Celebration of Faith: St. Michael’s Lutheran Church rings the bell on 150 years

Published 7:17 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

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The skies were already darkening as the first keys of the piano started playing and the bell to St. Michael’s Lutheran Church began ringing.

By the time Pastor Barb Finley-Shea opened Saturday’s outdoor service celebrating the church’s 150 years the rains were falling. And when visiting Pastor Barbara Streed, of the Minnesota Synod, expressed her joy over the celebration, a peel of thunder roared across the sky, almost in celebration itself.

“See, God is German,” Streed joked, referring to the church’s German heritage. 

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Despite the rain, which lasted throughout the length of the service, the smiles and attitudes were warm and sunny, a testament of the work that went into celebrating this milestone with parishioners both young and old.

“You think about all the years where people made sacrifices to make possible a church for generations that came after them to have a place to worship,” Finley-Shea said after the service, the first of two that were held over the weekend.

St. Michael’s was founded in the 1800s by a small group of Lutherans who settled in the Waltham area. Michael Matter donated 60 acres of land to form the church.

One hundred and 50 years later, the generations were still counted among those celebrating the occasion. During the weekend, the eighth generation of Matters was to be baptized and fifth and sixth generations of Paape and Ruhter families were in attendance.

“It’s just wonderful,” said James Schlichting. “It’s amazing that a rural country church can survive in a present day.”

Schlichting himself was one of a number of families in the area celebrating the 100th birthday of Hazel Schlichting, St. Michaels’ oldest living church member, and James’ aunt.

He said, it’s that kind of familial connection that binds a rural church and its members.

“I think it’s the people. It’s a community where everybody cares about everybody else,” James said. “We’re there to support them and take care of them and help them out with anything they need.”

At 150 years old, the role of the church transcends, naturally, to include that of its history, something that is told in both written and verbal methods.

Finley-Shea said she felt that connection both this past weekend and in the time leading up to the event itself when she was preparing historical displays of old church directories that were set up in the basement of the church. 

“As I was photocopying them and putting them on poster boards, it gave me a chance to learn a little bit more about the history,” she said. “I’m just amazed what people have given of themselves to make a church.”

That history is also evident in the graveyard that is next to the church itself. To Finley-Shea, it further binds the past to the present.

“When we have someone’s funeral and we can lay their body or ashes to rest, they are at home,” she said. “There’s just a feeling of you feeling the presence of those who were a part of this before you.”

Even though Schlichting currently lives in Lakeville, he took the moment Saturday to further connect the years past to the present with stories he hoped were more than an interesting anecdote.

“I love telling stories,” he said. “I hope there’s a little bit of a message or moral or something in there beyond a story that’s funny.”

With this weekend’s celebration of 150 years, eyes now cast forward to the future. Finley-Shea said the hope is for faith to continue and the word to continue supporting people as they hold up the continuing story of St. Michael’s.

“All I can say is, whatever form the church takes, I hope that we are part of making faith possible for the next generation and the generations after us,” she said. “We all know churches in general are in decline, but the Holy Spirit has not gone to sleep. God’s spirit will continue to lead and guide the church as it changes and grows in new ways.”