Oniontown Pastoral: Happy Anniversary, St. John’s Lutheran Church

Happy Anniversary, St. John’s Lutheran Church!

Wind blows the corn stalks behind St. John’s to and fro. I’ll be sad when the field goes down to stubble, so calming are the golden leaves and tassels. You’d swear the plants are alive, though the gentle motion is simply the crop’s waving us goodbye—much as the trees do this time of year with their crimson and yellow.

The pastor’s study is quiet. I’m by myself, but far from lonely. A church is a sanctuary of felt presences where companionship emerges from imagination and memory. My old standby, Sadie Kaufman, keeps vigil over me from her elegant portrait on my desk. She died decades before I was born, but that doesn’t change my affectionate regard. She attended St. John’s when we shared a building a few miles to the south with a Reformed congregation. Sadie, who never married, provided funds that support women’s ministries to this day.

Miss Kaufman—that’s how I would have addressed her in the 1930s—has been on my mind, along with other saints I’ve come to know over seven years in this pulpit. On Sunday, October 30th, we at St. John’s will not only observe Reformation Day and welcome new members, but we’ll also celebrate our anniversary.

The number in itself isn’t noteworthy: 185. It’s a good run for a rural congregation in an age of church decline, but 185 doesn’t stir the heart like bicentennial. One of our most energetic members with a special love for history tossed out an idea, though: let’s celebrate this time around. 

So here we are. Folks are making the place spiffy. A couple of brave men even put elbow grease to the nave’s wooden ceiling. Yes, they showed decades of water marks who’s boss. 

The calendar says it’s late October, but with all of the scrubbing and gussying going on, I can’t help but think of spring. When I park my car on an Oniontown day, a mild breeze passes through the cornfield and touches my face. Hope comes to mind, God only knows why.

A photograph and caption from St. John’s 150th anniversary booklet.

Bishop Lozano of our NWPA Synod will preach on the big day. The assembly will sing “A Mighty Fortress,” gather around for Holy Communion, and swap stories about the old days during a potluck following worship. 

St. John’s has a lot to celebrate. After a two-year hiatus thanks to COVID, our fellowship hour has returned, as have other in-person activities. It’ll take more than nasty germs to keep us down. We still have masks here and there, and for good reason. A fragile immune system is nothing to play chicken with. That said, we’re back to full-throated singing. If the pandemic heats up again, we’ll grumble, then take precautions. But for now, Sunday mornings are noisy.

I love it all: chatter and laughter in the narthex before worship, voices on and off key with the hymns, the organ leading our best efforts, children whispering and giggling when they’re around. The whole tureen of sound blesses me, but so does this present hour’s silence. A quiet office centers me in gratitude. The long hallway outside my door, dim with the lights off, reminds me of a heyday, when kids filled the classrooms. The nave, bright from the skylight, holds in hushed mystery the bliss and devastation of brothers’ and sisters’ beating hearts, season after season bringing their fervent prayers to join with all others.

The Reverend Wilson Yeisley, who served St. John’s and several other parishes from 1910-1919. (Credit: St. John’s 150th anniversary booklet)

In the beginning the faithful arrived by horse and buggy. Staring out again at the waving stalks—in a daze almost—I imagine sloppy dirt roads, driving rain, wind chills calculated only by stinging cheeks. If not for these hearty souls, there would be no pastor’s study, snug in winter and cool in summer. There would be an Oniontown, but no Oniontown Pastoral. My debt to this parish’s “great cloud of witnesses” is beyond repayment. As the golden stalks seem alive, so too does the lineage of parishioners and pastors I read about in the church history booklet from 1987—in honor of our 150th anniversary.

Corn stalks from my window. On a windy day, they remind me of how the dead seem to come alive.

During my watch at St. John’s, I’ve laid to rest folks whose absence aches in my chest some days. I want them sitting with me again, leaning back, sighing and solving the world’s problems. They remain beloved of their church family, as was Jacob Kaufman, elected to serve as an officer of St. John’s on January 1, 1837—185 years ago. Sadie’s forebear, I assume.

If love alone could bring back to us Jacob, Sadie and others whose names well up in my throat, St. John’s would have a covered-dish such as Mercer County has never seen. Alas, that feast isn’t for us to plan. We must live in hope.

Sadie Kaufman’s portrait on my desk: No doubt she would have scolded me for not dusting.

And we must celebrate. Dear readers, join us on Sunday, October 30th, even if you’ve only seen St. John’s from Mercer Road. Worship starts at 10:00 a.m., the luncheon right after. Believe me, our living saints cook some fine comfort food.


4 thoughts on “Oniontown Pastoral: Happy Anniversary, St. John’s Lutheran Church

  1. Fall is lovely and we all appreciate Gods handiwork of the leaves. We here at Redeemer Lutheran in Savannah are planning our 75th anniversary in February 2023. Congratulations and I hope God gives you many more years. Bless you all

  2. Congratulations. I will be celebrating with you even though I will be Savannah celebrating Reformation you will be in my prayers. We here at Redeemer Lutheran in Savannah are preparing to celebrate our 75th anniversary in February. It is an exciting time to look back and remember the past. Again congratulations and God Bless

  3. i live in a de-sanctified (de-consecrated? i dunno the term) old Lutheran church, when i have gone through reams of church history, THIS is what i’m always hopeful of finding–a minister’s comments on his church and congregation, and there aren’t any–just ledgers and news articles and baptism records and such, never the heart of the matter put into words.. so i’ll take your comments and figure that in my church’s history, there were pastors who cared this much.

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