History of our Pastors

St. John’s has had only 7 senior pastors in our long history since 1876.   Our current Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Susan C. Bertolette, has been our Senior Pastor since 1999, and also served here as Associate Pastor and Co-Pastor since 1980. 

St. John’s Senior Pastors and The Years They Served as Senior Pastor:

  1.  Rev. H.F. (Henry Franklin) Seiple (1879-1884)
  2.  Rev. J.J. (Jacob J.) Rothrock (1885-1922)
  3. Rev. Alfred N. (Nevin) Sayres (1923-1944)
  4. Rev. Harold C. “Cubby” Baer (1944-1949)
  5. Rev. Harold E. Ditzler (1949-1972)
  6. Rev. John Touchberry (1973-1999)
  7. Rev. Susan C. “Sue” Bertolette (1999-Present)

About Our Senior Pastors (More Information to Come)

Rev. Henry F. Seiple Our first pastor graduated from Amherst College in 1866, and was confirmed by Rev. William A. Stearn, D.D., president of Amherst College, as a member of the Congregational church of Amherst, Mass. He studied law with Gen. W. H. Gibson of Tiffin, Ohio during 1866-1867, and practiced law in Ky. and Ohio until 1870.  He studied theology privately during the year 1871, and in 1872-1873 was under the tutelage of Rev. J. H. A. Bomberger, D.D., president of Ursinus College. He was licensed by Philadelphia Classis in June, 1873; was principal of the Woodbury graded schools during 1874-1875; was ordained by Mercersburg Classis December 10, 1874, and installed as pastor of the Woodbury charge, serving from 1874-1879. In 1879 he received and accepted a call from the Hilltown charge (including St. John’s and St. Peter’s church in Hilltown).  In 1884 St. John’s was detached from the Hilltown charge and pastoral relations were dissolved, so Rev. Seiple left St. John’s but continued as pastor in Hilltown until 1897.  From 1887 until his death he lived in Lansdale.  For the last 12 years he was afflicted with diabetes and incapacitated for pastoral service, and was blind for his last year, passing away October 22, 1908 at age 65.  Services at his home were conducted by Rev. J.J. Rothrock and Rev. J. Kehm, and he was buried in Hilltown Cemetery. 

Rev. Maxwell S. Rowland served as Supply Pastor between Rev. Seiple & Rev. Rothrock. 

Rev. J.J. (Jacob J.) Rothrock On May 1, 1885, Rev. (Jacob) J.J. Rothrock became pastor of St. John’s, the same day St. John’s separated from the Hilltown charge and became a mission church.  He was installed May 24, 1885.  During his 37 years as pastor, the membership grew from about 60 to 600 members, and the Sunday School grew from about 200 to 437 members.  During his pastorate the church building was expanded and a parsonage added in 1890.  A Meneely bell weighing 1,000 was purchased for the church tower in 1888, an Estey pipe organ was added in 1903 for $1,400.  Looking to expand the Sunday School facilities, the Clemmer property (our current location, across he street) was purchased on December 19, 1920 for &10,500. 

There were times during his ministry that his health was seriously impaired, and Rev. Rothrock resigned due to prolonged health issues on October 29, 1922, and was named Pastor Emeritus on that date.  He passed away on January 7, 1923.   

Rev. Dr. Alfred N. Sayres of Harrisburg served his first parish as minister at St. John’s from February 11, 1923 to 1944, after graduation from Lancaster Theological Seminary.  During his pastorate the membership grew to 742 and the Sunday School to 673.  The Sunday School needed additional room and the children’s classes were held in the Clemmer house (now site of the current church) and the adults in the Schwenkfelder and the Masonic temple.  A building committee formed in 1924 in 1925 work began on the new Sunday School building, dedicated June 13, 1926.  On June 27, 1936, ground was broken for a new Assembly Hall, which was dedicated April 18, 1937.  By 1943 the church had grown to about 900 members. 

Rev. Sayers left in 1944 to become Executive Secretary of the Board of Christian Education of the Reformed Church.  He also served as Professor of Practical Theology at the seminary, retiring in 1961, and served as interim pastor at UCC churches in Lancaster and Lititz. Rev. Sayres passed away on June 4, 1972 in Lancaster, Pa. at age 78. 

Rev. Silas P. Bittner, THD, DD served as Supply Pastor from May to July, 1944.  He was Secretary & Treasurer of the Board of Pensions and Relief.

Rev. Dr. Harold C. “Cubby” Baer served as St. John’s pastor from July, 1944 to March, 1949.  The membership as of May 1, 1946 was 1,135. He also served as pastor to churches in Frederick, MD, Shamokin, PA and served as pastor at Christ Church UCC in Norristown from 1958 to 1968, when he became Benefits Secretary of the UCC in NYC. After Dr. Baer retired in 1976, the Baers returned to Norristown for their retirement years. In 1992 he passed away of complications of Parkinson’s Disease.  His wife Mae spoke at St. John’s 125th anniversary program in 2001; she passed away in 2012 at age 101.  The custom of hiring summer assistants from Lancaster Theological Seminary began during his pastorate.

Rev. Charles E. Schaeffer, DD, Secretary Emeritus to the Board of National Missions, served as Supply Pastor in 1949.

Rev. Harold E. Ditzler served as St. John’s Senior Pastor from November 6, 1949 to October 31, 1972.  He served as pastor at churches in Lewisburg, Pa., Edinburgh, Scotland, Lock Haven, Pa. and Los Angeles, Ca. before St. John’s.  Rev. Ditzler had experience getting church building projects finished, and by Christmas Eve, 1952 our new (current) sanctuary was finished as part of the building plan first started in 1925, and was dedicated in 1953.  Rev. Ditzler selected the designs for the stained glass windows adorning the new sanctuary. A new parsonage was dedicated in 1957 at Valley Forge Rd. & York Ave.  By 1963 the membership had grown to 1,370  and Sunday School attendance averaged 415 per Sunday.  Rev. Ditzler retired from St. John’s at age 65 in 1972 and was named “Pastor Emeritus”, residing in St. Petersburg, Fl.  He passed away on December 6, 1984 in Hawaii. 

Rev. William E. Cameron served as Interim Pastor from November 1972 to July, 1973.  Rev. Cameron was a resident of the Lansdale area who served in parish ministry and frequently served as a supply minister in the PSEC.  Also, Rev. Elmer Leiphart, a retired pastor who last served in West Point, was hired to assist Rev. Cameron during the week with visitation and other duties in April, 1973.  

Rev. John Touchberry served as St. John’s Senior Pastor from July 22, 1973 until his retirement on July 4, 1999.  He served churches in South Carolina (where he was born) and Florida before coming to St. John’s.  He was very active in the community, with an emphasis of his ministry on the poor and disenfranchised of society.  He started a soup kitchen next door to the church called Manna On Main Street in 1981, first housed in St. John’s for 2 years until it moved to a home next door to the church, and has since expanded many times as it continues John’s legacy of helping those in need.  He was also seen as ‘Santa’ collecting for the Salvation Army at Christmas season.  After retiring, Rev. Touchberry & his wife Sheryl moved to Rosman, N.C. and was an active at First Congregational United Church of Christ (UCC) in Hendersonville, NC., He passed away on April 26, 2010 and Sheryl still lives in their Rosman home. 

Rev. Dr. Susan C.”Sue” Bertolette came to St. John’s in June of 1980, beginning as Associate Pastor just one day after her ordination into the Christian ministry. Upon earning her Doctor of Ministry degree from Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, Pa. in 1993, she, along with her colleague Rev. Dr. John Touchberry, began working together as co-pastors, and upon Dr. Touchberry’s retirement in 1999, Sue was elected as St. John’s Senior Pastor.  The story of her work at St. John’s is still being written as she approaches 40 years at St. John’s!

EARLY REFORMED PASTORS DURING THE FORMATION OF ST. JOHN’S 

Neighboring Pastors Who Served St. John’s During the Formation 1874-1879

  • Rev. Jacob Kehm (1874-1877)  
  • Rev. A.B. (Abraham Baughman) Koplin (1878-1879)
  • Rev. J. (James) G. Dengler (1878-1879) 

Rev. Jacob Kehm was appointed by the Reformed Church Classis of Tohickon on May 15, 1874 to “look after the interests of our church in Lansdale”.  In 1975 he began holding occasional services in Lansdale at Althouse’s Hall in the afternoon or evening.  From the St. John’s 20th anniversary notes from May 29, 1898: “Rev. Jacob Kehm, Chairman of the Tohickon Committee, has acted with energy and skill in the work (in organizing and building the new church).”  On January 30, 1876 a constitution was adopted, and soon a building was begun, with Rev. Kehm officiating the cornerstone ceremony on October 15, 1876, along with Rev. J.G. Dengler.  He cared for the St. John’s congregation until he resigned on December 20, 1877.  

Rev. A.B. Koplin was active in the formation of Reformed churches throughout Pennsylvania in the mid-1800’s, and served churches in Stoyestown, Elk Lick, Lancaster, Catasauqua, and Hellertown.  He is known as “the father of the Phoebe Home” in Allentown, active in it’s formation and serving as the first president of the Board of Trustees. He was born July 7, 1835 in Summit Co. Ohio & graduated from Heidelberg Academy in 1855, and he passed away March 5, 1917 in Hellertown. Rev. Koplin preached at the first service in our original church building in English on December 23, 1877.   He helped lead worship and the confirmation classes at St. John’s from 1878 until Rev. Seiple was installed as pastor in 1884. 

Rev. J.G. Dengler, who helped organize St. John’s, was also the original minister at St. Stephen’s Reformed Church in Perkasie, while he was also pastor at the Sellersville Reformed charge from 1874 to 1897.  He helped lead worship and the confirmation classes at St. John’s from 1878 until Rev. Seiple was installed as pastor in 1884.  He preached in German at the dedication service for our original building in 1878.  He also returned to preach at the installation service of Rev. J.J. Rothrock on May 24, 1885.  

Then-pastor Rev. J.J. Rothrock wrote in 1898: “To Rev. Kehm belongs the honor of being the founder of this congregation. To Rev. Koplin and Rev. Dangler the credit of caring for it in its infancy, and Rev. Seiple who was its first regular pastor, be it said that he labored earnestly and successfully for its welfare, preparing the way for its growth and development in later years.”

St. John’s Assistant or Associate Pastors and The Years They Served: 

  1. Rev. Harold R. Whitebred (1958-1960)
  2. Rev. Raymond D. Groff (1960-1963)
  3. Rev. Frank S. Landis, Jr. (1963-1964)
  4. Rev. Martin (Marty) Bupp (1964-1969)
  5. Rev. John A. Denlinger (1970-1973)
  6. Rev. Susan C. (Sue) Bertolette (1980-1999)
  7. Rev. Russell D. Clark (2000-2002)
  8. Rev. Ryan W. Henderson (2004-2013)
  9. Rev. Adelaide (Addie) Stong (2014-Present)

More About Our Assistant or Associate Pastors:

St. John’s first full time, ordained Assistant Minister was Rev. Howard R. (Ronny) Whitebred, starting on July 1, 1958. He was a graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary.  He left St. John’s on April 24, 1960 to serve as pastor of First UCC in Palmerton, Pa.

The second Assistant Minister was Rev. Raymond D. Groff.  He was a 1954 graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary and served from 1955-1960 as pastor of Old Goshenhoppen and Keelor’s UCC.  He served as our Associate pastor from September 4, 1960 to 1962.  He then took clinical training for institutional counseling chaplain positions at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.  From 1962 to 1975 he served as a prison chaplain and also as parish pastor at Frieden’s UCC in Lenhartsville, Pa. from 1969 to 1973.  He passed away from a heart attack in 1975 at age 48 while traveling in Virginia. 

Rev. Frank S. Landis, Jr. was our third Assistant Pastor, installed June 16, 1963. He was a June, 1963 graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary.  In his first three months he served as primary pastor as Dr. & Mrs. Ditzler took a sabattical trip to England and Switzerland. Just eight months after joining St. John’s, Rev. Landis passed away on February 25, 1964 at age 27 from leukemia.  

Rev. Martin ‘Marty’ L. Bupp became St. John’s 4th Assistant Minister.  He was a graduate of Yale Divinity School in 1962 and then served as pastor in Lincolnton, NC. He came to St. John’s on October 1, 1964, and served until August 31, 1969, when he accepted a call to First Congregational Church UCC in Westfield, Ma. Rev. Bupp continued his ministry in Springfield, Pa., Drexel Hill, Pa. and worked as Assistant to the Conference Minister at our Pennsylvania Southeast Conference until he retired in 2000.  Rev. Bupp returned to St. John’s as a member until he passed away April 22, 2015.  Note: Rev. Bupp’s wife grew up at St. John’s as Gail Umstead and was a college roommate of (our Senior Pastor) Rev. Ditzler’s daughter, Joan Ditzler Rhoades.  

Rev. John A. Denlinger served as our 5th Associate Pastor.  He graduated from Lancaster Theological Seminary  in 1970 and became our Associate Pastor on June 14, 1970.  He accepted a call to St. Luke’s UCC in Lititz, Pa. and left St. John’s on August 9, 1973.  Rev. Denlinger later served as Senior Pastor of churches in McClure, York & Shrewsbury, Pa. for a total ministry of 42 years.  Rev. Denlinger returned to St. John’s to speak at our 125th anniversary gathering in 2001.  He passed away on June 20, 2013 at age 71.

On June 6, 1980, Rev. Sue Bertolette was installed as our 6th Associate Minister. After almost 20 years as Associate Minister and designated by pastor Rev. John Touchberry as ‘Co-Pastor’, Rev. Sue was elected Senior Pastor after Rev. Touchberry retired in 1999.  Rev. Sue has continued as our Senior Pastor, serving her complete ministry (almost 40 years) to date at St. John’s following her graduation from seminary in 1980.  (See more on our current Staff page.)  

Rev. (Robert) R.C. Smith served as interim Associate Pastor from the fall of 1999 until 2000.  He left to become Pastor of College Hill Presbyterian Church in Easton, Pa., where he served for several decades.

On December 3, 2000, Rev. Russell D. (Russ) Clark came from St. Luke’s UCC in North Wales to become our 7th Associate Pastor, serving during our year-long 125th anniversary celebration in 2001 and during the tragedy of 9-11-2001. He served as our primary pastor during the summer of 2002 when Rev. Sue took a well-deserved sabbatical. In November 2002, he left to become Senior Pastor at St. Paul’s UCC in Dallastown, Pa. He served there until 2012, when he became pastor of Newport UCC in Newport, Washington. He is now pastor of Emmanuel UCC in Hanover, Pa.

Rev. Lori Esslinger served as part-time interim Associate Pastor from November, 2002 until December, 2003.  After St. John’s, she served as part-time Director of Christian Education at Faith Presbyterian Church in Emmaus, Pa. She is now pastor of Old Zionsville UCC in Old Zionsville, Pa. At the same time, Pastor George Bahner also assisted part time with visitations, communications and worship leadership during that time.  We celebrated his 40th year in ministry here in June, 2003. George served as an interim pastor in a number of UCC churches until he passed away on January 30, 2014 at age 76.

On January 4, 2004, Rev. Ryan W. Henderson from Monson UCC in Monson, Maine was elected our 8th Associate Pastor.  Ryan introduced St. John’s to new technologies, fairly-traded coffee, our Prayer Shawl Ministry, Mission Trips, his special style of prayers, and helped lead our congregation with his humor and youthful spirit. Ryan served for about 10 years until he was called to be Associate Conference Minister for Youth, Young Adults & Emerging Ministries for the UCC New York Conference in 2013.  

Rev. Adelaide (Pastor Addie) Stong from Hershey, Pa., after recently graduating from Lancaster Theological Seminary, became our 9th Associate Pastor in 2014 and currently fills this important role at St. John’s.  Addie had also served as the chaplain of Hartman Center UCC Camp before coming to St. John’s.  (See more on our current Staff page.)

St. John’s Ministers of Christian Education and The Years They Served: 

In 1969 the Rev. Evelyn M. Deardorff became the first part-time Director of Children’s Ministry, serving until April 29, 1973 when she left to become an area minister in Christian Education for the PSEC.  

Rev. Bernie Dunphy-Linnartz became the second Minister of Christian Education starting on August 18, 1974 and was installed on Christian Education Sunday, September 22, 1974. 

Barbara Klaumenzer served as Interim Coordinator of Christian Education from 1979 to March 23, 1980, when she became Director of Christian Education at Trinity UCC in Telford. 

After 1980, the position of Minister of Christian Education became part of the role of our Assistant or Associate Pastor. 

Student Pastors Serving St. John’s While Going to Seminary

Over the years St. John’s had a number of Student pastors, beginning in the summer of 1946 with Mr. Henry K. Haines, a graduate of Ursinus College from Maytown, Pa., while he was studying at Lancaster Theological Seminary.  He went on to serve as apastor in Waynesboro, Pa. until he passed away in a car accident in March, 1952.

Mr. Roy H. Schmid served as Student Pastor in the Summers of 1949 & 1950.

Mr. Joseph McCune Kim served as Student Pastor in the Summer of 1951.  He went on to become pastor/pastor emeritus of First Trinity United Church of Christ, of Youngwood, Pa.  He passed away at age 80 on June 6, 2009.

Mr. Theodore Haas served as Student Pastor in the Summer of 1952.

A number of St. John’s members received the call to become pastors. This started with Alfred Herman and Henry L. Krauss under the influence of our 2nd pastor, Rev. J.J. Rothrock.  Many have followed, including H. Clayton Moyer (1948), Tim Ahrens, Jay Meyer, Patti Thomas, Kim Ruth Stryjac, and more. (Please submit any names we are missing so we can add them to the list.)

This page of the website is still being researched and updated.  Watch for more information.  See the “Our History” page of this website for more information about the history of our church and how our pastors played a leadership role in the growth of St. John’s church!