The year 2011 was the 155th year that the Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit gathered together a family of Lutheran Christians at St. Paul’s, New Gehlenbeck. A community that delighted to sing praises to our heavenly Father and receive all the good gifts that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have to give to us (and through us!) as we share in their unending life.
In January of last year, Pr. Gleason completed the windows in the doors between the Narthex and the Nave of the Church. Looking outside in, sort of hard to tell what’s what. Looking from within the Church out, though, we see the door devoted to God the Father – gold trimmed and shining white. We see the doors devoted to God the Son, the Lamb of God, blood red and glowing. We see the door devoted to God the Holy Spirit, blue as the sky above from which the dove descended and as the waters over which He brings the church to new life – Baptism. Dave Heidbrink has been protesting since we took down the symbols of the Trinity on the front wall that our nave had removed all reference to the Trinity – and he was among the very first to note that this has now been more than remedied. Janet Engelke and several other folk noted how natural the new art was – looked like it had been here since the building was built. Truly, Pr. Gleason is a master craftsman. But mightier than he, is the Lord Himself who crafted Himself a home, an abode of the blessed Trinity, within little August Paul Schumacher on the very feast day of our Lord’s Baptism. Where the Baptismal waters flow, there the Blessed Trinity continues to build His Church and give life.
Though February was cold and bitter as usual, the frozen outside did not stop the living waters from flowing within the holy Church. At the beginning of the month, Lili Micnheimer was brought through the saving flood and at the end of month, so was Claire Sievers – both embraced by Triune love and marked as Christ’s own forever.
As we moved into Lent, we couldn’t move away from the joys of Baptism. Tiffany Pate (Ann Pipkin’s niece) was clothed in the righteousness of the Son of God and enlightened by His Spirit. As the weeks of Lent progressed we gathered for our beloved Evening Prayer at the midweeks and heard anew the story of our Lord’s Passion. Also during March, acting on counsel from our District President, Pr. Timothy Scharr, St. Paul’s voters extended a call to Pr. William Gleason as a part-time, associate pastor of the parish.
April was a crazy, busy month. We started out with Amy Cox and Scott Mayes wedding early on, followed the next day by two Baptisms: Lindsay Ray Autrey and Henry Hartley were plunged beneath the bracing stream and came up from it with their sins forever gone and sealed with the Holy Spirit. Just a week later, Bryce Goeckner followed them into the water, joining Jesus in His death and sharing in His resurrection. The middle of the month brought us a pile of confirmations. It was our joy to hear Sydney Anderson, Cyrus Bartony, Adam Behrhorst, Nicholas Brunnworth, Rachel Brunnworth, Jason Johnson, Chase Langendorf, Megan Pellock, Kelsey Piper, Melissa Pipkin, Emily and Justin Schwarz, and Lizzy Steinmann confess Him who had claimed them years before in Baptism and promise to be faithful to Him unto death by His grace. The Church was absolutely packed to the gills that day – and Confirmation only augmented our usual joys on Palm Sunday. Before holy week was over, we delighted to welcome Larry Ridens and Don Granda also to St. Paul’s altar. Joys abounding! Easter was the feast of joy that it always is to us – our beloved Pascha. From Matins and Easter breakfast (thank you, Thrivent folk!), to egg hunts and preservice music, and crowning it all: the Divine Service for the Resurrection. More joy than we could hold: “Now all the vault of heaven resounds in praise of love that still abounds! Christ has triumphed! He is risen!” Risen indeed. And more joy still to squeeze in as the very end of the month found all our little ones from the SPECLC telling the easter story in words and song to their parents and grandparents and neighbors. Also before the month was finished, our Lord Jesus claimed for His own yet another little Schwarz: Joseph Jeffrey by name. His little heart was cleansed by faith and became a dwelling place of the Blessed Trinity.
May began and ended with weddings. Early in the month Robyn Gerber and Mark Massey were united by their promises and God’s blessings before the altar. Robyn has long been like one of our own kids - in and out of the house from when they were little, and so thick with my girls that we've long told Bill and Cheryl we share them. Kindly, Bill didn't make us share the bill for the wedding... And at the end of the month, it seemed we had nearly all the Southern Illinois District present for the marriage of the daughter of Pr. Kettner (Christ Jacob), Karen Kettner, and the son, Bryan, of the former pastor from Carmi (Pr. James Kress). Much joy that day – I’ll never forget that Karen insisted, absolutely insisted, that we had to sing “Of the Father’s love begotten.” Pastor’s kids….what can I say? Early that month we also were blessed to have President Scharr with us for Pastor Gleason’s installation. And, of course, we closed out yet another year at Trinity-St. Paul with St. Paul’s hosting the graduation service in a liturgy of Evening Prayer.
With June came the first funerals of the year. We lost that month both Ruth Kelley – long time home-bound (I’d been taking her communion at home for 19 years!) and our jovial, loving Ray Blase. Ruth was a marvel in how her spirits had held so firm and strong for so very long, but toward the end, all she wanted was to go home. And the Lord in mercy granted that request. Ray, well, I can describe it no better than when he noted his disappointment at waking up one morning and still being here. He was filled with laughter and joy and ready to depart – he knew (as did Ruth) that his sins were forgiven, his death destroyed, and he wanted to be with his Savior until the joyous day of renewal of all things. In the midst of the funerals, though, new life flowed to little Regan Long as the Savior claimed him as his very own for time and for eternity. Also there was great joy during the month in the conduct of our annual VBS and the sharing of the story of Christ with all the little ones.
July brought word of Imogene Kroeger’s death – she had moved down to her son in Texas some years back (and he subsequently had passed before her). She was such a busy servant of Christ here when I first came as your pastor – she and Ed both. Her gravelly voice, quick laughter, and fascinating stories will stay with me all my days. I look forward to catching up in the Age to come! The very end of July brought us the Baptism of Clayton Dean Riechmann – yet another of the Lord’s lambs, gathered into his arms, in an embrace stronger than death itself.
August began with the end of Eunice Niles’ pilgrimage. I will miss our occasional outing for Mexican, her indomitable spirit (“You really need to get over this fear of heights and do the parasailing. Trust me on this.”). She may have been little, but she was spunky as they come. August saw a new school year begin. Also that month, you all pulled a fast one on me and surprised me with a special observance of the 25th anniversary of my ordination. I will NEVER forget my puzzlement on what on earth President Harrison was doing strolling down the aisle after the cross. What joy to have him with us that day and I am still in shock over the generosity of your kind gift to me.
Come September we were still singing the praises of the blessed Trinity and rejoicing to have the choir and bells back in on the action again – we always miss them during the summer months! That month, Jesus washed another little one in His healing streams – Phiona Huff was named His and the light of Christ shone upon her little life.
October brought our usual joys with LWML the first weekend – and we had the rare opportunity to see into Pastor Gleason’s work with glass. He even proved to Kurt Johnson that he COULD cut a piece of glass and not break it. It was fascinating indeed. At month’s end, we celebrated Reformation with Divine Service V, and I think it fair to say that the little choir that put that service together blew us away. Great joy in singing to the Blessed Trinity!
By November, of course, we had All Saints and the remembrance of the faithful departed, and the certain knowledge that it wouldn’t be long before another name were added. Arne Hellmann was in fast decline. Yet another of the Lord’s saints so ready to go, and I’ll never forget his uttering every word of Psalm 23 with me when he could barely get the words out. The word had gone deep in his heart and he held to it and it saw him through the valley of the shadow of death in the companionship of His great good shepherd. Sausage Supper was hot – as you recall – or at least not as cold as we tend to think it ought to be; Thanksgiving found a full church and more songs of joy.
By December we were well into Advent. And as John the Baptist began to appear in our liturgy and readings, Logan Richard Bucklew and then Adriana Lucia Bartony heeded the Baptist’s call and were plunged into new life in the saving waters Jamie Phipps (currently a catechumen) and Brian Goebel were united in holy marriage at the start of the month – Pr. Gleason mercifully filling in as stomach flu jailed me to the parsonage. The LWML and Ladies Aid celebrated their Christmas party. The children of SPECLC offered their Christmas program to a packed church; as did the Sunday School Children come Christmas Eve. Come Christmas Day we sang our joy with the angels and archangels over the Word becoming Flesh and dwelling among us.
All in all a busy year, a year filled with joys, touched by sorrows, but a year of grace for the Blessed Trinity never failed us once – constantly pouring His grace upon our parish family. We welcomed new members and saw old friends move away or move on, but through it all, we were blessed to remain St. Paul’s New Gehlenbeck, a community of evangelical Lutheran Christians meeting just north of Hamel, IL.
At the end of 2011, the baptized membership of St. Paul’s stood at 724. The communicant membership at 578. The average attendance was 331 per week (thank you, again, Louis Hellmann for calculating that for us!) which means that approximately 46% of our members were in attendance in a Divine Service in any given week.
Respectfully submitted by William Weedon, Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in the 20th year of this pastorate.