Early Hymn Writers
New Berlin, PA
Milton W. Loyer
Early Hymn Writers of the Evangelical Association
associated with New Berlin, PA
The Evangelical Association was an American religious denomination organized by the followers of Jacob Albright in 1803. The main stream of that body of German-speaking believers ultimately became one of the three major distinct traditions that joined to form the present United Methodist Church.
For many years the town of New Berlin, in Union County PA, served as the unofficial headquarters of the Evangelical Association. In 1816 New Berlin was the site of the denomination’s first church building and first printing house. In 1856 it became the site of Union Seminary, the denomination’s first permanent educational institution – which continues today as Albright College in Reading, PA.
Almost identical to the Methodists in doctrine and polity, the Evangelicals were often referred to as the “German Methodists” – and like the English-speaking Methodists, the Evangelicals were noted for their rich musical tradition and enthusiastic singing. This booklet contains brief biographies and representative hymns of early Evangelical hymn writers associated with New Berlin.
Some of this material was adapted from “Glory to His Name” – hymn writers and composers in the Central Pennsylvania Conference, compiled in 1996 by Logan Garth Swanger. Although this booklet is undoubtedly incomplete, it does give a taste of the dedication and spiritual depth of these proponents of evangelical Christianity among of the Pennsylvania Germans.
Every effort has been made to comply with copyright regulations, and any omissions will be corrected in subsequent printings.
Table of Contents
Henry Burns Hartzler…………………………...….6
Elisha A. Hoffman……………………………...…..8
Susanna Orwig Hoffman…………….……..……..10
Aaron W. Orwig…………………………………..12
William W. Orwig…………………………..….…14
Uriah F. Swengel……………………………….…16
Johannes Dreisbach (5 Jun 1789 – 20 Aug 1871) was born in New Berlin PA, his parents Martin and Sabina among the first west of the Susquehanna to open their home as a preaching place for Jacob Albright. Converted under Albright in 1806, he was licensed to preach in 1807, and assigned with George Miller to the new Northumberland circuit –all of present Centre, Mifflin, Juniata, Snyder, Union, Northumberland, Montour, Columbia and Luzerne counties.
At the conference of 1814, held at his father’s home, he was elected the denomination’s first presiding elder. Along with Henry Niebel, he prepared and published the first authorized hymnal of the Evangelical Association – printed in New Berlin in 1816 on the printing press he personally secured and financed to found the denomination’s printing establishment. Ill health forced him to locate on his father’s farm, from which he served briefly as a Jacksonian Democrat in the Pennsylvania Legislature. In 1831 he moved to Circleville OH and served as editor of the Evangelical Messenger.
He wrote thirty-five Pennsylvania German hymns, some of them metric translations of hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. His best known hymn “Ich bin der Herr dien Gott” [“I am the Lord your God”] is reproduced from the 1877 Evangelishes Gesangbuch, the denomination’s last German hymnal, in which it was hymn #281.
Ich bin der Herr dien Gott
Henry B. Hartzler
Henry Burns Hartzler (23 Mar 1840 – 3 Sep 1920) began his ministry in 1869 on Snyder County’s Middle Creek circuit. His older brother Jacob Hartzler had begun his ministry on the same circuit in 1856 and later became an agent for New Berlin’s Union Seminary, a three-time district superintendent, and editor of the Evangelical Messenger. Henry followed his brother as editor of the Evangelical Messenger and eventually was elected a bishop in the United Evangelical Church. Both brothers are given articles in the 1974 Encyclopedia of World Methodism.
The author of many poems and hymn texts, he is described as the poet laureate of the Evangelical Church. Among his most popular hymns was “My Beautiful Bible,” a longtime favorite within the denomination. His song “Go and Seek the Lost” is reproduced from the 1921 Evangelical Hymnal, in which it was hymn #423.
Go and Seek the Lost
Elisha A. Hoffman
Elisha Albright Hoffman (7 May 1839 – 25 Nov 1929) was the son of Evangelical Association preacher Francis A. Hoffman. He completed his education at New Berlin’s Union Seminary, where his brother Francis C. was principal 1861-73. Licensed by the Evangelical Association in 1867, he started his ministry in Lebanon PA.
He 1869 Elisha moved to Cleveland to work for the denomination’s publishing house and pursue the music business. In 1895, disappointed over the split in the Evangelic Association, he became a pastor in the Presbyterian Church.
Though he never had any formal training in music, he composed his first hymn at the age of 18 and composed over two thousand gospel songs that found their way into print and compiled and edited over 50 different songbooks. His more famous hymns include “Are You Washed in the Blood?,” “No Other Friend Like Jesus,” “I Must Tell Jesus,” “Is Your All on the Altar?,” “Glory to His Name,” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” – the latter being #133 in the United Methodist Hymnal. His song “What a Wonderful Savior” is reproduced from the 1957 Hymnal of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, in which it was hymn #174.
What a Wonderful Savior
Susanna Rishel Orwig Hoffman (4 Jun 1844 – 14 Jun 1876) was born in New Berlin PA, the daughter of Evangelical Association bishop and hymn writer William W. Orwig. When she was 13 years old she was converted in the original Evangelical church building at the corner of Plum and Water streets. She attended Union Seminary and graduated from there in 1862, the youngest member of her class.
Susanna Orwig married Elisha Hoffman in 1866, and three years later she moved with him to Cleveland OH – where the two of them continued to write and compose hymns and publish them. She wrote a number of poems which were printed in the denomination’s Evangelical Messenger and Living Epistle. Elisha published several of her poems set to music in Evergreen, the first Sunday School music book of the Evangelical Association. Her words were put to music to create the gospel songs “Pure as the Lilies,” “Our Beautiful Dead,” “Come into the Fold” and God is Coming.”
LEAN HARD ON JESUS
Lean hard on Jesus! He will hear,
Thee and thy cross, thou weary soul!
Lean hard, nor do thou have a fear
But his great strength can bear the whole.
Lean hard on Jesus, fainting one!
Why dost thou try alone to bear
The heavy cross, when evermore
Thy “burden bearer” is so near?
Lean hard on Jesus, sinking one!
Oh, cast thy burden at his feet!
He’ll take it up and thou shalt find
On his dear bosom rest complete.
Lean hard on Jesus, doubting soul!
Oh, dost thou think he cannot bear
Thy little cross, who bore so much?
Then cast away thy sinful fear!
Lean hard on Jesus O my soul!
How couldst thou stand in this dark hour,
Beneath the heavy, heavy cross,
Unless upheld by His great power?
Lean hard on Jesus! He, thy Lord,
Will bear thee through life’s darksome vale.
Lean hard, nor do thou ever think
The “everlasting arms” can fail.
Words: Susanna Orwig Hoffman, 1876
Tune: Duke Street (Jesus Shall Reign, UM Hymnal #157)
Union Seminary, New Berlin PA
An Evangelical Association institution of major importance
to the Orwig family and others of the hymn writers
Aaron W. Orwig
Aaron William Orwig (13 Aug 1838 – 13 Apr 1931) was born in New Berlin Pa, the son of Evangelical Association bishop and hymn writer William W. Orwig and a brother to Susanna Orwig Hoffman. In addition, two other sisters married Evangelical Association preachers of the Central Pennsylvania Conference: Mary (wife of Josiah Bowersox) and Elizabeth (wife of Samuel L. Wiest).
Aaron moved to Cleveland OH in 1869 when his father went there to edit Der Christliche Botschafter, and he briefly edited the denomination’s Living Epistle before being licensed to preach in 1871 by the Ohio Conference, where he served for many years. In 1906 he transferred to the California Conference, and he died in Los Angeles.
Like his father, he enjoyed composing hymns and is the author of at least 8 hymn texts, each of which have appeared in two or more hymnals: “O God of Peace” is reproduced from the 1957 Hymnal of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, in which it was hymn #187.
Like his father, he was also a man of strong principles – as illustrated by his hymn “The Drink I Use Will Not Be Wine” that appeared in at least four different temperance and Sunday School song books from 1875 to 1943.
O God of Peace
The Drink I Use Will Not Be Wine
From alcoholic poison free, My drink shall pure cold water be;
The crystal stream that floweth by, Shall quench my thirst when I am dry.
1.The drink I use will not be wine, however sparkling it may be;
For in it lurks the adder’s sting, although its fangs I may not see.
2. The drink I’ll use will not be beer, for even that may bring the woe,
The bitter sorrows, wound and tear, and lay its tens of thousands low.
3. The drink I’ll use will not be ale, however harmless it may seem;
That, too, may cause the sad, sad wail, and sink beyond hope’s cheering gleam.
4. The drink I’ll use will not be gin, nor rum, nor brandy, nor old rye;
For if I do, how dread the thought, the drunkard’s death I too may die.
William W. Orwig
Wilhelm Wagner Orwig (25 Sep 1810 – 29 May 1889) was born in Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County PA, and converted in 1826 at a camp meeting near Middleburg, Snyder County PA. He became an itinerant in 1828 and served three terms as district superintendent and three terms as editor of Der Christliche Botschafter, the official newspaper of the Evangelical Association, before being named in 1856 as the first principal of the denomination’s new educational venture – Union Seminary in New Berlin. Three years later he was elected a bishop.
The author of two theological works and a catechism, he also assisted in revising and compiling both German and English hymn books. His original hymns include the popular “Komm Geist, von Thron herab,” which appeared in more than 50 different song books – some as late as the 1920’s. That hymn is reproduced here from the 1877 Evangelishes Gesangbuch, the denomination’s last German hymnal, in which it was hymn #213.
Komm Geist, vom Thron herab
Uriah F. Swengel
Uriah Franz Swengel (28 Oct 1846 – 8 Mar 1921) was born in nearby Paxtonville, Snyder County PA. He is a brother to Evangelical preachers Amon W. Swengel, Edwin Swengel and John G.M. Swengel – and his second wife was the daughter of Evangelical preacher Solomon T. Buck. The 1994 book Threads of Time by Jean Swengel gives family information, including the statement that the Swengels are descended (with a corruption of the surname) from Ulrich Zwingli.
He was licensed by the Evangelical Association in 1867 and began his ministry on the Wyoming circuit in northeast Pennsylvania. He served various congregations, as an editor of denominational Sunday School literature in Cleveland, and three terms as district superintendent before being elected a bishop in 1910.
Four of his hymns appear in the 1897 United Evangelical Hymnal: “All for Jesus,” “Hail, My Comrades,” “The Fair Watchword” and “The Voice of the Blood.” The latter is reproduced from that hymnal, in which it is hymn #695 – using a tune composed for the words by his first wife, Lottie Anthony Swengel (1849-1896).
Ruthanna Davis Vallerchamp (20 Mar 1805 – 18 Feb 1886) was once known as the hymn writer laureate of the Evangelical Association. The daughter of Jonathan and Rebecca Davis of Catawissa, she was converted under the preaching of a Methodist Episcopal circuit rider. In 1829 she married Azima Vallerchamp, originally of the Methodist Episcopal Church. They moved first to Roaring Creek, and then to Mount Pleasant township, Columbia County, where they joined the Evangelical Association in 1845.
Azima became a licensed preacher in 1847, but in 1852 he moved to New Berlin to practice dentistry and homeopathic medicine. After her husband’s death, Ruthanna boarded and befriended many students attending Union Seminary, giving them encouragement and spiritual instruction.
Many of her poems were printed in Der Christliche Botschafter, the official newspaper of the Evangelical Association. Among her more famous hymns are “The Gospel Ship is Sailing” and “The Heavenly Railroad” [not to be confused with “Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad.”] Her song “The Gospel Ship” is reproduced from the 1868 Brown & Perkins gospel songbook Sabbath Carols, in which it was hymn #106.
Johannes Walter (13 Aug 1781 – 3 Dec 1818) was the closest colleague of Jacob Albright, founder of the Evangelical Association. He was born near Quakertown PA, and his wife Cristiana was a sister to George Becker, in whose house Jacob Albright died. He began his ministry in 1802 and was the preacher of the famous 1805 “open door” incident in New Berlin.
His privately published 1810 hymnbook, which contained many of his own hymns and songs, was the denomination’s unofficial hymnal until Neibel and Dreisbach’s first authorized hymnal was printed in New Berlin in 1816. German-American hymnody authority Don Yoder states that Walter’s hymn “Kommt, Brüder, Kommt” was the Pennsylvania Germans’ most popular hymn. It was written while he and Albright were traveling through a snowstorm in the Allegheny Mountains in 1806. The original melody “Mein Gott, das Herz ich bring” is a tune that has not yet been recovered.
No likeness of Walter is known to exist. The title page reproduced above is from Reuben Yeakel’s 1883 Jacob Albright and His Co-laborers.
Kommt, Brüder, Kommt
meter: CM (86.86)
tune: Azmon (UM Hymnal #57)
1. Kommt, Brüder (Schwester), kommt, wir eilin fort
Vermerkt ihr nicht die goldne Pfort’,
Dir dorten vor euch glimmt.
2. Strachs eure Augen wendet hin
Folgt Jesus treuer Lehr’;
Halt’t Wachen, Beten in dem Sinn,
So fällt die Reis’ nicht schwer.
3. Hier ist ein’ groose Wilderniss,
Der mussen wir noch durch:
Du schmecht des Himmels Manna süss,
Ach werdet nur nicht murr’sch!
English metrical translation
1. Come, brothers (sisters), come, we’ll journey on
To the new Jerusalem!
Oh! See you not the golden gates,
That just before you gleam?
2. Unto that goal direct your eyes.
Hold Jesus’ faithful word.
Keep watchfulness and pray in mind,
So the journey won’t be hard.
3. There is a mighty wilderness,
Through which we all must go.
Here taste the heavenly manna sweet,
O! there no murmur know.
Jacob Young (24 Aug 1829 – 12 Apr 1895) is as deeply rooted in the Evangelical Association as a person could be. He was born in the Evangelical stronghold of Union County PA. His father John Young was an Evangelical pastor who served central Pennsylvania churches for over 30 years. His sister Elizabeth Young Loyer and her husband were the first residents (1916) at the Evangelical Home, now River Woods, in Lewisburg. Four of his brothers (George, William, Reuben and Noah) were Evangelical pastors.
Jacob was licensed by the Evangelical Association in 1852 and ordained an elder in 1856. After itinerating throughout central Pennsylvania, he moved to Cleveland in 1871 to become editor of The Living Epistle and the denomination’s Sunday School literature. In 1877 he returned to serve circuits in Snyder, Union and Lycoming counties. He died in Williamsport while hurrying to get on a train.
His song “O for a Shout of Joy” is reproduced from the 1921 Evangelical Hymnal, in which it was hymn #20.
O for a Shout of Joy
New Berlin Heritage Landmark
site of the first church building and printing house
of the Evangelical Association
This booklet was prepared for the September 7, 2014, dedication of the improvements at the historical site at the corner of Plum and Water Streets. Pictured above is one of the four interpretive markers placed at the site on that occasion.