The seeds for this church were brought to ”Penn’s Woods” in the hearts of immigrant people from Central Europe. They were fleeing from political and religious upheavals during the 17th and 18th centuries. They were for the most part, German-speaking farmers and craftsmen. They landed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and followed the tributaries of the Delaware River, settling in what is now known as North Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. This was originally known as Bucks County, then Northampton and, eventually, Lehigh County.
The Penn family granted tracts of land to these early settlers, a quite sizable one issued to the Schlosser family encompassing several hundred acres, in the Neffs area. After the settlers had worshiped in one another’s homes, and possibly attended neighboring churches such as Egypt, Jordan, and Heidelberg, all of which were established a few years before 1755, the Schlosser family, in that year, donated approximately 100 acres of land for church purposes. The present church complex, cemeteries, sexton’s house, church grove, woodlands, and some farm fields are what remain from the original gift. Over the years, land was sold and the proceeds used for church construction and improvements. The most recent sale was made for land on which to build the present post office in Neffs.
The religious needs of the early settlers, such as baptisms, funerals, and weddings, were usually taken care of by circuit-riding preachers, missionaries, and lay preachers. The early ordained preachers often had charges consisting of as many as six or more churches, with travel on foot or horseback the only means of transportation.
In 1755, the first church, of log construction, was erected near the southeast corner of the old cemetery. The first grave markers were made of soft shale or wood, and many have disappeared from the ravages of weather. The oldest legible tombstone, near where the log church set, is that of Vallendin Remeli, 1770.
The first church was erected by the Reformed congregation (Detailed Early History) and known as the ”Schlosser’s Church” in honor of the land donors. Soon thereafter, a two-room log structure was erected across the road from the church to serve as a school and schoolmaster’s living quarters.
At the same time, settlers of the Lutheran faith were living in the area of Schlosser’s Church, and since the new church was not used every Sunday by the Reformed congregation because the preacher was at another church in the charge, the Lutherans were invited to use this house of worship. The first records indicate a pastor serving the Lutheran congregation on a regular basis in 1762.
We must make special note that all services at Union Church were in the German language. That was the predominant tongue of the early settlers. These German services continued exclusively until about 1920. Then, change came rapidly, for by 1935, only English services were conducted, as they are today.
The first crude log church, with its ground floor and no heat, served well for about 40 years. In 1795. the Union Church was formalized with all debts and assets to he shared. During the first forty years, there were still some problems with the native Indians, due largely to William Penn’s sons’ questionable land purchases from the Indians. The Revolutionary War was fought during our infant years, with at least a dozen veterans of that war buried in the old cemetery. Most notable was Colonel Stephen Balliet, who was also involved in state and national affairs of government.
In 1797, the cornerstone for a new stone church was placed. This was the second church, (Stone Church) sometimes known as the ”Scrub Oak Church” due to the many oak trees in the area. This new church was located where the present State Highway 873 has the banked curve around the present church. On one corner of this four-way, dirt crossroads was the cemetery tool shed, the new church on another corner; and in 1808, the sexton’s stone home was constructed on the third corner. This new stone church had a three-sided balcony, a wooden floor, and probably some provision for heat. The sexton’s house had a room known as the School Room. In those days, the sexton was also the schoolmaster, organist, cemetery caretaker farmer of the church’s fields. The School Room in the sexton’s home later became the meeting room for the church council and a church office. During the period of the stone church, several new congregations built churches in the area, These included Friedens, Morganland, and Laurys. Union Church lost members to these new churches. The Sunday School was organized in 1846. There were many small Sunday Schools in the one-room school houses that dotted the countryside. Gradually, as transportation improved, these small Sunday Schools dwindled, with a large number of their members then turning their attention to their church-sponsored Sunday School at Neffs. (Church History 1798-1840)
The present brick building is of the English rural colonial architecture of the 1700 period. (The Brick Church) It was constructed in 1871. Stone from the second church was undoubtedly used for the stone basement walls of the present building, The 1797 cornerstone is near the 1871 cornerstone. Hopes ran high to view the contents of the older stone when placing it on the new building. To everyone’s disappointment, it was found empty. Someone must have stolen the contents when it was left unattended during or immediately after its placement in l797. The new church cost $35,350.62 to build in 1871. Repairs and improvements were made over the years, A steam heating system was installed in 1890 and electricity added in 1917. In 1821, a pipe organ was installed in the former stone church. It was moved into the brick church in 1871 and used until a new organ was installed in 1912. This organ was electrified, repaired, and modernized several times over the years, being replaced in 1941.
In 1902, extensive repairs and improvements were made, including the installation of a concrete floor in the basement to accommodate the needs of the Sunday School and other church organizations. Stained glass windows replaced the clear glass windows in 1930. In 1916, Augustus Steckel of Bath, Pennsylvania, painted a reproduction n of Ruben’s ”Descent from the Cross” on the chancel wall. He donated his time and talent as a gift from his family. The German inscription above the arch, from Psalm 65, attests to the German services held exclusively til about 1920.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the electric trolley line was proposed to connect Allentown and Slatington, the tracks to run on the opposite side of the street from the church. Discussion indicated the possibility of the trolley noise disrupting church services, but the line was built and operated until 1931 when bus service replaced the trolley.
Around 1880, a two-room public schoolhouse was constructed by North Whitehall Township School District on property leased from the church. It was in use as a public school for about 50 years, and by church organizations for an additional 30 years, It was razed around 1965.
In 1946, one hundred years after the Sunday School was organized, a meeting was held by church and community leaders to consider an addition to the church to be used as a Christian education facility. The cornerstone for this facility says 1957, so it took a decade for that idea to come to fruition. A stumbling block to construction of the addition was a row of twelve horse sheds, as still stand at Amish churches in Lancaster County. Yes, a large number of these had been in existence at Union Church, but this remaining dozen were the latest constructed. though the sheds interfered with the proposed addition and the parking lot, the building committee was not in a mood to cause friction with the shed owners, who now parked their automobiles in them during services. A heavy, wet snow on the roof did the work quickly and without argument. In February 1948, the whole row collapsed into heap of rubble, As construction started on this new Christian education building, someone realized that a change of roof design would provide additional space for church offices, a memory room, and a library.
A note about the cemeteries and other church ground is in order. A Cemetery Commission controls burial plots and grounds. Family plots became popular when the new cemetery was surveyed in 1866. Previously burial was by rows, according to date of death. Old photos show a stone fence around the old cemetery and a white picket fence around the church and part of the new cemetery. The reason for the fences may not be readily apparent; however a little thinking explains their presence. Horses bolted, cows s strayed beyond farm fences, and drovers herded cattle on public roads. So, you can understand the purpose of the fences. The old stone fence was removed in 1955, the stones being used for drainage at the Turnpike Bridge walls. In l925, the Veterans Monument 1ocated in a crossroads of the new cemetery, was dedicated. The Church Grove was improved largely through the efforts of the Sunday School during the period of 1925-1930. Other church woodland houses a Boy Scout cabin and camping ground. The memorial flagpole was a gift of the Vernon Kern V.F.W. Post. The remaining fields are leased as farmland, awaiting their future use as burial grounds or other church purposes.
In 2000. the decision was made for the Lutheran congregation to build their own facility across the Union Church Cemetery and for the United Church of Christ congregation to take over ownership of the existing building. 2003 saw a New Beginning addition of ground floor offices for pastors and staff and the improvement to accessibility by ramps and elevator.