An All Pennsylvania-German Church Service, by Russell Wieder Gilbert (1956)

ONLY in recent years have efforts been made to conduct an all Pennsylvania-German service, where hymns, prayers, the sermon, Bible readings, and liturgy followed the dialect instead of high German. The service at Grubb’s or Botschaft Church near Port Trevorton in Snyder County was undoubtedly the first one based completely on the dialect according to the Barba-Buffington orthography. It all happened in 1954 when the Reverend Benjamin Lotz, assistant professor of religion at Susquehanna University and supply pastor of the Botschaft Church at the time, received a request for financial aid from a sister congregation in Zierenberg near Cassel in Hesse. The plea gave a practical turn to the idea of a religious service in the beautiful grove of the church and a definite purpose for the offering. Why not Pennsylvania German, the dialect of many rural residents in Snyder County?

The Reverend Mr. Lotz then asked the writer whether he would be willing to prepare materials for a service since the church council (Kaerricheratt) expressed the desire to pay for a printed bulletin. The problem was a difficult one, for I had to be careful that dialectal connotations and nuances would not interfere with the dignity of worship. Here, then, were the beginnings of the Pennsylvania-German service at Grubb’s Church. On September 5, 1954 the Reverend Eugene Steigerwalt (First Lutheran Church, Selinsgrove) used as his sermon theme, “Was Mer Unsre Deitsche Brieder Schuldich Sin” (What We Owe Our German Brothers). On September 4, 1955 the Reverend Dr. Warren C. Heinly (Grace Lutheran Church, Lancaster) preached on “Schwitze, Net Schwetze” (Work, not Talk).

Good translations into the dialect were essential. Scriptural readings from the Gospels in modern Pennsylfaanisch Deitsch could be obtained from Ralph Charles Wood, then professor of German at Muhlenberg College, and now executive director of the Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation. From German or English versions the writer translated hymns, prayers, and opening versicles. It was necessary also to coin dialect words for such terms as opening versicles (Aafangswadde) and offering (Es Kaerrichegeltgewwe). And so the Goddesdienscht in the grove of the Botschaft Church came into being.

The thought of God’s presence in all seasons throughout the year is encouraging and challenging. The thought became an original poem, which is to be sung to the tune of “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee.” It was used “am zwette Goddesdienscht:”

Gott Iss Mei Freind im Ganse Yaahr

Gott iss mei Freind im ganse Yaahr,
Er hcbt Sei Hand mir ewich vor;
Die Yaahreszeit macht gaar nix aus,
Er iss daheem bei mir im Haus.

Im Winder blost en kalder Wind,
En weisser Schnee schtost runner gschwind,
Eiszeppche hengke an de Beem,
Gott iss doch noch bei uns daheem.

Im Friehyaahr ziegt en waarmi Luft,
Mer riecht yo glei en frischer Duft,
En grieni Saft schteigt in der Schtamm,
In Beem un Bledder, Busch un Schwamm.

Regge, Blitz, Dunner, Summerzeit,
Gricksel, Fresch, Ieme, Blumme weit,
Die Veggel zwitschre hallich froh,
Sie sehne scheene Sache do.

Es Schpotyaahr kummt, es ennert viel,
Was grie waar, watt so’n Farrweschpiel;
Es Laab losst geh vun all de Beem,
Ich bleib mit Gott bei uns daheem.

Mer lowe Gott, ’s maag sei wie’s will:
Witt du Gott heere, dann sei schtill;
Witt du Gott sehne, kumm zu mir
Un glopp en bissli an der Dier.

The American-German Review, August-September, 1956, page 15

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