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St. Luke’s Lutheran congregation still going strong after 150 years

Special to the Post

MOUNT ULLA — In 1869, a few families who shared faith in God and a vision for congregational worship and fellowship closer to home founded St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Mount Ulla.

While Mount Ulla is just a few miles west of Salisbury, a short drive down N.C. 801 today, back then it was a rather long walk or carriage ride to anywhere.

So the Brown, Goodman, Kistler, Harkey and Barrier families (familiar names still in western Rowan County) dreamed of a congregation and built a sanctuary where folks could worship, serve, learn, pray and support each other in the love of Christ and commitment to follow the Lord.

Now, 150 years later, with members from Salisbury to Mooresville and Mocksville to China Grove, St. Luke’s Lutheran is celebrating its sesquicentennial anniversary during June with a series of worship and social events.

The Rev. Scott Swix, pastor of St. Luke’s Lutheran, shared some of the things that are planned this month:

• Sunday: 1860s/1870s Day. There will be historical liturgy from 1870 with special worship and music. Congregational members are encouraged to dress in period costume.

• June 16: “Worship Through the Ages.” N.C. Synod Bishop Tim Smith will be the guest preacher, and a Golden Age Celebration will recognize members and couples with the greatest longevity.

• June 23: The 150th homecoming/anniversary day. Former Bishop Leonard Bolick will serve as preacher, with previous pastors and other guests in attendance at the Sunday service. A special rite and celebration of paying off the mortgage on the fellowship hall and activity building also will be held.

• June 23: Handbells and Barn Quilts. St Luke’s will commemorate its 150th anniversary by hanging two large barn quilts. Members have helped paint the quilts at West Rowan Farm, Home & Garden.

Also at the June 23 service, St. Luke’s handbell choir, directed by Jody Perrell, will debut “Foundation, Faith and Fellowship.” This work was composed by Mark Kurtz, son of former pastor Milbert Kurtz and former handbell director Janet Kurtz. The piece was commissioned in memory of Betty Jean Connelly in celebration of the 150th anniversary.

The handbell choir is made up of 11 ringers who will play three octaves of Malmark handbells using a variety of handbell techniques included in the composition.

The anniversary celebration kicked off this past Sunday with youth members performing a skit based on the founding of the church, along with a recognition and celebration of pending graduates.

St. Luke’s Lutheran Church started with 21 members, representing mostly farming families. They purchased land for $200 and constructed a one-room building of timber sawed on the property and bricks formed of clay dug from pits on the site.

The ramped seating was a notable and uncommon feature of the era. Over the first 50 years or so, St. Luke’s was connected at times and shared pastors with Salem Lutheran of Salisbury and St. Mark’s Lutheran of Mooresville.

St. Luke’s started a school in 1872. It closed at the end of the 19th century when public education became available.

The last 150 years have seen lots of changes and challenges for St. Luke’s, just as it has for Rowan County. The congregation lived with other Southerners and Americans through Reconstruction, wars and the Great Depression.

Dairy farming — once the backbone of this area — has waned through the years. New industries provided more jobs, and people commuted much farther to work.

As for the church, the years were filled with times of renovation and new construction, expanding the facilities, such as the new fellowship hall/office building and activity center completed in 2013.

It was planned and built not just for members but for use by all the Mount Ulla community.

In the past few years, dozens of community groups have gathered at St. Luke’s for special programs. The activity building is open for walking in the mornings. Aerobics and basketball groups gather every week, and the congregation plans to install cushioned athletic safety flooring later this year.

Supporting the community has always been a priority at the church.

There have been major events like the Haylift of 1986 when the entire South suffered a severe drought. St. Luke’s welcomed a relief convoy from Sumner, Illinois, which gathered together and drove 70 trucks of hay over 700 miles.

The hay was shared with farmers in the area. A couple of years later, St. Luke’s rallied West Rowan farmers to return the blessing, sending a convoy of hay to southern Illinois to help those farmers during a drought of their own.

St. Luke’s folks have helped others near and far in times of floods and hurricanes. The church has raised money for community projects and neighbors in need and was recently approved as a Red Cross emergency shelter.

“The years have shaped St. Luke’s through the daily life, changes and challenges of congregation, community and country,” a church press release said.

“This generation now carries the mantle of leadership and vision, remembering that it is a community of faith serving God and the community around it, trying to live out its mission to ‘Share with all the Gospel of Christ through faith, hope, and love.’”

More information about St. Luke’s, its ministries and 150th anniversary celebration is at www.stlukesmtulla.org or through the office at 704-278-2710. The church is at 11020 N.C. 801.

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