Jean Russell Retires as Organist
Jean Russell has played the organ at St. Paul’s for over forty years, the last dozen or so of which have been as our sole organist. In January she decided to retire, agreeing to play if needed through the Easter season.
Her last time as our regular organist is now upon us. April 29th (which for most people reading this will be today) will be her final time as our regular organist.
We have been at work secretly planning a special brunch to commemorate her years, and plan to spring this on her following the service. Invitations have gone out, and members are invited to stay for breakfast and a special “thank you” party for Jean.
Meanwhile, we have obtained the services of a young man to become our new organist. Mr. Ryan Van Wassenhove, who is twelve years old and in the fifth grade, has been progressing remarkably as the organ student of Mrs. Theresa Yarger. She is confident of his ability, as am I. I have met with him several times, and find that he is most capable. Ryan has said he plans to be here for the occasion of Jean’s retirement party, so that I can introduce him to the congregation.
Of course we wish Jean well in her retirement years, with the hope that she will be active in membership for many years to come, and perhaps even play for us again, from time to time.
Thanks be to God for her years of service!
- Pastor Eckardt
During Eastertide, on the fortieth day after Easter is Ascension Day, because Jesus ascended into heaven on the fortieth day after his resurrection. (See? He did not “go to heaven” until then. They are wrong who say that the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus are the same thing; they are not). As is our custom at St. Paul’s, our regular midweek mass that week will be moved from its usual spot on Wednesday to Thursday, May 17th, Ascension Day, at 7 pm. Make a note of it.
Next up after that is Pentecost, which will fall this year on Sunday, May 27th.
ONE HUNDRED FIFTY YEARS, continued
ntil 1919 it had been required that the fee of $5.00 must paid to the congregation “for the privilege of taking a non-member to church.” No reason for this ruling is given in the annals, and in any case it was overruled in that year. Perhaps it was for this reason, or perhaps it was due to the abundance of recent influenza deaths, that an affirmation was made in the same year, that, as the chronicler put it, “Lutheran pastors cannot officiate at the funerals of such who despised and rejected the means of grace,” a stipulation understood to mean that the pastor cannot officiate at the funerals of churchless people who had made no confession of the saving faith.
By mid-1920, the congregation had forgotten the trying days of 1918 and was ready to expand. From May of that year new missionary activity of the congregation commenced. It was not difficult to find adults for new catechetical classes, as most of the members who married found a spouse from outside the church who, having been brought to church by husband or wife, soon wished to be instructed. These adults were usually instructed in a course covering sixteen periods of about an hour and a half each. Pastor Mayer prepared about 70 adults either for baptism or confirmation. Not all, but many became loyal and faithful members. It was also in 1920 that the congregation joined the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and a good number of members became interested in Synodical affairs, due to an increase in literature from Synod, most especially the monthly “Messenger” published since 1919. The year of 1920 also saw some improvements in the church property. The old church, which had been erected in 1867, was moved farther to the north, and augmented with a new basement, spacious dining-room, kitchen, and other facilities.
At about the same time an ugly controversy arose, threatening to overwhelm the congregation, namely the matter of the fraternal lodges (Masonic, Elks, Moose, etc.) and their incompatibility with the Christian faith. Chief among issues considered contrary to Christianity were the universalism implicit in their teachings, a system of salvation based upon personal merit, their secret pledges of allegiance to one another over against the unity of the Christian faith, and the spiritual rituals that accompany their meetings (and even the funerals of Lodge members). For these reasons Lutheran churches that were serious about maintaining their confessional standards were consistent in forbidding lodge membership. This became a problem for St. Paul’s when sometime in 1920 it became known that there was a member of the church board who was also a lodge member. The pastor tried first to rid his board of “lodgery” by taking the issue into the congregational and Mens’ Club meetings. Whenever the occasion arose he would refer to the idolatry of lodgery and secret fraternalism, and the question soon became a burning issue.
But suddenly the pastor was stricken with “a painful malady” and the need for surgery. This rendered him temporarily incapable of “aggressive work in this fight.” The pastor’s own memoirs refer to his “nerves” as impediments to his recovery, but also note the congregation’s kind treatment of him which helped him to recover, after nearly two years, in December of 1922.
Then a second controversy surfaced, when the congregation became divided over the question of the reopening of the parochial school. Repeated sermons on Christian education led to serious consideration of this prospect, but there was also considerable resistance. When Rev. Mayer recovered partially from his sickness he made a concerted attempt to re-open the school. The congregation was canvassed, and thirty-five children were promised, but the amount pledged for a teacher’s salary was not quite sufficient. A decision was made on June 7, 1923 to re-open the school anyway, but when the pastor was asked to submit suitable candidates while attending the Synod in Ft. Wayne, the opposition worked to block the calling of a teacher, and the congregation became deadlocked in its meeting of July 10. “The opposition would not listen to reason,” and so the decision came to be reversed, and the school’s doors did not yet reopen. So the pastor turned to devoting more attention to the confirmation instruction, Sunday school, and summer school.
Meanwhile the lodge issue festered. The elders were instructed to revise and translate the constitution of the congregation, as the pastor urged the adoption of the customary “lodge paragraph,” to which the elders assented. That paragraph, which remains in the constitution to this day, states as a condition of membership that one may not be a member “of any lodge or similar secret order having a system of religious ceremonies which are contrary to the Word of God and the vocation of a Christian.” Two or three meetings were called to discuss the constitution, although no one seemed to take it seriously. Finally, the congregation decided to mail a copy of the revised constitution to all, but nothing changed. Then things came to a head at the New Year’s meeting of January 4, 1925. Although the constitution and its lodge paragraph were mentioned at the meeting, a member of the Elks Lodge was elected as trustee. The pastor refused to install him. The board discussed the situation, and it now became evident that there were two or three board members willing to fight for the lodge sympathizers, leaving a bare majority to stand with the pastor. On January 21st a meeting was held in which the pastor proposed to postpone the installation of officers, in order that the congregation could be thoroughly instructed. But the lodge sympathizers had carefully counted and amassed their forces, which now included other prominent lodge members—men who seldom attended the congregation’s business meetings—and they called for the motion to recognize the Elks member as trustee. The motion was carried, 35 to 32. The following Sunday the pastor announced that he must still refuse to install the man, in spite of the congregation’s vote. Now the controversy was at a fever pitch. Feelings ran high. St. Paul’s “trouble” came to be the talk of the town, to which more layers were added from day to day, including some stories that the pastor in his later chronicles called “ludicrous.”
The next move of the lodge sympathizers was to ask the board to deal directly with the recalcitrant pastor. The board asked the Synod for help, and so the Circuit Visitor, Rev. Phillip Wilhelm, agreed to come to a meeting. In the meantime an anonymous letter circulated, threatening the pastor with a court injunction and slandering his good name, and publishing the fact that anonymous letters had been received by the pastor after a previous trouble (possibly the school controversy). This had the effect of changing many men’s attitudes, though not in the direction intended by the letter’s author. The meeting finally came on February 10, by which time a large majority was present, voting to uphold the pastor in his action. As soon as the vote was counted, the lodge sympathizers left the building. It was a complete victory. “But oh! The loss, the heartache!” lamented Pastor Mayer in his memoirs.
Most of the dissenters immediately joined other churches, while others refused to have anything to do with the church, as long as Rev. Mayer would be here, and so the church lost a large member of communicants, down from 500 to 460.
Yet remarkably, although the congregation had now gone through a serious battle, it emerged with new vigor and strength. New interest and hope filled the hearts of the members who remained loyal. At the January meeting it had been decided to redecorate the church. Now, in one afternoon, the members pledged over $3,000.00 toward that end. New light fixtures were installed, and decorations of the walls in a colorful mosaic design. It also happened that South Elm Street was paved the same year.
Then, on the 21st of October, the pastor was elected to become a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois (this is the seminary that had been founded in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1846, moved to Springfield in 1875, and would move back to Fort Wayne in 1976). But now the congregation issued a unanimous request that the pastor stay with them, a testimony to stunning new spirit of unity and love that had descended upon the congregation in just half a year’s time. Yet the seminary renewed the call, and the seminary’s director pleaded with the congregation. So “with a heavy heart” they granted his release. Two weeks later, December 6th, Rev. O. G. Renner of Bad Axe, Michigan, was called and he accepted the call a week after that. Rev. F. E. Mayer preached his farewell on Dec. 27th. He would go on to teach at the seminary for many years and write a textbook—Religious Bodies in America—that is still in use among seminarians to this day.
The Parochial School Question Resurfaces
Pastor Renner immediately brought the matter of the reopening of the school before the congregation, but there was little enthusiasm. It became difficult to have enough members come to the meeting to consider it a representative quarum. Three meetings were called before a large enough number appeared to warrant the calling of a teacher. But a call was at length extended, and the congregation resolved to take an option on the property adjoining the school. The house there would serve as a residence for the teacher. A new heating system was installed, the interior of the building was decorated, and necessary equipment was purchased. But a teacher could not be found. Three times the congregation called, but each time the call was returned. Finally the congregation decided instead to reopen the summer school, and to give the pastor help if necessary. Still the school would remain closed, though now the congregational debt had increased to $4,400.00. Of this sum nine hundred dollars had been borrowed without interest. Many members who from the beginning had been opposed to the re-
opening of the parochial school now began to withdraw from all activities. By the end of the year 1927 there were many delinquent members. The record shows that only 188 members contributed toward the support of the church. Church attendance fell off in the same marked degree.
All this, together with the many, many duties and burdens of the ministry, began to tell on the new pastor of St. Paul’s. Laboring under a terrific strain, he was stricken with “a painful malady,” and medical attention was needed. The congregation granted him a leave of absence. Student Leo Albrecht, who at this time was a senior at the seminary in Springfield, filled the pulpit while the pastor was away, and Rev. H. F. C. Wetzel of Coal Valley attended to all official matters.
Early in 1928 the congregation began to make preparations for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the church’s dedication, and the festival date was set for November 11th. But before that date arrived, Pastor Renner resigned from his pastorate at St. Paul’s, on August 24, a tenure just short of three years’ time in Kewanee.
The Oberndorfer Years
The resignation of Pastor Renner led to a lengthy vacancy of over a year. When Rev. M. F. Oberndorfer received the call on October 29, 1928, he decided less than to weeks to accept it, and was granted a peaceful release by his congregation at Mattoon, Illinois, on November 11. He was installed on the first Sunday in Advent and preached his introductory sermon on the following Sunday.
Rev. Oberndorfer’s tenure as the pastor of St. Paul’s would span over half a century, by far the longest of any of the congregation’s pastors. The older members of the congregation still remember him fondly today. He became the shepherd of a congregation finally settled after years of internal conflict, now unified about to experience tremendous growth and successful outreach, though the years of the Depression and the Second World War.
At the start of Rev. Oberndorfer’s tenure, the church attendance had fallen significantly, with average attendance on a Sunday at 90 souls. The Day School controversy had taken its toll.
Beginning with the year 1929 all Sunday school children were trained to attend the English service each Sunday. Sunday school teachers were trained by the pastor every Wednesday evening, and also began taking the correspondence course prepared by Synod’s Board of Christian Education. The Sunday school soon became very successful. Plans were made to build a new church hall. The building was to be of brick: two stories high, with basement, modern throughout, at a cost of $42,000.00. Some $12,000.00 was pledged.
Then the Depression hit, and suddenly pledges could no longer be made or fulfilled. The building program was immediately put on hold, which proved to be a wise decision, as the long years of the Depression dragged on.
But church attendance increased from year to year until it had doubled and redoubled itself. By 1935, average attendance had risen to 300. In spite of strained finances, the congregation responded with vigor and unity to the Synod’s call of distress in 1932, as the Synodical debt had mounted to $1,000,000.00. St. Paul’s managed to raise over $900.00 in an emergency collection, at a time when many members were thankful if they could find two days of work in a week.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1934, they had been presented with an unexpected opportunity to purchase an Aeolian Pipe Organ, a three manual, “echo” organ, with Great and Swell, for the sum of $6,500.00 installed. The organ had only seen a few years of service, and was in excellent condition; it had originally cost $25,000.00. It was dedicated on Oct. 27, 1935. Renowned organist Walter Sassmannshausen of Chicago played, and Pastor Oberndorfer preached and led the service. An organ recital was performed in the afternoon, attended by some 900 people. The Ladies’ Aid society donated $1000.00 toward the organ and the Mens club gave $225.00. The pipes were placed to the right and left of the sanctuary, and the echo in the choir loft, where the console was also placed.
In 1934, the Ladies’ Aid society celebrated its 20th anniversary, and in 1935 the Walther League observed its 10th. As the year 1937 approached, Pastor Oberndorfer encouraged the members to consider a special 75th “Diamond Jubilee” anniversary observance of the congregation’s founding in 1862, and the congregation resolved to do so. A special “Brief History” was prepared in commemoration, and published by the Kewanee Star Courier.
By the time of the anniversary, the congregation had grown to nearly 500 communicants and 700 souls. The Sunday school enrollment had climbed to 178, with 15 teachers and officers. The Ladies’’ Aid—which also tended to care of the altar—numbered 80 active members. The Men’s Club contributed substantially to Synod’s radio station KFUO and the Lutheran Hour, as well as contributing to the beautifying of the chancel in the church. The Walther League was also in its heyday, as an international organization with over 2,000 societies and over 50,000 members. Every youth member of the congregation was here given an opportunity to train himself for greater service in the Church. The Jolly Needle Workers, a society for girls at least 15 years of age, was also active in the parish, meeting twice a month. During the years of the Depression, this group did special work to prepare Christmas baskets and cash donations for the poor. In 1936, a Junior Choir was organized to augment the services of the Senior Choir, a Junior, and they began to sing occasionally beginning in Advent of that year. A Mission Society was organized in the same year, and by 1937 had some 16 members.
On Sunday, September 12th, 1937, the Diamond anniversary was held, in three services. It was attended by 1,500 people, with official visitors numbering over 150 from neighboring congregations. Dr. Walter A. Maier of the Lutheran Hour preached for first service of the day, and Pastor Oberndorfer preached at the German service. Rev. J. C. Schuelke, presdeint of the Central Illinois District, brought greetings in the afternoon program. The Needle Workers dedicated new candlesticks for the altar, the Sunday school dedicated new Sunday school room furnishings, the Mission Society dedicated a new Bible for the lectern, a private communion set was given by the Walther League, and cash donations were offered by the Ladies’ Aid and Men’s Club, and many floral gifts were used in decorating the church. Noon and evening meals were served to the guests.
During the Depression years, the Federal government’s Public Works Administration had emerged, and in 1937 it provided 45% of the funding for a new Central School building, built directly across the street from the church. In January of 1938 it began to hold classes. The 1940s brought challenge and sorrow to Kewanee. In 1941, America was plunged into World War II, and in April of 1942 the Great Fire of Kewanee broke out, destroying some 20 buildings and 50 offices and stores downtown. Valient efforts by “heroic firemen” spared many other buildings, including St. Paul’s. Mayor Brian Saunders succeeded in receiving state and federal disaster aid, and within less than a year, Kewanee’s downtown was rebuilt with a new face, “far better than previous to the fire.”  But the war overseas raged on for four years. By the end of 1942, 90 men of St. Paul’s had left for active duty, and two women had followed their husbands who were officers. The weekly bulletin was sent to all men in the service. A pastoral letter was sent every six weeks. By the time of the war’s end in 1945, 88 Kewaneeans had been killed, though the church records (which may be incomplete) indicate only two war deaths among St. Paul’s members. The total number of men and women enlisted in the service during World War II, and represented by a star on the service flag in the church, were 103.
Pastor Oberdorfer’s health, in particular a heart condition, began to fail him in the 1950’s, requiring that he be given a leave of absence and assistance in his pastoral duties. Neverthless the congregation was able at the same time to move toward the accomplishment of a particular dream of his, namely the erecting of a new Christian Education building. In 1954 they resolved to employ a fund-raising organization to see how much the people of the church would be willing to pledge toward “better housing of the Sunday school,” and on August 12 of 1955, the building project began. Just over a year later, on September 23, 1956, the building was dedicated, at a cost of $153,500.00. The dedication brochure was “gratefully dedicated to Pastor Oberndorfer, who for 28 years had rendered untiring service in the cause of Christ and the congregation as he was giving himself to the cause of Christian Education with all the strength at his command, even while he because of ill health was contemplating retirement.”
One of the first large gatherings held in the new auditorium was a Family Night held in honor of Pastor and Mrs. Oberdorfer, since in the April meeting of that year he had announced his desire to retire, due to his health. He preached his retirement sermon on Sunday, Nov. 11, 1956.
Pastor Oberndorfer lived out his retirement years in Kewanee. He and his wife Esther were honored in a 50th wedding anniversary service on August 13th, 1967. He died one year later, on August 1st, 1968.
The years of Rev. Oberndorfer’s pastorate were formative for a number of members still active today. He had a reputation of being strict and caring. The story is recounted of one member who at first was actually afraid of him, until in her confirmation year she saw how gentle he could be. Over several weeks he went to the home of another girl who was too ill to complete the necessary requirements for confirmation, so that she could be confirmed with her class. Pastor Oberndorfer is remembered here as with deep love and gratitude for his many years of faithful service.
-to be continued.
First Tuesday activity moved
As Pastor will be on the road during the first week in May, we have moved first Tuesday activities to the second Tuesday of May: Altar Guild, Vespers, and Elders will be held on May 7, beginning as usual at with Altar Guild at 6 pm, Vepers at 6:45, and Elders at 7:15.
A Letter from John Hart
Mr. John Hart became a regular visitor to our church in the winter, and has begun receiving catechetical instruction with the intention of joining St. Paul’s as soon as he can. In the meantime he was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw, for which he began to receive chemotherapy and was scheduled to undergo major surgery in early April. We have donated a significant amount of the freewill offering we collected at our Lenten soup suppers to suppers to help John in his challenge and struggle with cancer. He submitted this letter for publication in the newsletter in March, just days after the April edition was published.
To my beloved friends at 109 South Elm Street:
From the bottom of my heart, I truly thank you for your prayers, your support, and your donations to my cause. Please pray not only from me but continue to pray for the world in which we live. Christ be with you.
There is a voice that I hear from time to time and tells me to never give up! It rings clear: be of good cheer, and continually fighting in the face of all odds, to battle against other gods and the sin that so easily ensnares me. I could not have come this far alone and so I thank you for sharing this journey with me. May we all give God the glory, honor the Son Jesus Christ, as we pray for the Holy Spirit. And as you have shown me, let love abound over all.
John. A. Hart
UPDATE: After Easter I visited John in the ICU at Memorial Hospital in Springfield, where he had had extensive surgery a week earlier. He was very happy to see me, and I found out that the surgery is considered to have been a great success, and that the medical staff is very optimistic about his recovery.
– Pastor Eckardt
A Letter from President Harrison
THE LUTHERAN CHURCH
Office of the President
The Reverend Doctor Matthew C. Harrison President of the Synod
April 2, 2012
Dear Pastor Eckardt,
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you and those you serve!
I am honored that you have invited me to be part of Saint Paul's 150th anniversary celebration in July and October of 2012. Sadly, my schedule does not allow me to be with you in body those days, but I shall certainly be rejoicing with you in spirit. My schedule is just entirely booked due to the District Conventions, board meetings, and previously accepted events.
May the Lord of the Church continue to pour His richest blessings on you and the people of God at Saint Paul Lutheran Church, that His cross may be lifted high and His saving name proclaimed in all the world.
Your fellow servant in the Lord's harvest fields,
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
5/28/1982 Christine and Garry Erickson
5/28/1977 John and Charlene Sovanski
May Ushers Otis Anderson, John Ricknell, Bill Thompson
5/2 Sheri Kraklow
5/6 Emilie Ricknell
5/10 William Thompson
5/16 John Eckardt
5/17 Jeffery Boswell
5/26 Preston Powers
This series, containing brief liturgical questions and Pastor Eckardt’s answers, began to appear in 1995, as a regular feature in this newsletter. Is being suspended due to a long history section in this newsletter.
Church Council Meeting
Note that the Church council will be meeting on Thursday, May 17th, Ascension Day, at 5:30 pm
Easter Breakfast thank you
Another successful Easter breakfast came and went, thanks to many volunteers and Carol Eckardt the coordinator.
Altar Guild notes
Thanks to our hard working altar guild Ladies’ as well! Extra work at Eastertide all paid off for the congregation, and is much appreciated.
· No mass on Tuesday, May 1st .
· We will observe St. Phillip and St. James the Apostles’ Day on Wednesday, May 3rd. RED.
· ALTAR COLOR IS WHITE FOR REMAINDER OF MAY.
· No mass on Wednesday, May 16th; instead, mass is on Thursday, June 17th, which is Ascension Day. The color is white.