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First St. Paul’s celebrates 140th anniversary

November 12, 2018

First St. Paul’s Lutheran Church celebrated its 140th year in Hastings with pastors and parishioners past and present during a celebration linked to the congregation’s annual Fall Rally dinner Wednesday night on the Adams County Fairgrounds.

Former pastors or associate pastors in attendance included the Rev. Adam White, the Rev. Steven Neal and the Rev. Frank Kerkemeyer.

The annual dinner has been a tradition at First St. Paul’s for 64 years, celebrating the church community through recollection and reflection. Performers included the church’s adult choirs, bell choir and children’s choirs. About 500 people attended the dinner-program.

“It’s just a wonderful time for us to be able to gather up together and enjoy one another, celebrate the past and where we come from, what we’ve been able to do and the ministries that we’ve been involved with,” said the Rev. Joel Remmers, current senior pastor. “So here’s the deal: Unless Jesus comes again real quick, we’re looking forward to the next 140!”

The church owes its founding to Lutheran missionary the Rev. Henry Siekmann of Appleton, Wisconsin, who established the German Evangelical Lutheran Church with 18 families in fall 1878. Charter families were: H. Bentert, Henry Bierman, William Brach, William Gross, August Forcht, William Forcht, Martin Macher, John Macher, Henry Stammer, Andrew Vieth, Jacob Kolb, Gottlieb Kestner, Frederick Kreinheder, H. Schultz, F. Steinke, J.F. Stulken, Fritz Lutz and Jacob Thomas.

The church was one of two Lutheran churches established in Hastings by Siekmann; the second was in south Hastings. Additionally, Lutheran churches were organized by Siekmann in Glenvil, Blue Hill, Campbell, Doniphan and Grand Island.

The year was 1880 when First St. Paul’s purchased property on Burlington Avenue and Fifth Street on which to erect its first church building. Church records describe it as a white frame building with hitching posts on the Fifth Street side. Today’s church is located on the same property.

Siekmann served in Hastings through 1888, when C.A. Fritze was called as pastor. Under Fritze’s leadership, the church adopted a constitution and was officially named St. Paul’s. A parsonage was added in 1889 west of the church building where the altar stands today.

Electricity was introduced in the building around the turn of the 20th century, along with a Sunday school room. The Ladies Aid Society was organized at this time.

To accommodate the growing congregation, church members pledged to raise $12,000 for a new church building in 1915, with the Ladies Aid Society making the first $1,000 contribution.

During construction, the frame building was moved onto Fifth Street, where it stood for several months before being relocated to another site on nearby church property. The building was completed in July 1916, roughly the same time English services were introduced at evening worship. Also, the name German was dropped from the church’s name.

In 1924, the Young Women’s Missionary Society was organized. That same year the reed organ was replaced with a two-manual Reuter pipe organ.

At this point, St. Paul’s had been served by eight pastors. In 1926, the Rev. F.C. Schudt became pastor No. 9 and served the church for 21 years.

The True Blue Missionary Society was organized in 1927 and became known for its work on the church’s annual Easter pageants. The group was replaced in 1954 by Lutheran Church Women.

In the late 1940s, plans for a three-phase expansion program were introduced. A second Sunday morning worship service also was added.

Following the calling of the Rev. Paul deFreese to serve in 1950, Phase 1 of the church’s expansion project began on the new parish school wing. It was completed at a cost of $59,000. The second phase — a new parsonage — was completed at a cost of $39,000 and dedicated in 1953. A year later, Sister Dorothy Stalder was installed the church’s first deaconess.

Phase 3 of the expansion project involved dismantling the old parsonage to expand the sanctuary. The project was completed in June 1956. During construction, the church met at several locations across town: First Methodist, City Auditorium, Zion Lutheran, First Presbyterian and First Christian.

With the completion of the expansion project, the church’s seating capacity grew to 700. Additions included a library, nursery, expansion of church parlors, dining, kitchen, restrooms, and eight Sunday school classrooms at a cost of $147,000. The rededication was in October 1956.

In 1970, the Rev. Leeland Soker resigned as pastor of Rocky Mountain Synod to assume pastoral duties at First St. Paul’s. Under his guidance, the church increased its mission and outreach activities. Additionally, the church interior was renovated and upgraded.

In 1980, the Rev. Neal Boese was named pastor. A third full-time pastor position was added in 1982, along with a Saturday evening service.

The parish education wing was completed in 1983 at a cost of $734,914 as membership reached 2,300 baptized members. First St. Paul’s Foundation was established the same year.

In 1987, the congregation joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in a merger of Lutheran Church of America and several Lutheran church groups nationwide.

During the 1990s, the church’s exterior was restored, with renovations completed in the sanctuary, chancel, fellowship hall and parsonage. An elevator was installed in the education wing.

In response to its youth groups’ request for better facilities, the church purchased a building on Fourth Street and Lexington Avenue. God Made Me Preschool and the Mom’s Day Out Program were established in 1995.

The Parish Nurse Program was started in 1997. Organist Darlene Veburg also was honored for her 40 years of service as church organist. Two years later, a 16-foot-pedal, Division Trompete addition to the pipe organ was installed.

The Rev. Sacia Vik was installed as senior pastor in 2001, the same year the Hastings City Council approved closure of Fifth Street between Burlington and Lexington avenues to accommodate the church’s building expansion project. The addition broke ground in March 2003 and was completed in 2004 after Vik’s resignation in September. The Rev. Frank Kerkemeyer filled in in an interim role and eventually was relieved of senior pastor duties by Remmers, the current pastor.

In 2014, the congregation voted to leave the ELCA and join an affiliation of autonomous local churches called Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.

Assisting Remmers in ministry are the Rev. Andrea Paulson, associate pastor, and Chad Power, children’s and family ministry director.

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