St. Michael’s in Waltham set to celebrate 150 years

Published 4:46 pm Friday, June 16, 2023

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By Linda Baier

The bell at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Waltham will be ringing again on the morning of Saturday, June 24 at 10:30 a.m. and it will toll 150 times before the worship service starts at 11 am. 

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The bell had been out of commission for quite some time, until a few weeks ago when a couple of the congregation members, Andrew Allas and Matthew Paape volunteered to repair it. They also gave the belfry a fresh coat of paint at the same time. The reason for the spruce up and the number of times the bell will ring is because St. Michael’s will celebrate its 150th Anniversary.

The Church Council along with many other congregation volunteers have been busy planning activities around the theme of “O God, Our Help in Ages Past – Our Hope for Years to Come!” to celebrate this special occasion. The worship service on Saturday, June 24 will include speakers, soloist Kristine Allas, as well as hand bell ringing. There will be a catered lunch, followed by entertainment at 1:30 p.m. with the St. Andrew Sisters. After the entertainment there will be guest speakers, coffee and refreshments served.

On Sunday, June 25 the 9 a.m. worship will also have special speakers on hand, the youth group will sing some selections that everyone can sing along with, the group Second Edition will be singing and Allas will solo again during the service. 

“Lots of good songs from the past and even from way back to the early 1800’s”, said Allas. 

The service will end with the church bell ringing 150 more times, followed by coffee and refreshments to end the celebration. 

There will be numerous fundraising opportunities happening during the weekend including a $20 donation package where you will receive a commemorative sticky notepad, choice of one of five different colors of pens, and a magnet clip. A supplement to the 125th commemoration book is being printed, and orders for both the reprint of the 125th Anniversary book and the new supplement will be taken. 

The youth group is also getting involved by challenging one another to raise $150 each, with some of the funds being donated to local charities after the celebration. The kids will also sell garden suncatcher stakes that they have created using beautiful colored beads. These are selling for $10 each. 

Everyone involved in this celebration is very excited for the occasion because it is an opportunity to share some of the very interesting history of the church and its congregants. For example, St. Michael’s began when seven families met in the home of John Boelk to organize it on June 23 in 1873. At that time, they elected four trustees, one of whom was Michael Matter Sr., who donated 60 acres of land for the church and parsonage. A church building was later erected in the summer of 1874. At that time there were 20 families in membership and the 18 x 30 ft building would serve as a place of worship and as a parochial school. In 1890 before the church had an organ, a 12-piece brass band and at least an eight-member choir led the hymns. The band disbanded in 1914 after a pipe organ was installed. 

Eventually a second church that was almost double in size was built in 1890 at a cost of $2,084. The third and current church with its beautiful arched stained-glass windows was built in 1942, at which time the bell was transferred from one belfry to the other using a cable system. The same bell that will be ringing for the Anniversary Celebration is estimated to be 134 years old. In 1966 the west entrance was remodeled to enclose the steps and enlarge the narthex – a distinct area at the western entrance of early Christian churches.

During its 150-year history, St. Michael’s has had 20 pastors serve its congregation. The first was Friedrich W. Weir from 1870-1876, and the longest serving was F.C. Milius with a term of 44 years. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has welcomed women pastors since the mid 1990’s. Since that time three women have been welcomed, including current Pastor Barbara Finley-Shea who has been with St. Michael’s since 2021.

At one time St. Michael’s highest number of members was over 500 in the 1950’s and 60’s. There are approximately 65 members today. 

There are some families that have six, seven, and even eight generations that still attend St. Michael’s. 

“I think it is neat that we have quite a few descendants of some of the original members”, said Finley-Shea. 

The oldest living member is Hazel Schlicting at 100 years old. She hopes to be in attendance for the celebration. The oldest living pastor that was ordained at St. Michael’s is Reverend Arnold Wuertz at 101 years of age.

St. Michael’s has Sunday services at 9 a.m., and Youth Ministry lessons/projects once a month. The church has had a sturdy foundation, literally for 150 years because of the help from ages past. The current congregation has hope for years to come that it will continue to thrive. 

Weather permitting, all services and performances will be held outside underneath a large tent. For the 125th Anniversary Celebration 700 people attended, and the planning committee is hoping for an even larger turnout this year. Everyone is welcome to join them.