St. Paul’s Lutheran church celebrates 150 years

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, November 14, 2009

First, they’re beautiful. Those stained glass windows that came from one of the finest glass studios in Germany are as prized by the congregation of St. Paul’s Lutheran today as they were when they were installed back in the early 1900s.

There’s the one that shows Jesus as the healer. Nearby are the ones that show Christ as King and Shepherd. Then there is the archangel window. But the one that is especially significant to this congregation is the white rose of Luther, the design the founder of their denomination detailed himself.

“They tell the story of God’s miraculous work through the stained glass windows,” the Rev. David Ritchie, pastor of the church, said.

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They also reflect the dedication and devotion of a congregation that today marks its 150th anniversary as a presence of Lutheranism in Lawrence County.

“There are not very often churches that come into 150 years and so we are having a celebration of doing the ministry of Christ in Ironton,” Ritchie said. “To our congregation, it’s very special.”

The anniversary will be marked by a special service at 3 p.m. with Callon W. Holloway Jr., bishop of the Southern Ohio Synod, presenting the sermon. Also participating will be past pastors, David Schellhase, William Michaels, Stephen Neirman and Michael Poole. Former organist Max Jackson will be in charge of the music.

It was in 1859 that St. Paul’s Evangelical German Lutheran Church was formed with the Rev. C.E. Steinhauer, pastor, in a building in Hanging Rock.

Three years later, the congregation moved to its present location at Sixth and Center streets, buying the structure owned by a group of Welsh Calvinists. In 1904 the present building was erected at a cost of $22,000.

Until around 1917, the services were conducted almost exclusively in the German language of the immigrants who brought the church into being in Lawrence County.

“A lot of the building was made by members of the congregation,” Ritchie said. “The chancel railing around the altar, that was built by a local carpenter, who was a member of the church. A lot of the molding was also made by a local carpenter. A lot of things were custom made for the church. And the Gothic architecture was designed around the windows.”

This is the first parish for Ritchie who graduated from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus in 2008. What he has seen in the short time as pastor is a congregation devoted to helping the community.

“The congregation is a loving congregation who loves to do outreach,” he said. “That is the ministry of Jesus Christ to outreach to the neighbor. As small as we are we do a lot of outreach to the community.”

Over the years that ministry has taken the form of the annual “Tools 4 School” program where book bags and school supplies are given away each fall to underprivileged children. Or the “Christmas with Dignity” which provided Christmas presented for families.

That has now been transformed into a food giveaway that will provide needy families with food for their Christmas dinner.

And like all families, the days of St. Paul have had their share of trials. But the resiliency of the people in the church has enabled it to survive, Ritchie said.

“Every church has issues they have to deal with,” he said. “The congregation has strong enough heart where they stick through it. They trust the faith to get through the issues. It is a family here that is very strong. It’s the hard line family values the church has.”

History of the Church

1859 St. Paul’s is formed.

1867 Congregation becomes corporate body.

1904 Present church constructed; Philip Hopstetter and the former Sofie Eilert were the first couple to exchange marriage vows.

1923 Present church redecorated.

1936 St. Paul begins series of radio broadcasts known as “The Lutheran Vesper Hour.”

1937 Flood damages walls and furniture of church. More than $3,700 spent on repairs. Three families live in the church during flood.

1939 New parsonage is built at cost of $5,500. Paul G. Schweickart was contractor.

1941 Largest increase to church membership takes place.

1947 Gift of new gold cross is presented to church in

memory of Lena Madden.

1949 Altar refinished and church interior redecorated.

1966 The Rev. E. A. Kahle retires after 36 years as pastor.

1978 New Lutheran Book of Worship is used for first time.

1995 Dedication of new Sunday School annex.

2003 Amazing Grace Day Camp program begins.