Bishop William Henry Benade, who was destined to become one of the most effective advocates for New Church education, did not grow up in a New Church family. Born in 1816 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, William came from a family that was prominent in the Moravian Church.
William’s father, Andrew Benade, had left Europe in 1795 to teach at Nazareth Hall, a prominent boarding school for boys in the Moravian community at Nazareth, Pennsylvania (see lithograph and photo, left and below). Andrew was later principal of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in nearby Bethlehem, a position he held for twelve years. In 1822 he was consecrated a bishop in the Moravian Church. William, as the son of a Moravian teacher, school administrator, and bishop, was raised in a family that placed a high value on the concept of religious education.
At that time the Moravian Church was well known for its highly developed system of education for both boys and girls. The Moravians viewed education as an instrument of salvation, believing the schoolmaster’s desk to be as essential as the church pulpit. As one alumnus observed, Nazareth Hall was a sort of “preparatory school for heaven.” William first enrolled as a student at Nazareth Hall in 1828, in a class of 25 boys.
A textbook bearing William Benade’s signature, most likely from his student years at Nazareth Hall, is in the collection of the Swedenborg Library in Bryn Athyn, PA (see photos, left). After finishing his schooling in 1835, Benade began teaching a variety of subjects in the boys school at Nazareth Hall, and later in the Theological Seminary at Bethlehem. Several of Benade’s written evaluations of his classes at Nazareth Hall are in the collection of the Moravian Historical Society in Nazareth, PA (see photos of 1838 evaluation, below). These evaluations suggest that as a teacher Benade was generous with both praise and criticism:
“Arithmetic Class. June 1838. I cannot say that I am well satisfied with the majority of this class. Some have been diligent and attentive and have made advances accordingly. The others might have done the same, had it not been for their intolerable idleness and inattention. One of them (E. Haslin) has occupied the honourable position of a cypher in the class, for the last six months. Mr. Snyder must be commended for his diligence.”
“History Class. It affords me great satisfaction to state that the whole class deserves much praise for the manner in which they have written and learnt their lessons and for the attention paid during school.”
Several years after Benade’s death in 1905, the Rev. William Schwarze, a professor of Church History at the Moravian College and Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, wrote,
“William H. Benade was for the short period of two years a professor in the preparatory department [of the College and Theological Seminary]. A son of Bishop Benade, he possessed splendid talents, which were diligently improved in the course of an excellent training. He was industrious and successful in the acquisition of knowledge from all sources within his reach. In the professorial chair he was very effective. His attainments in classical literature were particularly creditable, not only to his talents but also to his application” (William Nathaniel Schwarze, History of the Moravian College and Theological Seminary, 1910, 90).
After William Benade’s ordination as a Moravian minister in 1841 he had every reason to look forward to a successful career in the Moravian Church. However, at about this time something happened that would change Benade’s life forever: he began reading the works of Emanuel Swedenborg and discussing them with some of his New Church friends in Lancaster. Convinced of the truth of Swedenborg’s teachings, Benade started to preach New Church ideas from the pulpit of the Moravian church on Race Street in Philadelphia.
For the first few Sundays, Benade did not disclose Swedenborg as the source of these ideas. Then, one Sunday in October of 1844, he decided the time had come. He delivered a sermon to his Moravian congregation in which he declared the New Church to be his new point of view, hoping that they would begin reading Swedenborg themselves. But Benade had miscalculated. The next Sunday the church was closed against him, and he was barred from preaching there. At the age of 28, William Henry Benade’s career as a minister in the Moravian church had come to an abrupt end.
Fortunately for Benade, Philadelphia had for a long time been a center of New Church activity, and the next year, in 1845, he was installed as pastor of the Philadelphia New Church congregation. His commitment to the cause of religious education, this time from a New Church point of view, was evident from the very beginning. Benade began publishing religious magazines for children, and founded a New Church day school for boys and girls in the church building on Cherry Street.
In 1876, Benade and a group of supporters established the Academy of the New Church in Philadelphia. Over the next few years his dream of a comprehensive system of religious education for the New Church was realized as the Academy developed a Theological School for training ministers, a College, a Boys’ School and a Girls’ School.
Photos: The photograph of William Henry Benade is in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. The lithograph of Nazareth Hall, drawn by Samuel Reinke, is from Mabel Haller’s 1953 book, Early Moravian Education in Pennsylvania, page 75. The color photograph of Nazareth Hall (now an apartment building) was taken by Ed Gyllenhaal in November, 2008. The textbook used by Benade is in the collection of the Swedenborg Library, Academy of the New Church, Bryn Athyn, PA. The evaluation written by Benade in 1838 is in the collection of the Moravian Historical Society, Nazareth, PA.
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