Faith Lutheran Church: A History
"It's changed a bit, hasn't it?' Lavinia Lohrmann was asked these words as she came to take the only vacant seat from several rows of church pews by Dr. Bill Irick, another long-term member, at the Easter service on March 31, 2002. Faith Lutheran Church has indubitably changed in the four decades it has been a part of Stephenville. Its story, in order to understand just how monumentally different it currently is from its early years, must be told from the very beginning.
Before it was even declared a church and became part of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the "congregation", which was a weekly group of about 12 or 13, gathered in the homes of the different members. Of that group of charter members, the only three presently attending FLC are Ms. Lavinia Lohrmann, Ms. Nelda Eggen and Ms. Bemice Reese; others have either passed or moved on. At this point the gatherings were not considered a church and did not have a definite structure for what could be called a service. Eventually a man named by the last name of Uhles came from Hamilton, Texas, to the home gatherings and was considered by some a pastor, though not officially recognized as such.
Though the gatherings were very small and held only in the homes of the members, a few of the traditions of FLC that hold today began at this point. Officers were soon elected, and Vacation Bible School began in the Lohrmann's backyard. A church was beginning to take shape.
The Next Step
Eventually the people were given permission to use the basement of what was then the Stephenville Public Library, currently an old two-story house on Green Street. They paid little if any expenses for using the library, which would have just been basic electricity fees. The number of people began growing, and an actual service was formed. Having no musical instruments, such as an organ or piano, the hymns were accompanied by an accordion, which someone played for the services. The service followed the traditional ways of the text printed in the front of the hymnals, which is similar to one of Faith's two services today.
The church began Sunday school classes due to the increasing size of the congregation, which now included children. The classes were very small, and taught by women of the congregation. One such class was held in a room that contained a large artificial horse that made it near impossible to teach the class with the kids constantly trying to climb it.
With a regular service every Sunday and an expanding congregation, the basement of the library would soon be inadequate for what the church needed. Ultimately, they would have to move into a bigger, more substantial space.
The First Church
In 1962, a white stucco house behind the Dairy Queen was purchased for $9000. The members immediately took to it, making it suitable to be the very first church they would reside in. It was finally organized as Faith Lutheran Church of Stephenville, and though the congregation moved into two different buildings after this one, it was property of FLC up until a few years ago when Tarleton purchased it.
With a new and official church, the people began to expand from a service and Sunday school. Ice cream socials became a very frequent event in the nice, large yard behind the church. In addition, potluck dinners became a big part of the church activities, which often consisted of different German dishes that were part of Lutherans' strong German heritage.
While having their own building and officiating the church was a definite leap forward, the 'white stucco house behind Dairy Queen' was nonetheless a relatively small building, with less than about 10 pews for the congregation. Once again, the rapidly expanding church would need to relocate; only this time, it wouldn't be as far.
A Period of Change
In 1970, after having been in the previous church for eight years, the congregation moved to a larger building just across the parking lot. In construction of the church they received a beautiful new set of pews from a campus ministry in Austin. Several new members joined the church, and the average weekly attendance reached at least 100 people.
The church maintained its one service taken from the hymnals, as well as many other things that remained the same, except, of course, for the increasing size. In 1982, however, the church held its first Passover celebration in which a Passover meal was held, interspersed with scriptural references and explanations of the customs that Jewish people observed and how they saw Christ in the Biblical period.
In 1987, after being under the provisional pastor Harold J. Wunderlich of Hamilton for a year, the church installed a new pastor. Rev. John Armstrong, who would serve for FLC for a period often years, making him the longest-term pastor for the church to that date. Armstrong was responsible for the church's adoption of a second service, which took place later in the morning than the first service and was a great new addition to the church due to the building's medium space and the congregation's large number of people.
In 1992, the first Faith Fest took place, which would become an annual event to this day. Faith Fest was the church's Oktoberfest; it was a night of German music provided by an "Oompah Band" consisting of teenage church members who were able to play an instrument, German food, raffle drawings and many other events.
Faith Lutheran Church had grown immensely from the first organized church in 1962. In addition to an increased size, the church had adopted new traditions that were widely enjoyed by the congregation. Once more, a more adequately sized church would be necessary.
The Best Yet
A new building was constructed on the Northwest Loop, and in 1996 became the new church. This one was considerably bigger, and consisted of a large sanctuary in addition to a number of offices, Sunday School rooms, and restrooms; much more than any of the previous churches had. Rev. Armstrong was pastor of the church for only one more year when he accepted a call to another church in Indiana. Rev. Ben Rathgeber would become the interim pastor for about ten months before the new pastor. Rev. Thomas Konz, would be installed in 1998. To this day Faith Lutheran Church remains the same as it was in 1997, though plans are currently under way to begin adding even more, some of which have already been carried out.
So, just as any other story of determination goes, the perseverance and dedication of the members and different pastors of the church paid off. Faith Lutheran Church has come unquestionably far, and its story is a magnificent part of the diverse history of Erath County.