Saturday, October 18, 2008

Polka starts Bartlett church's party

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Hey, hey, the gang will be there for Sunday's polka service at St. John's Lutheran Church in Bartlett.
With laughs and upbeat music, Oma and the Ooompahs plan to launch the church's 125th anniversary celebration with a German flair.
'And that's fitting,' said Charles Gersbach, president of the church council. 'We're a church of Czech and German roots, family and tradition.'
A bite of the congregation's homemade sausage will prove the man's not kidding.
'We're all so excited about the anniversary,' said Shirley Fischer, a woman who was baptized, confirmed and married at the Bartlett church. 'Our families go back four and five generations. That's identity.' Indeed - the Bartlett Church has its own unofficial slogan. For years and years, Ms. Fischer said the townsfolk have referred to St. John's as 'the church on a hill.'
'There's a cross that sits high on the roof,' Ms. Fischer said. 'You can see it from far away on either side of the hill. So generations of children grew up looking for that cross as a homing beacon.'
Gersbach recalls that a few years back, the cross had to be taken down.
'Had some roofing work done,' Gersbach said. 'Boy, did we heard about it, about that cross not being up.'
Gayle Bielss, a fellow church member, nodded.
'People missed it,' Ms. Bielss said.
'It's really a big part of people's lives,' Ms. Fischer said. 'I remember a married couple, who have since passed away - they came to pray under that cross every time they had to make a big decision.'
The cross isn't the only thing the congregation cherishes. Family territory within the church is important to recognize.
'Certain people have sat on certain pews for several generations,' Gersbach said.
That comment earned a round of chuckles from his comrades.
'Yes, it's tradition,' Ms. Fischer said.
Other sources of longstanding church pride include the 125-year-old Christmas Eve candlelight service, the 50-year-old Easter sunrise service and the 57-year-old pipe organ.
'When we got it in 1951, it was the largest organ of any Lutheran church in the state,' Ms. Fischer said.
The funeral bell is also worthy of some bragging rights. Dated to 1896, it's almost as old as the church.
'Whatever the age was when the person passed, that's how many times the bell rings,' Gersbach said.
Ms. Fischer said the bell's ring sounds like a low-toned thud.
'It's loud, though,' Ms. Fischer said. 'You can can hear it from all over. It rings the morning of the funeral.'
The funeral bell bears an inscription that pays tribute to the Holy Virgin.
In recent years, missions and fundraisers have become routine for the Bartlett church.
'For five years, every summer, we've gone to Juarez, Mexico, to build houses for people who needed shelter,' Gersbach said. 'And we contributed to the disaster recovery efforts for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.'
St. John's also has a cookie ministry that serves the inmates of Bartlett State Jail.
'And there's the Holy Rollers,' Ms. Fischer said.
That group makes cream cheese braids - a dessert Gersbach describes as 'a German coffee cake type of thing.
It makes for a popular fundraiser, Ms. Bielss said. 'With one batch of orders, the Holy Rollers can earn up to $250."

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