May 4, 2006

St. Paul Lutheran Church To Host First Services In New Building

When the bell tolls Sunday morning at the St. Paul Lutheran Church, the congregation will be ringing in a new era. The church will be holding its first services in the new facility located on Highway 15 north in Memphis.

The first services will mark the completion of a year-long project that saw the construction of the new building, adjacent to the existing church buildings that had served the congregation for more than four decades.

The church family marked the end of an era on Sunday, April 30th, hosting the final services at the original facilities, ending 42 years of service to the group.

The buildings now will be on loan to the Scotland County Ministerial Alliance to house the Community Food Pantry and the Clothes Closet.

Pastor Robert Lang was instrumental in organizing the St. Paul Luthern Church in Memphis, largely in response to requests from scattered Luthern families in the region. For roughly two years the members met at a Baptist church south of Memphis until their own church was constructed. The property was bought in 1964 and the congregation converted a home to serve as the church building.

While the move to the new building marks a transition for the church, it is not the first for the congregation that has made many changes in the past 40 years.

Over time the church linked with Bloomfield, IA as a dual parish. Later that affiliation switched to the Fairfield, IA church.

Eventually the church grew large enough to be able to call its own pastor. Fred Schramm was the first pastor to serve the Memphis church.

Pastor Mark Appold currently leads the congregation. He retired after 37 years with Faith Lutheran Church in Kirksville and now serves the Memphis congregation. Initially he began service as a circuit rider, traveling to Memphis, Unionville, Milan and Bloomfield.

He started at 6:30 in the morning for service in Milan then traveled to Kirksville, then to Bloomfield before arriving in Memphis for the evening service. In addition to the ministry, Appold also teaches in the Truman State University religion department.

The biggest transition has occurred in the past five years. The church sat on the crossroads faced by so many small, rural congregations.

“The way demographics work, there are so many challenges faced by congregations of our size, we were faced with the possibility of going the way of so many other small, rural churches and closing our doors,” Appold stated.

But the church decided to make a move in the other direction, preserving the congregation while making an effort to insure future growth and viability.

“In our planning, we decided that unless we made a commitment, a statement about who we are and where we are going, that we would indeed end up like so many other small churches that have disappeared,” Appold stated.

That message is being sent in the form of the new church facility that will open for service on Sunday.

Of course that decision wasn’t as cut and dry as one might believe.

Appold pointed out that the church feels like it got a little push from above to proceed in this direction.

He pointed out that major sewer issues developed in 2004 for the former church buildings. The timing faced the congregation with the decision to either tear apart the old church and repair the underground issues, or to make the bold move to build a new and improved facility.

The members seem to agree that a higher power was at work in the design process as well as in construction and furnishing of the new church.

The congregation started with an architect but quickly decided that the church would be better served if its members designed the building.

Appold turned the basic design over to a friend at TSU, who used his experience in set design for the TSU theatrical department, to prepare an engineering plan on his computer. That proved to be a perfect fit for the group and was more than adequate for the contractor, John Bunch Construction of Memphis.

Then there was the story of the $200 organ that the church “happened” upon plus many other small miracles that will be realized on May 7th at the first service.

The Sunday school services begin at 9:00 a.m. with the church service to start at 10:15 a.m. The congregation hopes the community will take advantage of the new facility.

A special public dedication of the church has been scheduled for June 11th at 3:00 p.m. A special invitation will be made to past members of the congregation to come join the community for the afternoon event.

“We plan to toll the bell every Sunday morning,” Appold stated. “This will be our invitation to you to come and join us.”

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