The History of St. Paul Lutheran Church-Grover (Wildwood), Missouri
As the opening shots of the Civil War flew over Fort Sumter in 1861, families in Meramec Township, St. Louis County, gathered for worship. Rev. August Lehmann of Des Peres served these German families as often as he could.
Although St. Paul's of Grover is not a daughter congregation of St. John's Ellisville, the two churches had a close relationship in those early years. When Rev. Lehmann no longer served St. Paul's, several pastors for St. John's served the congregation. The pastors were Rev. P.P. Pennekamp (1866-1875) and Rev. Theodore Burzin (1870- 1875).
Germans from Prussia, Oldenburg, Bavaria and Missouri comprised the charter membership of the congregation. Most were farmers. These Lutherans became part of the religious “patch-work-quilt” comprising a variety of ethnic backgrounds. French, German, and Swiss. Most of these West County settlers, however, were a generation or more away from their homeland, having been born in Missouri.
J. Lorenz Fick, Martin Bates, his son Henry Bates (who was a local justice of the peace), John Heide, George Hatz Sr., William Rettker, Karl Wardenburg, and Christian Borcherding chartered St. Paul. One Wardenburg and one Fick still remained members of the congregation in 2003.
In 1875, Rev Ernst Richter began regular once a month services in the old Smith Schoolhouse in Orrville, which was the name of the town closest to St. Paul in those early years. (The town of Orrville no longer exists. Records regarding the the beginning and the end of Orrville seem difficult to locate.) In 1882 Rev. Richter encouraged the congregation to organize formally. The records show that on April 15 1883, St. Paul Lutheran Church of Orrville, MO was formed, adopting the constitution of St. John Ellisville as their own. Preparing the constitution was easy-the congregation took a copy of the constitution of St. John Ellisville, crossed out all references to St. John Ellisville, and changed these references to St. Paul, Orrville.
Rev. Richter served St. Paul and St. John until 1887; then Rev. H. Wesche served both St. Paul and St. John from 1887 until 1907. Rev. Buchschacher served St. Paul from 1907 and is also listed as the pastor for St. John in 1911. Rev. Buchschacher served St. Paul until St. Paul decided to become an independent congregation. They called Rev.
Martin Olsen as their own pastor in 1922. Rev. Olsen, a candidate from the St. Louis seminary, served St. Paul until his death in 1963.
Following Rev. Olsen’s death in 1963, the congregation called several pastors, who all declined the calls. The congregation voted to call seminary candidate Rev. Phillip Secker. He was ordained June 9 1964 at his home church, and installed at St. Paul June 14, 1964 and married in July. He served the congregation until 1968.
Under Rev. Secker’s leadership, the congregation briefly discussed a week day school. He also contacted an artist to design a cross above the altar in memory of Rev. Martin Olsen, however the family of Rev. Olsen did not approve the design.
Rev. Olsens son Melvin Olsen then contacted Kenneth E. Rader at the Ecclesiastical Arts Department at Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis to design a suitable memorial. They utilized the original altar cross designed by Rev. Olsen to honor the four service men who died in the service of their country during Word War II. It was dedicated during St. Paul’s 90th anniversary celebration. Rev. Richard Bolin was very instrumental in bringing this project to a satisfactory conclusion.
Rev. Secker also helped the congregation begin a scholarship find for youth entering a synodical college with the intent to study for full time work in the church, and young men entering the seminary. It was at this time that Concordia Seminary began sending field workers to St. Paul. The congregation also voted to participate in Synod’s “Ebenezer” program.
After years of discussion, the organ was finally moved from the front of the church to the back in 1967. During the Viet Nam War, the contributions to the Armed Forces Service Commision were resumed. In December of 1967, Rev. Secker left St. Paul to serve as a chaplin in the U.S. military.
In 1977 Rev. Rudolph Kurz was installed and served St. Paul until 1982. Rev. Douglas Balzar, a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, IL accepted the call to St. Paul and has been serving the congregation since his arrival in 1983.
Early congregation records are in German, from 1883 until 1921. A 90 year old member of St. Paul indicated that when she and her parents transferred to St. Paul in the 1910′s, German was not spoken there. When Rev. Martin Olsen became pastor in 1922 all records have been kept in English. Rev. Olsen never preached in German.
Unlike many congregations, St. Paul's did not form a Lutheran school. However, to accommodate their pastor and his wife, the congregation built a new parsonage. During construction, Rev. Olsen lived with a member while his wife stayed in the city with members of her family. This parsonage was home to the churches pastors until it was replace with a new home for pastors in 1969. The original parsonage is now the home for the church custodian.
Future historians seeking information about St. Paul Lutheran Church will be disappointed by the lack of information available for the early 1900′s. Many congregational records were lost due to problems in the foundation. Historians will be delighted to find that voters’ minutes are available beginning with the year 1945. This was also the year a very active Lutheran Laymens League Men’s Club began and the congregation sent the Lutheran Witness to every members home, a practice that continued for many years. In 1946 a building fund for a new church building was begun, and in 1948 the congregation was strengthened through difficult issues involving worship.
In 1948, St. Paul's began a daughter congregation in Allenton, MO when one of the families relocated there. This congregation is now St. Mark in Eureka. More complete information regarding the “birth” of St. Mark are not available in the records of St. Paul Lutheran Church.
Interesting tidbits from the voters meeting minutes are sprinkled throughout the records. For example, Pastor Olsen was accepted as a voting member of the congregation in 1949; and, auxiliaries were allowed to have “singing games” as long as they were not held on church property!
St. Paul voted each year to send membership donations to the Lutheran Publicity Organization. The Lutheran Publicity Organization, loosely connected to the Lutheran Publicity Bureau, was begun in St. Louis in 1915 as a way to encourage congregations to observe the Reformation.
In 1951, the congregation voted to try having two services per Sunday. They decided that if worship attendance was increased by 20 per Sunday, the two services would continue; however, if attendance did not increase, they would go back to one service per Sunday. Communion would be at the early service on the 3rd Sunday, and on the 2nd Sunday for the late service. According to Pastor Olsen’s reports attendance did not increase, For several years they held two services only through the summer months, going back to one service when Daylight Savings Time changed. Currently the congregation has one service each Sunday followed by Sunday School.
In 1953, St. Paul formed a building committee and the organist salary was increased from $1.00 per service to $2.00. A new constitution was drafted, revised and accepted. The congregation began active support of the Lutheran World Relief. The next year St. Paul decided not to become a member of the Council of Lutheran Churches of St. Louis.
For ten years church members put most of their money into the building fund, the only financial commitment made was to Synod and the “Conquest for Christ Movement”. The congregation designated most of its offerings outside of the regular Sunday offering specifically for the building fund. Plans for the new building were finally drawn up in 1954. After the new church was built contributions to missions, district and Synod were increased.
In 1955 St. Paul moved ahead with plans to build the new church by acquiring the services of an architect. A year and a half later the new building was dedicated on April 22, 1956, 73 years after the congregation was organized.
In 1964 the congregation bought 30 acres of land across the road form the church to serve as room for growth. In 1969 a new parsonage was provided for the pastor on this land.
Communion records show that in the very early years the Lord’s Supper was offered twice a year. In the 1940′s the practice was changed to once a month. In 1965 individual chalices were designed and made by an artist named Dingledein and were a memorial to honor J. Edward Schnarr, a long time member, elder and officer of St. Paul. The Lord’s Supper was offered twice monthly, a practice that continues today.
Richard Bolin accepted the call to be pastor in September of 1968 and was installed in December. He guided the congregation through Synod’s tumultuous ’70′s, keeping members faithful to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. During this time the congregation studied the feasibility of having a Lutheran Day School. They decided they were not yet ready for one. Rev. Bolin encouraged the congregation to be more involved in outreach, which resulted in the formation of an evangelism committee in 1975. At the end of 1976 Rev. Bolin accepted a call to another church.
Rev, Rudolph Kurz was called to be pastor of St. Paul in 1977. Rev Kurz accepted a call to Lexington, Texas in 1982. Rev. Walter Hoffman once again served as vacancy pastor.
In the late ’70′s LCMS churches in west St. Louis County considered starting a Lutheran High School, St. Paul was willing to be a part of the High School Association. The school was not built in West County, but in the St. Charles area.
In 1983, just in time for the congregations 100th anniversary Rev. Douglas Balzar accepted the call to serve St. Paul.
In 1987 the voters elected to change the constitution to allow women voters, although excluding them from holding the offices of President, Vice President and Elder. Stained glass windows were installed in 1991. Records show St. Paul’s synodical participation included sending delegates to the Western District conventions, and over the years voting for officers of Synod and electing delegates to Synodical conventions. In 1969 the congregation cast a vote for Dr. Paul Zimmerman to be president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. They also gave regular mission offering and synodical support. In 1970 the congregation submitted a memorial to the Synodical Convention urging the Synod to “stay with the Bible” in regards to fellowship with the A. L. C. The congregation further requested Synod to be good stewards of the money entrusted to them, using more for missions than for bureaucracy. In 1972 the congregation held open meetings to discuss the problems of Synod. The congregation subscribed to Affirm at this time. When Synod had their “Forward in Remembrance” fund raising program St. Paul did not participate.
Regular services and activities that have continued through the years are:Sunday School program on Christmas Eve with the collection from that service going to the Sunday School; the annual Sausage supper with the money going where needed. Until recent yeas, an annual church picnic was held. In the early ’70′s mid-week classes were offered first for sixth grade, then grades 4 and 5 were added. Later these were dropped and confirmation was held on Tuesday afternoon. The youth of the congregation formed a Banner Guild to contribute to the worship life of the church..by encouraging the use of visual arts.
The congregation was always ready and willing to help families in need. Many of its fund raising events were designated for such special needs. Each year the families of the congregation buy Christmas gifts for needy families and make donations of food to various food banks and the seminary.
The Ladies Aid Society, which celebrated its 80th anniversary this fall has done much to help the church locally and at large. Many of the ways they have raised money is by quilting, serving at weddings , funerals, hosting chicken suppers, bazaars, and receiving special offerings. Their monies have helped the local congregation, have been used by Synod to further mission work and have reached out to the needy in the surrounding community.
On November 8 1998 St. Paul dedicated a new building for the educational outreach of the congregation. This will aid the Sunday School in teaching the children the wonderful grace of God.
For 127 years St. Paul's Lutheran Church has proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Word and Sacrament. Her ministry has been steady through the years offering a place where hope is offered for those who are searching and a firm foundation of faith to those for whom she has always been home.