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|During the summer Rev. Otto C. Meyer of Napoleon, was called as pastor and took up his pastoral duties in October and Dr. Kern who had played such an important part in the few months that he had been here, resumed his teaching at Weidner Institute.
The new church was dedicated on Sunday, June 8, 1924. Again the congregation assembled in the old church, formed a procession at 10:30 a. m. and moved west on 10th Street, then south on Franklin Avenue to the new structure. There the service began before the closed doors with Invocation by the Pastor, reading of the 122nd Psalm and the presentation of the keys by Mr. W. H. Wolber. The procession, headed by the clergy and St. Thomas choir, then entered the new sanctuary for the worship service. Rev. F. A. Dressel, D. D., President of the Indiana Synod, delivered the sermon. Mrs. Lillie Burkhart was the organist.
At 2:00 o'clock a community service was conducted with visiting pastors and at 7:30 P.M. an evening service with Dr. R. E. Tulloss, President of Wittenberg College, giving the address.
The new church home was now complete. Members of the building committee were: Rev. Otto C. Meyer, Chairman; William H. Wolber, Superintendent; William Borne, Christian Gesell, John Pfaff, George Lohrey, William H. Klemme, George Meyer, John Kolb and Henry Gesell. On the official program for the dedication the following statement by the committee appears which we believe should be repeated here: "APPRECIATION - To all who in any manner aided us during the erecting and dedication of our new church edifice, we extend our hearty thanks and appreciation. The congregation will remember you with pleasure.
In the summer of 1926 Rev. Meyer resigned and the church was served by J. Luther Seng, student at Hamma for a few months. That summer Rev. Earl Coble was called as pastor and began his work here on December 1. He remained here until 1943 when he accepted a call to an Illinois parish. During his service here the church prospered greatly in both membership and financially. He was followed by Rev. Paul E. Schoeneman, who became pastor on August 1, 1943 and served until November, 1946. The debt on the new church was now paid off and the mortgage was burned. On December 23, 1946, Rev. Paul J. Erney was called to the pastorate from Pershing, Indiana. He took up his duties here on March 1, 1947 and remained until March 1, 1974 when he retired. During his ministry the church moved steadily ahead. In 1950, the red tile roof on the church was removed and an asbestos roof was installed at a cost of $2,200.00. In 1951, the number of children enrolled in the Sunday School proved too great for the facilities provided and the east side of the unused basement was cleaned out, cemented, partitions erected and a new worship center for Juniors provided. The altar is placed on the east side and the arrangement of the seats and chancel is similar, if not identical, to the main sanctuary.
In 1951, the aisle and chancel rugs were given by Harry Anspach and family in memory of their son, Walter. In 1952, the exterior of the building was tuck pointed at a cost of $4,900.00 and in 1954, the old coal fired boilers were replaced by an automatic oil fired heating system at a cost of $5,200.00. The following year, 1956, the church was completely redecorated by professional painters at a cost of $3,500.00.
In 1954, a Memorial Chime System was installed in the north tower. This permits sacred music to be broadcast throughout the valley, or the tower amplifiers may be shut off and the music transferred to the sanctuary for use during or before worship services.
The next major project was the erection of a new parsonagein Hillcrest Subdivision. The new home was completed in April, 1962 ata cost of $18,500.00. This replaced the home on John Street which was soldto help provide funds for the new structure.
During this entire period, the church was steadily moving forward in all phases of activity. The year 1963 was no exception. During February of that year, a preaching mission was conducted with Rev. Maynard A. Stull of Springfield, Ohio, as Missioner and Evangelist became the keynote of the year. During that summer the church conducted its first ever Daily Vacation Bible School over a period of two weeks. Also that summer Mr.Charles Klemme deeded the property adjoining the church on the west side to the congregation. The dwelling was torn down and the area became a parking lot for the church. A large suction fan was placed in the attic, a tremendous asset for cooling the church on hot days. This, too, was the year that "All Saints Day" was set aside and designated as a special memorial day for the church.
It was in 1965 that the congregation moved to an early service during July and August and the following year provided for a schedule of services at 8:30 A. M. for June, July and August.
During the next few years new curbs and gutters were installed along Ninth Street and on Franklin Avenue. New steps on the east were constructed, carpet was installed in the corridor and on the stairways, a new public address system installed and a new piano was purchased for the Sunday School annex. It was in 1969 that the new memorial bulletin boards were erected and dedicated and a new memorial cabinet to house mementoes of the church was placed in the corridor.
In 1965 the congregation was first made aware of the need for more space for the use of the growing Sunday School and it was at that time that a bequest from the estate of Mrs. Mary Bohlander was set aside and earmarked for that purpose. It was not, however, until 1971, that a plan for the complete remodeling of the Sunday School facilities was adopted and the new facilities utilizing the former balcony area, transforming it into seven modern classrooms as well as an improved Sunday School assembly room and annex to the Sanctuary was completed at a cost of approximately $16,000.00. The new educational facilities were completed and dedicated on June 11, 1972.
During this latter span of years, many other improvements were made to the church as a result of memorials and bequests to the church. Included among these were the replacement of the electronic chimes system for the tower as the old system had become inoperative, new hand rails were placed at the entrances to the church and a new sidewalk from the parking area was installed and many other items were received by the church as gifts, gifts of love for Him and for His church.
For several years the need for new lights had been apparent. The original fixtures installed in 1924, were wearing out and were no longer adequate. New fixtures had already been installed in the social rooms and at the annual meeting of the congregation in January, 1973 the members authorized the purchase of new light fixtures and re-wiring for the Sanctuary, Narthex, Annex Corridor and Stairways, as well as the exterior of the church. These lights were purchased from funds made available from memorials to the church.
One of the largest celebrations in the history of the church came on Sunday, March 9, 1972, marking the 25th anniversary of the coming of Rev. Paul J. Erney as Pastor of the church, with special morning services, fellowship dinner and a special afternoon program. The day was one long to be remembered with Dr. Walter Wick, president of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod and his wife as guests.
As of March 1, 1974, the resignation of Rev. Erney was accepted permitting him to enter retirement and bringing to a close a pastorate of 27 years, the longest in the history of St. Thomas. In his final report to the congregation, Pastor Erney revealed the following statistics: "Baptized members - 317; Communing members -255; Property value according to Synod- $181,000.00 with no indebtedness; Sunday attendance very high and in addition a high attendance record for the Sunday School which has an enrollmentof 170; in addition, a flourishing League; two circles of the Women of the Church, both of which are very active in the work of the church."
The church was then without a regular pastor, but with the assistance of Rev. Erney and Rev. Landis Coffman, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church, Connersville, the work went on.
On Sunday, June 9, 1974, an elaborate celebration of the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the present church edifice was held. With services in the morning, a fellowship dinner and an afternoon program, as well as a march from the old church in the cemetery to the church, attracted a crowd which taxed the capacity of the building. It was truly a homecoming event.
It was shortly after this that Rev. and Mrs. Erney moved to Liberty to be nearer his doctor. Later they moved to Florida in search of specialized medical care. It was there, he died on Good Friday, March 24, 1978. His body was returned to the parish he loved and it was on March 27 that he was buried from St. Thomas in Maple Grove Cemetery. An era for St. Thomas had ended. On April 22, 1979, the large lighted cross on the east side of the church exterior was erected and dedicated to his memory.
Following Pastor Erney's resignation, the pulpit remained vacant until November 10, 1974, when Rev. Dennis Cook, Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Louisville, Kentucky, accepted a call and began his pastorate here. The coming of Rev. Cook brought many changes to St. Thomas. With youthful vigor, he approached the problems of the church and instituted many changes in the conduct of the worship services. The low church liturgy gave way to the form of the high church. Many of the congregations did not approve and some friction developed. However, Pastor and congregation cooperated and the work of the church went on.
One of the most pressing problems was the condition of the Sanctuary and the exterior woodwork. The last decoration had been made in 1956. A Committee was appointed, the exterior was painted and a contract was made with Schanbacher, a professional church decorator. In the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Anspach announced as a memorial in memory of their son, Walter, complete carpeting of the sanctuary, chancel area, pastor's study and choir room. The congregation accepted with gratitude and ordered additional carpeting for the narthex, corridor and stairways. The new improvements and decorations were completed and dedicated on April 24, 1977. The total cost was in excess of $20,000.00 which was paid off in less than one year.
About this time, Miss Elizabeth Reidenbach, better known as Lizzie, resigned as custodian due to ill health afer 32 years of service to her church.
In 1978, the Lutheran Church in America brought forth a new service book, "Lutheran Book of Worship". Although the new book was controversial and has never proved popular, the congregation decided to adopt the new book and ordered copies in November, 1978.
The Cook years came to an end in July, 1979, when he resigned to accept a call to his native state of Minnesota for Cokota parish. Ashe said in his final sermon, "I have changed and you have changed". It had been a difficult period, but it had been a learning period for both Pastor and congregation.
The pastorate did not remain vacant long and a few months later a call was given to Rev. Daniel Leigh Nugent, who had been serving as Pastor of Christus Victor Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana. He accepted and conducted his first regular service on Christmas Eve, 1979. He began his work as Pastor on January 3, 1980.
With the merger of the United Lutheran Church in 1962, St. Thomas had become a part of the Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran body in North America.
The church, with its Gothic architecture, stands as a symbol of the works, devotion and important part Lutheranism has played and is playing, in the religious life of this community. Today, as in the past, it bids welcome: "To all who mourn and need comfort; to all who are lonely and want companionship; To all who pray; To all who love to sing God's praise; To all who sin and need a Savior - St. Thomas Church opens wide her doors, and in the name of Jesus bids you welcome."
The writer would like to take this opportunity to thank the many who have contributed toward making this written record of St. Thomas Lutheran Church through the years a possibility. Dated at Brookville, Indiana, January 1, 1963 and broughtup to date as of June 1, 1974. Further revised as of July 1, 1980.