The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will hold it’s biennial convention in Pittsburgh this month (August 12th-17th) and will celebrate 25 years. January 1988 (25 years ago) marked the official “coming together” of three Lutheran bodies: Lutheran Church in America (LCA), American Lutheran Church (ALC) and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) to form the ELCA. The various Lutheran synods involved in the “coming together” had held closing sessions and “constituting” assembles during 1987. In the New Jersey Synod, our former pastor, The Rev. Herluf Jensen, who had been elected President of the New Jersey Synod, LCA in 1978, would now become “Bishop” of the New Jersey Synod, ELCA with the new terminology. “Come Share the Spirit” was the theme for the new beginning.
On January 3, 1988, Saint Matthew Church celebrated the new unity with one service at 11am with a guest preacher, followed by a light lunch in Fellowship Hall, balloons and entertainment. The First Annual Assembly of the NJ Synod, ELCA was held in May 1988 in Ocean City. Saint Matthew’s lay delegates were Michael Fox, Susan Mclaughlin and Virginia Sheppard.
Many things have happened at Saint Matthew Church in the past 25 years. Changes have occurred and conflicts have been present. Ultimately, however, the mission of this congregation is to be a community of disciples reaching out through Christ in loving worship, witness and service. With that in mind, our newsletter editor suggested I should write of some highlights then and now.
In 1988 …
- Pastor Gordon Huff had been with us less than one year and was still learning the congregation and beginning new programs. In April, a few days after Easter, he suffered a heart attack and members of the congregation filled in gaps while he recuperated.
- Archie Brown was office secretary and Rozella Bower was her assistant. Dennis Dindinger was organist and choir director and George Leavenworth was property manager.
- Susan Mclaughlin was Vice President of the Congregation Council (formerly Church Council). She was the first woman elected to serve as our chief lay officer. (The Pastor was President.) Other officers were John Miller, Secretary; Ross Holmes, Treasurer; Bill Sheppard, Financial Secretary. There were 15 council members.
- A new constitution was adopted for the church as an ELCA congregation.
- The fiscal year was changed from July – June to January – December.
- The LCW (Lutheran Church Women) became WELCA (Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and there were 3 circles: Dorcas, Rebecca and Bible Study.
- Luther League (middle school students and SMASH (high school) had many activities, including attendance at Synod youth events.
- A sewing group of “more mature” women made blankets for overseas missions, mended choir robes and always had a small “bazaar” of lovely handmade items at Christmas.
- In addition to Adult Fellowship, other fellowship groups included Side by Side for young couples and Lutheran Adult Singles.
- After contributions and many fundraisers, a contract was signed with the Wicks Organ Company to refurbish the sanctuary organ at a cost of $72,500.
- Two missionaries were supported through the ELCA Global Mission program: Dennis & Meredith Mumyak (Tanzania) and Carolyn Miller (Liberia).
- Choirs included: Carol (1st & 2nd grades) directed by Margaret Kanther; Chapel (3rd 5th grades), Chancel to support 8:30 worship (no rehearsal and no anthem), Adult, and Saint Matthew Ringers (handbells).
Then as now …
- Bible studies, CROP Walks, Blood Drives, many social ministry projects such as supporting MEND, helping Camden Lutheran Parish and Lutheran Home at Moorestown (now Lutheran Care) have continued. There were/are clean-up days in spring and fall, an active 50+ group (now called the OWLS), and people who decorate the sanctuary for Christmas and Easter under Lynne Ganskopp’s creative direction. An active property maintenance group performs countless small repairs saving us money.
Since 1988 …
- In grand style we celebrated the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries of the church.
- The congregation called Nancy Hoops (later Truscott) as an assistant pastor and later, The Rev. Mark Hoffman as a Second Pastor. We employed a Director of Christian Education, which greatly enhanced the education program, most especially the Sunday school. Two Volunteer Coordinators helped enlist more volunteers in many areas. Sheila Kappel (later Huff) was hired as Director of Music and we saw a broader development of the music program. The Adult Choir made outstanding contributions to our worship services which continue to this day under the direction of David Harp, Cantor. An Advent/Christmas concert has become an annual event.
- In 2005 we called our first woman pastor, The Rev. Ingrid Wengert, who has been a much needed blessing to this congregation, constantly reminding us of God’s wonderful grace. We also called Bill Lawrence as an Associate in Ministry, who serves as our Parish Coordinator.
- Stephen Ministers were commissioned in 2001 and twice since then. It continues to be a vital ministry, serving those needing someone to walk with them through difficult times.
- Our constitution has been revised several times and now stipulates a lay person will serve as president of the Congregation Council, currently filled by Dick Graybill. There are 11 council members, including a youth representative plus an alternate youth representative. The secretary and the treasurer are ex-officio members – a voice but no vote.
- There are more concrete by-laws for the Memorial Fund to specify ways to borrow and reimburse ourselves with interest-a much needed change from the indiscriminate borrowing in the past.
- Office equipment and computer programs are more up to date and “state of the art.” Copiers are housed in a small room made possible by enclosing one of the entrance halls to the church. It was George Leavenworth’s idea many years ago and has served us well.
- Healing prayers are offered each Sunday during Holy Communion; and trained eucharistic ministers take communion to those who are unable to attend worship services.
- We began using two new hymnals: “With One Voice” in 1995 and “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” in 2006.
- In May 2005 a beautiful Garden of Remembrance was dedicated to serve congregation members for the interment of ashes.
We have reached out beyond our own doors in various ways, including:
- Supporting missionary, Stephen Deal, through ELCA Global Mission and to contribute to Lutheran churches in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
- Making sandwiches and preparing lunches for the homeless patrons of New Visions Community Center in Camden.
- Hosting the Moorestown Ministerium Food Pantry which is open the first and third Mondays of each month, providing bags of food for our neighbors in need.
- Providing bags of food for our neighbors in need.
- Participating in the Interfaith Hospitality Network to host homeless families overnight several times per year.
- Providing financial support for Bridge of Peace Community Church in Camden as well as collecting food for their food pantry.
God has richly blessed us in the past and in the present; however, we continue to search for ways to fulfill our mission as we look to the future to plan for Improvements in our facilities; seek more committed worship attendance; discover new ways to build up Sunday school involvement; and plan for more consistent giving to meet our budget needs.
The theme of the 2nd anniversary is “Always being made new: 25 years together in Christ,” based on 2 Corinthians 5:17. As Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, wrote in the January 2013 issue of The Lutheran, “We have a new life in the ELCA, not because of what was done in 1988 but because of what God has done in Christ and continues to do in and through us for the life of the world. In Christ we are always being made new.” May it be so here within us at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church, Moorestown. -Rozella Bower