Since 1762, when the first Connecticut Yankees ventured over the rugged mountains, worship and religion have played an extremely important part of every-day life in Luzerne County. Those Yankees brought their Methodist, Episcopal, and Baptist churches with them from Connecticut. The Pennsylvania Germans and the Pennamites that followed the Yankees into this beautiful valley established their Lutheran and Reformed churches in their townships.
Later, as immigrants arrived in the early part of the 19th century to work in the anthracite mines and in the building of the canals, they brought their own unique religions with them, thus establishing a practice that would last for more than a century; immigrants, mainly peasants from rural backgrounds, maintained links to the old country’s ways and habits through their native churches. English and Welsh Churches Experienced Welsh miners were the largest group of early immigrant laborers. The Welsh brought three primary religions – Baptist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian. The next largest group, English miners, typically joined the existing Episcopal and Methodist churches, but others established their own church; the Primitive Methodist Church. Irish and German Churches Prior to the American Civil War, immigration into Luzerne County was confined to immigrants from England, Wales, Ireland and Scandinavia. After the Civil War, Irish immigrants brought the Roman Catholic religion to the country. These Irish churches, in small communities throughout the country, provided the Irish miners and their families with a safe harbor from the ever-increasing storm of prejudice and mistrust that they faced from the established English Protestants. German immigrants were of two types – German Americans that had been in America for several generations and were moving out from southeastern Pennsylvania to find new farmland, and rural Germans that immigrated directly to work in the mines. These new immigrants usually joined the existing German Lutheran and Reformed churches, but also established other churches – Reformed Jewish, Roman Catholic and Evangelical United Brethren. The Great Immigration to America At the conclusion of the American Civil War, immigration to America and into Luzerne County became a flood. From about 1870 to 1915 and at the beginning of the WWI, immigrants came to America in the greatest migration in human history. These immigrants came to the mines and factories of Luzerne County by the hundreds and thousands, and they brought their religions with them. What had been a fairly typical religious community, with four primary religious groups – English religions, German religions, Jewish religions and Catholic – quickly became a melting pot of ethnic cultures, languages and religions. The communities that make Luzerne County such a culturally right place to live today because of that Great Immigration to America. A Melting Pot of European Cultures Historians record that as many as 26 languages were spoken in the coal mines and factories in Luzerne County. From a base population of English, Welsh, Irish, German and Scandinavian, the county experienced and influx of workers and families from just about every culture in southern and Eastern Europe. The Poles were the largest group. They brought their form of Roman Catholicism, first to Nanticoke and them throughout the county. The next large group was the Italians who quickly established their own Roman Catholic Churches throughout the county. Lithuanians in significant numbers established Roman Catholic churches throughout the county in the last two decades of the 19th century, as did the Slovaks, Ukrainians and Hungarians. Eastern Rite churches (Eastern Catholicism) were established as early as 1887. At about the same time, Jewish Orthodox immigrants were building synagogues throughout the county. Today, our communities are blessed with churches that represent the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children that come to Luzerne County as part of the Great Immigration; the flood that brought our grandparents and our great grandparents to America. These ethnic churches, large and small, are a symbol of what was and is great about America. These churches – Roman Catholic, Slovak, Lithuanian, Methodist, Lutheran, Jewish, and so many more – represent the culture and the belief system upon which this great society was built.