St. Paul’s Lutheran Church: 150 years into the mission

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 9/18/19

NARROWSBURG, NY — Be-staendigkeit—the literal English translation of this German word is “endurance.” But the word actually describes a state of grace that imbues a person or …

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St. Paul’s Lutheran Church: 150 years into the mission

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NARROWSBURG, NY — Be-staendigkeit—the literal English translation of this German word is “endurance.” But the word actually describes a state of grace that imbues a person or organization with an ability to transcend whatever challenges must be faced.

Pastor David Myers, member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (and occasional supply pastor to its flock when full-time pastor, Phyllis Haynes, is on vacation) used the word to account for the constancy of this congregation’s mission throughout its 150-year existence. In his remarks following the September 15 worship service commemorating the church’s 1869 founding by German immigrants, Myers noted that no natural or manmade calamity has deterred this congregation from its pursuit of Christian service.

The evidence bears out his assertion. There were more friends of the congregation present at this sesquicentennial celebration than there are congregation members.

People of all faiths, ethnicities and walks of life have found supportive friends at St. Paul’s various no-cost community fellowship events, among them Katies Café, held at noon the first Saturday of each month. There’s the annual strawberry festival in June celebrating nature’s bounty with cake and homemade ice cream. There’s a cookie walk just before Christmas, and the annual fellowship fair in November with its one-of-a-kind crafts and famous white elephant sale, where anyone can find something they don’t need, never wanted, and can’t live without.

Twice a year, St. Paul’s holds fundraising dinners—a chicken barbecue in May and a bratwurst dinner in September, but both are also alternative forms of evangelism and community service. This year’s bratwurst dinner will be held on September 21. A $12 ticket guarantees all-you-can-eat helpings of brats, sauerkraut, applesauce, breads of every color, German potato salad and apple crisp with hard sauce. Eat in or take out.

But the people of St. Paul’s have nurtured more than just their neighbors. Guest preacher of the day, Rev. Dr. Jonathan Linman, observed that the church has called 43 pastors; for almost all of them, this was a first pastoral job. Every one of the still-living pastors called to this church came to the celebration to testify to the lasting impression that service here has had on their personal and professional lives. Pastor Keith Campbell met the woman who would become his wife in this church. Pastor Russell Haab was married in this church. Both he and Pastor Donald Beck saw their children born here.

Not just a place for new pastors to cut their teeth, two of the first call pastors, Donald Beck and current pastor Phyllis Haynes, have each spent more than two decades in service here, Beck for 22 years and Haynes for 24 years. In addition, at least two homegrown members have gone on to become pastors themselves: the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Rasmussen, daughter of Robert and Helen Rasmussen; and Philip Beck, a midlife career changer currently in his last year of seminary, son of Donald and Carol Beck.

This church has survived epidemics, wars, droughts, floods and hard times, only to prosper, not in the material sense but in a spiritual one. Still, it faces the same uncertain future now being experienced by other mainline Protestant denominations: aging memberships and ever dwindling resources in an increasingly secular America. Pastor Robert Wollenberg, part-time resident of the area and sometime worshiper at St. Paul’s, put it in a nutshell, “There’s nothing more energizing than a church filled to overflowing. We don’t see much of that nowadays. The church will go forward, but it will look different.”

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