A family united at Christ Evangelical

The church as an organization may have attained an impressive milestone – reaching the venerable age of 125 years – but it’s the spiritual aspect that counts the most, said the Rev. Keith Schreiner, pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.

“Throughout all those years, the gospel has been proclaimed, children baptized, couples wed, children confirmed and families comforted at funerals with the Gospel message,” he said.

Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church will celebrate its 125th anniversary with an open house from 2-4 p.m. today at the church, with festivities Sunday as well.

Schreiner invites community members to “come in and take a look at the place you’ve been driving by all these years. For people who want to see the esthetics of the church, there are beautiful stained-glass windows to see.”

Sunday’s congregational celebration will include a guest preacher and speaker, David Maertz, who is the president of Great Plains Lutheran High School in Watertown, S.D., and whose parents were members of Christ Evangelical.

“His mother played the organ,” Schreiner said.

In the afternoon, District President Charles Degner will be the guest preacher. Special music will be provided by the Martin Luther College women’s choir.

The anniversary committee has been meeting for more than two years to plan activities surrounding the anniversary.

Dave Biastock, anniversary committee chairman, said about 18 to 20 church members are on the committee, which is divided into different areas, including compiling a cookbook and researching the church’s history.

They have created a booklet of historical events of the past 125 years.

“We had a booklet for the 100th anniversary, so we have freshened that up and added the last 25 years and put it on a computer format,” he said.

The booklet talks about “German Lutheran immigrants who moved into the southwestern part of Minnesota and eastern South Dakota in the last half of the 19th century and were without churches and services of trained pastors.” The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Minnesota stepped in and provided pastors who provided services in homes.

“In November 1888, a group of Lutherans in Marshall organized a congregation under the name of St. John’s Evangelical Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.”

“The Rev. Reinhold Poethke, the resident pastor of St. Peter’s of Balaton, served the new congregation in Marshall.”

“In 1892, St. John’s congregation in Marshall rented the Icelandic Lutheran Church on Main Street and purchased an organ.”

The booklet goes on to say that “doctrinal controversies disturbed the peace of the congregation in 1896. Several members severed their affiliation with St. John’s and formed The Christus German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession of Marshall, MN.”

Services were conducted in German, and English was added in the early 20th century.

A larger place to worship was soon needed, and in 1938, plans were made to build a new church on the corner of 3rd and Marshall streets. “The total cost of the new church was $26,804.49 including $1,600 for the lots.”

“In 1938, the 50th anniversary of the congregation’s organization, Christ Lutheran numbered 63 voters, 185 communicants and 314 souls with 106 affiliated families.”

Another milestone of the church was the purchase of the West Bank building property on Village Drive plus four acres of land at a cost of $100,000. The building was first called the Christ Lutheran Center and then renamed a week later, the “Samuel Hall and School.” An additional 4.41 acres were purchased to the south of the school in 1981. The school is now known as Samuel Lutheran.

A highlight of the past 25 years was the building of an addition 12 years ago.

A groundbreaking ceremony and service took place July 29, 2001, to celebrate the $500,000 expansion project, which would provide 1,641 extra square feet. An elevator, two new restrooms, janitorial closet and handicapped accessibility were to be added to the church.

The church has thrived throughout the years and continues to with the constant commitment of a steady flow of young families.

“We have very good attendance and a very strong congregation,” said Biastock. “We have a lot of young families who are faithful.”

“Attendance has gone up,” said Schreiner. “The average attendance is about 230. There are a lot of young, vibrant people in attendance. They do golf tournaments, go on outings and fellowship. We just opened an early childhood center.”

In addition to its elementary school for pre-K through eighth grade, Christ Lutheran has among its programs a campus ministry program at Southwest Minnesota State University and the Jesus Cares Ministry for developmentally disabled adults.