The early years of this church brings to mind a passage in Matthew. Christ is speaking to the Pharisees and he makes the strange statement – something greater than a temple is here. Jesus is telling them that through him, when a people become the body of Christ – the real church – that is where God is to be found. In the humble beginnings of any congregation, the church is definitely associated with being a people and not a temple.
In 1930, the Reverend Paul J. Gerberding, a ULCA Field Missionary, met with a group of businessmen, working people, and immigrants at Whittier School to organize. This group of Lutherans was distinguished not so much by their being full of faith as by the being faithful. There was a courage and steadfastness about them as they trusted God to make possible the organization of a congregation in the depths of a depression.
On May 15, 1930 St. Paul’s Evangelical English Lutheran Church was dedicated as a mission with a charter membership of 51. A beautiful singer, Edith Keller, wife of Dr. S. L. Keller, was the soloist at the afternoon service and accompanied by Mrs. Luella Rowe, the congregation’s first organist. The original structure was a prefabricated building on the northeast corner of Lewis and Garden Place.
(Taken from talk given by Odny Hjelmeland Reckling on May 18, 1980, St. Paul’s 50th Anniversary)
How St. Paul’s Started
By 1929 it seemed the community of Waukegan was moving northwest quite rapidly. A survey of the Glen Heights neighborhood indicated that 23% of those interviewed were Lutherans. So, in January, 1930, synod mission developer Reverend Paul J. Gerberding began his work in Waukegan. First came the matter of a place of worship. A few homes, farms and dirt roads surrounded the corner of Lewis and Garden Place. The price of one lot (Lot 35) was $1,050. Since it was not large enough for the eventual church planned, prudence suggested an additional lot south of Lot 35 (Lot 36) be purchased at an additional cost of $1,250. At this time the depression was just beginning. A year later these lots could have been bought “for a song” (Quote from Roth Hjelmeland). Across the street, Whittier School had two portable World War I barracks they had secured from Fort Sheridan. One these was sold to the congregation that they might use it for a year or two, while they were readying for the building of their sanctuary.
Ground was broken for the erection of the prefabricated church on March 6, 1930. The first services were held in the church on April 6, 1930. Forty-one people attended church services in the morning and thirty-five attended the evening service. Nineteen adults signed up to be charter members of St. Paul’s English Evangelical Church. Forty-four children and six teachers attended Sunday school that day. Total offering was $2.33. By May 15th there were thirty-nine adults willing to be members of a new congregation. Synod rules, however, required at least a membership of 50 members to be a mission church, so the charter member rolls were kept open until the number had increased to 51, which was in July 1931.
The barrack and the necessary walks cost $4,800. Add it all together, and the total cost was just a little over $7,000. This was covered by a 6% loan from the Board of American Missions, United Lutheran Church, for $2,500, plus a loan from the Synod Loan Fund of an additional $3,000. Both these soon became interest free loans, for these were very difficult times. The indebtedness, records state, was partially taken over by a St. Paul’s Women’s Organization called Ladies Aid. Special efforts were made by all members of the congregation, young and old, to deal with the debt.
Pastor Paul Gerberding
Pastor Gerberding was born June 2, 1873, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Henry George and Catherine Gerberding, nee Morgenstern. He attended Lima College and entered the Chicago Lutheran Seminary to prepare for the ministry. On September 5, 1900, he and Daisy Ovitt were united in marriage.
May 1, 1903, following his graduation from the Seminary and his ordination to the ministry, he accepted the call to become pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Chicago. Here he served for 12 years. After a brief pastorate in LaGrange, Indiana, he accepted a call to become Superintendent of Missions in the Iowa Synod. He occupied this office for seven years and then returned to Chicago as pastor of Norwood Park Church.
In 1927, he was again called into the work of planting and developing home missions for the United Lutheran Church. He served his Church in this capacity for twenty-two years, organizing congregations in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Connecticut, Maryland, California and Montana. He organized twenty-three congregations – 9 in Illinois, 4 in California, 1 in Maryland, 1 in Connecticut, 1 in Montana, and 6 in Iowa. He is the author of “When Christ Comes, What Sayeth the Scriptures,” and he originated the Ideal Sunday School Card System.
On May 15, 1930, St. Paul’s English Evangelical Lutheran Church was established as a mission by Reverend Paul J. Gerberding, LCA Field Missionary with a charter membership of 51.
After a brief illness, the Rev. Paul J. Gerberding died on March 8, 1952 at Manor Hospital, Chicago. He was survived by his widow, Daisy, two daughters, Mrs. Evelyn Smith of Englewood, California, and Mrs. Gladys Dicks of Chicago, a son, Dr. Harold Gerberding of Longview, Washington, and seven grandchildren.