Lutherans celebrate both historic church, anniversary of radical founder
Kathleen Riemann and Esther Nichols swayed their iced teas from left to right, as a familiar German song echoed Sunday through the Martin Luther Lutheran Church.
"It's fun," Riemann, 70, said as she smiled and rubbed shoulders with Nichols in the church's dining hall. "It's just an old German drinking song."
Across the table, munching on bratwurst and German-style mashed potatoes, Martin Luther member Barbara Dietzel smiled back at her singing girlfriends.
"We've known each other since girlhood," said Nichols, 72. "We don't get to see each other as often as we used to, but we can always pick up where we left off."
Mid-song, the ladies placed their cups down on the table and began recalling stories of their adolescence. Without pause, the women exchanged memories of dancing at Schroeder Hall in the 1950s, participating in hay rides and church bazaars and spending too many evenings inside the walls of Martin Luther, a historically German-heritage congregation.
"I feel like my entire social life growing up was centered around this church," said Riemann, 70, of Victoria, who mentioned some of her family were charter members in 1872. "The youth of today, I feel, doesn't have nearly the fun that we used to growing up. ... I wouldn't have changed it for the world."
"I wouldn't either," Dietzel, 70, added.
On Sunday, the church's 140th anniversary celebration provided a convenient opportunity for the three old friends to get together and break bread as well as pay homage to their beloved church congregation where they've shared so many special memories.
It also provided a backdrop to honor the church's namesake, Martin Luther, a German monk and theologian, who nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany 495 years ago this week.
Luther would later become known as a key player in indirectly inspiring the split from the Catholic church, which would go on to establish thousands of Protestant Christian denominations throughout the world.
"I don't think he was trying to split the church. I think he was questioning some things in the Catholic church that he felt weren't right, and he said, 'No. That's not what the Bible says,'" Riemann said. "It's not by deeds that we are saved. It's by faith and grace alone. That's Lutheranism in the most simple context."
The celebration was also meaningful for the church's newly installed pastor, the Rev. Jeff Bergeron, 27, who joined the congregation in July.
"People sort of assume that Lutherans are run-of-the-mill Christians, but we are the historical radicals," Bergeron said. "Lutherans are bold. And bold in the faith ... and Luther was bold at a time when it was necessary."
But Bergeron didn't merely spend the afternoon discussing sixth century German theology. He also spent time socializing with his congregation, twirling his wife around the dance floor and reinforcing the unique history of the 140-year-old church on Coletoville Road.
The ladies agreed with Bergeron - theirs was a special church indeed.
"I think the founders of the this church would be amazed we are still going, and people are still worshiping God and continuing their faith," Riemann said.
"Yes, it's quite something," Dietzel said.