225 Years: An Anniversary, A History

by Dawn Lamphere Capece
It is a time for reflecting, a time for rejoicing, a time for remembering, and a time for prayer.
225 years of baptisms and confirmations, marriages and funerals.
225 years of LIFE!!

How did we reach this milestone? This question could have many different answers, but it doesn't. How did we reach this milestone? Through faith, a deep and abiding faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Before we can appreciate the place where we now find ourselves, it is necessary, it is beneficial, it is RIGHT to look at where St. John's began over two centuries ago.

The history of St. John's Reformed Church is much entwined with the history of the St. Johnsville community and in a broader respect that of the Mohawk Valley. From its beginnings as a small log structure in the early 18th century, it relocated and evolved into a clapboard building in 1804, which ultimately was replaced with the gracious brick church we worship in today. Over the last 225 years there have been many changes. Ministers have come and gone and the congregation has followed the natural circle of life and death. The mundane practicalities of keeping the building heated during the cold Mohawk Valley winters and the roof intact, has challenged 26 ministers, countless members of consistory, and the congregation. Through it all the Word of God prevailed. Together the congregation has faced the Great Depression and subsequent economic highs and lows. Since its organization, the sons and daughters of St. John's have born stoic witness to the unmitigated horror of war. Beginning with the Revolution which pitted neighbor against neighbor, throughout the Civil War when families were divided, followed by the global conflicts of World Wars I & II, the Word of God prevailed. Sadly, the horror did not end of there. When men marched off to Korea and children were sent to Vietnam, the Church with its roots sunk deep in the Mohawk Valley stood firm. Even in more recent times as we struggle to understand the deeply ingrained philosophies of Iraq and Iran, and the centuries old conflicts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Word of God prevails.

The history of the Church has been well documented over the course of its life, most recently in commemoration of the 200th Anniversary in 1970. Since then, held firmly in the capable pastoral hands of the Reverends Westhuis, Gram, VandeGiessen, and now Camp, the life force of St. John's continues to throb. In the last twenty-five years rooms have been painted and a handicap ramp added. New curtains and drapes have replaced the old. The dreaded word "asbestos" unfamiliar to most, was suddenly on every one's mind when the time came to replace the roof. The last 25 years have seen the church progress with modern technology with the gifts of a computer and a VCR. Technology has surely been more easily grasped than the changes in morality and ethics which challenge every denomination today. Suddenly the word "family" no longer refers to a mother, father and 2.2 children. Instead there are more and more families now made up of "yours, mine and ours." Generational conflict is no longer limited to at what age you give your daughter permission to wear a discreet lipstick. Instead, parents must address the issues of body piercing and 41"gangsta" rap.

The Church now finds itself in a world of intense racial conflict as witnessed in Los Angeles and Bensonhurst. We have a baby boomer President serving as Commander-in-Chief over men and women who have faced a world of conflict, conflict which he purposely chose to avoid. It is indeed a changing world, and more than ever the Word of God MUST prevail!

There has been a trend in recent years to rewrite history; to revise it if you will. There is, however, a danger in doing so. In this questioning and research you peel away the layers and in so doing begin to lose the texture and nuances of the primary source. I have, therefore, chosen not to REWRITE St. John's history for this Anniversary year, but instead to REVISIT the writings of the past and hopefully bring them to vibrant life in the present.

THE MOHAWK VALLEY - Three magic words, which blazon forth the name of a land of mystic beauty, fraught with the intense human interest of the brave men and women, who here helped to win liberty for America and for all the world.

In our broad land there is no more noble theme than the story of this Valley through the mountains, which forms America's Gateway to the West. The various elements of the history of this great national highway, are so entwined with the vital actions recorded in the annals of our nation, that the story of the Mohawk River necessarily holds much of that of the United States of America. Therefore, it necessarily follows that he who does not know the history of the Mohawk Valley is deficient not only in knowledge of the history of the United States, but in that of North America as well.

History of the Mohawk Valley - Gateway to the West - 1614-1925 Nelson Greene, Editor

In the year 1787 the Constitution was adopted as the law of the Land, and the United States was born. In that same year the written history of St. John's Reformed Church began with its incorporation in accord with the then new State Law. Five men, Colonel Jacob Klock, Peter Schuyler, Jacob Fehling, Christopher Fox, and Jacob G. Klock, were elected Trustees of the "Reformed Calvinist Congregation in the upper part of Palatine District in the County of Montgomery," by the people who worshiped in the old log structure that has always been known as Klock's Church.

But the real history of our Church reaches back into time far beyond the year 1787; far beyond the year 1725 when Klock's Church probably was built; beyond the year 1519 when the Reformation began; beyond the medieval centuries; back almost two thousand years to the earthly life of Jesus Christ our Lord. St. John's Church began when Jesus began to preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God; it began with His healing, His teaching, His loving of mankind. It began with His dying on the Cross and His rising again. It began on the day of Pentecost when a group of uncertain, disillusioned failures were suddenly captured by a world-conquering Faith. For St. John's Church began when the Christian Church began, the true Church of which Jesus said, "When two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

The men and women who first formed the congregation of Klock's Church came to America in large part from the Palatine region in southwestern Germany. Of the five original trustees, only one, Peter Schuyler, bears a truly Dutch name. Although a large majority of the early congregation was of Palatine origin, St. John's nevertheless became affiliated with the Dutch Reformed denomination.

When the Reformation dawned over Europe in 1517, Holland was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor Charles V and his successor Philip of Spain took vigorous steps to quench the light of the Reformation Gospel. They burned at the stake as many Protestants as they could find, with the Emperor boasting that he beheaded or burned 18,000 Hollanders. In 1579 the Dutch Republic was formed, and two years later issued its declaration of independence. The Dutch Reformed Church survived this test of bloody persecution.

The free Dutch established commerce with the Orient. In 1609 the Englishman, Henry Hudson, in the employ of the Dutch, made his discovery and a small colony was established at New Amsterdam. While founded primarily for the Indian trade, it grew and a need was felt for spiritual guidance. In 1628 the first ordained minister, Rev. Jonas Michaelius arrived.

Many of the early Dutch journeyed up the Hudson to settle at Fort Orange, now Albany. In 1642 the First Reformed Church of Albany was established by Rev. Johannes Megapolensis, who made efforts to convert the Mohawk Indians to Christ. Rev. Peter Tesschenmacher was educated at the University of Utrecht in Holland. He came to America and preached at Kingston; later he journey to South America as a missionary and then returned to become the first minister to be ordained by the Dutch Reformed Church in America. In 1682 he came to the Mohawk Valley. A new colony called Schenectady was established and a Reformed Church was organized. In the winter of 1690 a party of French troops down from Canada accompanied by a group of traitorous Indians attacked the settlement and viciously laid it waste. Among those murdered was Domine Tesschemacher. Schenectady was rebuilt and eventually became a stronghold of the Reformed Faith.

Rev. Petrius Van Driessen journeyed frequently through the land of the Mohawks and won many converts. In 1722 he petitioned the King's Council at Albany for a license to build a mission church in the Mohawk Country. In 1725 a tract of land, part of the Harrison Patent was sold to Hendrick Klock and Christian Hauss. Upon that acre, about a mile east of St. Johnsville, a log church was built. The history of St. John's Reformed Church as an individual congregation began with its building.

Four of the first five trustees of Klock's Church; Colonel Jacob Klock, Jacob G. Klock, Christopher Fox, and Jacob Fehling came from families which took part in one of the greatest migrations in history, the coming of the Palatines.

The Palatinate was an ancient principality on the Rhine River. Born in 1668 at Hesse Cassel was Hendrick Klock, who would in mid-life participate in the great migration to America, eventually settling in what is now St. Johnsville.

Following the ravages of war wrecked by the French King Louis XIV and a severe winter in 1708, the Palatines turned with great hope towards the new world, as described in advertisements sent by the English. On foot and by cart the refugees eventually sailed down the Rhine, boarded ships out of Holland, crossed the English Channel, and encamped outside of London. Facing the economically daunting challenge of feeding this mass of hopefuls, an alarmed British Government, under the crown of Queen Anne, quickly took action. A number of Palatines were sent north to Ireland; another group went to the Virginia and Carolina colonies. The remainder was destined to cross the Atlantic to manufacture naval stores including tar, pitch, turpentine and hemp for the British Crown.

Under the direction of the New York/New Jersey Governor, Colonel Robert Hunter, 2814 indentured Palatines set sail for a new life working in Queen Anne's tar camps. Arriving in the fall of 1710 they settled into five towns along the Hudson River near present day Germantown. A harsh winter and a change in British policy which was now looking toward the Carolinas for naval stores, eventually left the beleaguered Palatines adrift. The Rev. Haegar, one of the Palatine ministers, wrote that many were forced to "boil grass" and "eat the leaves of the trees" just to survive. In the Fall of 1712, fueled by sheer determination and a will to be free and prosper, many moved north to Albany with 50 of them pushing on to the Schoharie Valley. The following spring, the Schoharie dwellers were joined by another 100 families. Guided by the Indians, these unlikely pioneers settled in to rebuild their shattered lives. As the saying goes, "hope springs eternal", unfortunately, reality often bites. Challenged as squatters in Schoharie, a group of this undaunted bunch eventually moved to Pennsylvania. Of more local interest others settled in the Little Falls area along the Mohawk; still another group headed for the Stone Arabia Patent, and finally, Hendrick Klock led a small gathering to settle on the Harrison Patent. On lot number 13, the crude log "Klock's Church" was erected, paving the way for what eventually would become St. John's Reformed Church. Hendrick Klock, who had survived the wars of Europe, a life and death crossing of the tumultuous Atlantic, and the humiliation of servitude in the tar camps, had in every sense of the word, finally come home.

While we sometimes view the past as merely a way to the present, it should be remembered that for Hendrick Klock and the other pioneers, life in the Mohawk Valley was as closely woven and as well defined as our own. As in most societies there were the rich and not so rich. There were individuals so poor that they barely scratched out a living. There were tavern keepers, boatmen and artisans. Farming, with its endless days spent in the fields and the ever present threat of poor weather, even then played a significant role in the Valley. Life was hard with very limited time set aside for leisure. Because ministers were scarce, Hendrick Klock and his family and neighbors frequently had to wait for a Domine to make the journey from Stone Arabia, or Schoharie, or Herkimer before they could have a time of worship. When word arrived that a minister was coming, people came by foot or on horseback for weddings, baptisms and funerals. How much they must have cherished this hard won time of prayer and renewal and quiet hours spent in contemplation of our Lord. For all intents and purposes life in the Mohawk Valley had reached a period of economic, religious, and social stability; a period, unfortunately, that was not destined to last.

"I would have you day by day, fix your eyes upon
greatness of your country until you become filled with

the love of her; and when you are impressed by the spectacle
of her glory, reflect that it has been acquired by men
who knew their duty and had the courage to do it"

In 1750, the long held rivalry between the English and French escalated with the settlers of the Mohawk Valley destined to play a major role. Under the ascending star of Sir William Johnson, many Palatine German and Dutch settlers, along with hundreds of Johnson's Indians, took part in the Battle of Lake George in 1755. From Lake George, to the successful capture of Forts Frontenac and Niagara, to the climactic conquest in 1760 of Montreal, these sturdy sons of the Mohawk Valley marched side by side with the victorious British in forever vanquishing the once great French Empire from the northeast How sad to think that this would only be a tragic preview for what was yet to come. Revolution was in the air and many of those who had worshiped side by side in "Klock's Church" would see their lives forever altered.

For Colonel Jacob Klock and his friends, the outbreak of war in 1775 did not come as a total surprise. The conflict had grown out of long standing differences caused by the activities of the British government, represented in the Mohawk Valley by Sir William Johnson.

Sir William Johnson has long been regarded as one of the most influential men in the Colonies prior to the Revolution. It is said that Johnson made peace with the Indians, but in truth the Dutch and Germans had never had trouble with the Indians until Johnson came. Some even venture to speculate that the Indians would have stood by their Mohawk Valley friends during the Revolution had it not been for Johnson. This was not to be the case. The feudalistic Johnson, ensconced in aristocratic splendor at Johnson Hall overseeing his vast estate and business holdings, stood in direct contrast to the hard working free men of the Mohawk Valley who had paid time and time again with their blood for the land they held so dear. As this pot was about to boil, it was inevitable that their blood would be spilled again.

Colonel Klock and his neighbors, the Nellises, the Failings, the Foxes, the Bellingers, the Zimmermans, and the Snells, families whose names are still found in the Valley today, continued their quest for freedom against old-world tyrannies. They organized a Committee of Safety and held their first meeting in a Stone Arabia tavern. This same committee assumed leadership roles in the militia. This motley crew of unassuming farmers and men of commerce squared off against the mighty St. Leger and the notorious Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant at the Battle of Oriskany. General Nicholas Herkimer met his death in this same battle, leaving the stalwart Colonel Jacob Klock in command. The death knell rang for 200 militia men, yet the British were stopped. All of the men who fought and died at Oriskany on August 6, 1777 were from the Mohawk Valley. Most of them were Dutch Germans, many of them worshiped at "Klock's Church." Oriskany set the tone for the pounding the Mohawk Valley and its settlers would see for several years. Colonel Jacob Klock stood in the gap and rallied the valley time and time again, refusing to give up. Facing near starvation and a land laid wasted by war, where did these sons and daughters, descendants of Hendrick Klock and his contemporaries, draw their strength during this time of great adversity? This question could have many answers but it doesn't. Where did they draw their strength during this time of great adversity? Through a deep and abiding Faith in Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I lift up my eyes toward the hills;
whence shall help come to me?
My help is from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
May he not suffer your foot to slip;
may he slumber not who guards you:
Indeed he neither slumbers nor sleeps,
the guardian of Israel.
The Lord is your guardian;
the Lord is your shade;
He is beside you at your right hand.
The sun shall not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will guard you from all evils;
he will guard your life.
The Lord will guard your coming and your going,
both now and forever.
Psalm 121


The ministry of the Rev. Ross Westhuis was thoroughly documented in the 1970 church history. At the time of his resignation he had performed 70 baptisms and 28 weddings. In addition, 64 new members were welcomed into the congregation. After leaving St. John's, Rev. Westhuis returned to school to pursue a degree in social work. He has worked in that field throughout the Capital District. Presently, he attends First Church in Albany where he has served as deacon, elder, and a member of the Board of Trustees.

In May 1975 a call was issued to Rev. Robert Gram who was at that time serving the Roselle Park United Methodist Church in New Jersey. Arriving at a time when the national mood was on an upswing, Rev. Gram emphasized pastoral care during his ministry. During his tenure he presided over 33 baptisms and 58 weddings, while welcoming 67 new members. Capably directed by Diane Wagar, St. John's Theater Group assembled for its first production and has become an eagerly anticipated part of the ongoing Church program providing an avenue for Christian fellowship and community outreach. Rev. Gram was also a member of the Bicentennial Committee which commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Schoharie and Mohawk Valley raids. It was that committee which placed a marker on the site of the original Klock's Church. Seven years later on Easter Sunday, Rev. Gram preached his farewell sermon in St. John's. The admiration and great affection in which he was held by the congregation were evidenced by the standing ovation he received. Following seven years as pastor of the Fair Street Reformed Church in Kingston, New York, Rev. Gram now serves as Senior Pastor of the Wyckoff Reformed Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey.

One week after his ordination in September 1982, Rev. Raymond VandeGiessen preached his first sermon at St. John's. His six year tenure was marked with tremendous growth in the field of youth ministry. The Youth Group was revitalized, along with an after-school teen Bible study. Participating in the teen study group was David Johnson. David subsequently entered Hope College, attended seminary, and was, with great joy and commitment, ordained last year in a service at St. John's. Under "Rev. Ray's" direction, St. John's was instrumental in organizing the ecumenical "Release Time" program. That stalwart program of all traditional church offerings, Vacation Bible School, flourished for children of all ages. Rev. VandeGiessen's and St. John's Reformed Church's ability to attract the "Baby Boomer" generation was recognized when he was asked to write an article for the CHURCH HERALD outlining the ministry and its results. Rev.VandeGiessen performed 43 baptisms, presided at 40 weddings, and welcomed 47 new members during his tenure. In addition to his pastoral duties, Rev. VandeGiessen served the community as a first-aider and driver for the local ambulance corps as well as a member of the Board of Directors for the St. Johnsville Housing Authority. In 1988 Rev. VandeGiessen accepted a call to the Church of the Savior, in Livonia, Michigan. Since 1991 he has served at the Readington. Reformed Church, in Readington, New Jersey.

Currently serving as Pastor is the Rev. Russell K. Camp. A graduate of Western Seminary, Rev. Camp began his ministry at St. John's in July 1989. To date he has performed 29 baptisms, welcomed 34 new members, and officiated at 29 weddings. Rev. Camp was responsible for establishing the Aid Fund administered through the village Police Department. In addition, he currently serves as a trustee on the board of the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library. Firmly believing that God uses His people in the ministry He carries out, Pastor Camp continually encourages the congregation towards more active participation in the life of the church. It is this kind of encouragement, participation, and dedication that will keep St. John's a part of this community for what will hopefully be many more years to come.

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