German or English? York County, Pa., churches disputed language

A recent York Daily Record story on renewed interest in learning Pennsylvania German bears all kinds of lessons for York County today.
Primarily, we’re less than 100 years away from those days in which church services were regularly conducted in German. And these German wars sparked considerable conflict in area churches… .


Church language conflicts gained the spotlight in York in 1830s when English language churches emerged from previously German-only congregations.
The best example? St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in York was the English counterpart to Christ Lutheran, York’s mother church. Those who wanted a little of both languages formed into Zion Lutheran Church. (See Charles Glatfelter’s book, “York County Pennsylvania Lutherans.”)
Over the decades, many churches blended German and English as York County’s population increasingly shed its predominant native tongue.
As a sign of the times, by 1891, German speakers could no longer support a German-language newspaper, and the York Gazette folded its German edition.
The transition in languages was not pretty. The following from “Never to be Forgotten,” gives a glimpse of the 20th-century story:

“The German language is read and spoken with less frequency in churches after 1900. At Glen Rock’s Zion Lutheran Church, the option of partaking of communion in either the German or English languages ends in 1909. The use of English in one of the Sunday morning services at York’s St. John Lutheran Church, causes some of the opponents to file a lawsuit. The litigation contends that English services would lead to eventual elimination of German services and violates the congregational charter. The congregation changes its charter and resumes English services. In 1922, 31 members who oppose the change form a new congregation in York known as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.”

Also of interest:
Civil war prompted strife in churches, too.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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2 Responses to German or English? York County, Pa., churches disputed language

  1. JRM says:

    Is it true that some Lutheran churches in the county still hold occasional German services? I heard somewhere that St. John’s does. But I’m not sure how often or what special occasions prompt the Deutsch.

  2. Now and then, churches of various stripes with German backgrounds have special services in German, in part or in full. Often, the Daily Record/Sunday News runs short stories about such special services, so keep your eye peeled.
    Jim

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