Hundreds share memories at St. Matthew’s anniversary
By Hugh Fisher
Anniversaries are red-letter days in the life of any family
In the life of a church – a family that grows, changes, and lives on, though its members pass away — anniversaries are more than milestones.
They are the stuff of memories.
Elizabeth Williams, member of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, has already experienced two of those milestones.
She was three years old in 1988, when her church celebrated its 150th anniversary.
And she was on hand last Sunday, when St. Matthew’s celebrated 175 years of Christian fellowship.
After the morning worship service and dinner on the lawn, Williams helped bring history to life.
She and a group of some 15 kids learned how to play classic kids’ games from days gone by: kick-the-can, bocce, croquet and more.
“They spend enough time inside,” Williams said. “It was wonderful to have them outside, playing and running and active.”
There’s more to a church anniversary then explaining kick-the-can to a member of the iPad generation – “It’s like a hide-and-seek tag with a goal,” Williams said.
The bigger goal is remembering.
The Rev. Gary Coble, pastor of St. Matthew’s, gave one of the morning’s two messages for an estimated audience of 415 people.
Coble’s main focus, he said, is on the future – how his congregation can continue to live and grow.
“The congregation is very loving,” Coble said. “They truly care about each other. They are also concerned about following God’s word.
“I look to how we can have an impact on this community and, through benevolent giving, impact the world,” Coble said.
After the service, Coble said a moment that stood out for him was the children’s message, given by parishioner Susan Waller.
Waller brought a flower, with the dirt rinsed off of its roots. She held it up so the children could see the root system.
The same way, St. Matthew’s is a church that grew from strong roots in its history.
“As pastor, my job is to help this congregation keep blooming,” Coble said.
The Rev. Bill Ketchie, who grew up a member of St. Matthew’s before going on to pastor churches elsewhere, also returned to share memories of his days in the parish.
And the church’s history was on display, in person, in the St. Matthew’s Family Life Center.
Those who weren’t playing childhood games, or taking part in a cornhole tournament on the basketball court, had a chance to see, and touch, mementos of St. Matthew’s past.
A compilation of old 16mm movies and video recordings, spanning three decades, played on the big screen in a continuous loop.
Nearby, members and visitors alike walked among quilts, pictures, plates and other memorabilia laid out on tables nearby.
Betty Ludwig, member of the St. Matthew’s history committee, said the day’s highlight was the release of the church’s history book, which she edited.
“It’s wonderful,” Ludwig said of both book and exhibits. “Everybody is just very appreciative. We’ve pulled things, out of closets, out of attics.”
One of the oldest artifacts on display was one of the quilts sold as a fundraiser for the church – an Easter quilt, dated April 23, 1916.
It was on loan from J.C, Ludwig, Betty’s cousin, who inherited it.
She said that W.L. Ludwig, her husband’s great-grandfather, purchased it almost 97 years ago for $39.10 – the equivalent of $835 in today’s money.
Ludwig said the church is in the process of establishing a history room, where a variety of artifacts from shingles from the belfry, to a pulpit chair handmade in 1838, may one day be displayed.
As her kids played nearby, Beth Wrenn and husband Bryant looked on, surrounded by history.
“This is my home church,” Beth Wrenn said.
The family now lives near Durham, but came back for the anniversary.
She went on to speak of growing up in the church, of having her own children baptized at St. Matthew’s, “on Mother’s Day, just as I was.”
“I miss church and family,” Wrenn said. “My larger, extended family has grown up here.
Many people spoke of how the church has brought in new members in recent years.
Steve Potter, a member for three decades, married his wife, Angie, at St. Matthew’s five years ago.
“The people are what kept me here for three decades,” Steve Potter said.
“It makes you feel real good about the church, that it’s been here this long. There’s good solid people behind this church,” he said.
“These are families you grew up with,” said Kendall Rogers, who stood with some other childhood friends out back on the basketball court, long after many had packed to go home.
“We’re old enough to remember at homecomings when they opened up all the windows, and it was so hot in there you couldn’t stand it.” Rogers said. “But the people came, and people stayed.”
Standing there, Rogers and Phil Holshouser ran through a whole list of memories:
The spot where the softball games used to be played, before the new buildings went up.
The asphalt that used to line the basketball court, before it was repaved with cement.
The little memories that make homecomings and anniversaries special.
There were two kinds of history on display at St. Matthew’s Lutheran last Sunday.
The history that lasts, in books and pictures and artifacts.
And the memories, which have to be shared in order to live on.
Packing up her croquet set and the tin cans from the kids’ games, Williams said, “It was cool to see the 175th (anniversary), and hopefully will be to see the 200th.”
In a church that many members said continues to grow steadily, and to honor its history, there may be many more red-letter days in the years to come.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-7683.