By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
St. Paul Lutheran Church at The Grove has been partying since January.
“This year is very important to us,” said Pastor John Heckmann. “We’re celebrating our 125th anniversary.”
To commemorate the occasion, the church has heard special programs from former pastors.
“They’ve given a special service every other month,” Heckmann said. “The point was to highlight church life.”
Topics were fellowship, nurture, stewardship, worship and service.
“Everything we’ve been doing has been leading up to Oct. 26,” Heckmann said.
Oct. 26 is the date set for the official 125th anniversary celebration. There will be two special worship services, festival activities and a barbecue meal at noon served with Westphalia noodles.
The Grove church owes its start to two whiskered brothers named William and Charles Winkler.
Having migrated to Bell County from Germany, the Winkler brothers wanted a place to worship. None was available in The Grove, so the responsibility to create one fell on them.
“People started meeting in William Winkler’s home,” said Wilbert Sohns, church historian and great-grandson to Christian Richter Sr., a founding member of the church.
That was in 1878. By 1883, St. Paul Lutheran Church had its own building, thanks to supply and land donations from the Winklers.
The congregation size remained steady with 55 members and earned an identity of its own.
“It didn’t take long for the church to relocate to where it is now,” Sohns said.
In the course of a hundred years, the building has been replaced, remodeled, refurbished and expanded.
But some parts of it remain authentic. The wooden pews in the meeting room adjoined to the worship hall are 91 years old. They were handmade in 1917.
“The pulpit, lectern and altar also date to 1917,” Heckmenn said.
An interesting period in church history took place from 1878-1907. The church was without pastor.
“Nobody led services for those years, with the exception of 1896-1899,” Sohns said. “But there were lay persons who would provide lay reading services on a weekly basis.”
And once a month, an official Lutheran pastor from a nearby Texas community would travel to The Grove to offer a chance for formal worship.
“The circuit preacher who came to The Grove most often was from Trinity Lutheran in Riesel,” Sohns said. “That was 16 miles away. He would ride over here on horseback.”
It took determination, Sohns said, for those early services to take place.
“Can you imagine the love, energy and dedication it took for them — both the traveling pastors and the congregation — to worship? That’s quite an undertaking,” Sohns said.
One of congregation’s favorite memories is based on a mistake that occurred at least 90 years ago.
“A leader of one of the early voters’ meetings closed with the wrong prayer,” Heckmann said. “Instead of closing with the Lord’s prayer, he closed with the table prayer.”
The Lord’s prayer begins with “Our Father, who art in heaven / Hallowed be thy name” while the table prayer starts with this: “Come, Lord Jesus, Be our guest.”
The blunder gives Heckmann, Sohns and several others a reason to grin and chuckle — as surely as it did for the early church members.
In its 125-year history, St. Paul Lutheran Church has parented two daughter congregations: Immanuel Lutheran Church in Temple in 1924 and First Lutheran Church in Gatesville in 1966.
Forming a third daughter congregation is one of Heckmann’s goals for the coming years.
“I’d want it to be in the Central Texas area,” Heckmann said. “In Harker Heights, Gatesville or Oglesby.”
Sohns thinks The Grove church has the ability to do so.
“We’re a rural congregation, and traditionally rural congregations don’t do well,” Sohns said. “But we go against the norm there. We’re growing. We worship in a remodeled, updated facility, we have a recreation center and nice gym for our youth to enjoy.”
In addition to planting another church, Heckmann wants to continue his expansion of church programs, including additional Bible studies, the establishment of an Easter sunrise service and the creation of a Mixing Bowl fellowship opportunity.
“Even though we’re way out here, our presence is known,” Heckmann said. “Our good works reach as far as Martha’s Kitchen, the Helping Hands Food Pantry and the Child Advocacy Center.”