Shope's Mennonite Church
Mennonites have lived in Dauphin County for many years. The Mennonite families would meet in homes for their worship. The family of Jacob Mumma (1715) who immigrated with his family to Pennsylvania in 1731. He moved to Dauphin County in 1752. His grandson, John Mumma (1776-1859) and his wife Elizabeth purchased 121 acres and 34 perches of land from his father, Johannes Mumma (1736-1816) for the erection of a meeting house in 1801. John was ordained as a minister for the congregations and later bishop for churches in Dauphin and Lancaster Counties. In 1816, John and Elizabeth Mumma sold land to the Mennonite Congregation for the erection of a meeting house at what now is the intersection of Lumber Street and Spring Garden Drive. This first meetinghouse was constructed of logs with a coned roof. It was 20 feet wide and 30 feet long. When the framing was finished, it was covered in weatherboard and painted red. At this time, the Mennonite Congregation called it the “Mumma” Meetinghouse. This was the custom using the surname of the family that furnished the land on which meetinghouses were erected.
In 1841, Martha Gayman, the granddaughter of Abraham Gayman and daughter of Henry Gayman, married Nathaniel Shope (1815-1877). Nathaniel was a school teacher. Even though he was born into a German Baptist family, he was baptized into the Mennonite Church in 1851. On October 13, 1858, he was ordained as a minister of the Mumma Meetinghouse. He became bishop on October 27, 1864. To assist Bishop Peter R. Ebersole, who served Mennonites in Lancaster, Dauphin, Lebanon, Cumberland, and York Counties.
It appears Shope served Mennonites over a broader area and time than the immediate Mumma Meetinghouse. He and his family lived on the homestead originally inhabited by Abraham Gayman (Gehman), which was a large tract of land located a short distance east of the Mumma Meetinghouse. Nathaniel and Martha Shope had a family of ten children, nine of whom grew to adulthood. The heirs of Nathaniel Shope deeded ground to the northeast of the meetinghouse for use as a cemetery. The first burial in the cemetery on the hill was Nathaniel Shope. The cemetery is known as Shope’s Mennonite Cemetery. It is well-maintained and continues to receive new burials.
In 1873, the Mumma/Shope Meetinghouse was replaced by a larger brick building. The new building originally had three entrances, one at the side, toward the road facing east was referred to as “The Men’s Entrance”. The women used a different door. The pulpit was originally located at the north end but was switched to the south end of the building. Perhaps Nathaniel Shope’s advanced status as bishop was the reason for the designation of the name “Shope” after the new meetinghouse was built.
In 1965, the congregation decided to conduct Sunday services at Strickler’s Mennonite Church in Londonderry Township. The Shope Meetinghouse did not meet the standards of the more rigid building codes for an increasingly suburban community. The declining membership did not provide an incentive to renovate the building. It continued to be used occasionally, usually for prayer meetings during the summer months.
In October 1976, the Shope building was donated to the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions. The growing population in the surrounding area presented a challenge for the little church. A new community oriented non-denominational congregation, named “The Garden Chapel” was developed. This congregation renovated and enlarged the building and occupied it for 15-20 years. After which they built a new and larger church a few miles away near Highspire just off Rosedale Avenue. After standing vacant for several years the former Shope’s Meetinghouse became a family residence.
Presently, the brick home and .48 acres is owned by Marilyn Topolnicki and is located at 1001 Lumber Street, Middletown, PA.
PA Mennonite Heritage Magazine, April 1987, Vol. 10, Number 2.
Strickler’s and Shope’s Mennonite Church Chronology of Significant Events compiled by Lloyd Zeager, August 14, 2004.
History of Dauphin County, PA by Luther R. Kelker.
Shope and Strickler Mennonite Churches by Betty Groupe.