The village of Slatedale, formerly Labarsville, was about twenty years old and much smaller when residents with Lutheran and Reformed backgrounds began to see the need for their own church. A Methodist Episcopal and an Evangelical Church were already on-site or in proximity. Most of the Lutheran and Reformed residents had historical and membership ties to Heidelberg Church, a few miles away, and dating to 1740.
Life in Slatedale in the post-Civil War years was far different than today. Automobiles, paved roads, telephones, and the Internet were not in the picture. Village life of that era was analogous to people living near a mall today. People desired goods and services near at hand, so villages grew to provide easier life and promote easier communication among neighbors. Many worked nearby in the local slate quarries.
One historian notes that by 1914, the village population stood between 900 and 1,000 people. Many of the families provided services or owned businesses necessary for community life as noted in the History of Slatedale section. Since those enterprises could fulfill a family’s every need, there was little reason to travel far from home.
It made sense for local residents to also have a church handy for worship, fellowship, catechetical instruction, and Sunday School. A trip of even several miles to Heidelberg or Slatington was time-consuming and uncomfortable, depending on horse-based transportation or walking in various weather conditions.
Area Lutheran and Reformed residents first began to worship locally in the Lehigh Furnace and Slatedale public schools, which opened their doors to the Sunday School movement. Old records note that the Reverend Levi K. Derr, a Reformed minister, preached in Slatedale as early as 1871.
By 1888, there was enough community support and population density to form a Union Church. Leaders who were ready to move forward with this project included the Reverend J. S. Renninger, Howard Blose, Wilson Rex, Peter Farber, J. H. Snyder, Henry Kern, William Krause, and Wilson Steele. They organized St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Church of Slatedale and purchased the current site from Mr. and Mrs. Joseph German on April 1, 1889. Building materials were ordered and construction began.
When the building was partially completed, with the walls partially erected, the leadership was unable to secure sufficient funds to cover expenses. The sheriff sold the unfinished building to Kech & Company of Allentown, who planned to use the lot and building for a factory. Upon reading the fine print of initial deed, there was found to be a deed restriction by the German family that this site could be used only for a Lutheran and Reformed Church. As a result, the structure remained unfinished, unused, and in questionable legal state.
No written records have been found concerning why the unfinished church was sheriffed, but at that time the slate industry had its ups and downs due to economic crashes and booms in the nation at large. For example, beginning in 1893 and extending for several years, there was an economic recession (crash) which pushed unemployment figures into the high teens. This caused slowdowns on construction and repairs and so afflicted Slatedale’s main industry, slate.
Matters remained in limbo until June 26, 1901, when Lafayette German and Henry Kern purchased the property and sold it at a reduced price to the committee of original organizers. The church received its new name, Holy Trinity Church, on February 9, 1903, at the suggestion of Mr. Wilson Rex, a church leader, businessman, and Justice of the Peace.
After reorganization and regaining ownership of the unfinished structure, services began to be held on ground level, i.e., the basement. Cora Blose, a church member and Slatedale resident for many years and now deceased, used to tell how when she was a young girl, members worshiped and conducted Sunday School meetings in the downstairs while the upstairs work was being completed. This space was all the members had at the time and they used it well. In any event, after 1903 the sanctuary was finished and furnished in a few years due to the efforts of the Ladies Aid Society and others. This brick 40 x 70 foot building cost about $6,400 to complete and has been in use ever since – with some changes and additions.
The first heater (steam furnace) was installed during 1904, and on August 2, 1916, a bell was purchased on trial from the Lehighton Reformed congregation and placed in the tower of the church. The tower was increased in height and remodeled during 1917-1918 so that the residents in the lower part of town could hear the ringing of the bell. The first major improvements of the church building were done during 1924-1925. These consisted of installing the present pipe organ, replacing the original frosted glass with the present stained glass windows, installing electric lights to replace kerosene lamps, installing the altar, and painting the picture of Christ above the altar.
The last sixty years has brought vast changes to America, Slatedale, and the church. There was no television and there were many Sunday religious radio programs. The few stores which were open on Sunday could only sell specific products due to the Blue Laws. People shopped and did business close to home. The church had a more central role in the life of the community and family. Today the electronic devices at our fingertips, the vast array of media choices, and pressures of our present age have changed the attitudes and life styles of so many in our community. Shopping, sports, recreational opportunity, and required Sunday work schedules compete with worship and church life. The automobile and paved roads have made travel so easy.
The future of Holy Trinity cannot be predicted with any certainty, and the role it may play in the next 125 years remains uncharted. Holy Trinity continues to move forward, trusting in the Lord and open to the opportunities that this community presents to witness the gospel.