HistorySt. Gabriel's church, founded in the year 1720 by the Swedish Lutherans, is the oldest congregation in Berks County. Located in Douglassville, Pennsylvania, formerly known as Morlatton, services were first held in 1708 by the Reverend Andrew Sandel. When the Swedes could no longer secure a supply of ministers from their own country, they decided to enter into full communion and fellowship with the Anglican Church rather than keep up a separate organization. This they accordingly did and were henceforth provided with priests of the Church of England.
Except for the years 1752-1755 when John A. Lidenius was resident here, no priest was available to serve the congregation full time. (The oldest records present at St. Gabriel's were kept by this pastor.) Because of the distance from Wicaco (present day Gloria Dei Church in Philadelphia), it was difficult for priests to visit the congregation on a regular basis and the church was often supplied by the German Lutheran Pastor, Henry Melchior Mulhenberg, from Trappe, Pennsylvania.
For some years there was no other English service held within a circuit of eight miles except for the meetings of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Exeter and Pottstown. Hence, English-speaking people from neighboring places and the surrounding country attended divine service at Morlatton. Worshippers and attendants came from the townships of Amity, Exeter, Robeson, and Union. By the 1760's the congregation listed 17 households with 45 members, only 27 of who could understand Swedish.
| In 1762, Rev. Doctor Alexander Murray, a missionary of the venerable society "for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts" (which society is connected with the Church of England and is the oldest missionary body in the Protestant World), began his ministry at St. Gabriel's. Dr. Murray stabilized the congregation and assured those who wanted Swedish services that the Pastors of Gloria Dei could still serve them when available. During the Revolution, however, his usefulness was much impaired because of his supposed sympathy with the British Government. He petitioned the Executive Council of the State for permission to retire to Britain during the war. He returned home upon the approval of his petition.
He returned in 1790, after the war, and brought with him from England a small but valuable library of theological works as a gift from the Propagation Society to the Church for use by the minister. Each book had an engraving of the Society's seal on the inside cover. He died of yellow fever in 1793. Dr. Murray's services were of great importance to the Church, as is witnessed by the many entries of baptisms, marriages, and burials carefully recorded in the Register.
St. Gabriel's Church was one of the eight founding parishes for the Diocese of Pennsylvania. It had deputies at the convention that elected Dr. William White to be the first Bishop of Pennsylvania and it helped to form the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
The ancient Swedish church, which stood near the east center of the cemetery, was build of logs hewn from the neighboring woods in 1736. It contained an iron stove and seating for 120 people. It continued in use as a house of prayer for 65 years until 1801 when a new stone edifice was erected, which is known today as St. Gabriel's 1801 Chapel. The old log church continued to serve as a school until the winter of 1831-1832 when it was destroyed by fire.
|The 1801 Chapel was constructed with a severely plain style, which prevailed in the rural church architecture of the period. Noted features of the building were an arched ceiling, galleries on three sides, reached by two stairways converging to the main entrance way; windows above and below the galleries, and high backed pew boxes, furnished with doors, and capped with cornices at the height of the adult occupant's shoulders. The most conspicuous object was the wineglass shaped pulpit, surmounted by a sounding board, from which the minister with his elevated position could look at close range into the faces of every one of his listeners. At the foot of the pulpit and facing the congregation was the reading desk. Originally, and for many years, there was no robing room, but later a small closet, at the side of the stairs leading to the pulpit served that purpose for the accommodations of a single clergyman. The building was heated by a wood burning stove. The general appearance was quaint and striking, and casual visitors were impressed with it.|
|During the rectorship of the Rev. John Long a new church edifice was erected upon ground donated by Mr. M.H. Messchert. The first notation of the new church was in the minutes from March 23, 1880 "plans for new church and grounds - the building to be sixty-two feet in length and thirty-eight feet in width - employment of Mr. Fink as architect - for forty-eight dollars cash." A large part of the means to build the church was from a generous donation by Mr. John H. Krause of Philadelphia whose family were members of the Parish. The total was about twenty-one thousand dollars. The original plans did not include a tower or bell. However, Mr. Krause insisted that "to look like a church, both were necessary", and both were then added.|
| The cornerstone of this edifice was laid October 19, 1881. It was first occupied for worship in January, 1884 and on December 8, 1887, was consecrated to the service of God by the First Bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, the late Rev. M. A. DeWolfe, D.D.
The 1801 Chapel was converted for educational purposes about 1890. Balconies were closed in by a floor, making it a two-story building. At one time, the second floor was used as a small theater and the home of the Douglassville Library and Reading room. The pulpit and pews were removed permitting the first floor to be used as a meeting room for the Sunday School, the church, and the community.
The addition of a new Parish House was completed in September 1959. This new facility was provided to meet the revitalized growth of the Church and the expanding development in the area.
In 1960, work was started to restore the 1801 Chapel to its original state.
The 1884 Church was remodeled in 2003 and a Parish Life Building addition and renovation was completed in 2006.
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