In Celebration of 116 Years of Ministry
In the early spring of 1901, a small group of Lutherans met in the new Indiana School building to organize a second Lutheran church in South Haven. Doctrinal disputes had provoked their withdrawal from affiliation with the local Wisconsin Synod congregation. While the task of founding a new congregation was daunting, it was not long before “Der Deutschen Evangelische Lutherische Friedensgemeinde”(The German Evangelical Lutheran Peace Congregation) was organized. Pastor Heinrich Thedinga began to serve the new ministry in June of 1901 and 35 households made up the charter membership of this congregation.
Earthly possessions were few for this young German immigrant congregation and the early days of establishing the ministry of the congregation were difficult. However, about a year after organization, land was purchased and construction of a church building was begun. Financial indebtedness, particularly during the Depression years, led to the near loss of the church building to the bank, until the mortgage was finally retired in 1937.
As the years had passed, English language was increasingly used in worship. Eventually, English completely replaced German in worship and in the late 1920’s the congregation acted to change its name to First English Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In 1951, Bethany Lutheran Church of Covert, a congregation of the Augustana Synod, merged with the ministry of First English Lutheran Church. The merger with Bethany, a congregation that had been established in 1908, also marked the 50th anniversary of First English Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The dedicated people of this congregation, strengthened by the 1951 merger and growing in their ministry together, facilitated a number of building projects over the next 25 years. The nine stained glass windows were dedicated in November of 1953 and a major enlargement of the sanctuary, fellowship hall and side entrance was completed in 1956. The chancel was remodeled and a new 19 rank Wicks pipe organ was dedicated in 1966.
Renewed growth of the congregation in the 1990’s led to the purchase of land for a new church building in April of 1994. In December of 1997, 88% of the congregation’s members voted to build a new church building on the new site. In 1999, the derivation of the original name of the congregation that had been in use in the 1920’s was reclaimed by the First English congregation. As the new building project progressed and the celebration of 100 years of ministry was being planned for the summer of 2001, this ministry was once again known officially in our community as Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Groundbreaking for the new church building was celebrated in June of 1999 and the first service of worship in the new facility was celebrated on July 2, 2000, with 500 worshippers in attendance. A community celebration marking the Dedication of the New Church Building on Blue Star Memorial Highway in South Haven was held on Reformation Sunday, October 29, 2000.
We continue to gather to celebrate our rich heritage and carry on the work begun by our forebears and we do so with humble hearts, thankful for all that has been and anticipating that God’s mission for this people will continue to engage us and generations yet unborn. For a brief moment in the unfolding of God’s creation, each of us has the opportunity to engage in ministries of grace and mercy, forgiveness, and love in Christ’s name. May we each continue our journey of discipleship with deep gratitude for the many blessings bestowed on servant ministers such as us and confident of the final fulfillment of the promises of God.