In December of 1806 a group of German Settlers from Berlin, Pennsylvania lead by Jacob and Michael Keffer arrived in the Vaughan Township area where they formed one of the earliest Lutheran Congregations. Parish records date back to 1807, but it wasn’t until 1819 that the parish created its first log structure under the direction of Reverend Johan D. Petersen, on land donated by Jacob Keffer.
Jacob Keffer married Anna Margaret Keiffer in Pennsylvania, in the United States of America, around the year 1789. For most, this was the founding family of the York Keffer Family, who’s descendants can be found all over the world today, but some of whom still remain in southern Ontario. Adam Keffer was born in Pennsylvania on 21 Nov, 1790. He first married Rachel Haman in 1818, who bore him Rachel, Michael and Sarah Keffer. Adam then married Barbara Sell in 1823, who bore him John, Barbara Susannah, Jacob, Anthony, George, John Jacob III and John Adam Keffer.
After a 16 year absence of ministry, Adam Keffer walked twice from Vaughan Township, Ontario, Canada to Klecknerville, Pennsylvania, and then to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, United States of America to plead with the Pittsburgh Synod for a Pastor to come and preach to the willing congregation in the Maple Village area. During both trips Adam wore his shoes tied over his shoulders so that when he wore them standing before the Synod, they would be clean and polished, meaning he traveled mostly barefoot. Adam Keffer’s approximate collective mileage was 1,810 km without modern roads or familiar landmarks. During the time of his journey, 1849 and 1850, there were no direct routes between locations and most of the traveled area was untouched wild lands.
Adam Keffer would have been approximately 60 – 65 years old when he made both trips.
|From Laurier Library Images
Description: Black and white photograph of Frank Sweet, Waterloo College faculty member (right) portraying Adam Keffer in a re-enactment of his walks to the Pittsburgh Lutheran Synod in 1849 and 1850. Waterloo Lutheran Seminary is visible in the background.
Notes: In 1964 more than 300 people attended the Keffer Family /eunion, held at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. It was held in conjunction with the naming of the Keffer Memorial Chapel, located in the Seminary.
Waterloo Lutheran Seminary is located in Waterloo, Ontario. It is a graduate school operated by the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and is a federated college of Wilfrid Laurier University. It began in 1911 as the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada, and changed to its current name in 1960.
Date of Original: June 20, 1964
The cover of a booklet published by the Lutheran Church about Adam Keffer provided by Aunt Marie. Unfortunately we only received a copy of the cover, and not of the contents. However, cousin Lee Keffer provided her copies of the original document from her personal research for which we’re eternally grateful! Thank you Lee! A Transcription of pages two, three and four of the Canadian Lutheran reads as follows:
Page Two The Canada Lutheran
TRIBUTE TO A TRAIL BLAZER
John Schmieder, D.D
When in ancient times God tempted Abraham and sent him on a journey which was to test his faith as no man’s faith had ever before been tested, the venerable patriarch neither flinched nor faltered. Instead it is written, Gen. 22, that “Abraham rose up early in the morning… and went into the place which God told him of.”
Just so, when in the spring of 1948 God chose Adam Keffer to be the saviour of the shepherdless Lutheran settlers of Upper Canada, there was no malingering on his part. Called t a heroic task which tested his loyalty to the utmost, Father Keffer did not dally. He rose up early in the morning, tied together the laces of his boots, swung them over his shoulders, and leaving his wife and family in the care of his brother, began his long journey afoot. It took him from his homestead in Vaughn Township over primitive roads through muddy York – it was early in May – and then on by way of Hamilton, Niagra Falls and Buffalo, until after many days and 265 footsore miles, he came at length to Klecknerville (new Venango, Pa.) where the Pittsburg Synod was in session, May 24-30.
There, before the synod’s mission committee, chaired by Dr. W. A. Passavant of home and inner mission fame, he laid down the burden which God had pressed upon his heart, namely the sorry plight of his fellow believers in Upper Canada. As a result of Father Keffer’s impassioned plea, the Rev. Gollieb Bassler, president of the General Council, was prevailed upon to visit the distressed congregations in Markham and Vaughn Townships, which for fifteen years had been without a regular minister and were threatened with disintegration.
Bassler arrived at the Keffer homestead late at night on July 28, 1849. The house was in utter darkness, the family sound asleep. Persistent knocking eventually awakened mother Keffer. In a white nightcap and holding aloft a lighted candle, she cautiously unfastened the door. As in a dream, almost too good to be true, she recognized the stranger. “Pa”, she cried out, “der Parre is kummel”
Now it was Bassler’s turn to be surprised. The familiar Pennsylvania Dutch dialect struck a responsive chord in his heart. Did these Lutherans settlers in faraway Canada actually hail from the state in which he himself had lived since coming from Berne at the age of four? Indeed they did. Adam’s grandfather had been one of the founders of Berlin, Pa., and had there given forty acres for a church and school.
Bassler ministered to the scattered flocks in Markham and Vaughn for an entire month. Home again in Middle Lancaster, he submitted a written report to Dr. Passavant which described the conditions he had found as “sad in the extreme. Some of the principal members”. he observed, “have been drawn off by other churches. Those still connected with our congregations are indifferent or discouraged. Many, especially the young, attend no church and are growing up without religious instructions.”
Page Three The Canada Lutheran
Moreover, Bassler had learned, the same pitiful situation existed among the Lutheran settlers along the St. Lawrence as well as among those in Waterloo County. His report stated, “there is a large and increasing German population, composed in a great measure of nominal Lutheranns about 100 miles west of Toronto who are being led in the broad way by men who pass themselves as Lutheran ministers, one of whom is a Universalist, another a Swesenborgian, and several others who are drunkards and worthless characters. “Hope deferred”. Bassler warned, “maketh the heart sick.” He urged immediate action. But the months went by. The year 1850 dawned. Nothing happened.
Meanwhile Keffer learned that the Synod would next convene in Pittsburg, some 368 miles from his home in Vaughn. Undismayed by the prospect of having to do the same thing over again, and this time to walk a hundred miles farther south, the aged saint once more set forth on the long trek until the day came when, like a man from Mars, be burst in upon the astonished delegates.
“Unexpectedly, and t the surprise of everyone, our venerable Father Keffer from beyond Toronto appeared among us.” wrote a reporter. “The interview of this aged patriarch with Synod and his agonizing entreaties went to the heart of everyone.” Tears were in their eyes as they knelt in prayer to implore God’s help and guidance. And this time action followed a-pace.
During the past year The Canada Lutheran has featured articles of historical significance written by some of the present day fathers of Synod. The next Issue of The Canada Lutheran will be the centennial issue, and is scheduled to appear in mid-May. Readers may be assured of an excellent reading experience in that issue. Specifically it will cover synodical history in the period 1945-61.
The Rev. Carl R. Cronmiller D.D., the historian of Synod, informed The Canada Lutheran that THE HISTORY OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN CANADA, Vol. 1 – EASTERN AND CENTRAL CANADA will be published by June 1, 1961. The 250-page, Illustrated volume will cover Lutheran history from the Maritimes to the Lakehead. This long-looked for book, the work of many years on the part of the Islington Pastor, should be read by every Lutheran Family which values its heritage in the Faith.
In September of that same year 1850 the Rev. Chas F. Diehl was sent to Zion congregation in Vaughn, Immanuel Wuster to Waterloo in 1851, Jeremiah Fishburn to Markham in 1852 and F. W. Tuerk to Sebringville in the following year. Finding themselves too far removed even from the Northern Conference of the Pittsburg Synod, these men felt constrained to form a new conference. Synod approved, and in July 1853 commissioned Dr. Passivant to preside over the formation of the Canada Conference of the Pittsburg Synod.
During the next eight years more pastors were directed into the expanding field and 18 new congregations were organized. Daniel Stahlschmidt was sent to Heidelberg from the New York Ministerium. From the same body came C. F. Rechenberg to serve the Toronto parish. L. H. Gerndt, like Christian Behrens a Gossner missionary and a refugee from India’s Sepoy rebellion, came to serve Hamburg, Manbiem and New Dundee, and then set out for the Ottawa valley where he fathered a half a dozen congregations. Karl R. Gernde another Gossner man, ministered to the flock of Logan and started four congregations in that area. From far away Texas came J.F.C. Ehinger to serve Philipsburg. From Virginia came John H. Huton to Williamsburg. From the Pittsburg Synod came C.F.A Kaesmenn to become, in 1856, the first regular pastor in Travislock.
Thus strengthened and growing rapidly, the Canada Conference met in Zion Church, Vaughn Township to form in July 1861 the first Lutheran Synod in the country, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Canada. The Rec. C. F. Rechnerberg of Toronto was elected president. Rev. Gollieb Bussler, head of the mother synod in Pittsburg, was present in person to offer the dedicatory prayer and to invoke the blessing of the triune God. Adam Keffer’s mission was now accomplished. The Lutheran Church had been
firmly established on Canadian soil.
In blazing the trail which led to the organization of the Canada Synod, Father Keffer had made two long journeys. He had travelled alone and on foot. Measured on today’s highways he had covered no less than 1,266 miles but it was not in vain. Eleven years later the ripe fruit of his labors were gathered in; and great must have been his joy when Zion, his home church, was chosen for the happy harvest festival.
The dynamic generator of this blessed event lived twelve more years to rejoice in Synod’s growth. One Jan. 31, 1874, Adam Keffer at 86 embarked on this lat journey. Like Abraham he went to his in peace and was buried in a good old age. In the centennial year of its founding a grateful Synod remembers Father Keffer as the man whom God called to become the saviour of Lutheranism in our land.
The following is an excerpt from the book, A HISTORY OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN CANADA, Volume 1, by the Rev. Carl R. Cronmiller, D.D., Pastor of St. Philip’s Lutheran Church, Islington, and printed with his kind permission.
“An interesting story is related depicting the arrival of Keffer at Klecknerville.
In 1849 the Pittsburg Synod met in Klecknerville, in north-west Pennsylvania. The meeting began with the communion service. As was the custom, members of the local congregation took part. But the solicitous eye of the local pastor, Henry Ziegler, noted the absence of one member about whom he was concerned. The missing member was walking mostly because Pastor Ziegler had taken no uncertain stand in the matter of temperance. This member ought to be visited immediately, but Pastor Ziegler’s duties as host prevented his leaving the meeting.
He thought of his friend, young Pastor William Passavant, from First Church, Pittsburg. Passavant had a way with people, and would be willing to undertake the errand.
This explains why William Passivant walked out to the end of the village that day. When he came to the house he saw an old man walking barefoot in the garden. Passavant soon discovered the old man was Adam Keffer, an elder in the Lutheran Church beyond Toronto. He was barefooted because his feet hurt. They had carried him all the way from beyond Toronto to Klecknerville.
In an 1849 issue of THE MISSIONARY, a paper of the Pittsburg Synod, Father Adam Keffer’s plea and the resulting action of the Mission Committee are thus recorded.
At the meeting of the Mission Committee, during the Synod, and aged Christian, Father Adam Keffer, appeared before them on behalf of several destitute congregations in the Townships of Markham and Vaughn, near Toronto, Canada. His communication set forth the mournful state of things among these, our brethren, destitute of a pastor, and imposed upon by the most shameless imposters, who assume the name of Lutheran in order to carry on their work of deception among the unsuspecting people… The earnest hope was expressed that Synod would do something effectual for their supply ere they would finally be scattered, never more to be gathered again. The committee was deeply affected by this appeal, and after prayer, it was unanimously resolved that the request of the petitioners be taken into serious consideration. After mutual consultation, it was deemed most judicious to send someone to visit these people to ascertain their actual situation and wants, in order that the most effective measure might be adopted for their supply. Rev. G. Rassler was thereupon appointed to visit these churches at as early a day as possible and minister to them for a month or six weeks.”
The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church was rebuilt in a standing brick structure in 1860, as per the cornerstone of the Church which is still visible today. There is a standing monument dedicated to Adam Keffer and his constant faith located on church grounds.
In the Canadian capital, St. Peter’s Church has dedicated a panel of stunning glasswork by gifted artist Russell C. Goodman, to the journey of Adam Keffer and his contribution to Canadian Lutheran Faith.
Russell Charles Goodman was given the honour of the Order of Canada in 1989, the Governor General’s Award in 2001 and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for his beautiful and prolific contribution to the arts community.
Russell C. Goodman worked on the windows for St. Peter’s Church from 1984 to 1992, the windows include the History Window, in which Adam Keffer is placed on the far left side, and an accurate image of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Maple is depicted in the center window with Herman Hayunga. St. Peter’s Church is located at 400 Sparks Street, Ottawa, Ontario.
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
St. Peter’s Church
Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod
Goodman Zissoff Stained Glass Studio
Keffer Memorial Chapel, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary