The first Lutheran service in Hatfield was held in Knipe’s Hall on October 8, 1899, with Pastor Kuehner leading worship. Under the leadership of the Rev. Preston A. Behler “Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hatfield, Pa,” was organized on May 12 1904, with 32 charter members. Within three weeks a lot was secured and on October 2nd of the same year the cornerstone was laid for Hatfield’s first Lutheran Church. In the summer of 1905 the first services were held in the new building and it was dedicated on August 27th of that year. The total cost of the new church and lot was $6200. On April 27, 1915 a lot on the north side of town was purchased and became the Hatfield Cemetery; it is 5 acres and 75 perches.
Multiple shared pastors served the congregation for several years until Grace Church became self-sustaining when Rev. William A. Fluck of Reading, PA was called to become their first full time Pastor on July 1, 1946.
In June of 1954, ground was broken for an addition to the church to provide Sunday Church School rooms with social facilities in the basement. In 1962, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church became a member of the Lutheran Church of America and also “burned the mortgage” on their new addition.
In 1970 Mrs. Rachael Long was hired to organize and direct a Nursery School program for children ages three to five. The program began with a total of eighteen children. In 1980, a daycare program was added to serve school age children before and after school. Shortly thereafter the day care was expanded to year round and to include pre-school children as well. It is still operating today as Stepping Stones Day Care and Nursery School and has provided a warm, caring atmosphere of learning for thousands of children from Hatfield and the surrounding communities.
In 1988, the Laymen Playmen staged their first production, “Our Town,” at Grace church. This was the first of the annual productions by the Laymen Playmen. The Hatfield Pastor’s fund benefits from the February performances provided by community volunteers.
In April of 1989 work began on a new sanctuary which was completed and dedicated on April 22, 1990. The original building underwent extensive renovation and was used as the educational building and was home to various community groups.
In the early morning hours of December 31, 2011, fire destroyed the original 1904 church building and its 1954 addition. This building housed Stepping Stones and Sunday School and hosted The Laymen Playmen productions. At this time, we were still in the transition process, with the Call Committee having just started to interview candidates.
Stepping Stones stayed open by initially operating in the Church narthex and sanctuary, but quickly moved to Plains Mennonite Church. This space was far from optimal and the Stepping Stones team immediately began looking for alternate space. Adult Sunday School moved to the adjacent Wagner House, which had just been renovated after the previous tenants moved out. The rest of Sunday School took place in one end of the sanctuary.
Laymen Playmen moved their production to Lansdale United Methodist Church where they continue to hold their yearly production. Meanwhile, the Call Committee informed the candidates of the fire so that they could reconsider whether they felt suited to lead Grace at this time.
In April 2012, we held a Service of Remembrance for the church building, with participation by the Hatfield community.
In May 2012, Pr. Darryl Nelson completed his time as interim pastor in order to take a long planned bicycle trip along the Mississippi River. Also that month, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed St. Maria Goretti Elementary School. We were able to negotiate a very favorable lease so that Stepping Stones could move into the vacated school building in time for the Fall school year. In June 2012, Pastor Timothy Taylor was called to be the Pastor at Grace and started immediately.
By August we reached a settlement with our insurance company, after finally convincing them that the building was totally destroyed and we could not rebuild it as it was. By the end of the year, the asbestos was removed from the old building so that demolition could occur in early 2013, nearly 14 months after the fire.
Pr. Taylor had barely begun his service when he needed surgery that required him to take sick leave. After attempting to return, he resigned in January 2013 to go on disability leave. Pr. John Berntsen began as bridge pastor. Also that month, the Stepping Stones director resigned and Glenda Wismer was hired as new director.
In July 2013, the new building project got going with the hiring of GKO Architects. Throughout the summer and fall, the Building Committee held multiple meetings with the Congregation to present plans and gain approval at every step along the way. In October the Congregation approved the master plan for new building. In September, Ken Delmar was hired as Minister of Music. Meanwhile the Call Committee had reconvened and in October 2013, Pastor David Lutcher began his call.
A Capital Campaign Committee was formed for the building project. In December they brought in Kirby-Smith to conduct a feasibility study for a capital campaign. While this study revealed some dissent as to what we needed to build and why, it also showed there was an overwhelming desire to expand the project to include renovations to the sanctuary. We set a goal for the Capital Campaign to raise $250,000 and ultimately exceeded $300,000.
Finally in August 2015, we held the ceremonial groundbreaking and construction began in earnest in September.
The last service in the existing building was June 19, 2016. The Church Offices moved to the Wagner House. Worship services were then held in the chapel of the Lutheran Community at Telford. On Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2016, worship returned to our own building, in the newly completed Fellowship Hall. Offices returned to the renovated office space. On Sunday, December 18, 2016, we held our first worship service in the renovated sanctuary. On January 10, 2017, Stepping Stones returned home. On February 26, 2017, we held the celebratory service of the formal dedication of the new building, just over 5 years from when the fire destroyed the old building.
Throughout all this time the ministries of Grace continued unabated. Grace members are an integral part of the Hatfield Community Christian Coalition (H3C). Together, H3C conducts major drives to give backpacks to preschool children, winter coats for Hatfield children, and Christmas gifts for needy families.
Grace members, through H3C and the congregation’s INReach and OUTReach teams, conduct a wide variety of projects to serve the members of the Hatfield communities.
- Collect and distribute new winter coats for children of the local food cupboard clients.
- Our Christmas project is “Adopt-A-Family.” For over 15 years, Grace has been providing Christmas gifts for three families or 9-10 children each year.
- Also at Christmas, Angel Boxes include non-perishables for low income families. We have done this for several years. We also support 65-70 families in a local elementary school with a box for each family.
- Support Mitzvah Circle Foundation with Books for Babies. We collect books to promote literacy in low income families. Members also volunteer time to help with sorting and packing of clothes at Mitzvah.
- Continue to supply personal items for residents of Laurel House.
- Cookies, cards, and seasonal gift bags for our homebound members, through WELCA.
- Support World Hunger, the Food Cupboard in Hatfield and Manna on Main Street in Lansdale.
- Participation in the CROP walk.
- Grateful Grace began in 2012 to help churches who have experienced a catastrophic event similar to our Grace 2011 experience.
Other new programs and events started in recent years include:
- Stitchers hold monthly meetings, as well as larger Stitch-Ins twice a year.
- Training and ongoing support for lay visitors, some also offering Communion.
- The Welcome Center, located in the Wagner House, is now open as needed. Equipped with a generator, it’s available to the community and to church members during extended power outages.
- Summer Picnics, 3-4 each summer on Wednesday evenings.
Through our HEART team:
- Christmas snacks and crafts for the annual Borough tree lighting on the first Saturday in December.
- An annual Easter Egg Hunt.
- Confirmation Class.
- Sunday School meets weekly during the school year. The Kid Connection Curriculum from Faith Alive supports a large group game/lesson format followed by small groups organized by age (K-2nd, 3rd – 5th, 6th – 12th) led by small group leaders to reinforce learning.
- Ministry Fair Breakfast.
- Shared services with the churches of Hatfield (Lent) and the Indian Valley Cluster, ELCA (Epiphany, Ascension).
- Family Game Night.
In August 2018, longtime Administrative Assistant Patti Kennedy retired. Kathie Afflerbach was hired in September 2018 to replace her. She served until November 2019. Kevin Freaney served in the position temporarily for a few months. Lynn Fasick was hired in the spring of 2021 and continues to oversee the office and manage all our print publications.
In January 2019, Pr. Lutcher announced his retirement from full-time ministry. Pr. Janet Peterman began her time with us on February 18, 2019 as the Interim Pastor to lead us through the transition process.
In February of 2019, Glenda Wismer announced her retirement from Stepping Stones. Jessica Moran was hired as the Interim Stepping Stones Director in March 2019 and became the permanent director in May 2019.
Ken Delmar, Minister of Music, resigned in July 2019. Stepping Stones added infant day care at the end of the summer in 2019.
In September 2019, Kevin Freaney was hired on an interim basis for the position of Minister of Music. On January 1, 2020, Kevin was hired as our regular Minister of Music at a half-time salary.
And then there was COVID …
On March 13, 2020, Stepping Stones began its COVID closure. Beginning March 16, 2020 there were no in-person worship services or meetings. Sunday Services were available on YouTube. We all learned Zoom.
Sunday School was able to continue meeting virtually during the Spring of 2020. Zoom lent itself well to the format of Sunday School already in place. Our teaching staff led large group discussions including Highs and Lows to check in with students regarding their feelings and concerns about the pandemic. Then students and small group leaders were sent to “breakout rooms” for further discussion and instruction.
During the month of May 2020, Stepping Stones received funds from the CARES Act and teachers began working from home to prepare for the reopening of the center. On June 8, 2020, Stepping Stones was able to reopen and provide day care services for children.
We missed only two weeks of worship. While Grace had never had an online worship presence prior to Covid, the congregation had been recording the services, sound only, for its homebound members. It took just 2 weeks and a small core of “Mighty Grace” volunteers to reimagine how to bring worship online. Grace opted to pre-record, posting its worship services on YouTube and its website – many of the older members of Grace do not use Facebook, and this method provided great visual and sound quality right from the start. Some Sundays there were more people viewing online that the congregation had in person for some time. Services were posted on Saturday at noon for viewing when convenient.
Finally, Grace began in-person services again on Sunday, July 5th. Worship was held outdoors, weather permitting. Recordings continued for those who felt safer at home, being posted online the following Wednesday. The first experience of Holy Communion in person was held on Sunday, August 30th, with bread only. Gatherings have now resumed in person. Through the pandemic Council continued to meet on Zoom, often every other week.
In spring 2020 Grace became involved in Bread Drop, a ministry collecting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to distribute to those in need launched by Grace member Lou Farrell. Grace was the first site to start making and gathering sandwiches, and continues to be central to the program, often providing 800 or more sandwiches each week. Since its beginning in early April, Bread Drop has grown and there are now dozens of churches and organizations, as well as other unaffiliated community members, providing food, with many helpers and multiple distribution sites. Altogether we have been routinely supplying more than 2,000 sandwiches per week. This ministry continues to grow in both volunteers and in the number of hungry brothers and sisters being fed and to whom we are now connected by peanut butter and jelly. We have also learned that when life is difficult, it is wonderful to have something important to do, that in feeding, we are also fed.
September 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Stepping Stones caring for young children in the Hatfield community. The Stepping Stones Committee and Grace celebrated this milestone throughout the year.
After Rev. Janet Peterman served for two years as interim pastor, in May, 2021 the congregation voted unanimously to call Rev. Nancy Raabe as its new pastor. Her first Sunday was July 11, 2021.
As Grace enters the new year of 2023, the membership continues to grow, our ministries are active and vibrant, and new life lies around every corner. Join us in worship or at any of our community events!