St. John (Barner’s) Lutheran Church
Pioneer Church and School

Drawing provided by the Lutheran Brotherhood

Some sources indicate a congregation formed as early as 1786 on land owned by Swiss immigrant and farmer Adam Barner. The first pastor, The Rev. George Geistweit, was called in 1794. Tradition holds that, on the site of the Adam Barner Memorial, a weather-boarded log building called ‘Dupes,’ later ‘Barner’s,’ served as both church and school.

In 1872, the present church, built of local bricks, was constructed across the road from the original location. Mennonite, Reformed, and Lutheran congregations, mainly made up of Barner and related families, financed the $3,500 house of worship. In 1927, the congregation became St. John (Barner’s) Lutheran Church, The Rev. Gilbert D. Strail, pastor.

In 1888, the school district sold the log school building, one of the last in Perry County, for $20 and constructed one of red bricks next to Barner’s Church. They purchased the land from Samuel Barner and built the school for $891. The school closed in 1945 and the church bought the property in 1951 for $500. The congregation built a connector between the church and parish house in 1980, adding meeting rooms.

Barner’s School in 1906.

An apple butter boil was initiated in 1952 to help pay for the school purchase. Since 1963, all proceeds from this annual event have been used for charitable purposes. In recognition of this unique activity, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. invited the congregation to make apple butter at the Festival of American Folk Life for our country’s Bicentennial in 1976.

The 1953 Apple Butter Boil.

The church has evolved from a small frontier meeting house and school to a Reformed congregation, then to a Lutheran congregation. To all who pass through the doors of this little church with a big heart, the dream of finding Jesus Christ has been made a reality.

Citations for the Web Site

History of St. John’s (Barner’s Church) 1972 Anniversary History

In the 1960s, the boil with up to 16 kettles, expanded to the first two Saturdays of October.

News Sun, June 8, 1972 and July 1, 1976

Mrs. Joseph Oliver Barner, “Barner’s Church, Historic Landmark, ca 1960

The Sentinel, May 22, 1985

“Adam Barner Family of Pennsylvania” pub 2000

Perhaps Dupes because Adam’s son and heir George married Mary Dupes whose family may have been involved with the school.  

Interview with Barner Reunion president, Beth Byers Sowers – January 17, 2017

“A History of Perry County” by H.H. Hain, 1922

Hain offers a second story on the founding of the church in addition to the one detailed on the marker.  Another source suggests the church may not have been organized until the 1813-1819 period.

“A Scrapbook of Schoolhouses in Perry County” by Margie Becker, 2000

Add bicentennial, historical society and Lutheran church logos..