For one hundred years, a local congregation of Lutheran Christians have banded together, sharing their faith, their love and their commitment to serve God and their community. St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church, at 220 Route 590 in Greeley, PA, has exhibited perseverance and focus in a world that has changed so fast around them.
That legacy will be honored at their regular Sunday morning service, September 8 at 9:30 a.m., marking their centennial as a church. Rev. Donald Beck welcomes all to attend.
Here's an account of those years, followed by some reflections offered by the pastor and some of their members.
A group of Lutherans in the Greeley area met on April 6, 1913 to discuss starting their own church. Dr. Carl Zinnessmeister, Missionary Superintendent of the New York Synod, was contacted by his brother who lived at Greeley. regular meetings started in the old Greeley school, which sat next door to the right of the present church- on the site of the current preschool building.
The fledgling flock soon started plans for their own building. The first English service was held December 9, 1913 in the school, followed the next week by their first German language service. The congregation was officially organized on December 10, 1913, with the name of St. Luke.
In January 1914 the Ladies Aid was organized, still meeting to this day. Sunday School also started that month. The first confirmation and communion was held on July 7.
Confirmation classes were held in Hawley. A Greeley confirmation student, Frieda White, walked five miles to Lackawaxen and then took the train to Hawley for her instruction. Confirmation took place at the Greeley School.
B.W. Pfell served as mission pastor until 1919, followed by Dr. Zinnessmeister.
Mrs. Maria Anna Bopp donated the land for the church and on August 27, 1917, ground-breaking services were held. A year later, the lower story was completed and services were moved there from the school. The bell was installed and dedicated in the summer of 1921.
Fairs and donations raised money for the new building.
On Mother's Day 1925, a new pastor, Rev. Ernest C. Brandner, presided at the dedication. He was their longest-standing pastor, remaining until 1969.
Pastor Arvo Beck- no relation to the current pastor- then served many years.
Some of the early records of St. Luke's were lost in the same fire that destroyed the Lutheran church building in Hawley in 1922.
In the 1960's and 70's, a side entrance was added and the furnace replaced, along with other improvements.
In 1979 Good News Lutheran Parish was formed and St. Luke joined with Bethel, St. Jacobi and St. Mark Lutheran churches. In 2007, the congregation voted unanimously to be independent, and separate from the parish.
Under the pastorship of Rev. Arno Beck, St. Luke's Preschool was established a a non-profit educational agency of the church. The response showed that there was a great need for a preschool. After just two years, the basement of the church was too small for the number of students. Wallenpaupack Area School District had closed the school next door; St. Luke's Council arranged for a lease to use the facility for the preschool.
Page 2 of 4 - When the School District in 1997 announced intentions to sell the old school, St. Luke began negotiations to purchase it. The preschool is still in operation with two teachers and from 18 to 25 students, although attendance has dropped with the start of other public programs in the area.
The buildings known as St. Luke's Center were dedicated in April 1997.
--- Good News Food Pantry
On the lower level of the preschool building is the Good Cheer Food Pantry which was started on a limited basis by Rev. Arno Beck in the 1980's. At first it was an emergency food pantry and also distributed holiday food packages to the needy. The food pantry has grown and is currently open on the first Sunday of each month.
The pantry is supported by St. Jacobi Lutheran Church, St.Mark Lutheran Church and many community members and organizations that contribute regularly. Camps are big supporters. Volunteers from the church operate the pantry and are currently serving 20 to 40 families a month. Greeley Volunteer Fire Department helps at the pantry every month, picking up food at the store, assisting clients in carrying food to their cars, and so on. Holiday food packages are distributed to 35 to 50 families.
Grant funds from the NE PA Lutheran Synod and The United Way assist Good Cheer Food Pantry.
Pike County Public Library had a branch in the second Center building from July of 1997 to January of 2012.
Rev. Donald Beck has been serving as pastor for the past seven years. Asked what has kept the church these 100 years, he reflected that it was the dedication of committed Christian people.
Herbert Lehmann recalled stories that Pastor Brandner, their second minister, was quite versatile. He played the organ as well as preached. Ann Schmalzle, whose family has attended St. Luke since its early days, said Pastor Brandner baptized her.
Her father and uncle did the wood paneling in the church. All around, if the church walls could speak, you would know the hands of many faithful servants through the years that lovingly tended to their church. In fact, small metal name plates may be seen on the pews and other furnishings, recording who had contributed to make the improvements.
The stain glass windows also have names of those who sponsored them. One has the names of various church people, including Ann's father, who as a lad was in a church play that raised money for the window.
--- Ringing the bell
In the vestibule hangs the rope for the belfry. "Every child's delight was the church bell," Ann recalled. "If you didn't let go it would take you up to the ceiling." Children through the years had the invited honor to ring the bell. Adults also have had that duty.
Page 3 of 4 - Herbert rings it now. He recalled another faithful brother, Ed Nelson, who rang it for years. A World War II veteran, Nelson was very dedicated to the church and rang the bell for the Bicentennial of the Nation.
Another long time servant was the late Florence Ross. She kept the church records. "She was like our mother," said Ann. Florence was president of the Ladies Aid and was very active around the church, helping in any way she could. She was also busy helping the Greeley Volunteer Fire Department. Florence died the day the new organ arrived, and the church in turn dedicated the organ to her.
"Because of dedicated people like Florence this church has survived these 100 years," said Herbert.
--- Lasagna dinners
The Ladies Aid once had as many as 50 women. They are smaller now but still active. One of their activities, Ann said, is to host lasagna dinners to raise funds for he church. They have them twice a year, and have has as many as four in one year. They always have the same menu. That way everyone knows what to do and it gets done. People cook it at home and bring it to the fellowship hallin the basement.
Herbert recalled the pork dinners they used to do. "Dad and I did the mashed potatoes," he recalled. They also had help from Johnny Ross, who brought a clean, electric plaster mixer. "It worked," he said.
Social life of the church have also included strawberry festivals and coffee klatches. Attendance dropped off. Ann said that people lack the time these days.
Their average church attendance these days is about 25 people. The number goes up significantly at Christmas and Easter.
Herbert noted that the Greeley area lacks the populated private developments that help other churches in Pike County's rural areas, such as along Route 739.
Their small but dedicated nucleus of believers carry on.
They continue to preach and share the Gospel, and with the limited resources they have, serve the community Their mission statement they follow is, "... to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by sharing the Gospel and serving, with love, the needs of all."
---'The Hand of God'
Some call it "God Winks", when the Lord Himself works in mysterious ways to encourage or reaffirm His servants just when they needed it most.
Pastor Beck smiled as he considered how the "Hand of God" is evident in even what he called "stuff." In his 60 years of ministry, which has taken him to pulpits from Long Island to Reading, he was never one to hold on to the old church bulletins- except one. Back in 1966 he just happened to be sent to a small country church to help out where there was a temporary pastoral vacancy. He served as vice pastor at St. Luke, in Greeley. He never imagined he would ever be called back to that church as full time pastor. The only bulletin he happened to save was from when he was here in 1966.
Page 4 of 4 - Herbert shared another story. One day back in the 1970's, an errant baseball from the old school yard next door came flying through one of their stained glass windows, in the vestibule.
The window was repaired, but something had to be done to protect them. Herbert and Sam Cohn fitted Plexiglas on the outside of all of the stained glass windows. The arched windows in the back and front of the sanctuary posed a problem. The Plexiglas sheets had to be cut to fit just right.
The window in the back of the pulpit features a picture of Jesus Christ kneeling in prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane, just prior to his trial, crucifixion and promised resurrection.
Because this window is so large and curved on top, it required them to cut out four pieces of Plexiglas and affix them to the exterior, held by a frame.
They had no idea what would occur as a consequence. On certain mornings of the year when the Sun hits the window, as well as when they have a night service and the window is lit from behind, the shadow of a very large and perfect Cross appears in the sanctuary for all of St. Luke's faithful to behold.
At the anniversary service, the history will be read and the church rededicated. Former members and other special guests have been invited. After the service they will have a luncheon.