Thanksgiving Eve Service
The early beginnings of what is now St. Peter's Lutheran Church are rather obscure. In fact, the first reference to this congregation reads, "...the Old Meeting House on the road from Oxford Ford to Lincolnton". This description is taken from the Lincoln County records of July 1816. We are indebted to early records compiled by the Catawba County Historical Society and also for the brief church history written by Rev. C.O. Smith. The first people in this area were German immigrants who moved here from Pennsylvania about the time of the Revolutionary War, and they brought with them both Lutheranism and the Reformed faith.
The Rev. R.J. Miller, who helped organize the North Carolina Lutheran Synod in 1903, served several congregations including "the Old Meeting House" during this time. Services were held irregularly. Baptism and marriages were conducted whenever the Pastor came, as well as memorial services for those who were buried since his last visit. Such possibly was the service held for little Laban Winebarger, one-year-old child whose grave is dated 1816. This is the earliest marked grave in St. Peter's Church cemetery. Other unmarked or illegibly marked graves may be older.
The congregation was formally organized and named St. Peter's some time later. Its membership was made up of a Lutheran majority and a Reformed minioriity. The first recorded act of the congregation was the baptism of Elizabeth Hefner on August 28, 1825. 1825 was therefore been generally recognized as the founding year of St. Peter's Church.
At about this time a log structure for the purpose of holding worship services was built under the leadership of the first called pastor, Rev. Daniel Moser. The deed for the property and structure was recorded in 1827 at Lincolnton, NC and mentions the interest of both the Lutheran and Reformed groups. This log church was in use shortly after the War Between the States.
The Rev. Christian G. Reitzel served the congregation as Pastor from 1829 to 1849. He may have been the first pastor to reside in the parish, since records indicate that his son was baptized here in 1841. Rev. Reitzel's grave is found in St. Peter's cemetery. He was buried in 1870.
From 1849 to 1856, Timothy Moser served St. Peter's. Records do not indicate whether or not he was related to the first Pastor, Daniel Moser.
War clouds were menacing in 1856 when the Rev. J.M. Smith began his first period of service at St. Peter's. It was his task to see the flock through the difficult war years with its death and destruction. Sickness, notably yellow fever and typhoid, took its deadly toll among the members of the congregation. For a period of time, worship services ceased at St. Peter's.
Following the tragedy of the war years, the congregation was reorganized, with 173 persons signing the roster. Membership was held in the Tennessee Synod.
In 1873, the members built a new sanctuary. This building was referred to as "the frame church", and served the congregation for over 75 years.
During the 1870's the Rev. P.C. Henkle guided the congregation, and assisted her move to the English Synod which was affiliated with the Missouri Synod and the Synodical Conference.
From 1889 to 1904, Rev. J.M. Smith was again Pastor at St. Peter's. Once more it became his task to serve in a difficult time, as controversy developed within the membership. A portion of the members wanted to remain with the Tennessee Synod. They formed a separate congregation called St. Peter's - St. Luke's, and shared use of facilities and grounds. Final resolution of these differences was not accomplished until almost fifty years later. In 1947, St. Luke's Lutheran Church (LCA) sold their interest to St. Peter's (LCMS).
In 1905, Rev. A.A. Hahn served as pastor for two years. His was the first family to live in a parsonage owned by the congregation. The parsonage remained in use until early 1963.
Rev. P.C. Henry came to St. Peter's in 1907 and served for six years. He also served a number of other churches in Catawba and Alexander Counties.
In 1913 Rev. Martin Kuegle served St. Peter's and his pastorate lasted nine years. During his ministry the flu epidemic in 1918 again caused a suspension of services at St. Peter's as the sorrow of death touched many homes.
In 1922, St. Peter's called the Rev. Robert L. Lail from Bethel Lutheran Church in Claremont. He served the congregation until 1926.
Then began one of the longest pastorates in the history of St. Peter's. Rev. W.P. Hunsucker held this position until 1947, when the size of the congregations required that he serve only one parish. Regretfully, his resignation from St. Peter's was accepted. 1933 and 1935 saw two major constructions carried out under Rev. Hunsucker's guidance. First, was the construction of new Sunday school rooms on the church. Labor for the project was donated, and the material was obtained by razing the parochial school that had stood across the road from the parsonage. The parsonage was also remodeled in 1936.
Rev. Roland Gabbert assumed the pastorate of St. Peter's in 1947. During his tenure the present church building was constructed. Members of the Lutheran Women's Missionary League hand-screened the designs on special tiles in the sanctuary ceiling. The formal dedication of the new sanctuary was held June 1949.
Another major project, spearheaded by the Lutheran Layman's League was the construction of a parish hall in 1951.
In 1952 St. Peter's opened its Kindergarten program. The L.L.L. lent its support to this project by purchasing a station wagon to transport the children to and from school.
On Mother's Day of 1953 Mr. Cloyd Lee Eckard began serving as Organist and Choir Director. He served in both positions until 1986.
Rev. John C. Roock, accepted the call to St. Peter's in 1954. Monthly Communion services began during his ministry, and the first Easter Sunrise Service was conducted in 1956. A new Educational Building, using the lower level as the Parish Hall, was dedicated September 6, 1959.
Mrs. Jeanette (Emory) Huffman was the first part-time Church Secretary, beginning in January of 1957 and continuing until June 1962. When the position was made full-time in 1966, she again became Secretary.
Rev. Delbert Roth was installed as Pastor at St. Peter's in November of 1962.
A new parsonage was completed in February and dedicated on Mother's Day of 1963. The L.W.M.L. also built a special pot-pie building this year. Both of these projects were made possible by members' volunteer labor.
In an important administrative change, the parish was divided into thirteen Elder Districts in 1964. Each Elder is to minister to the members of his District, as well as serve as leader in a portion of congregation Administration.
In April of 1969 a ten-year list of objectives was established for the congregation. In July of 1969 the house and property adjacent to the church was purchased, with part of the property being used for a paved parking lot. A new Administrative Unit was dedicated on Mother's Day of 1971, containing the present Pastor's and church offices and a multi-purpose room. In 1971, the Laymen's League also erected a brick church sign.
Mr. Cecil Winebarger began a fifteen-year period of service to the church in August of 1971 as Lay Assistant. He assisted the Pastor with hospital visits and administered to the shut-in members by bringing tape-recorded worship services to their homes.
In 1975 St. Peter's rejoiced in a 150-year Anniversary, with the theme, "An Earthly Challenge, A Heavenly Goal". Special medals and plates were prepared for the celebration, which featured five special services over a full year. Guest speakers were Dr. Oswald Hoffman, of the Lutheran Hour; Rev. Charles Mueller, Southeastern District President; former Pastors John Roock and Roland Gabbert; and Synodical President J.A.O. Pruess.
Ministry to the younger members of St. Peter's was emphasized by several actions during the mid-70's. As part of the congregation's outreach to the community, a Boy Scout "hut" was built in 1974. In 1975 the Walther Leagues, became the Lutheran Youth Fellowship, a name change that was adopted by the entire Synod three years later. After the county public school system began a kindergarten program in 1976, the church program was adjusted under the leadership of Miss Dorothy Spencer to serve four-year-olds. In September of 1978 Mrs. Dewey (Rea) Houston was elected the first Sunday School Teacher of the Year. Tennis courts were built in the area near the Scout hut in the summer of 1978.
In a major departure from former practices, 1980 saw the Pastor move from the parsonage to his own home. The former parsonage was retained as rental property. Another major change was the beginning of a Vicarage program, with Mr. Ken Wieting serving as the first Vicar at St. Peter's.
In 1981 several acres of land were purchased across St. Peter's Church Road from the church building, with plans for a ballfield for church teams.
The Dialogue Evangelism program of area witnessing was begun under the leadership of Vicar Ray Rohlfs in February of 1982. Ministry to the physical needs of members of the congregation and community was enriched by the establishment of the Helping Hands Fund in 1984.
In 1984 timber was sold and construction begun on the church ballfield. A formal dedication of the ballfield was held in 1986.
A new program entitled, "St. Peter's Pearls", was begun in 1985. In a special morning worship service, all those over the age of 80 are recognized. The L.W.M.L. recognizes these pearls on their birthdays.
Prior to June of 1986, the positions of church organist and choir director had been combined. The two positions are now separated, with Mrs. Greg (Judy) Eckard hired as choir director.
Six acres of land adjacent to the church grounds in the area beside and behind the parish hall were purchased.
Mr. Cecil Winebarger retired as Lay Assistant in 1987 due to declining health. His devotion and service were recognized by a special resolution of the Voter's Assembly. Also in November 1987, the congregation celebrated Pastor Roth's 25th year of service as pastor at St. Peter's.
On May 8, 1988, Cloyd Lee Eckard was honored for service as organist for 35 years and as choir director for 30 years at St. Peter's.
Hurricane Hugo struck Catawba County in September 1989. The Lord showed the members of St. Peter's how protective He is of his people by not letting any of the members get injured.
On November 9, 1990, Cloyd Lee Eckard was called home unexpectedly by the Lord. The following Sunday, November 11, the church organ remained silent and closed. The hymns and liturgy were read aloud by the congregation. This was a symbolic testimony to the love and leadership that he had given to the music, worship and members of St. Peter's. Mrs. Judy Eckard, choir director, assumed the duties as organist.
In the latter half of 1991, a major capital funds drive entitled, "Mission 2000+ - Together with Christ", was conducted. From August 25 to December 31, 1991, members raised over $31,000, with a matching gift from Mr. Grover Herman of $30,000. Funds were earmarked for Outreach, Facility, Expansion and Missions, with 20% reserved for unforeseen needs. The first beneficiaries of these funds were Catawba County Prison Ministry Chapel and North Carolina Lutheran Home.
Due to declining health; Mrs. Jeanette Huffman retired as church secretary in 1992, Mrs. Jeannette Gantt assumed the position of secretary at this time.
On November 22, 1992, the congregation hosted a reception for Pastor Roth for having completed 30 years of service at St. Peter's.
After 33 years of dedicated service, Pastor Roth retired from St. Peter's. He was honored by a special reception following his last sermon as Pastor on September 1, 1996. The following Sunday Pastor G. David Bluhm (Pastor Dave) started serving as interim pastor. Pastor Bluhm served from September 1996 until December 1997.
In October 1997, a new sound system was installed in which wireless microphones all over the church could be controlled from one main sound board. A sound crew was trained to operate the system.
Also in 1997, our prayers were answered when we received word that Rev. Paul D. Birner accepted our call for pastor. Pastor Birner's installation service was held on November 16, 1997. Due to the growth of the congregation, the need for an Assistant Pastor was recognized. Pastor Bluhm was asked to remain as our Assistant Pastor.
After many years of caring for the altar linens, Mrs. Pinkney (Kathleen) Eckard decided to pass this responsibility to others. The Altar Guild was formed in 1997.
In April 1998, the first issue of "The Spirit" was published. This monthly newsletter continues to be our source of news and information of the congregation.
Beginning in September 1998, couples in our congregation were honored for being married over 50 years. They were recognized in the Sunday morning worship service and a reception held in their honor that afternoon. Also that fall, 31 acres of land on Highway 16 were purchased for future use by St. Peter's.
The Alaska Mission Team was organized in 1998. Twelve members of the mission team planned a trip to Alaska in 1999. The group would join other Christians of our faith to host a Vacation Bible School in Copper Center, Alaska. The team has traveled to Alaska for the last eight years. Their mission work for the last six years has consisted of having Bible school and also helping to build church sanctuaries.
In the fall of 1999, the growth of our congregation necessitated an additional service. On September 12 a new worship service, BASIC Training Service (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) began for our members at 8:15 a.m. This service is a continuing outreach to our community. The service has been well received by the congregation. Also that fall the sanctuary was remodeled for the first time in its history. The choir lofts and organ was removed from the front of the church and placed on the balcony. This opened up the altar area and gave the church a more modern look. A new rail was installed around the stage and molding was put around the arch and picture of Jesus. Also during this remodeling new carpet was installed in the entire sanctuary. Under the direction of Belinda Bost, another change for St. Peter's was the expansion of the Pre-K program to a full-day schedule. The program consists of a Preschool and Day Care combination for 3 and 4 year-olds.
Also in 1999, several choir members and other members from the congregation with musical talents formed a group named the BASIC Band. The BASIC Band began performing at the 8:15 a.m. service in August.
Cody Combs and Jason Watts built an outdoor chapel for the church behind the parish hall as a Boy Scout project.
The new Millennium was celebrated at St. Peter's with a party. All of the anticipation of Y2K glitches in computers did not happen. In case there were any problems, bottled water and food supplies were collected by the church.
The New Year brought many changes for the congregation. A year of celebration was planned because this was the 175th anniversary of St. Peter's Lutheran Church. One of the first events was that Pastor Bluhm announced that he would retire on February 29, 2000. Pastor Paul Sundbom was called as Assistant Pastor. He was installed on August 13, 2000.
On August 27, 2000, St. Peter's hosted its first Friendship Sunday. Members were encouraged to invite their friends, neighbors and family to come to church with them and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
As an Outreach Mission to the community in 2001, the congregation launched a series of commercials on our local cable channels. St. Peter's has kept up with technology with a website.
The history of St. Peter's has been one of constant growth and expansion, but it always reflects the desire to help the members of the church in their spiritual lives. Only as the members of St. Peter's witness to their Lord in the community, will the "Old Meeting House on Oxford Road" fulfill its Eternal Mission.