Brian Frankhouser

Mike Ressler, left, and Brian Frankhouser pose outside St. Stepen Reformed Church PCA in New Holland. Ressler is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Historical Society.

One thing is for sure: Brian Frankhouser knows his history, in both a secular and ecclesiastical sense.

Frankhouser, 62, serves on the board of trustees at the New Holland Historical Society, housed in the vintage Kauffman Building at 207 E. Main St.

But his true heart belongs to St. Stephen Reformed Church, a congregation that traces its origins to the 18th century and is now housed in a stately colonial-style building that recently replaced its steeple. The church is situated on the highest spot in town.

And it’s a source of deep affection for Frankhouser, who could almost serve as a walking encyclopedia when it comes to St. Stephen.

“My mother was born into the church. I was born into St. Stephen Church,” Frankhouser says.

St. Stephen has a long — and sometimes complicated — history.

According to a 1974 account of the church by H.E. Ressler, St. Stephen was originally known as Seltenreich’s Reformed Church “because it was named for the family who gave the property for the establishment of the church.”

“The deed describes the property (as) secured ‘for the Presbyterian Meeting House and Burying Ground in the … township of Earl,’ “ Ressler wrote.

“The first date of the congregation is unknown, but there are certain baptismal records that make it safe to say the church was begun by at least 1732. It might be older but this is the date that has been celebrated throughout the history of the church,” Ressler noted.

Eventually, the house of worship became known as The German Reformed Church of New Holland.

“It was a German-speaking church,” says Frankhouser.

The church that was to become St. Stephen later merged with the German Evangelical Church to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Sometime in the 1800s, the church acquired its present name, according to Ressler’s account. And the German language eventually melded with English. And more changes were to come.

In the 1950s, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Church joined to become the United Church of Christ.

But another switch came in 2014. The church voted to affiliate with the Presbyterian Church in America.

“The church itself was a very conservative church (from) 1957 until 2014,” Frankhouser says. But he adds, “We are at a place now where we are reconciled closely.”

Frankhouser can tell you about other churches in New Holland as well, including when Mennonite and Catholic congregations were started. The town of New Holland is also literally close to home.

“I’ve lived here all of my life,” he says.

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