Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
“It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.”
Paul is on trial before Felix, the governor of Judea (Acts 24). He is caught between the expectations and concerns of the Jews and the expectations and concerns of the Roman leader. Paul started his ministry proclaiming the gospel to ordinary people in various places. Now that he is under arrest as a Roman citizen, Paul is able to give his witness to increasingly important people like Felix. The governor hopes to get money from Paul, but only hears him speaking about his faith.
The Jews and Romans lived side by side in Israel, but had different cultures. Like them, St. John’s, Palmerton, St. Joseph’s, Penn Argl (or West Bangor), are less than 25 miles apart but have been shaped by different geography and cultures.
St. John’s is in Palmerton, a town associated with the zinc industry. While there was no zinc in the area, it was rich with coal. Stephen Palmer, the head of the New Jersey Zinc Company, chose this site to process the zinc, because it was easier to move the zinc than the coal. Palmerton was laid out as a company town, and had a number of eastern European residents. In 1906 the beautiful stone church of St. John’s was consecrated, given by Palmer in memory of his wife. It is known as “The beautiful stone church at the top of the park.”
St. Joseph’s is in the Slate Belt, named for the profusion of slate in the area. Unlike Palmerton, which was built around one company, the area around Penn Argl (“mountain of slate” in Welsh) was quarried by multiple small enterprises, made up of various immigrant groups, particularly Italians. In 1919 the men of the parish built a small wooden frame church, “excavating the building entirely by hand with pick and shovel, and carrying the large stones away by hand” (A Journey Through the Historic Diocese of Bethlehem p. 30).
Both the zinc industry and the slate industry have declined, leaving some environmental damage behind, and changing the communities around these churches.
Started in different ways and reflecting different cultures, both St. John’s and St. Joseph’s find a common ministry in hospitality. Their congregations are older but they reach out to the community. St. John’s has a monthly free Community Dinner, which welcomes about 70 people on average. St. Joseph’s, reflecting its Italian heritage, has Spaghetti Suppers that invite the community in. St. John’s also gives gifts cards at Christmas time to children in need, and helps with the area foodbank.
Both congregations have witnessed the decline of industries that sustained their communities in the beginning. But, like the apostle Paul, these churches continue to seek to witness to the resurrection of the dead. The square designed by St. Joseph’s for the diocesan quilt has butterflies as symbols of that faith.
How does your parish witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ?