The 'Union' Church

Early German settlers rapidly developed a series of folk-cultural institutions of surprising consistency with one another wherever they settled. One of these was a "union' church, a worship edifice shared by two otherwise independent congregations, one usually Lutheran, the other usually German Reformed (Zwinglian, using the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563). Found in each of the eight colonies with German settlements, the "union" arrangement was apparently seen by its originators as a temporary accommodation to financial realities, as dissolution of them already in the eighteenth century suggests.

At the same time, their creators also deemed them permanent enough to warrant adopting a set of articles of government for the joint use of the church structure, schoolhouse and cemetery. Sufficient numbers of these documents survive that a comprehensive study of them could be made. In general, they provided for equal use of the building by both congregations, that the clergy serving them be recognized by synodical bodies of each denomination, that worship and preaching be determined by the doctrinal statements of each, that officers be elected jointly. Each congregation also had its own constitution and governing body. Each called and reimbursed its own pastor, each may have had its own records and sacramental vessels, although there were instances in which those were shared. The schoolmaster/organist was hired jointly. Some union church agreements specified hiring schoolmasters belonging to the two denominations in alternating order. Members were often divided in the same family -- males went with the father, females with the mother, as had been true in the Palatinate in Germany, from which large numbers of persons had come, an area in which Lutheran and Reformed congregations could be found closed to one another geographically, in which indeed they even shared facilities occasionally.

It was the church building and its campus that provided visible expression of the union. The two congregations only worshipped together as one when a cornerstone was placed or a building or organ dedicated. Even if both pastors officiated in a funeral, as did happen, it was in fact the service of the congregation to which the deceased belonged. The union treasury existed for the upkeep of the structures and ground and a union governing body to make decisions about them.


Information Taken From

Maryland German Church Records

Volume 7

Saint Mary's Church

Silver Run, Carroll County

Lutheran Records 1784 - 1863

Reformed Records 1812 - 1866