The congregation of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Mount Prospect celebrates the pinnacle of the church's 100th anniversary year this weekend.
Events include a self-guided tour of the historic St. Paul Lutheran Cemetery from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, with a recognition ceremony for war veterans; and a Sunday evening dinner dance at Chevy Chase Country Club in Wheeling.
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The 1,500-member church was founded on July 7, 1912, by 17 men, all German immigrants who were tired of carting their families two and half miles south to St. John Lutheran Church every Sunday and sending their children that far to school. In the days of horses and buggies, that was a considerable distance to travel over unpaved, often muddy, roads.
So this core group banded together in March of that year to explore the possibility of founding a new church on two acres of land donated by William and Edward Busse.
Once the charter came through for a church, the group broke ground on the original brick church, located on the northeast corner of Busse Avenue and Elm Street, and the congregation began the search for a pastor, eventually choosing Rev. J.E.A. Mueller, who had been serving a church in North Dakota. He arrived by train on New Year's Day 1913.
Mueller delivered his first sermon less than two weeks later in the Central School, where the congregation was gathering while waiting for the church to be built, and he opened a church school the following day. For four years, Mueller served as both minister and schoolteacher to 34 children in a one-room schoolhouse. When it all became too taxing, they added a schoolteacher.
In the early years, St. Paul services and meetings were conducted entirely in German. In fact, on the dedication booklets from 1913, the proper name of the new church was "Ev.-Luth. St. Paulus Kirche," the German version of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church. But in the school, children learned all of their academic subjects in English. Only the religious classes were conducted in German, which most families still spoke at home.
The practice of speaking German in church ended abruptly when World War I broke out.
Two more one-room schoolhouse buildings were added over the years to make a three-house string of schoolrooms, connected by breezeways. Then, in 1928, these were sold at auction and moved and a larger school building was built in their place. Schoolteacher Martin Hasz bought the largest of the three houses and moved it to 10 S. Elm St. where he lived until his death. The home still stands.
The current church building on the southwest corner of School Street and Busse Avenue was built in 1961 and updated in 2007, while the current school building was opened in 1990.
Jean Walsh, a member of the church for 54 years, said she loves the friendly nature of the congregation and the many activities the church offers.
"We have an active youth group, a young adult group and a Sunday school," she said. "We also have a very popular Wednesday morning Bible study which is repeated on Wednesday nights. Our church definitely emphasizes Bible reading and study and we often identify a book which the entire congregation reads at the same time and discusses. We have read four books and are ready to start a fifth."
She is also enthused about the annual "The Church has Left the Building" weekend over Labor Day. It involves an outdoor religious service as well as members volunteering their time to help those in need around the community.
"Being here you get a true sense of Christ's love because our members are willing to open their eyes and reach out and care for people in the community outside of our congregation," said Rev. Kris Whitby, who was elevated last weekend to senior pastor from associate pastor after eight years with the congregation. "That is a blessing because it is easy for groups of people to get into a mindset of looking inward instead of outward and that just doesn't happen at St. Paul."
Among other anniversary year activities, in May the church held a German language service. And the church will be recognized at the Mount Prospect Community Band concert Monday, July 16. In August the church will hold an old-fashioned picnic and a golf outing.
For information, phone (847) 255-0332 or log onto saint-paul.org.