The first Church of the Brethren congregation was organized in the U.S. in Germantown, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) on Christmas day, 1723. On that day, six persons were baptized in the nearby Wissahickon Creek and the first lovefeast service in America was observed. Previous to that, Alexander Mack, regarded as founder of the Church of the Brethren, and eight other persons were baptized in the Eder River, Germany, giving birth to the infant church in 1708. As the church grew, it was increasingly subjected to religious intolerance and persecution, so that by 1710, its members began to migrate to America. In preaching throughout Germany and Holland, Mack formed the acquaintance of William Penn, and the Brethren were invited to settle in Pennsylvania. Of concern to the founders was the conviction that Christianity is not only a faith to believe in, but one to be acted upon and lived out. For this reason, they believed strongly that Christianity is a faith to be chosen by the individual, leading them to embrace believer’s baptism.
As early a 1754 George Balsbaugh and George Henry came from Germany and settled on a tract of land on which the Spring Creek Church is now located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This farm continued in the Henry family until it was finally sold to Milton S. Hershey.
In 1772 the Conestoga Congregation was divided into three congregations; namely Conestoga, White Oak and Swatara. Our Spring Creek Area became part of this Swatara Congregation , which included the territory from the Beverly hills north of Elizabethtown to the Blue Mountains and most of the territory from the Susquehanna River to the Schuylkill River (except the part of the White Oak congregation in the Heidelberg Area). Thirty-nine members made up the membership roll of the Swatara Congregation with Elder George Miller in charge.
Sometime between 1798 and 1800, the Swatara Congregation was divided into two Congregations, namely Big Swatara and Little Swatara. Spring Creek was included in the Big Swatara Congregation. Valentine Balsbaugh was in charge. “In these early years, a building was not the focal point of a congregation. Rather, persons of like persuasion would assemble together in homes for the purpose of holy worship and to come together as part of a common fraternity. Such gatherings occurred in numerous locations across this large geographical area which extended from the Susquehanna River to east of Reading.” (from A History of the Spring Creek Church of the Brethren by John S. Breidenstine, 1988)
The Spring Creek Church of the Brethren was established in 1848 when the first meetinghouse was built in the township of Derry along the Spring Creek. It was built on a tract of farm land donated by Wendell Henry who was affiliated with the congregation.
The Church was still part of the Big Swatara Congregation at this time, and by 1868, the membership of the Congregation had grown to 450 members. The congregation again divided into the Big Swatara and Spring Creek Congregations. Spring Creek now had a membership numbering 250. By 1912, membership had again grown to in-excess of 450, prompting the group to divide into the Conewago, Annville and Spring Creek Congregations.
Leadership was initially given by “free ministers” – persons who were called apart from among the membership to share leadership. The first professional pastor was hired in 1934 and pastors and support staff continue to lead the congregation today.
A more detailed account is available in the book A History of the Spring Creek Church of the Brethren 1848-1988, by John S. Breidenstine. The book is available for purchase from the church office.
In 1915, the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren decided to hold its denomination-wide meeting in Hershey, Pennsylvania. When the Annual Conference organizers requested permission to erect a tent on HersheyPark grounds, Milton Hershey responded by building a 4,000-seat convention hall for their use. The denomination returned again for their 1924 Annual Conference.
More history about the Brethren denomination is available at: http://www.cob-net.org/folder.htm