Milwaukee County Evangelical Churches
The Origin and Early History
of the Evangelical
Near the close of the seventeenth century there began a great migration from Germany to America. The British ship Concord brought the first colony of Germans in the autumn of 1683. The tide of German immigration soon grew large. More than 30,000 families came between the years of 1727 and 1776. They were practically all Protestants and settled in the (now) State of Pennsylvania. Among these was John Albright, who settled near Pottstown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where .Jacob Albright, the founder of our church, was born in a humble pioneer farm house May 1, 1759,
But with few, if any religious leaders, these people soon became worldly-minded and lost nearly all of their spiritual vitality. Sabbath desecration, intemperance and immorality became common. It was in this unfavorable atmosphere that Jacob Albright grew to manhood. In his 26th year (1785) he married Catherine Cope, and soon afterward removed to Lancaster County and there commenced the brick and tile business, together with the cultivation of a small farm. They had nine children, of whom, however, only three survived the father. Several of his children died in early youth and in. rapid succession, and in the sorrow of his heart over their loss and under the preaching of a pious minister of the German Reformed church, named Anton Hautz, who preached the funeral sermons of his children, he was deeply impressed and he became willing to seek the Lord.
The origin of the mighty evangelical movement resulted in the organization of the Evangelical Association due to the vital experience of Jacob Albright. It is the real key to the type of religion for which this church has always stood. Almost immediately after his conversion Mr. Albright united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, whose doctrine, polity, mode of worship and spiritual life strongly appea1ed to him. He continued to study the English language that he might be able to join more freely in worship. He was soon made an exhorter and later on a local preacher. When the spirit of God was upon him, his talent which was as yet undeveloped, became manifest. He was rich in thought. unctuous in delivery, usually his whole heart was moved with his subject, his appearance was attractive, his gesture naturally graceful and becoming, and he possessed all the requirements of true eloquence.
Albright spent several years among the Methodists, but he was impressed with the spiritual destitution of his German brethren and had a strong desire for their salvation. He prayed that God might raise up godly men to preach to them, little thinking that God would send him. He at first shrank from so great and solemn a task, but recognized only too clearly the voice of God. He could not resist. In October, 1796, Jacob Albright went forth to preach the Gospel to those of his own race and tongue. He soon became known as a flaming evangelist. He preached in private houses, in market places, in barns, meadows, groves, and if opportunity offered, in churches. He was persecuted and slandered, and truly suffered for righteousness' sake. Multitudes flocked to his services. Many were converted and soon although he had not contemplated such a step, it became apparent that it would be necessary to effect some organization. Those converted under his labors were greatly in need of spiritual culture and protection. They had no place where they might worship with those of like mind. Mr. Albright saw the need of an organization, and in 1800 ventured upon this important step. Three classes were first organized.
The Methodists were a great spiritual power in the land, but they had no interest in the Germans of Pennsylvania. There is no doubt that this was providential. God had another plan. The work could be done best by a church which arose among the Germans who understood the German mind and heart. Today the Evangelical Association is being rapidly forced into English in this country. A large majority of her members now prefer the English, in fact many of the young people cannot understand any language but English sufficiently to be able to worship intelligently.
In 1807 the first conference known as the "ORIGINAL CONFERENCE" was held. It consisted of all itinerant ministers and local preachers, class leaders and exhorters. There were twenty-eight in all who attended this conference, and at this time a name was adopted, "THE NEWLY FORMED METHODIST CONFERENCE.", Mr. Albright compiled a book of discipline.. The Episcopal form of church government was adopted In l807 Jacob Albright was elected Bishop. At this time there were 220 members and five preachers.
On May 18, 1808, in the fiftieth year of his life, Jacob Albright died. The historians tell us his departure was peaceful and heavenly. When he bade farewell to his friends the "chamber of death seemed filled with the glory and power of God." It seemed, indeed it was, "quite on the verge of Heaven," Albright's last word of advice to the ministers was:
"In all that you do, or think of doing, let your object be to enhance the glory of God, and advance the work of His grace in your hearts, as well as among your brethren and sisters; and be diligent co-workers with God, in the way He has pointed out to you, to which He will grant you His blessing."
George Miller, John Walter and John Dreisbach took up the good work he had begun. In 1808 the conference adopted a new name, "The So-Called Albright People" in honor of the founder, but it was merely a tentative name. The sixth conference adopted plans to expand and entered the work westward. By this time the membership numbered about eight hundred and the preachers numbered. fifteen.
In 1814 John Dreisbach was elected Presiding Elder. The first General Conference adopted the name of "THE EVANGELICAL ASSOCIATION," which the denomination has borne to this day. The first Publishing House was established in New Berlin, Pa.
In 1826 the Ohio Conference was organized. The two conferences were then called the Eastern and the Western. Missionaries like Charles Hammer and John Seybert pushed the work to regions beyond the original border, and in 1837 the work was extended to Illinois. Chicago, then a little village, was the first appointment, with Jacob Boas as pastor. The first organizations were at Des Plaines, Naperville and Chicago.
In 1839 the work was carried into Michigan by Solomon Altimos. Later the work was extended into western Pennsylvania and New York State. At the session of Conference in 1838 the first missionary society was formed. From this time on, there was a steady advance and each year the borders were extended and. the horizon widened.
The Illinois mission, that was located partly in the neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, partly along Cedar Creek, in Stephenson County, Illinois, was very inconveniently situated, the missionary having to travel on every round about 250 miles in order to fill six or eight appointments, and to re-cross a distance of ninety miles, besides often being exposed to great privations. Brother John Lutz labored on this mission this year with truly apostolic self-denial. At the close of the year he formed a small class in Wisconsin, in the vicinity of Milwaukee, the members of which were scattered in every direction, about twenty miles in circumference, to the north, south and west of Milwaukee. This was the first society of the Evangelical Association in Wisconsin. John G. Esslinger (class-leader), his wife, the first persons converted in Wisconsin, through the instrumentality of our preachers, Jacob Martin and wife,. the Eckert family, Martin Schulz and others, were its first members. In the year 1858 the work had been pushed into Minnesota by the Wisconsin Conference and the work of the Illinois Conference had developed so that the General Conference of 1859 formed the Iowa Conference.
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