, the church lost considerable membership. Given the anti-German sentiment during World War II, the last German sermon was delivered in 1942.
In 1983, Lutherans held their last worship service at Zion. The church is currently occupied by The Lord's House of Prayer. Sermons are delivered in both English and Spanish.
·The Scribbler welcomes comments and contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 291-8781.