after the dinner tonight, celebrating the 160th year of the parish's existence:
People loved by God, I have stood in four relations to this parish: I began as a fieldworker under Pastors Hischke and Dressler; six years later I continued as your pastor for nearly 20 years; I have been a parent of three students in the school; now I am blessed to be your fellow-parishioner under the loving care of our two fine pastors. That means I've been around this place for 28 of the last 34 years! It's become our spiritual home.
Through all that time I've noted four exceptional qualities of our beloved parish.
First and primary, a deep devotion to and love of the Word of God. This is evident not just in the larger than usual Adult Bible Class, but in above average church attendance of the parish. And it is evident above all in the way that you let the Word of God settle matters among us. A "thus says the Lord" always ends debate.
Second and following hard on the first, a staunch and proud commitment to being specifically Lutheran Christians. Too many in our day and age seem almost ashamed to say: "I'm Lutheran." Not so here! This community rejoices in standing firm in the faith of their fathers and mothers and U.A.C. on the cornerstone is no dead letter. The Confessions under the Scriptures trump matters, because we are simply convinced that those Confessions express the very truths of God's Word. When I first came as your pastor, the Bible Class was studying the then new Synodical Catechism just to make sure that no doctrine had been changed; and I am delighted to report that the Bible Class is now at work with much the same project under the guidance of our pastor with the latest Catechism update. To be Lutheran means to be vigilant for holding to that faith once delivered to the saints.
Third and a logical consequence of the first two: a commitment to Christian education. My own family was blessed to have three children graduate from our school, and I experienced as your pastor the great advantage it was in teaching the faith to have the children daily immersed in the Word. Has the school been a challenge? Whenever has dealing with schools NOT been a challenge? But you joyfully plug along, putting your money where your mouth is, and insisting that no matter the struggle and sacrifice, it is vital for us to have a place for our children to receive a thorough and complete indoctrination in the Word of God as part of their education and under Deaconess we have the staff to see that they receive just that. And not just the school but the Sunday School. Remember that year when the snow fell so hard upon Christmas Eve and countless churches around us closed their doors? Not St. Paul's! We weren't going to NOT have that Christmas service the children had worked so hard on, and how could they properly celebrate Christmas without the bags of chocolate covered peanuts and assorted goodies? And, of course, it was packed. Packed in a snow storm! But the children proclaimed the good news and our hearts were warmed despite the whirling and mounting flakes!
Fourth and finally and dearest of all to my heart: this place loves the music of the Church. The people here actually SING. Some of you can remember the huge choirs back when Teacher Boeker and Alice Sievers were still youngsters; the early years of the bells and the touring concerts in other churches; the musical contributions of so many across the years, even Teacher Luedders who didn't particularly want to play the organ but was corralled into it, and I believe, came to love it; Donette and Vern, Carrie Reimche pulling a brand new and joyful sound out of the school choir; Bob Esch and his signature Joy to the Heart, Charlie Grinstead's funeral and the Hallelujah chorus with tears streaming down our face; Andy Mueller's trombone and Christine's flute; Kristi and Jonathan; my beloved Marianne with her countless hours practicing on that organ and never failing to deliver the goods; and now Carlo and his magic; Pat and then Millie with the bells ringing for joy; now Kate and the amazing music that the school children have mastered on strings. I want to atend St. Paul's school just so I can learn to play like the violin like Aubrey Goeckner! What a glorious heritage! It makes the worship life of this parish sparkle with joy - the joy of being heirs of an eternal kingdom, with sins forgiven and feasting week by week on the rich Gospel fare that our pastors delight to serve up to us, and that we sing gustily to the Lord and to build up each other.
What a heritage, people loved by God! Now my grandchildren are members here and it is my prayer that one of them may stand here before the congregation in days to come and celebrate with joy the the faithful preservation of the same rich heritage which we have enjoyed and been blessed by to this day. May God grant it! Amen.