CELEBRATING 125 YEARS Grace UCC plants seeds to help community prosper
By Marieke Andronache
Special to The Press
“This church has been planting seeds for 125 years,” The Rev. Carol Bastin told her congregation on Sept. 11. “We have yet to see all the results of this.” This special service marked the 125th anniversary of Grace United Church of Christ, on the south side of Allentown.
Those seeds, referred to by Bastin, are a source of pride.
First, they represent the multigenerational ties families have to Grace United Church of Christ.
Second, as both the community and its families grow, the lessons and values of the church can be felt not only throughout the Lehigh Valley, but also across Pennsylvania, remarked Bastin.
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk spoke with The Press before the ceremony.
“This church represents the power of small grass-root changes,” Tuerk said. “For 125 years, this church has been a constant in people’s lives, playing an important role in the building of the community, and the City of Allentown as a whole.”
One of the reasons for the close-knit congregation, which many describe as a second family, is attributed to lessons preached by the late Rev. C. Harry Kehm.
For nearly 58 years, Kehm led Grace UCC.
For older parishioners, including Charlotte Miller, Kehm holds a special place in her heart.
Years ago, when her son was 4-and-a-half, he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor.
Kehm made sure Miller and her family never felt alone, ensuring members of the congregation could help them in any way they could.
Miller’s son survived the cancer and, to this day, she is brought to tears when explaining how crucial that support was.
“It’s being part of a second family,” she told The Press on the important tight-knit community she attributes Kehm.
The church’s roots go back to 1869 as the Salisbury Mission Sunday School.
On July 9, 1897, some 49 people became members of the Grace Reformed Church of South Allentown.
In 1956, the congregation purchased a house at 626 Cleveland Street.
Over the years, renovations would take place, allowing room for Sunday School and social events.
The neighboring property would eventually be purchased and become an office.
In 1988, the church decided to do something special to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Kehm’s pastorate.
The Helen E. Kehm and the Rev. C. Harry Kehm Scholarship Fund was established.
The first recipient was Lynn E. Miller (now Keisel).
Keisel told The Press how “extremely humbled” she remains about receiving the scholarship.
She used the funds to go to school and become a teacher.
Keisel has spent the last 30 years teaching at Owen J. Roberts High School, in Chestnut County, as a special-educator.
“I love the fact that people who moved away have stayed faithful to the church and came today to celebrate it,” Keisel said. “This is such an open and accepting church. Everyone knows that.”
One of those who traveled from out of town for the celebration was David Inscho.
He is the grandson of the Rev. Kehm.
He was visibly moved by those who remembered the teachings of his grandfather.
“Today, I’m very proud and grateful to the people of the community,” Inscho said.
“It gives me great pride to know that today’s families are still helping each other out, just like they were decades ago when my grandfather was here.”