Last Remains & Family Plots: Deep Run
Reading Headstones at Deep Run
Why is Deep Run important to the Extended Overholt Family? The easy answer is "because so many of our ancestors are buried there." This is certainly true, but a better answer to the question lies in the reason why our ancestors made the long journey from Canton Zurich to German territory, then from Germany to (ultimately) Penn's Woods in the New World. The Mennonites were dedicated to their reformed expression of Christianity, and when they settled in the various German-speaking communities of Eastern Pennsylvania, they progressed from gathering for worship in each other's homes to gathering in their own meeting houses. Together, they actively involved themselves in the life and growth of their church and community, proudly serving in roles both religious and civil, recognizing these roles as equally sanctioned by the tenets of their faith. Therefore, the exploration of Deep Run properly demands an exploration of the faith of our fathers.
Searching the Pages of A. J. Fretz & Barbara Ford
The Rev. A. J. Fretz mentions Deep Run on page one of his record of the descendants of Martin Oberholtzer [see exerpt below]. On page two of The Oberholtzer Book, Barbara Ford features a modern photograph of the Mennonite church and cemetery (credited to Willard E. Overholtzer), noting it is "the final resting place of more than forty descendants of Oberholtzer immigrants (MC), (HJ), and (JF)." Using her own designations, MC refers to Marcus Oberholtzer of Chester Co., PA [from which my branch of the family tree grows]; HJ refers to Hans Jacob Oberholtzer of Hatfield, Montgomery Co., PA; and JF refers to Jacob Oberholtzer of Franconia, Montgomery Co., PA.
Deep Run is often mentioned in Mennonite documents and histories and genealogies, for it is the oldest Mennonite church in Bucks County. At one point, the congregation split into two [see exerpt below], which explains why there is an East and West Mennonite Church at Deep Run. Our ancestors belonged to each congregation, so it would be best to explore both, if you get the chance to visit [see map below]. Family genealogists can utilize the Fretz material, which provides the specifics, often mentioning which church a person attended. The Oberholtzer Book also refers to where most individuals of this early era are buried, citing material from Fretz and others.
Excerpts from A
Genealogical Record of the Descendants of Martin
A Tale of Two Churches
These days, the best way to uncover information is by doing Internet searches. A simple search for "Mennonite Church" brought up 137,407 sites, which I patiently sifted through to find the Deep Run Mennonite Church East and the Deep Run West Mennonite Church. While both churches belong to the Mennonite Church USA, Deep Run Mennonite Church East is affiliated with Franconia Mennonite Conference, while Deep Run West Mennonite Church is affiliated with Eastern District Conference.
Deep Run East is located at 350 Kellers Church Road, Perkasie, PA 18944-4242 (Phone: 215-766-8380, URL: http://deepruneast.org/ ). It was founded in 1746, had 338 members/covenanted attendees as of May of 2002, and describes its history as follows.
"Deep Run East is a 250 year old congregation rooted in following Jesus as Lord in our families and in our communities. We are a welcoming congregation, made up of people of all ages and many occupations. We seek quality relationships with God in worship, with each other in caring and fellowship, and with people in our global community through service."
Deep Run West is located at 1008 Deep Run Road, Perkasie, PA 18944 (Phone: 215-766-8157, URL: none listed). It was founded in 1849, had 210 members/covenanted attendees as of May of 2002, and describes its history as follows.
"Deep Run West was established in 1849 when several members split off from Deep Run East. We became part of the "new" General Conference. At the beginning of the MCUSA merger, both Deep Run Churches had a reconciliation service, symbolically reversing "the ban" and giving and receiving forgiveness for past hurts. Today, Deep Run West is rediscovering its ministry and vision for ministry to our community for the glory of God."
What an interesting and heart-wrenching tale must lie at the heart of these two churches, and I wonder if anyone has written about it?
Added Note: Barbara Ford reports that there is a book written on this subject. It was not available online through the Mennonite Publishing House, Cokesbury, or Amazon, but I did find a copy through Barnes & Noble via one of their used book dealers. I have ordered the book and will publish a report asap. The one avenue I forgot to explore, before ordering the book, was to phone the church directly. Nevertheless, the information below may help you find your own copy.
Deep Run Mennonite
Church East: A 250 Year Pilgrimage, 1746-1996;
The Lipmans Visit Deep Run ~~ And Take Pictures!
During their September 2004 trip to Eastern Pennsylvania, John and Linda Lipman tracked down the location of the historic Deep Run Mennonite Church and took some marvelous pictures. The photographs on this page were taken at Deep Run East, and are presented here with great appreciation for the time, effort and generosity of John and Linda Lipman.
". . . we were in Bucks County visiting family and friends," John explained in his e-mail note. "We took some time out to drive over to Deep Run, where we located the old graveyard of the Deep Run Mennonite Church (East), founded by the Overholt family. Here are buried Martin Overholt, along with many of Henry and Abraham's contemporaries. And here we spent the morning visiting them. . . . There are no great shrines or statues here, no marble crypts nor above-ground sepulchers. The most elaborate stone we see is that of Martin Overholt, himself, and that's because it's been replaced fairly recently and is thus newer and more modern.
"Other tombstones from the same period have been 'restored' to the extent that someone has taken the trouble to carefully re-scratch the names and dates that have worn away over the years to practically nothing. Many have passed beyond even this possibility, and may be recognized as grave markers only by reason of their being located in a graveyard. These were mostly reddish Pennsylvania field stones, no different than those used for making church and farmhouse walls, and crudely marked, probably by the bereaved survivors. By the late 1700s, the community had developed more professional monument-carvers. These stones are deeply engraved and capable of 'speaking' through the centuries."
Added Note: Barbara Ford reports, "The stone of Martin Overholt 1709-1744 had been replaced by Helen Frick many years ago. No one had told her that the name was Oberholtzer." It may be an example of Helen's failure to properly research the Overholt Family.
Marking the Passage of Time
When I saw this group of Lipman photographs for the first time, they were full size, not the 1/3 reduced versions presented here. Each one opened to fill beyond the screen of my computer monitor, almost appearing to be life-size, making me feel I was looking out a window and seeing these sights first hand. The feelings awakened by the images were astounding -- mixed with lots of awe and wonder -- as a singular realization took shape. These were the headstones marking the last remains of my own distant relatives! Barring any "bump" in my genetic line, some of their DNA could be found in my own DNA! What did that mean? And what did it mean to me?
In my life, I have been to several funerals services, including the "laying out" visitations at funeral homes, but my eyes have seen only one actual burial of a member of my family -- that of my Uncle Frank, husband of my mother's older sister, Mary. My Uncle Frank was a short, stocky Italian with a distinctively large nose and enough brilliance in management to "run the flightline" at several different military bases. He had been a veteran of World War II, and a career Air Force NCO, who had earned the highest rank possible for that era's non-commissioned officer. My five cousins were in grade school when he and Aunt Mary built the house in Goldsboro, North Carolina, situated a few miles outside the front gate of Seymour Johnson AFB. As they moved into their first real home, their old trailer was left parked in the back yard, a monument to all the years of living in close quarters. The reality of a solid foundation, a red brick exterior, and a Carolina pine interior would have to grow on them, so it was mpossible to do away with the trailer just yet.
For several years, the possibility of "putting down roots"and reaping family stability seemed a certainty for Uncle Frank and his family, but then a long PCS to England took them all away for about five years. Afterwards, however, they returned to their home in Goldsboro, with the kids joking around now in British accents that they could turn on and off at will. The southern drawl would reassert itself before long, during which time, Uncle Frank and Aunt Mary finished raising five teenagers and saw them married off, one by one.
In his later years, Uncle Frank had Parkinson's, which made retirement difficult, instead of easy. He died the summer I was working in the huge and historic Mellon Bank in downtown Pittsburgh, hired to work in the sub-sub-basement with a group of girls checking file folders for required legal documents. I was trying to earn some money before my next full term at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and had just begun adding up a couple paychecks-worth of a very-minimum wage, planning to keep myself "above water" for a few months. But the sad news about Uncle Frank came, and I had to use that money to go to his funeral, for he had been my closest uncle and had been an important part of my life (off and on) since I was a little girl. As it turned out, I was the only relative from my mother's whole extended family that made the trip.
And so, having no car, I traveled by air, hauling along with my carry-on luggage a large boxed statuette (a sorrowful St. Teresa, I believe) as a gift for my Aunt Mary. During the first flight of the journey, I wrote something poetic to give to her, along with the statuette. A second flight on a small passenger plane landed at the new (to me) local airport in Goldsboro. About 18 years earlier, when I had just turned 16, I saw that stretch of runway for the first time -- it was part of the Air Force Base then, and was used by small commercial flights only with special permission. That was the day my family officially became "broken," for my parents had legally separated. Once more, we had packed up our goods, and left our quarters at another base (Myrtle Beach AFB), then boarded a plane -- but this time without Pop. He was being transferred elsewhere, but Mom and the five of "us kids" were returning to Goldsboro.
Three years before, for several months, we had lived in Uncle Frank's old trailer behind his house, while Pop was cross-training somewhere. This time around, we were going to live in a "cracker box" apartment, in a government "project" located outside the back gate of Seymour Johnson AFB. The "project" was home to lots of low-income civilians and lots of young families of G.I.s who couldn't get base housing. We would live there for the next three years of my parents' separation, still elligible for military benefits, but not elligible to live on base. Back when I was 16, my Uncle Frank had been at the airport runway to meet us, to load us into his car, and to drive us to our apartment. But this time around, I was arriving alone and coming to his funeral. A taxi took me down the once-familiar country highway. The area now looked more like the suburbs, than the fresh countryside it used to be. Aunt Mary's house was full again, this time with her grown children, their spouses, and her "grandkids." I would have to spend the night on a bunk in the rear of Cousin Janie's trailer, which was parked on a patch of land on the chicken farm where her husband worked. It was strange staying in a trailer again.
There were all the usual gatherings and ceremonies, food to prepare and meals to share. Aunt Mary was gaunt and distracted, but the sight of the children encouraged her. I was at the funeral home for the visitation, where I was so sure the spirit of my Uncle Frank was standing right next to his open coffin, that I threw caution to the wind and told my cousins, "If he is anywhere, he's right here!" It was my way of trying to calm down Rene and Teri, testifying that their Dad was not dead, it was just that his physical body did not contain his spirit any longer, and he was free. Their mild hysteria lessened, and they slipped out of their sadness just long enough to wonder (I bet) how strange their older cousin really was. Still, it was a good deed.
For me, witnessing the bereavement was difficult. I had become firmly rooted in my faith, and could not see the need for despair. That day, I was closer in temperment to my cousin Gary, who alone was trying to remain level-headed and scientific in the midst of so much emotional pain. The time for group prayer arrived. Told I was a seminary student, the Roman Catholic priest asked me to read a passage from the Bible. The request surprised me, for I had outgrown the Roman Catholic Church largely because of the limited role of women. Apparently, no one had mentioned I was Episcopalian, so neither would I, because in my own Protestant way, I was absolutely sure God did not care about such distinctions. In truth, glad to oblige, I skipped the sorrowful psalms and jumped to John 14, which I read with as much conviction as my small, feminine voice could manage, asserting the promises made by Jesus of Nazareth, and demonstrating my freedom to serve in that capacity. It was an important moment for me, but it came and went without fanfare, without comment.
The next morning, I was among the family for the Requiem mass at the Seymour Johnson AFB Chapel, which had been my own parish church during all the years my family had been attached to that base. Even before Mom remarried into the Air Force life, we had all attended mass at this Chapel -- Mom and us kids and Aunt Mary and her kids -- every Sunday. This was the place where I had sung in the Adult Catholic Choir, where I had attended choir practice on Thursday nights, where my voice had contributed to winning those worldwide competitions -- the award plaques were still mounted on the wall! So much of my life had happened in that church, even to making my Confirmation! It was in this Chapel that I had sung the High Mass in Latin, and later had learned to accept the mass in English, the kind of mass that I discovered in the pages of the Book of Common Prayer, when I became Episcopalian.
And this Chapel had been the center of my Aunt Mary's faithfulness to Catholicism, even though she had been denied Communion. Her first marriage had failed, she had been divorced, she had remarried in a civil ceremony, therefore she had been denied the Sacraments. But Uncle Frank was dead now, and with a special confession and an absolution and the proper prayers said in the proper way, the Roman Catholic Church was about to welcome my Aunt Mary back into the fold. This was the day she would be allowed to receive Communion for the first time since she was a beautiful young woman living in Pittsburgh, since the time I was about three years old, since the time when I was her favorite little neice and she showered me with affection. It was an amazing sight, seeing this frail figure -- wife, mother, grandmother, new widow -- kneeling at the altar rail, receiving that precious wafer. By rights, I should not have gone up to receive Holy Communion that day, but I did so. It was another silent protest and a declaration of self-worth. I would not allow any barriers between myself and my God. Period. I received Communion for the sake of my Uncle Frank, and my Aunt Mary, and myself.
After the service, I went along on the long drive from Seymour Johnson to the special cemetery set apart for veterans. There was a military honor guard. I stood at attention during the bugled Taps, and shuddered at the 21-gun salute, and ached during the tri-cornered flag presentation to my Aunt Mary. There were prayers and tears, and members of my extended family approached the coffin to touch it and then turn away. I was one of the last to approach, to lay my hand on the smooth surface of my Uncle Frank's coffin, and think a quiet "good-bye" to his last remains.
About a week later, back in Pittsburgh, I dreamed about Uncle Frank. I was watching myself standing alone on a hill, when I saw my Uncle Frank approaching, carrying a large trophy. He put the trophy into my hands, and it seemed important to him that he did so. Without words, I knew it was his opinion that I had earned this trophy. When I woke up the next morning, the meaning of the dream was just too easy. Uncle Frank had let me know he appreciated my efforts on his behalf. To this day, I do not think of my Uncle Frank as dead, but alive. And when I began to wonder about the lives of my ancestors, about the markers at Deep Run proclaiming their passage from this realm to the next, I remembered my Uncle Frank. When I pondered the untold stories behind the two Mennonite churches, the implications behind "the ban" that divided the flock, and the ceremony that reunited the people, I remembered my Aunt Mary.
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