St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Perry Township celebrates 175 years of heritage, tradition and worship
When Pastor David Shadday came to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, U.A.C., he quickly realized how the parish had been able to stand the test of time: the members have a true understanding of the church’s mission and of its heritage. St. Paul’s will celebrate its 17th anniversary on Nov. 12, 9:30 a.m at the Lutheran High School auditorium.
“My grandparents were baptized and raised in this church…” Shadday said, “Then years ago when my oldest granddaughter was born, she was baptized here at the same baptismal font that her great-great-grandparents were baptized at. You don’t get that at many places. There is this connectivity to the people that proceeded you, of God’s blessing us with His grace for nine, 10 generations.”
Rev. Johann Georg Kunz called the first meeting of ‘German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana U.A.C.’ on Nov. 11, 1842, gathering together in a home with 18 members. Two years later, the ‘St. Paul’s’ was added to the name. The first church building which opened in 1845 was located on Alabama Street, south of Washington Street. The congregation was incorporated in 1847, adding a school building that same year.
April 18, 1882, the church building burned down. By July 22, 1883, a new building was dedicated at McCarty and South New Jersey Street.
“It was basically a working class, family type of congregation,” said St. Paul’s historian and lifelong member, Donald Amt. “It started as a German congregation. In the 1850s to 1890s, they immigrated to Indianapolis. They came to St. Paul’s whether they were Lutheran or not. It grew to just over 2,000 before (it) split. We had a lot of members who worked at Eli Lilly. We were in the area when Eli Lilly had a little lab on McCarty Street a couple blocks away. They started growing their campus and eventually surrounded us.”
With such a large congregation, St. Paul’s members eventually formed two additional churches: Trinity Lutheran which is now at 16th and Post, and Emmaus Lutheran in Fountain Square. To this day, St. Paul’s members are involved in activities at both of these churches, particularly the food and clothing ministries at Emmaus and the hispanic ministry at Trinity.
While the Eli Lilly and Company campus began to surround St. Paul’s property, they also formed a good partnership with one another, members said. However, with a lack of a surrounding community, decreased membership and expensive utilities and costs of upkeep, it became apparent that it was time to relocate.
St. Paul’s moved to its current, 17-acre, Perry Township location, 3932 Mi Casa Ave., Indianapolis, in 1959. Today, the congregation is focused on growing its membership and its outreach programs, including its Ministry of Mercy which distributes food and clothing to those in need.
“Our people have rally grabbed onto that,” Shadday said. “I’m continually amazed at how much food comes in here on a weekly basis from our families. We’re feeding quite a few families every month. There’s not that many of us, but they have been extremely generous and willing to give of themselves to help other people.”
As part of their outreach, they also allow a group of Burmese residents to use the facilities to establish their own Christian church. Three members of St. Paul’s sit on the board for Lutheran High School, a school which they have supported from its inception.
There are approximately 200 members at St. Paul’s today. The demographic has continually fluctuated, from having families with lots of children so that the church needed to operate a school, to having an older population and halting school services. Today, younger families with children are beginning to return to the parish, making for a mixture of ages within its membership.
“We have a big focus on families,” said member, Tim Comerford. “Being a small congregation, we can be very intimate in terms of knowing each other. At the same time, we’re very open and welcoming. When my family joined St. Pauls, we don’t have any family in Indianapolis, my kids wound up with over 200 sets of grandparents. That’s one of the things we continue today, is encourage the children, the kids, this is part of their home. We encourage them to treat it with the respect of their home.”
Much has changed through the years, but a lot has also remained the same: the gospel, the tradition of music, and the understanding of the heritage that led them to where they are today.
“As someone that’s been a paster in three different parishes, I came here and everyone understood why we’re here,” Shadday said. “They understood what the mission of the church is. Nothing that I had to say came as a surprise. It shouldn’t. The reason we’re here is people have understood why we’re here. It’s been a group of people who understand how gracious God has been and respond with their love for people.”
Lifelong member Bob Amt said he was away for a time, four years in college and three while in the army, but quickly returned.
“The memories as you would get to certain points of the year, there was no question that St. Paul’s was home,” Bob said. “I came back here, back in the choir, back here every Sunday. I got married. My wife and I were already attending services together when we were dating. Alice said a friend of hers said have you thought about switching to a different congregation? She said Bob will never leave St. Paul’s.”
Bob is chairing the 175th Anniversary Committee. The actual anniversary is Nov. 11, while the celebration takes place on the following Sunday, Nov. 12. A German-themed luncheon will take place, with Dr. Daniel Gard, president of Concordia University in Chicago, speaking. Gard entered into the seminary from St. Paul’s church. Those interested can register by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (317) 787-4464.