A Long History of Faithfulness
The founding of the Bethlehem Steltz Reformed Church goes back to George Washington’s second term as President of the United States. In February 1794, citizens of the southern portion of Codorus and Shrewsbury Townships signed an article of agreement of the founding of a Union congregation where the doctrines of the Lutheran and German Reformed Churches should be taught.
Mason and Dixon and Wm. Penn
On February 14, 1795, Philip Steltz sold two acres of land for five shillings sterling to this organization for church purposes. The land was located in the sixth district, Baltimore County, Maryland, and bounded on the north by the Mason and Dixon Line, at a point close where the townships of Codorus and Shrewsbury meet that line. In about 1801 a church building was erected on this tract within a few feet of the boundary line in the state of Maryland. The 1801 church possibly stood near the west side of the old cemetery which is now located on the south side of Route 851. When a person went in the front door of the 1801 church he was in Pennsylvania, and when he went out the back door he was in Maryland. The 1801 church was apparently built of logs and was a two-story building. It had a gallery on three sides and a small pulpit just large enough for one man.
The pulpit was approximately 12 feet above the floor and was accessible by means of a small stairway. The church building had a flat floor in the main building. On June 30, 1803, the Penns issued a patent deed to John Ruhl and Daniel Peterman, representatives of the Union Church, for two acres and fifteen perches of land, adjoining the land bought from Philip Steltz on the Pennsylvania side of the Mason-Dixon line. At that time the services alternated between Lutheran and Reformed each Sunday. Some families, because of the walking distance, met in nearby school houses or private homes. They sang hymns of praise and studied the Word of God. As families grew and more transportation became available, it appeared that a larger and/or newer building was needed. They also sought an ordained preacher.
The Underground Railroad?
A new brick church was erected in 1862 and 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. Local tradition has it that the church was a station for the underground railroad. The ground on which the new church was built was called the “Steltz Deer Park.” The land upon which the church rested was purchased from Philip Steltz. Hence, the Bethlehem Union Church was called the Bethlehem (Steltz) Union Church. Steltz was spelled two different ways in those days, Steltz and Stiltz, thus on some maps the spellings are different. There were 229 members listed on the roles at that time.
Hogs, Cattle, Sheep and Horses
In 1881 the sexton’s house was purchased on property adjoining the church and a sexton was hired. His job description read: The tenant is to open and close the church for preaching, Sunday School, and Catechism, keep the church swept and dusted, make the fire in time so the church is warm when the people assemble. He is to ventilate and close the church when there are no services, keep the yard around the church clean, keep the gates and fences closed, repair the fences around the land, keep the graveyard well cleaned, mow the grass and all weeds twice a year, keep all kinds of cattle, sheep, hogs, and horses out of the graveyard, open and close the graveyard for all funerals by consent of the church councils, and clean the fence corners along the fences. All hay, fodder, and grain must be fed and remain on the place and lot hereby leased. All grain, grass, and fodder is to be for the sexton’s use. The above services are to be in lieu of rent as specified for living on said church property.
Beautiful Butler Stone
In 1934, the need for larger facilities, due to a growing community and interest in church and Sunday School, became a matter of concern for both congregations. After much thought and planning, both congregations voted to build a new church on the same site as their present brick church. The last service held in the old church was on Easter Sunday, April 21, 1935. The present building was finished in 1936. It is faced with butler stone from Butler, Maryland and dedicated “to the glory and honor of Almighty God and to the service of all mankind through his Holy Church” on Sunday, June 4, 1936. The total cost of the present building was $46,616.38. Five years ago it was appraised for insurance purposes at $1,660,000. In 1950, the Moller pipe organ was installed in the sanctuary. A separate fellowship building with extensive kitchen facilities was built in 1962 and 1963.
Enter the U.C.C.
In 1957 the German Reformed Churches and the Congregational Christian Churches merged to form the United Church of Christ. Bethlehem Steltz became a union Church between the Lutheran and U.C.C. A two-point U.C.C. Shrewsbury charge was formed in July 1969 by closing the New Freedom Bethany U.C.C. church which merged with Bethlehem (Steltz) Church. The bell and some church items were moved to Steltz. A two-point Lutheran charge was formed on November 30, 1969 which included Bethlehem (Steltz) and St. Jacobs (Stone) Church and was to be known as the Codorus Lutheran Parish. On May 21, 1972 the church became a cooperative parish between the Lutheran and U.C.C. congregations, sharing one pastor. The new name was the Bethlehem (Steltz) Cooperative Parish. In March of 1972 ground was broken for a new parsonage adjoining the south side of the parking lot. The new parsonage was dedicated on Sunday, June 3, 1973
Looking for a New Reformation
In 1994, the Bi-Centennial Celebrations were held. The church membership included 179 from the Lutheran Congregation and 168 from the U.C.C. congregation. July of 1998 saw another merger and another change in the life of the church. After much deliberation and study, the Union Parish voted to re-charter as one unified church. Their studies and desires led them to reclaim their reformation heritage. The church adopted the doctrines and practices of the reformed faith. Their new charter name is The Bethlehem Steltz Reformed Church.
Reformed and Reforming
As the UCC evolved in a different direction than the Bethlehem Steltz Reformed Church, the congregation began once again to seek their reformed heritage. In August 2005, the Church dissolved its relationship with the UCC in order to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The Bethlehem Steltz Reformed Church is now a particular church of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church.