Newell church brings heritage to life for 100th anniversary

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

First foreign language service held since 1925

The rich German heritage of St. Peter Lutheran Church of Newell, going back 100 years, was celebrated Sunday during a special worship service and meal.

It was a time to reflect upon the three German families that saw the need for the Lutheran religion in the Buena Vista County community a century ago, and to give the present congregation a taste of the language and the foods that the early members were accustomed to.

Under the direction of current pastor Michael Harman and guest preacher Ted Letzring, the service was delivered in both German and English Sunday, with the congregation listening carefully for words they may recognize, appreciating how often the English words seemed to mimick the German roots.

"While the three families that started St. Peter spoke

German and were served by German language pastors, the congregation voted to go with English services in 1928 since neighboring Zion Lutheran used German; and to reach out to English-speaking people in their new homeland," said Pastor Harman.

"We have very few people who speak German anymore. We were trying to give a genuine taste of the times, not a fully authentic historical recreation."

The event was pulled off beautifully; many congregation members even dressed in period clothing to get a better feel for the times.

The first Lutheran church service in Newell goes back even farther than 100 years when the William Witters family, new to the area from Germany, and residing on a farm east of Newell, began conducting worship services in their home.

Soon two other families joined in, the Portrath and Witke families. The services, filled with messages of faith, were held in the afternoon every two weeks. The year was 1898.

The families saw the need for additional space and began renting an old public school building. Rev. Schliepsiek of Pomeroy conducted the German services, making the trip to Newell by pony and buggy, traveling through muddy, and what seemed bottomless, roads many times.

The interest continued to grow so these three insightful families established the St. Peter Lutheran Church in 1905. Pastor Schliepsiek moved on. Rev. Richard Haendschke of St. John Lutheran Church of Storm Lake agreed to conduct services. Two more families joined the congregation.

The first baptisms were performed on Nov. 12 of that year. The following year four young people were welcomed into membership through confirmation and the first wedding, a double ring ceremony, was held in the church.

It wasn't until 1910 that the first funeral was held in the church and a new minister, Rev. Brauer, was called to serve the church.

In 1912, a schoolhouse was purchased and renovated to serve the growing congregation. Dedication of this building was held on June 30 as St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Pastor E.T. Lochner was called to serve the combined SL-Newell parish. English and German services were conducted.

At a cost of $200, a steeple and bell were added to the structure.

In 1925 German services were discontinued and in 1928 the congregation was accepted as a member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

Though the Great Depression was taking its toll in the 1930s, as corn was selling for 10 cents a bushel, oats for 7 cents and market hogs for $4 or less per head, the people of the congregation took steps to construct a new house of worship. The cost of the structure was #12,433.86. It was dedicated in August 1930.

The 1930s also brought the organization of a youth society and Ladies Aid. It wasn't until 1950 that a men's organization was formed.

A number of pastors came and went over those years and the congregation continued to grow.

It was nearly 60 years after the formation of St. Peter that it was decided an even larger and more elaborate building was needed to serve the people. Ground was broken in June 1964 and by the following September, the new house of worship was dedicated. The previous structure was being used as a Christian Education Building but it was soon apparent there was a need for more space. In 1979 a new wing was planned and construction began that same year.

The current pastor, Rev. Michael Harman, has been leading the congregation since 2001. Members total 242.

"By the grace of God," said pastor Harman, "St. Peter's congregation has grown and prospered. Through wars and presidents, the hard times and the good times, the Lord in heaven has blessed us most bountifully. We must praise the Lord for his guiding hand as we continue to make and experience the history of St. Peter Lutheran Church."

Sunday's special event was topped off with a catered meal of many German delicacies with dining entertainment provided by a two-man polka band.

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