St. Luke’s United Church of Christ turns back the clock Sunday as it celebrates its 135th anniversary and German heritage. The event, organizers say, is going to be “a full, wonderful and joyous day,” beginning at 10:45 a.m.

 St. Luke’s United Church of Christ turns back the clock Sunday as it celebrates its 135th anniversary and German heritage. The event, organizers say, is going to be “a full, wonderful and joyous day,” beginning at 10:45 a.m.

  So celebrants can experience what attending church was like when St. Luke’s  was organized in 1878 as the German Evangelical St. Lucas Church of  Independence, the congregation will be divided during the Children’s Moment in the service.

  Dressed in period attire and pretending to be the church’s founding father, Music Director Boyd Ahrens will ask the congregation to change pews, with men sitting on one side of the sanctuary and  women and children on the other.

  Why the move?

  “Because that’s how they did it back in the original days,” says Marita Ray, anniversary chair and a 57-year member of the historic church founded by descendants of German immigrants.

  In the early days, sermons were preached in German and pastors expounded the scriptures using a German Bible. So to replicate that worship experience, Boyd will read the scripture in German. Using an old reed organ, he will teach the children a verse of “Jesus Loves Me” in German. Then they will sing it in English.

  “It should be fun,” Marita says, noting the church stopped preaching in German with the onset of World War I. “It wasn’t very popular to be speaking in German, so (the church) dropped German and started speaking English.”

  German, though, hasn’t been completely eliminated.

 Says Marita: “One verse of ‘Silent Night’ is sung in German at the candlelight Christmas Eve service,” which she and Nanette Moore, church administrative assistant, call their favorite memories at St. Luke. “That’s a tradition that has stayed around for awhile.”

  Boyd isn’t the only re-enactor. Linda Sehrt will  portray Miss Caroline Stoll, who became a charter member at age 17 and made an impact on the direction of the male-governed church.

  Although women couldn’t hold a church office or vote in the early days, “Miss Caroline expressed her views with an air of authority, and the men of the church listened to her and sought out her opinion,” Nanette says.

  In his history book, “St. Luke’s in Days Gone By,” the late George Berkemeier writes that “for over 60 years, she helped establish the spiritual needs and policy of our congregation, but never held an official position. Miss Caroline was some lady.”

   “Remember, Rejoice and Respond” is the sermon theme of the Rev. Dale Parson, associate minister of the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ.

  “Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Building the Future” is the theme of the anniversary featuring special music from the chancel and handbell choirs.

  Following a potluck dinner, the celebration continues with testimonies from former church pastors.

  Helen Koch, wife of the late Rev. Ralph Koch,  is sharing her husband’s memories. And the Rev. Dr. Howard Schenk, now  residing in Arizona and unable to attend, is sending his memories to be read. The Rev. David Lyon, though, will be present to give his testimony. He retired in 2012.

  As part of the celebration, members and friends are asked to bring 135 “something” in  pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters or dollars for Tabitha’s Closet, which St. Luke’s has adopted as its special anniversary mission project.

  The money will be collected during worship and presented to a representative of Tabitha’s Closet following the potluck dinner open to all in attendance. Meat and dessert will be provided.

  An outreach ministry of First Christian Church of Independence, Tabitha’s Closet serves families in the Independence School District by providing free shoes and clothing according to need.

  St. Luke’s has a rich history. Before the first wooden-frame church was erected in 1881 at West Nettleton and North Liberty – a block west of the current church – the fledgling congregation met in the home of one of its 21 charter members, as well as a fire station and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

  Unofficial church historian Marita Ray says the congregation outgrew the first church and constructed the “Rock Church” in 1910 at North Main and West Farmer, where St. Mary’s parking lot is located today.

  “The congregation outgrew the Rock Church and decided to rebuild at this location (727 N. Main St.) in 1956,” says Morita. “They built the education building first, and then built the sanctuary in 1961. The education building was completely remodeled in 2004.”

  As denominations merged, St. Luke’s underwent several name changes. When the Evangelical and Reformed churches merged  in 1934, German Evangelical St. Lucas of Independence changed its name to St. Luke’s Evangelical and Reformed Church. Then in 1957, the Evangelical and Reformed churches united with the Congregational Christian church, becoming the United Church of Christ.

  Five years ago, St. Luke’s celebrated its 130th anniversary with a “low key” dinner and a Powerpoint presentation highlighting its history and involvement in the community.

  The 135th celebration, though, is far from being low-key.

  “This one has grown into a little bigger event,” Marita says, noting those who planned the event “came up with good ideas ... and everything fell into place.”

  Says Nanette: “The anniversary observance just happened. Marita and I (believe) God is at work because it just happened. It grew from thinking we would have cake and punch to this.”

  As for the biggest happening at St. Luke’s since the last anniversary observance, both Nanette and Marita are of one accord: It was the retirement last year of their beloved pastor, David Lyon.  In the meantime, the Rev. James “Buck” Firth is serving as  interim pastor until a search committee finds a successor.

  Will there be a 140th anniversary celebration?

  “My guess is that we will do something every five years,” Marita says, explaining St. Luke’s has a rich history, and “it’s good for the younger members to learn some of that history.”

  Here’s wishing St. Luke’s a blessed and happy 135th anniversary.



 Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at  816-350-6363.