Joseph Kern of Greensburg, Pennsylvania—Methodist or Lutheran?

When asked to write about an individual ancestor's place of worship, you usually don't have ask, "Which one?" But when I researched my ggg-grandfather Joseph Kern (1772-1846), I ran into a bit of a problem. Let me explain.

According to a Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, county history, Joseph's brothers John and Jacob were among the first Methodists in the area, and one of the first trustees of the church was Joseph himself. 1 But at least five of Joseph's children were baptized at the First Lutheran Church in Greensburg, namely Sibilla, Anna Maria, Elizabeth, Anna Catharina, and Elenora Margaretta.2 There was only one Joseph Kern in Greensburg with a wife named Margaret, so how could this be? Did he belong to two churches?

To find the answer, I had to look into the early history of Methodism. I learned that the founder of Methodism, John Wesley's, "plan was to revive the Church of England from within, not to form a new church. All his followers were expected to continue to attend their Anglican parish church for public worship and communion, and for baptism, marriage, and burial."3

In America, a difference of opinion arose among early Methodists in connection with administering the sacraments for themselves. Northern Methodists believed that they did not have that authority, while Southern Methodists did.4

Additionally, the Methodist class in Greenburg was founded by Samuel Bushfield, who had only arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1792. At the time, in Ireland "although many people joined the Methodists, they remained within their own churches . . . the majority of Methodist baptism registers do not begin until the 1830's."5

Finally, the Lutheran Church services in Greensburg at this time were in German,6 and the Kerns were a second-generation German-American family. John Wesley's plan of staying within the traditional religion for baptisms and marriages would have been especially appealing to such a family in a closely knit community.

After doing my research and looking at all the records, I concluded that Joseph Kern and his brothers were, for a time at least, Lutherans who attended the local Methodist classes. By the time that the first Methodist meeting house was built in 1833, however, I suspect that they devoted their full attention to that religion.

So, when I'm asked to write about Joseph Kern's place of worship, I do have to ask myself, "Which one?" Do you face a similar difficulty with one of your ancestors? A bit of research into the times and places in which they lived may help you find the answer.

This article was originally published for the 118th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, which had as its theme "Our Ancestors' Place of Worship!"

For more about Joseph Kern see the article Joseph Kern of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Footnotes

1 George Dallas Albert, editor, History of the County of Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts and Company, 1882), 259-260.
2 Della Reagan Fischer, compiler, Births, Baptisms (3683) of the First Lutheran Church, Westmoreland County, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, 1792-1853 (McKeesport, Pennsylvania, 1964), 88-89. From online images at HeritageQuestOnline.com
3 Encyclopedia Americana, "Methodism", (Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier, 1999).
4 Frank Baker, From Wesley to Asbury: Studies in Early American
Methodism
(Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1976), 101-103.
5 Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, "Methodists."
6 History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1906), 305ff