A church with a long history in Marshfield is celebrating its 125th anniversary this fall.
St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, located on E. 8th Street, remains a dedicated congregation of just over sixty members, some of whom are the direct descendants of the founders who laid the stone foundation for the first building.
In the fall of 1893, eighteen men organized a German church in Marshfield headed by Rev. C.C. Hartenstein of the Evangelical Church of Colby. They christened it St. Paul’s Evangelical Church and were an affiliate of the Evangelical Synod of North America.
The following May, a permanent place was secured at the corner of 4th Street and Vine. Though vacant today, the church building still stands with some of its stained glass intact, the front steps partially hidden by a flourishing tree.
A number of mergers in the next century would mean changes for the congregation. American Evangelical churches merged with Reformed churches in 1939, the year St. Paul’s merged with the Stratford church. Upon another merger between “E & R” churches and Congregational Christian churches in 1957, the name was changed to St. Paul’s United Church of Christ.
The 28’ x 42’ building would serve the needs of the congregation for more than a century after its construction. Remodeling included changing the stone foundation into a basement, installing stained glass and new glass doors. The ties to the Stratford church were dissolved in 1997, and the following year, plans were put in motion to relocate to another building that had better parking, was handicap accessible, and provided room to grow.
“It took a lot of courage for that group to say, even though this has been our home for 100 years, it’s time to move on,” said Pastor Patti Steevens.
In a “God moment,” the council president spotted a for-sale sign while taking a different route home for the closing Church of Nazarene. Starting in 1998, the small building served the congregation for several years until it was decided that the space was being outgrown and an addition was needed.
Much of the construction for the new sanctuary would be enthusiastically taken up by the members themselves. “I personally have sanded and stained every piece of woodwork in the entire building,” said Steevens.
A member got in touch with a couple from Eagle River who taught the congregation how to put siding on the building. A member who was also a retired plumber put his old trade to use. Everybody, even the oldest members, helped sand and clean up.
“It’s just an amazing congregation, how they put their heart into it but haven’t been afraid to do something out of their comfort zone,” noted Steevens. The first service in the new sanctuary was held December 14, 2003.
Stained glass windows were repurposed in the carport and in the lobby as a symbol of the transition between old and new. Also brought over were the communion table, baptismal font, and a cross had been carried from the old church to the new during the last service at that location. The tower bell inscribed with German writing now sits in the front of the modern church building.
Unable to afford an ordained minister, the congregation looked outside the box. In 2008, the church selected two lay academy graduates to share duties: Pastor Patti Steevens, who serves today, and Tim Miller, who remained until 2013.
St. Paul’s United Church of Christ has about 40 active members with others who participate informally. “No one pressures you to join,” said Steevens. “If you get something out of being here, that’s great. If you decide it’s not a good match, my job is to find you a church home that is.”
A defining quality of the congregation is its willingness to do things out of the norm, whether that be a Monday after-school program in place of Sunday School, sitting kids in the front pews, letting confirmands choose when they’re ready to be confirmed, and performing same-sex marriage ceremonies.
“The congregation as a whole is learning to embrace the diversity and difference,” noted Steevens. “It’s just a fun group to be with.”
Official celebrations for the 125th anniversary begin October 13 and 14. The Gospellers, a traveling performance group, will perform a free concert at 11:30 a.m. On Sunday, a potluck lunch will follow the service at 9:30 a.m.
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