Before embarking on this work, the author, young Leonard J. Chester, pondered the possibility that there might ultimately prove to be insufficient information available to complete the task.  However, Leonard’s enthusiasm for the subject prevailed and his careful research has produced a fine and irreplaceable church history, irreplaceable, for those people who contributed much invaluable information through Leonard’s personal interviews are now giving testimony of their good works elsewhere. 




A History


The Puslinch Community Brethren in Christ Church


formerly known as


The Puslinch Union Church



Leonard J. Chester



Table of Contents







This paper was written for Dr. Martin H. Schrag for the course “Brethren in Christ Life and Thought” in the fall of 1969, at Messiah College.  The author expresses sincere appreciation to all who afforded him an interview or a personal letter. 


Dr. Schrag comments, “These Record Books would be the oldest written records we have of a local congregation in which the Brethren had a part”, a fine tribute to these early brethren of the Union Church arrangement!


The author would welcome any further information on the Union Church.  The author would also attempt to answer any questions the paper raises for anyone.


The following were included in the original appendix:  an article on Holm’s mill; Calendar for The River Brethren Church, 1905; picture of farmhouse and barn of Bishop John Wildfong, now owned by Krueger Bros. of Hespeler; resignation of Solomon Cober; and three contemporary pictures of the Union Church.


The co-operation of these brethren might teach something to us in an ecumenical age.


L. J. Chester




Chapter I



The Puslinch Community Brethren In Christ Church, 1969, is a functioning, self-sustaining, virile group of Christians.  The Church as it is now operated has a relatively brief his­tory of sixteen years.  However, the building, which is now the House of worship for the present group of believers, was also the House of worship for several generations of belie­vers in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth.  The intriguing history of the nineteenth century, with the tragic death of the Church about 1920, and the on-going history of the more recent years, with the joyous rebirth of the church in 1954, is the task that I have undertaken to relate.  


Although I was rather hesitant to undertake to study the history of this Church, because I feared there would be a lack of authentic resources for the earlier years, I have

experienced great satisfaction in researching this project.  I found valuable information on the early years in E. Morris Sider’s master’s dissertation, and in E. J. Swalm’s memoirs, as well as some more current detail in the latter.  I learned names of early members of the Tunker Church who were active in the Church at Puslinch from the Directories of 1880, 1886, 1899, and 1903.  The Land Registry Office in Guelph, for the County of Wellington, Ontario, provided helpful back­ground information.   The General Conference Minutes, the Ontario Joint Council Minutes, and the recent Canadian Con­ference Minutes have provided some supporting details.  The original minute books of the Annual Union Church Meetings

commencing 1868 and some Trustee Board Meetings ending in 1951, have served as the basic sources of data.  Congregational Council and Church Board Minutes both of Rosebank and Puslinch were studied.  Interviews with and letters from people con­nected with both histories of the Church have furnished in­teresting material.


In my early teens, I was converted through the efforts of the Rosebank workers in the Puslinch Sunday School, and was a charter member of the congregation when it was officially organized as a Conference Church in 1962, hence my personal interest in the congregation.




Chapter II

Before the Union Church


The history of a church must, of necessity, begin with or include the names of specific people or families.  Nicholas Cober, Sr. emigrated, with his young wife to York County, Ontario from Somerset County, Pennsylvania in the year 1795 or 1796.(1.)  They had been members of the Lutheran Church of Berlin, Pennsylvania.(2.)  However, sometime after their settlement in Canada, they united with the Brethren in Christ Church.(3.)  They, with their growing family, lived in York County until approximately 1833.


In 1833, Nicholas Cober, Sr. and two of his sons, Jacob and Nicholas, Jr., each received two hundred acres of Crown land from the government of Upper Canada, in Welling­ton County, Puslinch Township, Concession three, Lots two, three and six, front and rear.(4.)  By 1839, Nicholas Cober Sr. had also received Lots four and five in Concession three, Puslinch Township.(5.)   Thus, the Cober family owned a block of land of one thousand acres.  Nicholas Cober Sr. later returned to York County,(6.) selling part of his land(7.) to his son-in-­law, Neils Peter Holm.(8.)  However, Cober’s sons and son-in­-law remained in Puslinch Township, built themselves homes, and developed farms there.   


On April 24th 1841, a Peter Holm received the rear half of Lot one of Concession three of Puslinch Township from the Crown; later, the same year, on September 25th, 1841, he sold this hundred acre plot to his brother, Neils Peter Holm,(9.) the son-in-law of Nicholas Cober, Sr.  When thirty-­five years of age, in 1846, Neils P. Holm was ordained to the ministry of the River Brethren Church.(9A)  In 1845, Peter Holm received from the Crown the front hundred acres of the same lot.(10.)  The two brothers settled on these plots of land, and built farms and homes there.  Peter Holm built a dam and operated a saw-mill on his farm.  The mill is still standing and is pictured in the appendix of the original paper.


The family of Cornelius Pannabecker, who bought land from the Cobers in 1848,(11.) played a significant role in the life of the Union Church.(12.)  By 1868, two other men, John Wildfong and Elias Erb, were prominent in the fellowship of believers which gave birth to the Puslinch Union Church.




Chapter III

 The Union Church: Its Origin


The desirability of having a community “burying ground’ and a “Union Meeting House”(13.) may have been evident for some time.  This desire culminated in a meeting on January 10th 1868, at the home of Jacob Cober, “for the purpose of electing trustees for taking charge of burying ground on lot no. 5, in the third concession in the Township of Puslinch, on the north-east corner of said lot.  This meeting also agrees to build a Union Meeting House on the afore­said lot....”(14.)


The destiny of this lot to become the cemetery and church grounds was likely set the previous year when Anna Holm, daughter of Rev. Neils P. and Susanna (Cober) Holm, after her death on July 2nd 1867, was buried there.  Mrs. Susanna Holm’s brother, Jacob Cober, agreed to give one-half acre of his land for a cemetery, if the members of the community would agree to buy for sixty dollars ($60.00) an accompanying half­-acre from him.  This, they accepted.(15.)


Therefore, on April 1st 1868, a deed for one acre of land was registered, from Jacob and Mary Cober to the fol­lowing trustees: Cornelius Pannabecker, Nicholas Cober and Nicholas P. Cober.(16.)  From its inception, it has been a “Union” cemetery and church.  Jacob Cober set three stipu­lations on this land in the original deed:




for the only use and purpose of a site for a Church and for a Cemetery.


that whenever hereafter a church is erected on said land, such church shall be for the use and benefit of all denominations, under such rules and regulations as the said trustees or their successors in office may make, and that the said cemetery shall likewise be for the use and benefit of all denominations.


Trustees are to keep an accurate account of all money, received or expended for pur­chase, erection of said church and all other matters pertaining to said premises.(17.)


The members of the community at a meeting on March 19th, 1868 decided that the Union Church was to be “built by the free liberality of the community”, and that

“the Denomination that does the most to­wards erecting said building shall have the privilege of first appointing their meetings... and that no Denomination shall be allowed to make their appointments more than one or two days in succession.”(18.)


Their spirit of unity was certainly evident.  It may be of interest to note that out of the fourteen names listed in the Minute Book, six represented men under thirty years of age. Perhaps their youthfulness aided in the actions de­scribed above.


In the original trustee board, there were three denominations represented.  Cornelius Pannabecker was Men­nonite Brethren In Christ;(19.)  Nicholas Cober was Tunker;(20.) and Nicholas P. Cober was German Baptist.(21.)  The pattern of having the various denominations represented on the trustee board was continued in the coming years.  The term of office for the trustee was not determined, being as long as he lived, or until he resigned.  A fourth denomination participated officially; this was the Old Mennonites.




Chapter IV

The Union Church: The Early Years


At a meeting on January 14th, 1874, action was finally taken to get the Union Meeting House constructed.(22.)  It was originally decided to build the House of frame construction, with 936 square feet of floor space (26 feet x 36 feet, which is close to the present size).(23.)  Later the same month, a committee of twelve men was appointed to “remain in office until the House is built and paid for”.(24.)  At a third meeting, three days later, January 26th, the committee decided to build a brick House instead of the frame one, to put the plaster on the brick without lathing, and to install a set of double doors.(25.)  There was no basement built under the House.


The community was solicited for funds for purchasing the materials, etcetera.  A man received eighty-seven and one-­half cents per day, or one dollar and seventy-five cents per day for working with his team of horses.  The total cost for the land, the deed, all construction materials and labour was $602.81.(26.)  The men of the community who were active in the inception of the Union Church were also paid for their labour.  Thus, the church may have, been partially built by volunteer labourers, but most of the labourers were paid.(27.)  This was contrary to the practice of many churches, where labour was donated.


A meeting of the participating members of the Union Church was held on April 24th, 1875, at which trustees were elected.  There appeared to be some confusion from the records as to who actually was elected.  From this meeting until 1891, records were either not kept, or have been destroyed.  In the 1891 meeting of February 24th, two references are made to the meeting of February 27th, 1890.  Thus, it is probable that annual meetings were held, but the records were destroyed or lost at a later time.




Chapter V

The Union Church Cemetery 1867-1969.


As stated earlier, the first burial took place in July of 1867, before the lot was officially created a cemetery.  The next burials were in April and September of 1869.(28)  There­after, it was used as the community burying ground until the late 1920’s.  The last burial dates are 1924, 1928, and 1930.(29.)  There are fifty-six persons buried there according to the original plan which the author viewed, although seventeen burials are not marked by tombstones.


At a meeting called by the trustees in 1925, the fol­lowing action was taken:

“Trustees to notify those who have friends buried in graveyard to try and come and fix up their grave.”(30.)


It is unknown whether this action produced any improvements.  Because of complete neglect, the cemetery became overgrown with weeds and brush, and many of the tombstones had fallen or were broken.


About 1960, interested persons, mainly from the Rosebank Congregation, placed the tombstones in three straight rows in the south-east corner of the cemetery, leaving many of the actual gravesites unmarked.  However, much of the brushy growth still remained.  About 1962, this brush was uprooted, the cemetery was levelled off and grass was sown.  The whole cemetery lawn is regularly mowed by members of ­the present congregation.  The author helped to implement these latter improvements.


On August 8th, 1969, the present Church Board and trustee board of the Puslinch Community Brethren in Christ Church officially decided “to close the cemetery to further

burials”.(31.)  And thus, the use of the cemetery was ended, permanently.




Chapter VI

Life in the Union Church


As was indicated from the original plans of the brethren who launched the Union Meeting House, some pattern of using the House for services would need to be established. No record of this pattern was available until 1892, when a record of the services held was made from March to December.  The Mennonite Brethren in Christ conducted the services every other Sunday, both morning and evening.  The Tunkers (written “dunkart” by the recorder) were in charge of the services one Sunday per month, as were Old Mennonites. The Old Mennonites conducted only a morning service on their Sundays.


There were only three variations in this pattern of ser­vices.  The Mennonite Brethren in Christ held a Fellowship meeting the first Sunday afternoon in September, and a missionary meeting on a Tuesday evening in December.  The other variation was that the German Baptists (listed as “old dunkarts” by the recorder) held a protracted meeting from Saturday evening, September 9th, until Monday evening, September 18th, with an “evangelist” by the name of Brubbaker.(32.)


Might we safely assume, in light of the pattern indicated in 1892, that this was the pattern practised from 1875 until then?  It would seem to indicate, as do the names in the

original Minute Books, that the financing and construction of the Union Church was mainly supported by the Mennonite Brethren in Christ and thus they had the first preference for appointing their services.  A system of proportional assessment from the four groups, for general expenses, in existence from 1890-1893, stipulated the following amounts:(33)

Mennonite Brethren in Christ


River Brethren


German Baptists


Old Mennonites



This system would also indicate the ascendancy of the Men­nonite Brethren in Christ. The strength and support of this denomination in the Union Church became more evident within a short time.  I will discuss this later.


Did worshipping in the same Meeting House cause any of the four participating denominations to lose their identity?  It does not appear that it did.  Furthermore, they may not have united for worship as the name Union Church might suggest.  This appears to be the case at least with the Tunkers, although I could neither prove nor dis­prove it for the other groups.


All the Tunkers of the Waterloo District (Rosebank and Puslinch) met at the Union Church every fourth Sunday when a Tunker elder or two were responsible for conducting the service.(34.)  This is evident in the 1892 record when the Tunker services at the Union Church were often conducted by Brethren Aaron Hunsperger, Nathan Cassel and Bishop Benjamin Shupe of the Wilmot group.  Brother John Wildfong of the Union group occasionally led the service by himself, but was usually assisted by Brother Aaron Hunsperger.(35.)  The following Sunday, the Tunkers were scheduled to meet in a home in Wilmot Township; the next Sunday they would meet in a home midway between Wilmot and Puslinch, west of Hespeler or near Preston; and on the fourth Sunday, they re­turned to Wilmot for a house meeting.(36.)  Of course, the next Sunday, they used the Union Church.


For the Old Mennonites in the Puslinch area, a pattern of alternating services with other Old Mennonite groups west of Hespeler was also reported to the author.(37.)  Thus,

it appears that the groups maintained their own identities.


In the services, the men and the women sat separately.  The Sunday morning services started at 10:00 a.m. and lasted two hours.  Usually three hymns were lined and sung, the leader using a tuning fork.  Apparently, English was the language used in preaching, as it was in all records that I viewed.  Only one sermon was preached per service.  One preacher in the late 1890’s is reported to have chewed to­bacco while preaching!  No collection or offering was re­ceived in the service; the church expenses were met by private donations. There was a concurrence of opinion that preaching talent in the Puslinch area was not strong whereas the brethren who came from Wilmot had greater oratorical ability.(38.) Baptismal services were conducted in the dam built by Bishop Peter Holm for his saw-mill.(39.)


Only two Lovefeasts can be definitely cited, although it is most probable that there were others previous to 1900, The first was held “in John Wildfong’s barn on the out­skirts of Hespeler,” in 1901.(40.)  The second was a Lovefeast held in the Union Church in 1920, remembered because a sis­ter, formerly of the Union Church, visited some friends in the community while attending the Lovefeast.(41.)


Events of interest, recorded in the 1894 and 1896 Annual Minutes, under the financial report, were collections from “Singing Schools”.  In 1894, the amount was $2.68, and in 1896, $1.86.(42.)  A gentleman from Kitchener is supposed to have taught the singing.(43.)  This may have been Peter Shupe.(43A.)




Chapter VII

Sunday School in the Union Church


The Mennonite Brethren in Christ are reported to have conducted Sunday School in the church on Sunday after­noons about 1890.  Two of the teachers, Elias Pannabecker

and Mrs. Richard Ball, were of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination.(44.)  Other teachers or the duration of this effort could not be recalled.


The conservatism which kept the Wilmot Tunkers from starting Sunday School work until approximately 1912 or 1913, probably also prevailed among the Puslinch Tunkers.  Thus, it is to be suspected that the Tunkers opposed the Sunday School effort by the Mennonite Brethren in Christ in the Union Church.  Anyway, this particular Sunday School work ended.


Official action was taken finally by the Puslinch Tunkers to commence Sunday School on November 16th 1912, at a meeting called at the Union Church.  It was decided to have a “Union” School, as opposed      to a “denominational” School.  This school was scheduled to begin December 1st 1912, at 10:00 a.m., with John D. Wildfong, son of the former Bishop John Wildfong (deceased six months), as the super­intendent.(46.)  This concludes the history of the Sunday School work carried on in the earlier years of the Union Church.




Chapter VIII

Interaction of the Puslinch Tunkers with Tunkers of Other Areas


As has already been indicated, there was considerable interchange among the brethren of the Wilmot and Puslinch groups.  This interchange kept the brethren of this part of the Waterloo District apparently quite united, for Sun­day School was begun at Rosebank close to the same time as at Puslinch.(47.)


George Shupe, who lived in Blenheim Township, was the first Bishop of the Waterloo District.(48.)  He was succeeded by Peter Holm(49.) in 1870, who was probably the Bishop until his death in 1883.(50.)  As was indicated earlier, Peter Holm lived in Puslinch Township.  The third Bishop who was elected was Benjamin Shupe, son of the first Bishop; he was part of the Wilmot group.  The fourth Bishop was John Wildfong of the Puslinch group.  His farm was in Waterloo Township, right next to the Wellington County line.  Wildfong served as Bishop of the District until his death in 1912.(52.)  Thus, the Puslinch group exchanged the honour of providing the leader for the Waterloo District with Rosebank twice, and then passed it on to the third church, Fordwich, for the last resident Bishop, John Reichard.(53.)


The General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church of 1886 was “held at the home of John Wildfong of Waterloo County, Canada, May 19th, 20th, and 21st.(54.)  In the Conference of 1890, Article III, John Wildfong was named to a committee to harmonize various materials on the Lord’s Supper.  The Joint Council for Canada was held in the Union Church, Puslinch, September 11th 1902,(55.) when Wildfong was the Bishop of the Waterloo District.  Thus, the vitality of the Tunkers of the Union Church was evidenced in various ways.


Further interaction was achieved through specific visiting individuals.  On Friday, September 30th 1892, men by the names of Rickart (Reichard?) and Steckly conducted an evening service for the Tunkers.  Could this have been a Lovefeast occasion?  Then on the following Sunday in the evening service, men by the names of Boyer and Hize (Heise?) conducted the service for the Tunkers.(56.)  Brother Noah Zook conducted a revival meeting there in 1901.(57.)  About 1914, there were some revivals conducted there by Bert Sherk, Girven Bearss, and John Nigh.(58.)




Chapter IX

The Decline of the Union Church


On March 2nd 1892, at the Annual Business Meeting, action was taken to establish a building committee for an addition to the church.  The men elected to this committee were Elias Pannabecker, Jacob B. Cober and J. G. Cober.(59.)  This committee appears to be representative of three of the denominations: the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, the German Baptists, and the Tunkers.  Although no further mention or record of this committee or their work can be found, it is likely that the attached woodshed, which contains one small plastered room, is the result of their action.  This action appears to be the last effort in which all four denominations participated.


By studying the Annual Reports of the last decade of the nineteenth century, several trends can be noted.  In 1894, all the assessments on the four groups were propor­tionately reduced, so the total amount was $25.00 instead of $35.00.  In 1896, the assessment system was al­tered again; this time an equal amount of $7.00 was made on each of the four groups, which were listed in this order: River Brethren, German Baptists, Mennonite Brethren in Christ and Old Mennonites.  Up until that year, the third group listed here had been listed first, with the others following in the same order.(60.)  The equalization of the assessments, and the removal of The Mennonite Brethren in Christ from the first place on the last would appear to suggest a waning of their, support and strength in the Union Church arrangement.



The minutes of the 1898 and 1899 Annual Meetings are both very brief, dealing with mere formalities.  To the author, this suggests a loss of vitality of the groups participating in the Union Church.  The 1899 financial record reveals that the Old Mennonites made no contributions that year; furthermore their name does not appear in the minutes of the next recorded meeting, that of 1903, or in any succeeding records.  In 1899, the German Baptists contributed just $2.00, which may be indicative of their strength at the time.  The Mennonite Brethren in Christ contributed $12.00; however, the River Brethren contributed  $14.00, which fact might be used to suggest their ascendancy at the time.          In 1900, the record indicates cash was paid only by the River Brethren, an amount of $13.00.(62.)


An interesting development was taking place in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ group which probably explains the decline in their support of the Union Church.  In 1898, this group conducted a tent campaign in Hespeler, three miles southwest of the Union Church.  Later, a hall was rented above a blacksmith shop in Hespeler.  In 1902, a church was built on Adam Street, and named the Adam Street Mission.(63.)  From 1899 on, it is apparent from the Annual Meeting and financial records that the Mennonite Brethren in Christ ceased participating in the Union Church arrange­ment.(64.)  It is not known exactly when they stopped conducting services there, but the date 1898 is suggested.(65.)  This move seriously affected the life of the Union Church.  In the 1903 records, there are no Mennonite Brethren in Christ names given, the meeting being conducted by River Brethren men. Neither are the Mennonite Brethren in Christ included in the financial record.  Their participation seemed to have completely ended.


In the 1903 records, the two groups assessed are the German Baptists and the River Brethren.  The fact that the German Baptists were assessed for two thirds of the operating expenses may suggest a resurgence in the strength of their group or the following phrase may suggest that they were using the church two Sundays to the River Brethren’s one Sunday: “as long as meetings continuing as at present.”(65A.)   I feel the latter may be more the situation.  What eventually became of these German Baptist Brethren is unknown.


In 1905, the donations made were on a personal basis, and most of the donors were definitely of the River Brethren group.  Incidentally, 1906 was the first year that “Brethren in Christ” is found in any of the records. with reference to the River Brethren, when a donation of $5.00 is re­corded.(66.)  Henceforth, so shall they be called in this paper.


In 1905, 1906, and 1908, the Brethren in Christ had the use of the Union Church every other Sunday.  This is indicated in three small annual “Calendars for the River Brethren Church” in which the services were alternated weekly between the Rosebank and Puslinch groups.  In 1905, services were listed for the morning only, with every third service at Rosebank listed: "Rosebank, a.m., p.h.”  In the 1906 and 1908 Calendars, every third service at Puslinch was listed similarly: “Puslinch, p.h.”(67.)  I have not been able to verify the meaning of the “p.h.”.  However, I would suggest that it may mean “private house” as opposed to “Meeting House”.  This pattern of alternating the services was continued until 1912.(68.)


The somewhat belated introduction of Sunday School in the winter of 1912-13, already related, appears to have sparked some revitalization within the group.  Regular annual meetings were recorded once more, and minor improvements were sanc­tioned in the meetings.  The Brethren in Christ were clear­ly dominant, if not the sole occupiers of the Union Church.(69.)  From 1913 on, services were conducted every Sunday.(70.)




Chapter X

The Closing of the Union Church


Following the commencement of Sunday School, and the election of Nathaniel Wildfong as the resident minister, life continued in the Union Church until at least 1921, for the financial records indicate the reception by the trea­surer of Sunday School collections in December of 1921.(70.)  There was an annual meeting in March of 1922 at which Solomon Cober, who had moved into Hespeler, resigned as trustee. J. D. Wildfong was elected to succeed him.(72.)


The church was reportedly closed soon after Solomon Cober sold his farm and moved to Hespeler.(73.)  Another source suggests the closing had taken place by the fall of 1924.

He identified this with reference to the fact that it had closed prior to Mr. and Mrs. David Cober’s moving to Rose­bank in the spring of 1925 from their home one-quarter mile from the church.(74.)  Thus, it appears that the church closed sometime between January 1922 and the fall of 1924.


In 1925, there was a meeting, to which I have referred, called by the trustees, in an attempt to care for the ceme­tery.  In 1928, there was an amount of $7.00 on hand.  On

May 1st 1928, lumber was procured to make coverings for the windows, and was paid for on Nov. 15th 1928.(75.)


In 1933, Nathaniel Wildfong was the chairman of a meeting “held in the Union Church for business”.  At this time, it was decided to remove parts of the shed, and to use the money for a fence and other repairs.(76.)


Nathaniel Wildfong is listed in the General Conference Directory for Ministers in 1926 and 1927.(76A.)  His name is not in succeeding directories.  However, he had not died by this time, since he chaired a meeting there in 1933.  I was not able to learn the date of his death.


There appears to be no simple answer as to why the Union Church ceased operating when it did, I feel that it was the result of a number of related and inter-related fac­tors. Some of these I will suggest. 


As indicated, the originally strongest element, the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, had withdrawn. 


The German Baptists and Old Mennonites had moved from the area.


The conservatism of Waterloo District leaders caused losses which were never recovered. (It is interesting to note that Rosebank was almost forced to the same plight as the Union Church, and at the same time.)(77.) 


The youth of the congregation married outside the district,(78.) and outside the Brethren in Christ Church, thus depleting the possibility of re­newing the Union Church with young families.


Members of the congregation moved to Hespeler, bought farms in other areas, and some emigrated to Saskatchewan.(79.) 


Nathaniel Wildfong, the resident minister, lacked the aggressiveness of spirit needed to recover this dwindling congregation.(80.) 


Nathaniel Wildfong married a second time and his wife was not part of the church, and influenced him away from the church.(81.) 


Some of the younger leaders of the Sunday School were unstable and backslid.(82.) 


I would like to mention two further aspects which I found with regard to the community in general.


The fact that the original settlers’ descendants gradu­ally moved out is evident in the school records of School Section Number Twelve, Puslinch.  In 1896, eighteen of the forty names on the attendance register had the original German-type names, Cober, Holm, Pannabecker.  In 1905, there were only sixteen on the register, five of whom had one of the names associated with the Union Church.  In 1915, there were twenty-two in the register, with only one original name evident.(83.)  Thus, it appears there was a major shift in the population.


A second factor I found raised a question for me, which I have not been able to answer. A second old church, about three miles north of the Union Church also closed.  A historian of Puslinch Township states that the Howitt Memorial Church “was officially closed in 1929”.  This is a property of the United Church of Canada.(84.)  Why would the only two churches in one community close within six or seven years of one another?




Chapter XI

The Intervening Years


The Trustees left in charge of the Union Church were John H. Chester, J. G. Wildfong and T. Evans.  No record of any actions by them is available., Unfortunately for this history, John H. Chester died this autumn, 1969.  Accurate detail might have been procured from him covering this time-span.


As indicated earlier, the church was boarded up and used only for a few funerals thereafter.(85.)


In the 1940’s, for several years, there were some ser­vices conducted in the Church by a Lutheran minister from Guelph, Ontario.(86.)       These were held on Sunday afternoon,

and were well-attended.(87.)  For some reason this was dis­continued, and the Union Church was left “open”.


The next event to be recorded took place on February 6, 1951 at the home of Walter Holm, grandson of the Reverend Neils P. Holm, one of the earlier ministers at

the Union Church.  Eighteen people attended a meeting there to elect Trustees for the church and cemetery.  Sixteen of these people were direct descendents, or the spouse of one, of some of the former members of the Union Church Community.  The Trustees elected were Walter Holm (Chairman), Alvin Gingrich (Secretary-Treasurer, grandson of the former Deacon, Solomon Gingrich), and J. Herbert Wildfong (grandson of Bishop John Wildfong).  The trustees were to get legal advice on what could be done with the church building.(88.)


This was the last event that arose spontaneously from the community where the Union Church is located.




Chapter XII

Rosebank’s Dead Sister Disturbed


Not quite two months after the election of new trus­tees, the following “Article (10)” was included in the Rose bank Church Council Meeting:


“Supported motion carried that a com­mittee consisting of the two deacons and Elder Ray Sider investigate the possibility of opening a work at the Union Church...”(89.)


This investigation was begun and continued through the year, with visits being made to the community by Irvine Cober and Edgar Hearse (the deacons), their Pastor, Percy W. Cassel, and Elder Ray Sider.(90.)  At the Spring Coun­cil of Rosebank, 1952, it was recommended that the “Pus­linch project be offered to the Home Mission Board”.(91.)  I do not know if it was ever actually offered to this Board, but they did not become involved.


No further action was taken by the Rosebank brethren until the Fall Council Meeting of 1953, when the Puslinch committee was enlarged to five, by adding Donald Albrecht and Kenneth Cassel, to “investigate the feasibility of conducting a summer Bible School..”(92.)

A verbal report was given to the Council of May 10th 1954.(93.)




Chapter XIII

 Rosebank’s Disturbed Sister Raised.


The committee did decide to have a Summer Bible School for one week, August 2-8, 1954. “It was a very encouraging work from the start and, as a result, a Sun­day School has been started and is still going ahead...”(94.)  This was part of the report given to the Council of January 7th 1955.  The Bible School Enrolment was 47, and the average attendance was 45. The teachers were Mrs. Irene Albrecht, Mrs. Ruth Heise, Donald Albrecht and Wayne Cassel.(95.)  The author attended that Bible School, and subsequently the Sunday School.


Since the Union Church had been left unboarded from its last use (?), it had fallen into a bad condition.  The Reverend Percy W. Cassel, the Rosebank pastor, said that there was not a full pane of glass anywhere, that they shingled the north half of the roof, that they removed the debris (glass, stone, dirt, etc.) with shovels, and that they painted the interior of the church.  The window sashes also had to be rebuilt.(96.)


At the Rosebank Council on November 24th 1955, it was decided “that the Committee go ahead with the transfer of the deed for the Puslinch property”.(97.)  The Trustees who had freely granted use of the Union Church in the beginning “offered to turn over the deed and the property without cost and in return we were to maintain the small cemetery”.(98.)  The new Trustees were Irvine Cober, Edgar Heise and Ray Sider.(99.)


The Rosebank workers continued to hold Sunday School each Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m.  Also, each summer a Bible School was conducted.  The Sunday School Superintendent and most outstanding leader was Edgar W. Heise (deceased August 1968). Percy W. Cassel stated that “In my judgment Edgar Heise should receive at least 95% of the credit due, for his tireless, sacrificial and continuous effort”.(100.)  The work at Puslinch was reported on periodically in the Rosebank Councils.




Chapter XIV

Rosebank’s Risen Sister Grows


By the Spring Council of 1957, a board for Puslinch consisted of the Reverend James Sider, Rosebank’s new pastor, Edgar Heise, Irvine Cober, Alvin Cober and Donald Albrecht. At the same meeting, Pastor Sider reported on some evangelistic meetings he held at Puslinch.(101.)  At the Council of March 28th 1958, Pastor Sider reported making eight house calls at Puslinch.  The same report stated the Sunday School enrolment was 38, and the average attendance was 32.  The Union Church was wired for electricity by the time of this Council Meeting, at a cost of $142.26.  The total receipts reported that year were $479.87.  Expenses were $464.24.(102.)


On December 1st 1958, at a joint meeting of the Rose­bank and Puslinch Boards, it was decided to begin holding Sunday School at 10:30 a. m. in January of 1959, and that “Puslinch shall be an auxiliary church to Rosebank”.(103.)


At the Fall Council of Rosebank, December 1st 1958, the following trustees for Puslinch were appointed: Irvine Cober, 1959; Edgar Heise, 1960; and Lloyd Hogg, 1961.  The Puslinch Board was thence to be composed of the three trustees and two members: Kenneth Cassel, 1959; and Wayne H. Schiedel, 1960.(104.) 


This is the first official mention of Wayne Schiedel, who, with his family, came to play such an important role at Puslinch, in the coming years.  He and his wife, Ruth, had moved from Stevensville to Breslau, where they were teaching school.  Edgar Heise and Lloyd Hogg interested them in atten­ding Puslinch, although Wayne had been at the Puslinch Sun­day School in the early fifties with Wayne Cassel.(105.)  He began a short preaching service from 11:30 - 12:00, following Sunday School, in January, 1959.


The Rosebank Fall Council of 1958 approved the purchase of a furnace for the Puslinch church at a cost of $750.00, of which $600.00 was to be donated by Rosebank, with Puslinch to raise another $200.00.(106.)  This was properly installed immediately and was a great improvement over the two space oil-burners.


In the Rosebank Spring Council, 1959, the 1958 enrol­ment at Puslinch was 44, with an average attendance of 38.  The Superintendent was Edgar Heise; the teacher and alternate teachers were Mrs. Willa Albrecht and Mrs. Ruth Heise; Elaine Cassel, Joyce Cober and Alex McKittrick; Lloyd Hogg and Ronald J. Sider; and Alvin Cober and Irvine Cober. There were four classes for the Sunday School.(107.)


The Daily Vacation Bible School of 1959 was a large success.  The enrolment was 140, with an average attendance of 130.  The total income for Puslinch for the year 1959 was $998.64, with expenditures of $731.91.   It was recommended that Wayne H. Schiedel serve as Pastor at Puslinch for the coming year of 1960.  The two church boards were combined as of that council; these boards jointly recommended:

“that, in the best interests of the work there, the earlier a separate organization can be effected the better for the pro­gress of the work, but that that organization be deferred for one year...”


This council also suggested the commencing of a week-night youth program on alternate weeks.(108.)  This program was initiated by Lloyd Hogg.  The year 1959 appears to have been a year of many advances in the Puslinch Sunday School.


During 1960, action was taken to make physical improve­ments on the building, such as new doors and painting the exterior.  In May of 1960, a week of evangelistic services

was held.(109.)  Lloyd Hogg moved from the area in July of 1960, and Mr. and Mrs. Paul Schiedel, brother of the Pastor, moved in to assist in the work.  The Wilbert Cober family of Rosebank attended regularly, and were actively engaged in the Sunday School work.


In January of 1961, an evening service every fourth Sunday was instituted.  At the same time; it was to be noted that two youth of the Puslinch community were involved in the Sunday School organization, Gordon Burmaster Jr., and the author.  As well, Mr. Alex McKittrick, a member of the local community, was also teaching Sunday School.  That year, the desire for an organ at Puslinch was expressed.(110.)


At a meeting of the joint Rosebank and Puslinch boards, at which Bishop E. J. Swalm was present, in July of 1961, it was decided to publicly ask if there were those at Rosebank who would attend Puslinch regularly, and become charter members of the new organization.(111.)


At a meeting of the joint Board on December 28th 1961, it was decided to effect an organization at the Puslinch Church, to be instituted February 18th, 1962.(112.)




Chapter XV    

Rosebank’s Growing Sister Stands Alone


Thus, on February 18th 1962, in a morning service con­ducted by Bishop E. J. Swalm, a new congregation of the Canadian Conference was born, worshipping in a building which has a very unique history.  There were four members trans­ferred in from Rosebank, and seven members from the commu­nity were received on confession of their faith in Christ. The author was one of these seven.  Over these last almost eight years, a total of thirty-seven people have or have had their membership there.  The membership now stands at nineteen.(113.)


The members of the first Puslinch Church Board were Pastor Wayne Schiedel, Paul Schiedel (elected Deacon), Edgar Heise, Gordon Burmaster Sr., Alex McKittrick and the author.  The trustees at the time were Alvin Cober, Kenneth Cassel, and Edgar Heise.  The inaugural Council Meeting was conducted on March 25th 1962, by E. J. Swalm.  On September 2nd 1962, at a near by pond, E. J. Swalm baptized eight candidates, and that evening conducted the first Communion Service to be held in the former Union Church for about forty-two years.  The first full Lovefeast was conducted August 31, 1963.(114.)




Chapter XVI

The Puslinch Community Brethren in Christ Church


 Pastor Schiedel moved into a house he built in the com­munity in August of 1961.  This opened the possibility of closer contact with the community.  He served the Puslinch

congregation a total of nine years, without financial sup­port, except during the last year, when he received a small car allowance.  Walter Kelly, a student at Emmanuel Bible College, Kitchener, Ontario, was installed as Pastor on October 2nd 1967.  Bert Ray Sider is presently serving as Pastor.  He was installed on September 28th 1969, and is also a student at Emmanuel Bible College.  Pastor Kelly received, and Pastor Sider is receiving, much greater financial support from the congregation.


On December 28th 1964, a Hallman Reed Organ was installed in the church.  This large instrument replaced an electri­fied older type of pump organ purchased in March of 1963.  Since January of 1969, a piano is also in use in the church.(115.)


Although the walls were painted instead of whitewashed,(116.) few other renovations were made to the building while it was operated by Rosebank.  In the fall of 1962, the interior of the church was painted and a tile floor was laid.  Later, some of the original benches were altered so that there is a centre aisle rather than two side aisles.  In the autumn of 1967, the walls and ceiling were insulated and re-covered so that the church has an attractive modern interior.(117.)


A desire for more room for the Christian Education pro­gram led to the establishment of a Building Fund in 1963.  This fund has shown healthy growth, but no project has as yet been undertaken.


The 1962 budget was set for $1,700; by 1968, it had climbed to $6492.00.  The actual income in 1962 was $1,714.16 and it had climbed to a peak of $4, 347.55 in 1966.  The 1967 in­come was slightly lower than this.


The ministry of the Sunday School to the community has been directed greatly to children and young people.  This has made for rather slow progress in building a strong church in the community.  The last two years have seen some reversal of this trend, as several community couples with their chil­dren are attending.  The Sunday School has never been large, the average attendance for 1967 being 39.(118.)  In July of 1968, the Church Board changed the time of the Sunday School from 10:30 to 10:00 a.m., thus providing a full hour for the worship service.


The congregation has revealed an innovative spirit re­cently, perhaps due to the youthfulness of the leaders.

(1) Sunday School picnics in 1968 and 1969 were held on Sunday afternoon, with an increased attendance.

(2) In 1969, be­cause of limited space, (the local school no longer being available), there was a registration fee of $1.00 per pupil for Daily Vacation Bible School.  This caused a smaller but more effective school.

(3) Feet washing and the holy kiss have been deleted from communion services

in March of 1968 and November of 1969.(120.)




Since the present and last pastors were students while in service at the Puslinch congregation they have brought fresh and inspiring ideas with them from their current training.  They have also influenced fellow students at Emmanuel Bible College to aid in the Christian Education program there, although these students are limited in the extent of their involvement in the local community. Thus, the Puslinch church has become somewhat of a “college church”, which may have the detrimental side-effect of providing a ready source of short-term pastors.


Apart from some brief internal problems during 1965 and 1966, the growing pains of a congregation, marks of im­maturity on the parts of leaders and people--the congre­gation’ s progress .. . . is ... rather solid.(121.)


The congregation faces a future of opportunity as Guelph expands towards the locale of the Puslinch Church.  It is the author’s projection that a positive future is dependent on the extent to which the members become an inte­gral part of the community in which is located the Puslinch Community Brethren In Christ Church.




Chapter XVII



I have realized more and more that a history of the Puslinch Church is really the history of two congregations.  However, since both congregations have used the same building, I have decided to present the story as a whole.  May the former Union Meeting House, now operated as the Puslinch Community Brethren In Christ Church, never again face the prospect of “dying”, as it once did.













Jan. 5th


May 3rd


Sept. 6th


Jan. 12th


May 10th


Sept. 13th


Jan. 19th

Puslinch p.h.

May 17th


Sept. 20th


Jan. 26th


May 24th

Puslinch p.h.

Sept. 27th

Puslinch p.h.

Feb. 2nd


May 31st


Oct. 4th


Feb. 9th


June 7th


Oct. 11th


Feb. 16th


June 14th


Oct. 18th


Feb. 23rd


June 21st


Oct. 25th


Mar. 1st

Puslinch p.h.

June 28th


Nov. 1st


Mar. 8th


July 5th

Puslinch p.h.

Nov. 8th

Puslinch p.h.

Mar. 15th


July 12th


Nov. 15th


Mar. 22nd


July 19th


Nov. 22nd


Mar. 29th


July 26th


Nov. 29th


Apr. 5th


Aug. 2nd


Dec. 6th


Apr. 12th

Puslinch p.h.

Aug. 7th


Dec. 13th


Apr. 19th


Aug. 16th

Puslinch p.h.

Dec. 20th

Puslinch p.h.

Apr. 26th


Aug. 23rd


Dec. 27th




Aug. 30th




* The author suggests that “p.h.” may indicate “private home”.













Alvin Alonzo Cober, The Cober Genealogy Pg. 20.


Ibid. Pg. 22.


Ibid. Pg. 22.


Registry Office, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.




Op. cit., The Cober Genealogy. Pg. 23.


Registry Office, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


Op. cit., The Cober Genealogy. Pg. 34.


Registry Office, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


E. Morris Sider, History of the Brethren in Christ (Tunker) Church in Canada, pg. 83.


Op. cit., Registry Office.




Union Church, Original Record Books.


Ibid. Jan. 10th 1868.




Ibid. Mar. 19th 1868.


Op. cit., Registry Office. Original Deed.




Op. cit., original Record Books. Mar. 19th 1868.


Op. cit., The Cober Genealogy, Pg. 145.


Ibid.  Pg. 34.


Ibid. Pg. 74.


Op. cit., Original Record Books.


Ibid. Jan. 14th 1874.


Ibid. Jan. 23rd 1874.


  Ibid. Committee, Jan. 26th 1874.


Ibid. Financial Records, 1874.








Op. cit., Original Record Books. 1925.


Puslinch Community Brethren in Christ Church Board Minutes. Aug. 8th 1969.


Op. cit., Original Record Books. 1892.


  Ibid. Financial Records.


Aden Eby, Personal interview, November 8th 1969.


Op. cit., Original Record Books. 1892.


Op. cit., Aden Eby.


David Panabaker, Personal interview, November 8th 1969.


Ibid. Also: Mrs. Bertha Brown, Personal interview, Nov. 8th 1969.


Opt cit., David Panabaker: All detail on the services.


Ernst J. Swalm, My Beloved Brethren, pg. 47.


  Op. cit., Mrs. Bertha Brown.


  Op. cit., Original Record Books.


J. Herbert Wildfong, Personal Telephone Conversation, November 8th 1969.


Op. cit., Aden Eby.


Op. cit., Mrs. Bertha Brown.­


Ernest J. Swalm, My Beloved Brethren. Pg. 48.


Op. cit., Original Record Books. Nov. 16th 1912.


Irvine Cober, Personal interview, Nov. 8th 1969.


Op. cit., History of the Brethren in Christ (Tunker) Church in Canada. Pg. 81.


Ibid. Pg. 82.


George Cober, A Historical Sketch of the Brethren in Christ Church, known as Tunkers, in Canada. (pamphlet).


Op. cit., E. Morris Sider. Pg. 82.


Op. cit., Swalm, My Beloved Brethren. Pg. 47.


Ibid. Pg. 47.


Minutes of the General Conference of the Brethren In Christ Church, 1886.


Tunker Church Minutes, Pg. 10.


0p. cit., Original Record Books.


Mrs. Catherine Winger, Personal Letter, Nov. 1969.


0p. cit., J. Herbert Wildfong.


Op. cit., Original Record Books.








A. F. Good, Personal letter, Nov. 20th 1969.


Op. cit., Original Record Books.


Op. cit.,  A. F. Good.


Op. cit.; Original Record Books.




Calendars for the River Brethren Church, 1905, 1906, 1908.


Op. cit., J. Herbert Wildfong.


  Op. cit., Original Record Books.


Op. cit., J. Herbert Wildfong.


Op. cit., Original Record Books.




Op. cit., J. Herbert Wildfong.


Op. cit., Irvine Cober.


Op. cit., Original Record Books.




General Conference Minutes, 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1929.


Op. cit., Swalm, My Beloved Brethren. Pgs. 48, 49.


Ernest J. Swalm, Personal letter, November, 1969.


Op. cit., A. Cober, The Cober Genealogy. Pg. 147.


Op. cit., Irvine Cober.






S. S. # 12 Puslinch School Records (at Aberfoyle School).


Annals of Puslinch 1850-1950.


Op. cit., Aden Eby.


Op. cit., Aden Eby, Irvine Cober and Mrs. Bertha Brown.


Op. cit., Mrs. Bertha Brown.


Minutes of said meeting, recorded by Aden Eby. 


  Rosebank Council Minutes, April 3rd 1951.


0p cit., Irvine Cober.


Op. cit., Rosebank Council, April 17th 1952.


Ibid. December 18th 1953.


Ibid. May 10th 1954.


Ibid. January 7th 1955.


Ibid. January 7th 1955.


P. W. Cassel, Personal Letter, November 1969.


Op. cit., Rosebank Council, November 24th 1955.


Op. cit., P. W. Cassel.


Op. cit., Irvine Cober.


0p. cit., P. W. Cassel.


Op. cit., Rosebank Council Spring, 1957.


Op. cit., Rosebank Council, March 28th 1958.


Rosebank-Puslinch Joint Board, December 1st 1958.


  Op. cit., Rosebank Council, December of 1958.


Wayne H. Schiedel, Personal Interview, Nov. 9th 1969.


Op. cit., Rosebank Council, December 1958.


Ibid. March 4th 1959.


Ibid. December 15th 1959.


Ibid. Mar. 31st 1960.


Rosebank Church Board Records, Jan. 5th 1961.


Ibid. July 31st 1961.


Ibid. Dec. 28th 1961.


Puslinch Church Board Records.






Op. cit., Original Record Books.


Op. cit., Puslinch Church Board Records.


General Conference minutes, 1967.


Op. cit., Puslinch Church Board Records, July 9th 1968.















Annals of Puslinch 1850-1950. Acton, Ontario: Acton Free Press, 1952.


Brethren’s Almanac and Directory, 1898: United States and Canada. Elkhart, Indiana: Mennonite Publishing Company, 1898.


Brown, Mrs. Bertha. Personal interview, Nov. 8th 1969.


Calendars for the River Brethren Church. 1905, 1906, 1908.


Cassel, Percy W. Personal letter, Nov. 23rd 1969.


Cober, Alvin Alonzo. The Cober Genealogy. Berlin, Pa.: The Berlin Press,, 1933.


Cober, George. A Historical Sketch of the Brethren in Christ Church, known as Tunkers in Canada. Gormley, Ontario. No publisher or date.


Cober, Irvine. Personal interview, Nov. 8th 1969.


Directory of the Brethren in Christ - U.S. and Canada. West Milton, Ohio: West Milton Argus Print, 1880.


Directory of the Church of the Brethren in Christ, 1899.


Directory of the Members and Officials of the Brethren in Christ Church, 1903. Harrisburg, PA.: Central Printing and Publishing House, 1903.


Eby, Aden. Personal interview, Nov. 8th 1969.


General Conference Minutes. 1925-1930; 1962-1968.


Good, A. F. Personal letter, Nov. 20th 1969.


McKittrick, Alex. Personal interview; Nov. 8th 1969.


Panabaker, David. Personal interview, Nov. 8th 1969.


Puslinch Church Board Minutes. 1962-1969.


Puslinch Council Minutes. 1962-1969.


Registry Office, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Original Deed.


Rosebank Church Board Minutes. 1950-1962.


Rosebank Council Minutes, 1951-1962.


Schiedel, Wayne H, Personal interview, Nov. 9th 1969. (Cur­rently has possession of the Original Record Books.)


School Section #12 Puslinch, School Records, 1896-1933.


Sider, E. Morris. History of the Brethren in Christ (Tunker) Church in Canada. London, Ontario: University of Western Ontario, 1955.


Swalm, Ernest J. My Beloved Brethren. Napanee, Indiana: Evangel Press, 1969.


Swalm, Ernest J. Personal letter, Nov. 4th 1969.


Tunker Church Minutes ( A bound volume in the archives at Messiah College)


Union Church Annual Meeting and Trustee Board Minutes, 1868-1951.


Waterloo District Council Minutes, 1950-1957.


Wildfong, J. Herbert. Telephone conversation, Nov. 8th 1969.


Winger, Mrs. Catharine. Personal letter, Nov. 10th 1969.





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