St. Paul celebration focuses on past, present

The church congregation of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church has now been in Fort Dodge for 150 years. The church building, though, is relatively new.

It was 1999 when an arsonist entered the church building, which was 113 years old at the time, and burned it to the ground

Sunday wasn’t only the 150th celebration for the church. It was also the 10th anniversary of the new sanctuary – the one with “Ashes to Glory” written on the steeple facing Fifth Avenue South.

Lori Miller has attended St. Paul all her life, and said she holds many memories of the old building.

“I was baptized here, I was married here. My husband passed away, he was buried here,” Miller said.

Her daughter was in confirmation class at the old church the day before it burned down, she said.

“It was my sister’s anniversary, so we were in the church taking photos that night. Then the next morning we woke up to the fire,” she said. “My children are screaming, ‘No, no, no, our school, our school.'”

Some of the firefighters were St. Paul members, she said, and closed a fire door which kept the conflagration from spreading from the church to the connected St. Paul school.

“But I’ll never forget those screams that morning, they thought they were going to lose their school,” she said.

The congregation met in the school’s gym for a time, she said, and one of her daughters was married there.

Miller’s mother graduated from St. Paul school, she said. Miller did as well, and all her siblings, and her daughters.

“And now my granddaughter, so my granddaughter is the fourth generation. I’m proud of that,” she said.

Lillian Sprengeler has vivid memories of the fire, though she hasn’t spent her whole life in the church.

“I’ve only been here 43 years,” Sprengeler said. “We lived right across the street. We certainly were here (for the fire).

“We had a lot of tears because a lot of people were baptized and confirmed and married in that church. But there are so many nice things about our new church. We didn’t have to sweat in there today. The old church was really a furnace.”

The Rev. Al Henderson first came to the church a few months after the fire.

“When I got here there was still a grieving process going on. That pain and suffering from that fire – I imagine there are some that are still suffering in their own ways,” said Henderson. “It was a beautiful church.”

He appreciates the new building, though.

“If you’ve noticed, when you walk in, there’s no curb,” he said. “You walk in from the parking lot, across the sidewalk, in the door, there’s not a single step you need to climb up. For a church that’s 150 years old that’s a huge statement.”

He said nearly 400 people attended the anniversary service.

“I’m happy with that,” said Henderson. “We had a number of people from our our community, nonmembers, non-Lutheran even, but people who know and appreciate the history.”

The anniversary theme was “Generation to generation, sharing Jesus,” and Henderson said he could see that in the service.

“After our processional,” he said, “to have our children sing from the school, and not only them, but to look out into the congregation and see so many little ones here too, and right beside them people in their 80s and 90s.”

Miller said the service “was very beautiful.”

“I liked all the loud music, and the children singing,” she added.

Sprengeler liked how the guest preacher Dr. Dale Meyer started out his sermon in German.

“I’m 89,” she said. “I’ve heard many a German sermon in my youth. Actually St. Paul was at one time called the German Lutheran Church. At one time only German was preached.”

The church was started by a German pastor who would walk to Fort Dodge from Boone every month to lead a service in someone’s house.

Sprengeler explained what else stood out to her from the service.

“I was pleased the entrance hymn was a hymn (my husband) wrote the text for. For the 100th anniversary of the building, the old church,” she said.