Schwarzwald United Church of Christ celebrated the 150th anniversary of its church building Sunday with a special service and reconsecration ceremony.

The service at the church in Exeter Township featured guest soprano Toni Marie Palmertree.

Palmertree, who grew up near Fleetwood, is a 2000 graduate of Oley Valley High School.

During a two-year residency with San Francisco Opera, she performed a wide range of roles.

“After my time in San Francisco, I moved to Allentown,” she said. “There's an airport there. I get to stay close to my folks and travel worldwide.”

Palmertree had joined the roster of The Metropolitan Opera earlier this year for its production of "Madame Butterfly," but the Met canceled its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was accompanied Sunday by Schwarzwald's minister of music and organist Joseph DiCindio and guest pianist LaRue Sheetz, who also performed two duets.

The Rev. John Dawson, pastor of the church, led the ceremony with the Rev. William P. Worley, minister of the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference of the UCC.

Worley praised the members of the church in the Jacksonwald section of Exeter for their careful stewardship of the aged brick building.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Worley said, Schwarzwald UCC and many other churches have had to find ways to adapt, adopting social distancing practices, or holding outdoors or online services.

“It is just not the same,” he said. “I miss passing the peace by shaking hands. There is no elbow bump in the scriptures; there is the kiss of peace and the right-hand touch.”

Worley said he hopes the restrictions of the pandemic will help congregation members to see the value of gathering together in person in the church.

The congregation at Schwarzwald, now called Jacksonwald, built its first house of worship around 1754, said George M. Meiser IX, county historian and a member of the church. A crude log structure, it was replaced in 1810 by a stone building, he said.

“That served worshipers until the growing congregation necessitated construction of the larger, present-day edifice in 1870,” Meiser said.

Worley and Dawson reconsecrated the sanctuary using the 1859 consecration text of the German Reformed Church.

The Evangelical and Reformed Church and the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches united in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ.

The service also included the dedication of a new mural, "The Baptism of Christ," by Reading artist Denise Himmelreich, owner of Custom Decorative Painting.

Palmertree will sing again at Schwarzwald UCC at 10:30 p.m. Christmas Eve.

She also will be guest soloist at an earlier Christmas Eve service, 4 p.m. at St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church, 322 S. Fifth St.

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