Th Rev. Loel Wessel, left, with members of the First English Lutheran Church Council, from left, Keith Berhow, Jim Edgar, Ruth Franke, Corey Marzolf, Joe Freet, Pam Freet, Charles Stephen and Gene Merkel.  Not shown are Jeremy Allen, Mark Biermann and Jerry Cleveland.  SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Th Rev. Loel Wessel, left, with members of the First English Lutheran Church Council, from left, Keith Berhow, Jim Edgar, Ruth Franke, Corey Marzolf, Joe Freet, Pam Freet, Charles Stephen and Gene Merkel. Not shown are Jeremy Allen, Mark Biermann and Jerry Cleveland. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
First English Lutheran Church (FELC) in Spring Valley is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the congregation on Sunday, May 19, Pentecost Sunday, with a festival service and special presentation in the afternoon.

The guest preacher at the service will be the Rev. Bernard Seter of Grafton, N.D. He serves three congregations in North Dakota and also the chairman of the International Mission Board for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

"First English Lutheran Congregation cares deeply about the community in which God has placed us. The world in which we live has changed dramatically in the last 75 years. The message which Jesus Christ has called His Church to proclaim - repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name to all nations (Luke 24:46-47) - doesn't change. Our congregation remains committed to the purpose for which it was founded: to be a clear voice for this Gospel in the Spring Valley area," said the Rev. Loel Wessel, pastor of the church.

"Our 75th anniversary celebration takes place on Pentecost Sunday, the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles, enabling them to proclaim the gospel in the languages of everyone who heard them. First English Lutheran Church was founded so that the faith of our immigrant forefathers could be proclaimed in the language understood by their children and grandchildren and the broader community in Spring Valley."

History

According to the church's history book, FELC is "a daughter church of St. John's in Wykoff, and it wasn't the first Lutheran church in town, but it was the first English Lutheran church in town - the other churches, Zion and Trinity, spoke German and Norwegian - and it first met in a little house on Hudson" as the Rev. Julius Stein founded the congregation in 1935 after serving as pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Wykoff. Stein first suggested opening a mission church in Spring Valley in 1929, according to a church history book, "but was met with disapproval."

In 1931 and 1932, student Walter Schultz was instructed to make an inquiry concerning the starting of a mission. This again met with disapproval as St. John's congregation of Wykoff was not interested. In the spring of 1934, a short meeting was held after services at Wykoff to determine the feasibility of starting a mission church in Spring Valley. At this time, the success of such an undertaking seemed rather doubtful. On Nov. 8, a group of ladies met and organized a Ladies Aid branch of St. John's. The Rev. Stein made arrangements to hold services in the vacant Spring Valley Baptist church in the fall, but when this time approached, the Baptists started a congregation again, and moved into the building themselves.

The new Lutheran congregation then settled into the vacant Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) church building on Section Avenue, where the first worship service was held on Nov. 24, 1935. Bertha Kretzchmar was the first pianist. Sunday school and a choir were organized that same day. The first ushers were Albert Bleich, George Krumdieck and Burr Richardson.

The congregation remained in the EUB church building until Jan. 1, 1936, after which it relocated to the Baptist church "whenever they were not using it," and Lenten services and adult instruction were held there Thursday evenings. The State Theatre in downtown Spring Valley also served as a temporary meeting place, but the parish's people wanted their own place to call home, and hired Harold H. Crawford of Rochester to be the architect of the little "cottage church" at 109 South Hudson, where parishioners officially had their first church building dedicated on Sunday, Dec. 6, 1936, and where they called themselves an official congregation on March 24, 1938, with 17 members pledging to support the new church, some pending release from their membership at St. John's in Wykoff.

The members included Herbert Meyer, Frank Meyer Sr., Raymond Fluegel, Will Moeller, Gus Winter, George Krumdieck, William Rau, Burr Richardson, Fred Bicknese, John Kosloske, Wilbur Hoyer, Louis Niemeyer, Alfred Moeller, Herman Schwenn, Harley Peterson, Fred Krahn and Emil Lemke. In the following years, Sunday school, confirmation, weddings - of which the first to be held there was that of Avis Moeller and Cyrus Riehl, men's fellowship and Bible studies and Ladies Aid meetings were held, pastors came and went, pastors went into the world having been ordained at First English Lutheran, and land was purchased on Grant Street in 1947 to build a new church, as the congregation was growing.

Plans were drawn up and underway by 1951, and the people of First English were determined to make it happen, worshipping first in the basement of the new structure as they gradually hauled rock from Bly Quarry to build their new sanctuary. The cornerstone for FELC's church building was laid on July 9, 1961, and the dedication ceremony was held Nov. 19, 1961.

Dennis Marzolf, son of Carllie and Harold Marzolf, was the first member of FELC to become a pastor, a few years before the congregation observed its golden anniversary in 1988. Charter members present at the celebration were William and Edna Davidson, Raymond and Ruth Fluegel, and Gaynol Meyer. Local mission work included obtaining park benches purchased with the Aid Association for Lutherans branches of First English Lutheran and Our Savior's Lutheran, and true to its original mission, Bible studies and Sunday school met, Carllie Marzolf gave organ lessons to "those wishing to receive organ lessons so they could play the organ on Sunday mornings," and baptisms, weddings, Bible school, Sunday school and other rites of church membership carried on as they do today, meeting people's needs with a good helping of God and a solid meat-and-potatoes Jesus.

Members today

Karen Cleveland has been a member of FELC since 1971, has served on the altar guild, taught Sunday school, is a "fairly recent member" of the Lutheran Women's Missionary League and plays piano for services. She said she finds comfort at the end of a day to begin a new day, knowing that she has a church home.

"I've attended since the fall of 1971 when I started teaching here. Jerry joined me when we married in 1978," she said. "I like First English because it's small and the congregation is friendly. The word of God is preached the way it was in the church I grew up in in Minneapolis, where I learned to love God, and where I was confirmed. My faith is reinforced and nurtured every Sunday. Morning prayers are offered each weekday -- a nice start to the day. They help me to remember that whatever idiot thing may happen to me in the course of the day, somebody else is in charge and that all things work together for good for them that love God."

She has enjoyed Sunday school Christmas programs, the installation of the stained glass windows, the baptism and confirmation of their children, the music, the spring dinners and the ice cream socials.

"It's a good place to meet God if you're not sure He exists, it's a good place to reinforce your faith if you already know Him, and it's a great place to meet friendly people and make some new friends," she said.

Mark Biermann's family has flourished at FELC, as Mark began attending in 1990 and his wife, Lisa, joined after they married. He finds that it is a wonderful place to attend church because "it is a small congregation with a family atmosphere...in which people work together to accomplish projects and maintain a vibrant congregation." He has participated in the church council as an elder and a trustee and also served as a youth adviser.

"I have enjoyed working together at the church dinners, watching my wife help teach the kids the basic tenets of God's word, the Bible stories, and the basics of our faith," he said. "I am amazed at how God has blessed our small, diverse congregation to allow us to maintain a thriving congregation while remaining true to God's Word. I have enjoyed the family nights in August that switched our emphasis from just trying to have a vacation Bible school for kids alone to an opportunity to bring our children together with members of all ages, participating in a meal and working together in mixed age groups on projects, games, or lessons. We are a friendly, family-based congregation who holds to God's Holy Bible as the basis of our convictions and faith. We welcome anyone to join us in giving thanks and praise to God for his grace and blessings."

Biermann is pleased to be a part of FELC's congregation during its 75th anniversary and also to carry on its traditions in the future. "I am looking forward to seeing my children continue to grow in their faith, feeling a part of the congregation we belong to, working to help others but yet maintaining the knowledge of all the blessing God has granted us and that He is our rock and strength in times of trouble. Knowing that there is salvation ahead of us due to our Savior's sacrifice."

Focus on gospel

Wessel related, noting that FELC has cradle-to-adult Sunday school, family nights, confirmation and missions work, "We try to remain focused on the visible gospel, witness, mercy, new life together...to witness is to spread the gospel beyond the walls of the church. Mercy involves meeting the physical needs of others - we have worked on a medical mission to Madagascar, and life together is what we do here - preaching and teaching what Jesus taught us."

First English Lutheran Church is marking its congregation's 75th anniversary this Sunday at 10 a.m. with the festival service, followed by lunch for the congregation and invited guests, and the special historical presentation at 1 p.m. to which the public is invited. For more information, call First English Lutheran Church at 346-2793.