Trinity Lutheran Church of Valparaiso
A Brief History
Trinity Lutheran Church of Valparaiso, Indiana, was founded on Trinity Sunday, May 27, 1934, in the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Schlundt at 257 Michigan Avenue. The worship service and organizational proceedings were conducted by the Rev. George Schutes. Following the service, a group of individuals met with Pastor Schutes to form a new congregation, which they called Trinity Lutheran Church. There were approximately 148 charter members, many of whom were former members of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Valparaiso.
Within two weeks, Mr. John F. Sievers, of Sievers Drug Store, a member of the new congregation, initiated the purchase of a large 80-year-old house, known as “the old Vincent place,” to be used as a church. The address was 201 Washington Street, at the corner of Washington and Chicago Streets, where the current church now stands. On June 10, 1934, they held their first worship service in this house. Pastor Schutes led the worship while standing on a box and using a music stand to hold his Bible and sermon notes. The members began remodeling the house to make it suitable as a church building and when it was dedicated on December 9, 1934, it had a worship area that could seat 200 people, an assembly room, a pastor’s study, a church office, and a kitchen, all on the first floor. In addition, it housed a five-room apartment on the second floor that was used as the parsonage. The congregation worshipped in the renovated house-church for the next 18 years.
Pastor Schutes served the congregation until his death on February 9, 1938, at age 64. In his memory, the Trinity Luther League purchased a set of twenty-note electric chimes, which were dedicated on Trinity Sunday, June 12, 1938.
The Rev. Paul Schrope served as Trinity’s pastor from 1938-1940. During that time the debt on the house-church was paid off, the mortgage burned ceremoniously, and a fund for a new church was established. By the time of Trinity’s fifth anniversary in 1939, the congregation’s membership had reached about 220. Pastor Schrope resigned in 1940 to accept a call as chaplain in the United States Army Reserve, later joining the Army in active service.
In 1941, due to increased Sunday School growth, the unused attic of the house-church was transformed into a chapel. This additional room relieved congestion in the worship area downstairs. However, even more space was needed and so in 1944 the congregation bought another house next door at 203 Washington Street. This $7,350 residence was used as the parsonage, freeing the second story of the house-church for the Sunday School. This also increased the congregation’s property to a full quarter block, providing space for further expansion.
Plans to build a new church building were approved by the congregation on March 5, 1947. Within two years a building appeal had collected gifts and pledges of $40,000. Groundbreaking for the new church took place on Trinity Sunday, June 4, 1950, and six weeks later the cornerstone was laid on August 13, 1950. During the two years of construction, the congregation’s 175 families pledged an additional $70,000. Through volunteer labor, the cost of the new church, including fixtures, furnishings, and architect’s fees, was held to $180,000 with the remaining balance being paid with bonds. By December 1951, the new church was being used, so the house-church was razed in one day on January 1, 1952, by approximately 130 members with the help of a local Baptist minister and some of his congregation. The new church building was dedicated on Trinity Sunday, June 8, 1952, with a week-long celebration.
The new church featured gray, split-faced Indiana limestone in a modified English Gothic motif designed by Architect Hugo C. Haeuser of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It featured seating for approximately 200 in the nave, 60 in the rear gallery, and 30 in the divided choir section. Additional seating was also available in the parlor and in the Mother’s Room behind the rear gallery. The interior of the church was trimmed in oak timber paneling, with a white marble altar and baptismal font. A used two-manual Wicks pipe organ, obtained from a convent near Springfield, Illinois, was installed. Its purchase was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. John F. Sievers.
Five years after the building of their new church, Trinity paid off the debt and a mortgage burning ceremony was held on their 23rd Anniversary, Trinity Sunday, June 16, 1957. Anticipating enlargement of the congregation and the need for further facilities, the congregation purchased two more properties northwest and north of the new church in 1957 and 1958. About the same time, the house being used as the parsonage was converted to an education annex for the Sunday School and the pastor was given a housing allowance and loan in lieu of a parsonage.
Trinity celebrated its 25th anniversary on Trinity Sunday, May 24, 1959, with week-long activities and the publishing of a 12-page anniversary booklet. On Friday night a banquet was held at Valparaiso University in the Student Union with speaker Dr. Walter M. Wick, President of the Indiana Synod. At the banquet, plans were proposed to build an educational unit onto the existing church and a drawing of the addition was included in the anniversary booklet. Sunday morning activities included three separate worship services with a former pastor of Trinity delivering each message. The festivities concluded with a family dinner and viewing of slides and films of the building of the church.
It was not until 1966 that the plans were finalized for an adjoining educational unit. A fund drive was implemented, and the groundbreaking took place in June 1968. One year later, the spacious wing costing approximately $250,000, was dedicated on Trinity’s 35th anniversary, Trinity Sunday, June 1, 1969. Dr. Walter Wick, President of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, participated in the events. A large wall mural, painted by Richard R. Caemmerer, Professor of Art at Valparaiso University, visually connected the church with the new addition. It featured symbolic representations of the Trinity as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In 1976, Trinity made plans to replace its aging organ. A committee, with the advice of Dr. Carl Halter, Trinity’s organist and choir director, spent several years making trips to hear organs, meeting with organ companies, and conducting fund raising, after which a decision was made to obtain a pipe organ from Hendrickson Organ Company in St. Peter, Minnesota. The organ was built there, torn down, crated, and sent to Valparaiso where the Henderson crew reconstructed the organ in the balcony at Trinity. The organ was dedicated on Palm Sunday, April 8, 1979, and two weeks later a Dedication Recital was held consisting of 10 organ pieces—selected to demonstrate the ability of the Hendrickson organ—performed by William Eifrig, Organist and Professor of Music at Valparaiso University.
Between 1979 and 1980 the members of Trinity were involved in sponsoring a family from Vietnam, sometimes called “boat people.” This non-English-speaking family consisted of a husband, wife, three daughters and a son. When the family arrived in Valparaiso, Trinity helped them move into rental housing and provided them with food, clothing, furniture, education (parochial school), employment, financial assistance, a place to worship, friendship, and any other assistance they needed. By the middle of 1980, the family had become self-sufficient and even purchased a house. Later on they moved to California where their son was living.
In 1984, Trinity Lutheran Church celebrated its 50th anniversary by holding several services beginning May 27, 50 years to the date of the formation of the congregation, and continuing several Sundays thereafter, concluding on Trinity Sunday, June 17. Bishop Ralph A. Kempski of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod presided at the first service and Dr. Walter Wick, former Bishop of the I-K Synod, preached the sermon at the last service. Festivities throughout included an Anniversary Banquet in the Student Union at Valparaiso University highlighting living charter members, an afternoon service conducted by a former pastor, the Rev. Dorris Flesner, included five Trinity members recounting events related to each decade, and an evening musical program with scripture readings, hymn singing, and special music. As part of the 50th anniversary festivities, the congregation celebrated its final payment on the 15-year mortgage of the educational wing.
In late 1986, Trinity established a Chancel Renovation Committee to plan for the updating of the chancel area of the church. Richard Linde, a church building consultant of the Lutheran Church in America, came to Valparaiso to see the chancel area and talk with the committee about what they wanted to accomplish. After several years of discussion, consultation, and preparation, the work was begun and was completed in 1991. Some of the changes were: build a new free-standing altar reusing the marble from the existing altar, move two pews to the chancel area, reduce the size of the pulpit to match the lectern and relocate both, move the baptismal font next to the lectern, extend the chancel closer to the sanctuary, construct steps the full length of the chancel, reposition the communion rail to the bottom level for accessibility and make it removable, carpet the center aisle, and repaint the entire sanctuary.
Between 1990 and 1993, Trinity was involved with an organization called Project Neighbors, which included churches of different religious denominations. Their common goal was to provide families from Chicago’s inner city a chance for a better life. Project Neighbors helped families move to Valparaiso, find low-cost housing and jobs, enroll in schools, join a church community, and basically provide any assistance necessary, including financial. Trinity’s congregation was linked to a family consisting of a recently widowed mother with five children between the ages of two and ten. By the end of the three years, she was ready to be on her own financially and the children were doing well in their school and community life.
Beginning in 1991, Trinity began an outreach program to build affordable housing for low-income people in Valparaiso, using Trinity members for most of the construction work. Some of these projects were in collaboration with other Valparaiso churches and organizations. Over the years, Trinity members constructed six such houses, Trinity Houses I-VI. All of these houses were purchased at a lower-than-market price. Between 1991 and 2011, these projects were one of Trinity’s most important social ministries.
In 1996, with the assistance of a national fund-raising firm, Trinity began a three-year Stewardship Campaign titled The Loving Christ/The Living Challenge (TLC/TLC). As part of the plan, Trinity pledged to donate 10% of the total funds raised to external ministries, which eventually was approximately $15,000 a year over the three years. The total expenditures were about $500,000. Some of the major improvements to the church were: re-roofing the educational wing; adding air conditioning in the sanctuary and educational wing, installing an elevator for accessibility, remodeling the fellowship hall and modernizing the kitchen, renovating the church offices, replacing the foyer wallpaper, carpeting and furniture, and improving internal and external signage. As part of the foyer face-lift, the Caemmerer wall mural was carefully covered over, but preserved in such a way that it could be uncovered in the future.
Beginning in 2003 and continuing for five years, Trinity concentrated on updating and improving various communication aspects of the congregation. One of the projects included enhancing the gathering space by building a welcome center, relocating the member mailboxes, and providing a bulletin board area located between two historic hymn boards from the sanctuary. Other plans also involved items from Trinity’s past. The Caemmerer entrance mural that was previously covered over, was safely uncovered and displayed again. Also, four stained-glass windows that were formerly in the narthex area, but had been in storage since about 1978, were installed over four regular windows in the west entrance area. Other communication improvements included preparing new indoor and outdoor signage, revising the church website, improving news media announcements, updating Trinity brochures, and publishing a parish newsletter and a member pictorial directory.
In 2009, Trinity celebrated its 75th anniversary, beginning with worship services on Saturday, May 30, and Sunday, May 31, with Bishop James R. Stuck as guest homilist. Special events included games, contests, and displays, all revolving around the history of Trinity. The anniversary services continued on Saturday, June 6, and Trinity Sunday, June 7, with special services and historical displays and videos. The celebration also honored three living members who were charter children of the congregation. The Archives Committee prepared and distributed CDs entitled a “75th Anniversary Pictorial History,” which contained copies of photographs, histories, directories, and historical booklets through the years.
Trinity Lutheran Church is involved in many different outreach ministries, including: furnishing breakfast and dinner once a month for a men’s shelter called New Creation and providing overnight sleeping facilities and meals once a week for a woman’s shelter called Open Arms. Both of these activities are shared with other community churches. Trinity also donates funds and food for a local food pantry, participates in Gifts of Hope, which is an alternative gift-giving program, continues to build affordable housing for low-income families, and supports other local, state, national, and international social endeavors. Also, Trinity houses a preschool called TLC Nursery School which began in 1989 and continues to serve the Valparaiso community.
In addition to Trinity’s ministry to the Valparaiso community, it offers regular Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday worship services, Sunday School and adult education programs, an active youth organization, varied musical opportunities (Joyful Noise children’s musical group, bell choir, senior choir), and various Bible study groups.
In the beginning, Trinity associated itself with the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA), which in 1962 became part of the new Lutheran Church in America (LCA). In 1988 the LCA joined with other churches to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Pastors who have served Trinity Lutheran Church, Valparaiso, Indiana:
- 1934-1938 – George F. Schutes
- 1938-1940 – Paul W. Schrope
- 1940-1944 – Albert R. Swasko
- 1944-1957 – Dorris A. Flesner
- 1957-1962 – Duane E. Schroeder
- 1963-1971 – Frank L. Stevenson
- 1971-1971 – Bernhard Hillila, Interim Pastor
- 1971-1980 – Richard W. Howard
- 1975-1981 – Robert J. Karli, Associate Pastor
- 1981-1984 – Robert J. Karli
- 1981-1985 – Jerry W. Mielke, Associate Pastor
- 1985-1997 – Robert Smith
- 1986-2000 – John W. Kost, Associate Pastor
- 1997-1999 – Donald M. Bravin, Interim Pastor
- 2001-2009 – Freda S. Scales, Associate Pastor
- 1999-2013 – John J. Santoro
- 2013-present – Jane L. Aicher, Interim Pastor
- Willard M. Hackenberg served as Supply Pastor for 9 months in 1954-55 while Pastor Flesner earned a Dr. of Philosophy degree in church history.
- Carl H. Walter, of Chicago, Illinois, served as Supply Pastor in 1937-38 during the illness and following the death of Pastor Schutes.
Members of Trinity Lutheran Church who entered into the ministry of the Church:
- The Rev. Dennis Beach – September 2, 1984
- Ms. Laura M. Book, Associate in Ministry – May 21, 2010
- The Rev. Thaddeus M. Book – November 1, 2009
- The Rev. Mark A. Cole - June 15, 1975
- The Rev. Nanette Dehnke – August 30, 2009
- The Rev. Walter R. Doering – May 10, 1960
- The Rev. Sarah M. Friesen-Carper – August 17, 2007
- The Rev. Michael J. Hagenow – March 25, 2007
- The Rev. Roger Landgrebe – July 12, 1966
- Deaconess Kristin J. B. Lewis – February 13, 2010
- The Rev. Dennis H. Meyer – 24 Jun 1979
- The Rev. Marc A. Miller – October 31, 1986
- The Rev. Jonathan R. Niketh – October 26, 2008
- Ms. Marilyn R. Olson, Diaconal Minister – June 5, 2004
- The Rev. David R. Schreiber – March 13, 1983
- The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel – August 19, 1988
- The Rev. Steven T. Wilco – February 5, 2011