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`The Stone Church' to host special service

December 15, 2007
By ERIC LONG elong@sungazette.com
WHITE DEER — It stands alone, a testament to history of the area, along with a lone cemetery on federal land north of Allenwood, near where a thriving community used to exist.

The Stone Church, the former Christ’s Lutheran Church, will be the site of a special candlelight Christmas service at 6 tonight, while the church and area history will be on display for an open house beginning at 2 p.m., according to officials with the Montgomery Area Historical Society.



Church history



According to the historical society, the Stone Church is a church without a congregation.

The congregation of Christ’s Lutheran Church was dissolved in 1942, when the U.S. Government confiscated the land to develop a munitions depot during World War II. The land seized included land in nearby Elvira, which was actually on land in Union County, just to the south.

‘‘There was something like 8,000 acres of land, including 145 homes that were taken,’’ said Marion McCormick, a member of the historical society.

‘‘Route 45 used to go through Elvira.’’

The Stone Church was one of four on the land that was confiscated and is the only one that survived. The Susquehanna Ordnance Depot closed after the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan and the land was later divided among the White Deer Golf Course, State Game Lands, the Lycoming County Landfill and the Allenwood Federal Prison Camp.

But the church history goes back farther than that.

The present building was dedicated in 1907, but the original church was a log structure built about 1790 by a Presbyterian congregation, according to the historical society.

That was later sold to Lutheran and Reformed congregations, with the stipulation that it take care of the nearby cemetery. A small stone church replaced the log structure in 1848 and both congregations worshiped there until the Reformed group disbanded.

In 1905, the Rev. John A. Richter arrived and soon oversaw the construction of the present edifice, which incorporated the crushed stones from the old church into cement blocks for the new building, which cost about $12,000.

The original log church is said to have been not much larger than a one-room schoolhouse and was believed to have been situated about where the cemetery is, across the road from the present building.

A sidenote of history is that Riohter’s son Conrad later wrote a number of books, including ‘‘The Town,’’ for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1951. It was his third book in a series called ‘‘The Awakening Land.’’

Disney later made a movie from Conrad’s book, ‘‘A Light in the Forest,’’ while ‘‘Sea of Grass’’ was made into a movie with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.



Survival



The church itself survived, although it fell into some disrepair. It was used by prison chaplains for inmate worship and study, but that ended in 2005.

However, those chaplains used their influence to get repairs made to the building.

‘‘The historical society was asked to go on a visit to tour it,’’ McCormick said.

‘‘The warden of the prison at the time, Karen Hogsten, was very fond of the church and encouraged us to use the church and have the community use it.’’

As a result, the church has been the site of the Christmas candlelight service the past two years. Gates to that part of the Bureau of Prisons property will open at 2 this afternoon and displays of historical interest, including photos, books, records, mementoes and other items will be on display during the open house.

McCormick said a number of people who either used to worship at the church or descendants of those people who were displaced from that community have come to the service the past two years.



Candlelight service



Doug Snyder, vice president of the historical society and chairman of the event, said the service will include chaplain Boyd Carney, from the prison, who will speak, followed by an opening hymn and a scripture reading by the Rev. Gunther Bernhardt, a local minister from Christ Lutheran Church, Montgomery, who will also recite the Christmas Story.

A combined community choir will sing, followed by a brief homily, a congregational hymn sing and another choir selection.

The service will close with a candlelight singing of ‘‘Silent Night.’’

‘‘We’re anticipating standing room only for this service,’’ Snyder said.

‘‘We’re also hoping to have another reunion of the Elvira residents next year,’’ he added.

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