Thursday, June 28, 2012

July and August, 2012

                                     Volume 23, No. 7-8 
-- the conclusion

School and Other Challenges

With the dramatic rise in the number of students at St. Paul’s school between 1975 and 1985 came an onerous burden on the church’s budget.  The Board of Education struggled with this, and in 1985 considered the adaptation of a tuition paying policy for members.  Although this did not materialize, the tuition for non-members began to see significant increases.  This in turn led school families to find the prospect of joining the church increasingly more attractive, and a number of school families took instruction and did so.  While some of these became faithful members, it soon became clear that many had only joined the church in order to get the free tuition.  School board meetings routinely took time to deal with the problem of a growing number of members not providing sufficient contributions to cover the education of their children.
In the 1970s and 80s, great changes in Kewanee in terms of economics and population presented an additional challenge to the congregation.  In the words of Pastor Wegener, “Many of our young leaders were forced to leave the community to find work elsewhere.  The membership suffered loss.”  Throughout the course of these challenges his constant desire was a simple one: “My goal was simply to be the best pastor I could be.”
The end of 1994 marked Pastor Wegener’s retirement, after serving St. Paul’s for 21 years.  The call process was initiated in the fall of that year, and Rev. Dean Dummer of Geneseo became the vacancy pastor.  A call was extended to Rev. Timothy Quill, but he declined, and the call process continued.  Late that winter a call was extended to Rev. Burnell Eckardt of Berlin, Wisconsin, and he accepted, bringing his wife Carol and six sons to Kewanee in the summer of 1995.

A Perfect Storm

The confessional battles that were fought in the 1970s in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod were related to a renewed desire at the seminaries to explore the rich theological heritage of the Lutheran Confessions.  Dr. Robert Preus, brother of Synodical President Dr. Jacob Preus, was at the forefront of this confessional movement.  His involvement in the crisis at the St. Louis seminary in 1974 was critical to the seminary’s survival.  During the same year he also became President of the Springfield seminary, which moved to Fort Wayne in 1976.  A salient characteristic of many of the men who studied theology during the following years was a renewed commitment to traditional and liturgical worship.
Pastor Eckardt was part of this confessional renewal.  In some respects his approach was a continuation of what was already happening at St. Paul’s, such as a gradual increase over the years in the frequency of offering Holy Communion, and the use of older traditional vestments such as the chasuble.  In the fall of 1995 Pastor Eckardt took another step toward more frequent celebrations of Holy Communion—this too had already been a trend at St. Paul’s and Synod-wide—now offering it in both Sunday services and Saturday evenings. Wednesday evening Vespers services also became year-round, and within a few years, would also be changed into Holy Communion services. 
But in addition, most everyone agreed that what stood out about Pastor Eckardt’s approach was that it was markedly different.   He chanted more of the liturgy, he genuflected more often, he encouraged the making of the sign of the cross, and his liturgical conduct was formal.  Sadly, this soon became a source of conflict.  Although no one questioned his teaching, the congregation became divided, or rather, as many observers would later put it, latent divisions in the congregation now became more pronounced.  As many people were pleased with this “new” approach as were uncomfortable with it.
Pastor Eckardt was also looking for ways better to encourage children in the faith.  Children much younger than seventh-graders were encouraged, with their parents, to come to Pastor’s catechism class.  Already the practice of offering first communion prior to eighth-grade confirmation had been going on for many years, but now first communions began to be considered for even younger children, provided they were deemed ready for it in the estimation of the pastor and the child’s parents.  Although this change created no stir, a related matter arose that was greeted far less favorably, when the pastor became convinced that the religious materials being used at St. Paul’s school needed adjustments to make them more unashamedly Lutheran.  Noting that over half the student body was not Lutheran, he stated his desire to help the school retain a distinctively Lutheran character.  Then when Miss Frerking moved away later that year, he was blamed for her departure by many who now feared for the future of the school, and tensions continued to rise.
By 1998 the Elders’ meetings had become consumed with “questions or concerns about the church and school.”  Two elders resigned that year.  The possibility of getting District help was raised but, for the time being, rejected.  The pastor had meanwhile begun a practice of opening each Elders’ meeting with a brief study of the Lutheran Confessions, to help inform the elders of their heritage as Lutherans.  This practice continues to the present day.
In 1999 District assistance was obtained for the divided congregation, but the results were discouraging.  A representative of the District had already visited a Wednesday service a year earlier and had reassured the Elders that what he saw in their pastor was thoroughly Lutheran, but now a “District Reconciler,” who came to hear about other concerns, could only conclude that the pastor’s detractors wanted him to leave, and that his supporters wanted him to stay.
Added to this weight of congregational stress, and as a result of these conflicts, in 1999 Pastor Eckardt suffered a nervous breakdown that became the subject of considerable publicity, and once again, as had been the case back in the 1920s, the troubles of St. Paul’s became the talk of the town.  He stepped away from his duties in December to seek treatment.
            For decades, attendance at voters’ meetings had been routinely between 15 and 25 in attendance.  But in January of 2000, the annual meeting was attended by over 100 people, easily a record number.  Pastor Eckardt was in attendance, though still recovering from his breakdown.  Tensions ran high, since there were roughly an equal number who supported the pastor as did not, and both sides were outspoken in their points of view.  The annual election of officers pitted the congregational chairman, a vocal supporter of Pastor Eckardt, against a challenger nominated by his detractors.  The incumbent was re-elected, but by a razor-thin majority, a mere handful of votes.
Immediately after the meeting the dispirited faction began to plan a mass exodus from St. Paul’s, which took place over the next several months.  The school, which for years had been struggling financially, now lost most of its students, and became entirely unable to sustain itself.  In the school year of 1999-2000 alone, a debt of about $100,000 was run up just to fulfill salary obligations. In the spring of 2000 St. Paul’s school again closed its doors, after 41 years of operation.  By the end of 2000, the congregation had been reduced to half its size, and was struggling to survive.

The Healing Years

But those who remained at St. Paul’s now rededicated themselves to their congregation with great determination.  Several resolutions of vigorous support for Pastor Eckardt’s ministry were unanimously passed by the voters.  In an even more remarkable show of unity, the level of offerings saw no significant reduction, though the congregation was now half the size it had been.  A 2000 letter from the Board of Elders encouraged the congregation
to look forward with a positive outlook in Christ, leaving the past in the past, and holding for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our hearts and on our lips.  His mercy and forgiveness have sustained us up to now, and, we are confident, will continue to sustain us in the days ahead.  We are grateful to God for the grace given us and our called servant Pastor Eckardt, to endure difficult times, and to bear our crosses patiently.  In thankfulness we purpose to rally and to be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.  We ask our members to continue steadfast in prayer.

During the first years of the 21st century, the membership of St. Paul’s, though significantly smaller, was marked by a unity and purpose in sharp contrast to the years of controversy.  The loss of so many members was enormously painful, and the heartache was palpable.  So many empty pews!  The number of Sunday services was reduced from two to one, and overall weekend attendance (still including a Saturday night service that had been offered since 1975) was now reduced to around 70.  But the sentiments expressed among those that remained always included relief that the controversy had ended, and that the congregation was again a happy one.  As the years moved on it became evident that the storm had passed. 
Pastor Eckardt continued to bring his training in music to bear on the church’s choir, to which he had begun to teach liturgical musicianship in the late 1990s.  This was a tradition that had been strongly fostered already by Miss Zessin in the 1960s.  The music of St. Paul’s remains a congregational strong-point to the present day.
In the early 2000s the congregation also took over sponsorship of the liturgical journal Gottesdienst, whose reputation is well known at our seminaries.  Pastor Eckardt is its chief editor.
The institution of Oktoberfest as an annual congregational celebration, begun in 1996, continues to bring large crowds from several neighboring states.  Every first Sunday in October it opens with an evening choral Vespers, followed by a beer-and-bratwurst dinner.  Theological seminars are held the next two days, with a special guest speaker or speakers.
In 2006, Mr. Steve Harris completed training under Pastor Eckardt to become subdeacon, a lay liturgical assistant.
The years from 2000 to 2010 presented a different kind of challenge.  Following the great upheaval of 2000, the congregation was finally at peace, but seriously wounded, and its very survival was now at stake.  Adding to the challenge of a reduction in congregational size was the fact that Kewanee was itself still struggling with the continual closing of industries and high unemployment.  Since 1958 when Walworth’s left Kewanee, the population had begun to decline steadily.  The city’s population was reduced from its mid-twentieth century high of around 17,000 to around 13,000 by the turn of the century.  Then the Kewanee Boiler plant closed in 2001, and while the population did not significantly decline during the decade, jobs became scarcer.  Despite the construction of a new state juvenile prison in the same year, local unemployment would rise to 12.4% by 2010.  What this meant for the congregation was that some active families were forced to move away. Although some new members were added, the congregation grew even smaller.  By the end of the decade the average attendance on a weekend had fallen to the mid 50s.
But the rental of the school classrooms, first for a couple of years to Kewanee Public Schools’ alternative education, and then to Project Now/Head Start up to the present date gave the congregation a needed financial boost, and the significant giving levels of many faithful members have continued apace.
The early years of the 2010s have brought renewed hope.  The congregation has now seen over ten years of stability and peace, and early predictions of the congregation’s demise have proved premature.  A decade of stability demonstrates that St. Paul’s, while small, remains viable and vibrant.  Meanwhile the unemployment level of Kewanee leveled off and has begun to fall. Unemployment was at 8.1% at the start of 2012, still a high number, but better than it has been.  More visitors have been coming this year, and attendance figures are beginning to rise again, now up to about 60.

The Present Sesquicentennial Year

In this year 2012, organist Jean Russell decided to retire, after over forty years of service as our organist.  A surprise brunch was held in her honor on April 29th, and her successor, twelve-year old prodigy Ryan Van Wassenhove, began to play organ the following week.  Mrs. Russell’s years as organist call to memory the years of her sainted aunt Olga Wesebaum, who also played organ here for decades beginning in the 1930s.
Three observances of our sesquicentennial have been planned for this year, the first of which was a Divine Service held on Wednesday, January 25th, the Conversion of St. Paul.   The second observance, on Sunday, July 1st, observes the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (three days after the actual date), followed by our annual church picnic and a special Vespers service at 5:00 pm to mark the 30th anniversary of Pastor Eckardt’s ordination.  Pastor Eckardt will preach the morning service, and Rev. Dr. Karl Fabrizius of Greenfield, Wisconsin, will preach the Vespers service.  The third and greatest observance is set to be the theme for this year’s Oktoberfest event; Pastor Wegener has consented to return for the Sunday evening Vespers service.
The historical report provided by Pastor Oberndorfer in the 75th anniversary commemorative book closes thus:
May the children of St. Paul’s congregation remain steadfast in their faith, faithful and true in their stewardship.  May they, by the help of God, successfully combat all attacks and temptations of the devil, the world and their own sinful flesh, and constantly keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
We find these words to be as fitting today, at our 150th year, as then. 

Oh, let the people praise Thy worth,
In all good works increasing;
The land shall plenteous fruit bring forth,
Thy Word is rich in blessing,
May God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit bless us!
Let all the world praise Him alone,
Let solemn awe possess us,
Now let our hearts say Amen.

July, August Anniversaries

7/1/1951 John and Emilie Ricknell
7/23/1955 Donald and Carol Kegebein

8/1/2009 Chris and Trista Dooley
8/2/1975 Raymond and Carol Robinson
8/21/1998 Daniel and Jill Powers

Shut ins

Mary Hamilton at home; Mark Baker at home; Anna Baker at home; Mirilda Greiert at Kewanee Care; Ruth Snider at Hillcrest Home in Geneseo; Emmy Wear at Williamsfield Home in Williamsfield.

First Tuesday
There will be no First Tuesday meetings during July. First Tuesday meetings will resume on August 7th.

July and August Birthdays

7/2 Jean Russell         
7/2  Dana McReynolds
7/4 Sarah Kraklow
7/4 Jacki Boswell       
7/5 Sandra Verplaetse
7/7 Drew Clapper      
7/7 Stephen Harris     
7/10 Otis Anderson   
7/10 Dale Baker        
7/13 Gayle Beauprez 
7/14 Pastor Eckardt
7/16 Robert Schoen
7/20 Julie Janik
7/23 Donna Harlow
7/20 Anna Baker
7/30 Peggy Janik

8/1 Robert Bock
8/2 Shania Kraklow
8/2  Joyce Long
8/8  Lorraine Mohr
8/9  Donald Kegebein
8/11  Sam Fisher
8/11  Judy Thompson
8/13  Donald Murphy
8/16  Trista Dooley
8/17  Steven Peart
8/21  John Sovanski
8/24  Becky Russell
8/24  Ruth VerShaw
8/27  Steve Peart

July Ushers: Steve Peart, Grant Andresen, Larry Campbell

August Ushers: Otis Anderson, John Ricknell, Bill Thompson

Altar Guild News
Members of the Altar Guild, please pay special attention, since we have no July meeting!
Altar guild members, please be aware of the condition of the altar flowers when you set up.  Are they fresh?  Do they need water?  Should they be removed?

Wednesday mass June 27, the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (transf., June 25)

No mass Saturday, June 30 (unity service July 1)

Sunday, July 1: SS Peter and Paul (color: Red)
Sunday evening, July 1, Pastor’s ordination anniversary vespers (color: Red)

No mass Tuesday, July 3 or Wednesday, July 4.

Color reverts to Green after July 1.  Green throughout the rest of July.

No mass Saturday, July 21 or July 28 (pastor vacation)

During August, all weekends are Green, but none of the Wednesdays are Green.  August 8, 22, and 29 are Red (St. Laurence, St. Bartholomew, and the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist), and August 15 is White (the Dormition of the B.V.M.).

Choir Rehearsals
A special choir rehearsal is scheduled for Wednesday, June 27th, to prepare for July 1st.  Regular choir rehearsals will resume Wednesday evening, August 15th, as we prepare for Oktoberfest.  This gives us a mere month and a half to get ready, so all choir members are urged to mark your calendars and do your level best to make all rehearsals.  We’ll have some new music, and, as always, have lots of fun.
This series, containing brief liturgical questions and Pastor Eckardt’s answers, began to appear in 1995, as a regular feature in this newsletter.  It is being temporarily suspended due to a long history section in this newsletter.

July 1st, Big Day!

Sesquicentennial Celebration and Ordination Anniversary

Three events in one day:

1) St. Paul’s, 150 years

Mark your calendars!  We will be observing the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (normally on June 29th) on Sunday, July 1st, this year, to coincide with our sesquicentennial festivities.  This is our congregation’s Feast of Title, locally a First Class Feast.  This is the second of three sesquicentennial observances.  The first was a midweek service last January (the conversion of St. Paul, January 24th), and the last will be at Oktoberfest.

2) Church Picnic CANCELLED

Our annual church picnic, normally scheduled for the last week in June, is also scheduled this year for July 1st, at the shelter house at Northeast Park, to coincide with our celebration.  We’ll head out there right after church for brats etc. as usual, and a day of frolicking in the sun and some good times together. Bring your Frisbees, your tennis rackets, your bats and balls, or whatever else you’d like to bring, to have some fun.
The third and final celebration will come at this year’s Oktoberfest, on October 7th.  Pastor Kenneth Wegener, who served here for 21 years, will be our special guest preacher at the 5 pm Vespers service, and he and his wife Yvonne our honored guests at the Oktoberfest banquet that Sunday night.
At this second (July 1st) celebration, Pastor Eckardt will preach.

3) Pastor Eckardt’s ministry, 30 years

Then at 5 pm on the same day, by a decision of the Elders and Church Council, a special Vespers service will be held to observe Pastor Eckardt’s 30th anniversary of his ordination.  A special guest preacher will be here, the Rev. Dr. Karl Fabrizius from Our Father Lutheran Church in Greenfield, Wisconsin.  Pastor Fabrizius, a close personal friend of Pastor Eckardt, was the preacher at Pastor Eckardt’s installation here in 1995.
Following the 5:00 service a pizza party is planned in the cafeteria (there should be other food for people who don’t want pizza). 
What a great excuse for a party! Make a day of it!

St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church
   109 S. Elm Street
   Kewanee, IL 61443

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