This article was published by the Times Herald on July 23, labeled “A press release from Boehm’s United Church of Christ.”
Under a gray overcast sky and constant light drizzle last month, 150 family members, friends and church members sat in orderly rows at the edge of the cemetery grounds adjacent to The Boehm’s United Church of Christ church for a dedication ceremony honoring the church’s founder and unveiling of a historical plaque in his name.
In 2015, Boehm’s United Church of Christ celebrated its 275th birthday. The history committee of Boehm’s church endeavored through months of extensive research and preparations, to obtain a historical marker for the church honoring John Philip Boehm, its founder, which was granted in early 2018 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
The cast aluminum marker was secured at the top of the pole set in ground at the edge of Boehm’s cemetery.
Historical markers capture the memory of people, places and innovations that have affected the lives of Pennsylvanians over the centuries since William Penn founded his commonwealth. More than 2,000 cast aluminum markers tell the important and interesting stories that are part of the history of Pennsylvania. Each dedication presents opportunities for Pennsylvanians to celebrate and understand their heritage.
John Philip Boehm, a young shoolmaster from Horschstadt, Germany, boarded a ship on Nov. 24, 1683. Driven by persecution from his homeland, he went to America seeking religious freedom. Arriving in Philadelphia in August 1720, Boehm chose the land of the Penns and settled his family in Whitpain on a 200-acre farm. He gained title in 1736. Trained to be a teacher in Worms, Germany, Boehm taught religion, math and reading; gave organ lessons; and led choirs.
The high population of German-speaking immigrants in the area created a shortage of teachers. Realizing his teaching skills prompted his neighbors to urge Boehm to serve as their minister. Although he was somewhat opposed to this, he began traveling on horseback to farms and circuit churches, offering his services and acting as worship leader.
Challenged about his ministerial authority, Boehm gained his ordination from the Dutch Reformed Church Nov. 23, 1729.
Over the next 20 years traveling, Boehm continued his work and created 12 new churches. In his own words and by his own estimation, he rode some 25,000 miles on horseback to serve churches of large German populations where there were few roads.
One of the important aspects of his work was establishing a governance of the churches. He created an outline for the constitution which the first three churches he worked with adopted at their founding. The constitution was created in 1730.
In 1740, Boehm’s neighbors petitioned him to found a local congregation. This church became his namesake church in Whitpain, now known as Boehm’s United Church of Christ.
In 1747, Boehm met with three churches in Skippack, Falkners Swamp and Whitemarsh to establish a governing body for their faith. This was the first Coetus of the German Evangelical and Reformed Church in America. This Coetus unanimously adopted Boehm’s constitution as it governing principal requiring it to be used in the 12 churches he founded.
On April 29, 1749, Boehm died in Hellertown, Pa. Boehm’s body was returned to Whitpain and was buried under the altar of his namesake church.
Boehm had created a constitutional governance for his church. His experiment in the informed participation and consent of the governed was a dynamic not possible in 18th century Europe. These self-governing principles preceded the United States Constitution by nearly 60 years.
Speakers at the dedication ceremony were the Rev. William A. Middleton; Dr. David Schuyler of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Lorraine Nowlan; Whitpain Township Supervisor Fred Conner; state Kate M. Harper, R-61; Frances Slingluff; and the Rev. Dr. Deborah Clemens, former pastor of Boehm’s UCC Church.
Members of the church attributed the effort to secure a historical marker for the church to two late church members, the Rev. Bob Calvert and Bob Whittock. During the ceremony, two grandsons of the “two Bobs” climbed a ladder and removed the felt covering the plaque to applause from the audience.