The body of Christians known as the Church of the Brethren traces its beginning to a very small circle of Anabaptist-Pietist believers in Schwarzenau, Germany. Believing strongly that Christianity is a faith to be chosen by the individual, this led them to embrace believer's baptism. Thus this original group of eight persons gathered at the Eder River in the autumn of 1708 for baptism. While this act of re-baptism was illegal, the group grew and eventually sought freedom to worship and practice their faith as they desired in the British colony of Pennsylvania.
The first Church of the Brethren congregation organized in America was in Germantown, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). On Christmas day, 1723, six persons were baptized in the nearby Wissahickon Creek and the first Love Feast service in America was observed.
Around 1754 George Balsbaugh and George Henry came from Germany and settled on a tract of land on which the Spring Creek Church is now located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Originally part of the Conestoga Congregation, in 1772 Conestoga was divided into three congregations, namely, Conestoga, White Oak, and Swatara. The Spring Creek area became part of the Swatara Congregation. Sometime between 1798 and 1800, the Swatara Congregation was divided into two Congregations, namely, Big Swatara and Little Swatara. Spring Creek was included in the Big Swatara congregation. In these early years church buildings were not the focal point of a congregation, and people would assemble together in homes for worship.
Spring Creek Church of the Brethren was established in its current location in 1848 when the first meetinghouse was built in the township of Derry along the Spring Creek. It was built on a tract of land donated by Wendell Henry, who was affiliated with the congregation. The church was still part of the Big Swatara Congregation at this time, and by 1868 the membership of the congregation had grown to 450 members. The congregation was then divided into the Big Swatara and Spring Creek congregations. The older portion of the current church building was built in 1886 and renovated in 1936, largely with funds donated by Milton S. Hershey, with other additions and renovations occurring in 1959 and 2006.
Leadership was initially given by "free ministers" - persons who were called apart from among the membership to share leadership. The first professional pastor was hired in 1934 and a pastor and other support staff continue to lead the congregation today.
A more detailed account is available in the book A History of the Spring Creek Church of the Brethren 1848-1988, by John S. Breidenstine. (The book is available for purchase from the church office.)
In 1915 the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren decided to hold its denomination-wide meeting in Hershey, Pennsylvania. When the Annual Conference organizers requested permission to erect a tent on HersheyPark grounds, Milton Hershey responded by building a 4,000-seat convention hall for their use. The denomination returned again for their 1924 Annual Conference.
More history about the Brethren denomination is available at cob-net.org.
The Not-So-Big Church