The Old White Church
St. Paul's  Union Church and Cemetery
Ringtown - Pennsylvania
"May Old White Church continue to reflect the Glory of God and stand as a lasting memorial to our religious heritage."
The history of the Old White Church truly reflects the religious history of America and exemplifies the reverence our forefathers gave to their God and the importance they placed on the establishment of a suitable place of worship.  

The earliest known settler in the Ringtown Valley (then known as the Catawissa Valley) is thought to be Frederick Labenberg, who purchased a tract of land in 1798 in the western part of what is now Union Township.  In 1808, he sold his land and moved to the central area of the Valley known as Krebs and later lived there with his daughter Christina who had married Jacob Zimmerman. 

Meanwhile, another early pioneer, Thomas Gootschall, settled in 1802 in the Girard Manor area of what is now East Union Township.  His house became the first building used for church purposes, while prior to that time groups had assembled at various homes to worship.  The importance of worship to these early sttlers of German descent is evident in all historical accounts.

Exactly when the Lutheran congregation was formally organized is not certain.  Earliest records date back to 1810 with the recorded August 19, 1810, baptism of Matilda Voght, daughter of Adam and Susanna Voght.

It is not known when the first log church was built, but it is thought that a burial plot was established at the site prior to the erection of the log church... The oldest known burial was that of Jacob Eisenhauer, son of Johann and Eva Eisenhauer, who died May 9, 1815 aged 2 years, 11 months, 26 days.

The biography of Jacob Zimmerman states that he took an active part in the organization of the Lutheran Congregation and was much interested in the building of this log house for worship... This log building also served as a school, with records dating prior to 1820.  The Catechism and Bible were the only text books and the language was German.

[As the population grew to 487 in 1820] the settlers of the Lutheran faith were joined by those of the German Reformed faith... who both shared the same log church for worship.  By 1840, the population had increased to 904... and a larger church building was needed.  In a joint congregational meeting it was decided to build a two-story 'board' church.  These people were simple farmers and laborers, but they were rich in spirit and pledged what they could in time and materials.  And their work continued long after the building was finished as they faithfully cleaned and cared for their House of God.

The cornerstone of this beautiful house of worship is inscribed with the date May 16, 1842.  It is a simple wood frame building with clapboard exterior siding and wood shingled roof.  The floors are constructed of wood plank, with walls constructed of lath and plaster.  The unquie wine glass pulpit, with sounding board and canopy top, is fastened to the wall about 10 feet from the floor and is reached by a narrow, winding stairway.  Aisles exted from three doors and meet before the swinging gates of the rail-enclosed chancel area, thus dividing the straight-backed wooden bench pews into four sections...

Two round, wood burning stoves were centered in the east and west aisles, their long pipes extending upward more than thirty feet, piercing the ceiling.  Oil lamps were later installed in wall brackets attached to the columns, and one larger lamp was suspended from the ceiling above the chancel.  

The exterior of the building was painted white and soon the church became known as the White Church.. and was formally called St. Paul's Union Church.

In 1881, it was necessary to make some repairs to the building, and two iron rods were installed through the center of the church for strengthening.  It is not known exactly when the reed pump organ was installed in the south gallery, but it was certain to have been the subject of protests by the more conservative members.  The old organ remained in the church until 1989, but it was in poor condition.  In 1967, vandals entered the building and threw the organ over the balcony, splintering the wooden casing and severely damaging the instrument.  [The organ has since been faithfully restored by Harry Thompson of Ringtown].

On Februrary 7, 1883, the Lutheran Church Council met and unanimously voted to build a new church in Ringtown next to the parsonage, which had been built there prior to 1875.  On December 6, 1884, the conregation met in the basement of the enw church, and under the leadership of the Reverand Oscar Bartholomew adopted a constitution and the name St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Ringtown.  The new church was decicated in June, 1885, thus ending the union of the Lutheran and Reformed congregations at the Old White Church.  During the pastorate of the Reverand Nathaniel W. Sechler, the [Reformed] congregation also decided to build a new church in Ringtown, and in 1891 became St. Paul's Reformed Church in Ringtown.  

Although it is jointly owned and maintained by the Lutheran and Reformed (now United Church of Christ) congregations, the Old White Church really belongs to the Ringtown Valley and its people as they continue to honor and care for it.  In 1960 the Ringtown Women's Club arranged for a bronze plaque to be placed on the church commemorating its designation by the Schuylkill County Historical Society as the oldest church in Schuylkill County north of the Broad Mountain.

The care and maintenance of the church is the responsibility of the Old White Church Committee consisting of trustees from both St. John's and St. Paul's congregations.  In 1989, members of this committee realized that major structural repairs were needed.  The first major project was to replace the deteriorating foundation of the church.  The building was lifted off its foundation, excavation underneath was completed and the old beams and sills, damaged by termintes, were replaced with new oak beams.  When the building was lowered back onto the stengthened base, the original foundation stones were replaced.  Other major projects completed were the installation of a new red cedar shingle roof, replacement of deteriorated weatherboards, restoration of the south and east doors, replacement of the entrance steps, and painting of the exterior of the church.  

In celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the dedication of the Old White Church, many special activities were held throughout 1992.  On a sunny Sunday afternoon in June, members and friends of St. John's and St. Paul's walked from their respective churches and met for a pilgrimage to the Old White Church where an old-fashioned hymn sing was enjoyed.

It is good to pause in our life's journey to look backward, to reaffirm the faith of our forefathers and to give thanks for that heritage which has given meaning and direction to our lives.  Today the Old White Church stands not only as a witness to that faith but also as a symbol of the unity we all share in Christ Jesus... This is the House of God and He is here.  Pray then to Him who loves you and bids you welcome.  Give thanks for those who in years past built this place to His glory.  

A detailed history of the Old White Church, as well as photographs of the 1990's restoration project can be found in the following publication:
150th Anniversary of OLD WHITE CHURCH -- Ringtown, Pennsylvaniva -- 1842-1992
Co-authored by current Old White Church Committee President - Nancy Terry
The above information was derived from said publication.  Copies are available on loan from the Ringtown Area Library.