The Easter service in Bryn Athyn on April 15th, 1900, took place in what was known as the “Club House.” Bryn Athyn was a newly formed community in 1900 (the name “Bryn Athyn,” meaning “Hill of Unity,” had been selected by the Village Association in 1899), and no permanent place of worship had yet been built. The Club House was designed by Benjamin Smith, a young New Church architect, and constructed by Henry Stroh, who also built the original churches in Berlin (Kitchener) and Toronto. John Pitcairn owned the land and the building, located on Central Avenue (now Alnwick Road).
“The interior is entirely finished in Virginia pine, ceiling and walls being alike covered by this beautiful wood. The furniture of the chancel is of the noble California red-wood (Sequoia). The chancel, which measures 10 x 15 1/2 feet, is lit by a window in the roof; the light being shaded from the congregation by an ornamental tent-like contrivance of wood that rises in the form of a Japanese roof and meets the ceiling in front of the window. On either side of the chancel is a small room, air and additional light being admitted by ornamental lattice windows. The auditorium measures 35×35 feet, giving more commodious accommodation for the worshipers than we have had in the city; where the hall of worship was so crowded as to be often uncomfortable. The auditorium will be transformed into schoolrooms by movable partitions” (New Church Life 1895, 160).
Several photographs of the Easter chancel (above and left) were taken in 1900. One of them was addressed on the back, in French, to Homer Synnestvedt by Camille Vinet, Professor of French and chemistry at the Academy of the New Church. Vinet and his wife had emigrated from France in 1897. Vinet was known as an avid amateur photographer, so it is likely that he took the photographs of the chancel himself. Homer Synnestvedt was the pastor of the church in Bryn Athyn at the time. He published an Easter sermon (“In Remembrance of Me: An Easter Address”) in New Church Life in 1900, most likely the sermon he delivered in the Club House on the 15th of April.
It is interesting to note that in 1900 the question of whether or not Easter is an appropriate celebration for the New Church was addressed in the pages of New Church Life. The question had come from a reader of the journal and was answered by the editor:
“If this is the Second Coming of the Lord why do we commemorate His death and burial? The celebration of Easter we believe is nowhere enjoined in the Word or the Writings. It is one of those observances of the Church which is to be classed with the ceremonials which may be done, left undone, or changed, at pleasure. Nevertheless as it celebrates the Lord’s Resurrection (not His death and burial which took place three days before), and seems to serve as a reminder of the Lord’s work of Redemption; it seems to furnish an occasion for especially dwelling upon the Divine mercy, patience and love, and for self-examination and reflection upon man’s duty in the way of co-operating in the Lord’s work” (New Church Life 1900, 657).
Photos: Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania