Celebrating longevity: Church set to commemorate 160 years



For years, the congregation of Emanuel Lutheran Church has kept one Bible verse close to heart.

Luke 12:32 says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

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It’s etched in concrete just above the entrance to the church along South County Road 750E just past the junction of state roads 11 and 250 in Dudleytown.

It’s a part of a hymn that church members have recited.

It’s also on commemorative bookmarks as the church celebrates 160 years of serving area residents.

Marcia Snyder, who grew up just down the road from the church and has gone there for 63 years, said the verse means “that God will take care of us even though we’re a small group.”

The church boasts about 270 members, many of whom credit the longevity to families staying involved over the years and having youth play a vital role.

“I think it’s the members themselves, just tight-knit and solid and just hanging together,” said Marvin Holle, chairman of the congregation who has been a member for 51 years. “We hope that continues on and stays tightly together and stays focused.”

Holle said there also is good attendance in Sunday school and the youth group.

“Our Sunday school program has such good teachers that take time with the kids and lessons every Sunday,” he said.

Snyder said when new members join the church, they feel welcomed and want to stay. She interviews members and shares their story in a newsletter, which is placed in people’s mailboxes just inside the front entrance.

“We’ve been lucky,” Snyder said of maintaining a strong membership. “In some areas, smaller rural churches haven’t always done real well.”

Karen Metz isn’t a lifelong member of the church, but she has been involved since 1973. She and her husband felt welcomed from the start.

“It’s just such a good feeling around here,” she said. “They make you feel at home. When I came here, I thought, ‘OK, this is it.’ I don’t really feel like an outsider. Everybody just works together, we really do. I think that has been a real key to our church being here as long as it has.”

She expects that to carry the church another 160 years.

“I think first of all, our trust in the Lord to sustain us through 160 more years is going to be a real plus,” Metz said. “We have lots of members that have very, very firm faith. We’ve been through a lot as individuals and as a congregation, and we are still as strong as we can be with the Lord’s help.”

On Sunday, the congregation plans to celebrate the 160th anniversary with a church service at 9 a.m., followed by food and music.

The guest speaker will be the Rev. Daniel P. May, who has been president of the Indiana District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod since 2003.

Lunch will be served in the church basement around 11:30 a.m.

Time between the service and lunch will be spent socializing and listening to music under a tent. Casual dress applies, and anyone planning to attend is asked to bring a lawn chair.

Emanuel’s roots trace back to 1855 when local merchant John Schneider purchased land for the building of a church, a simple log structure that was constructed with materials from nearby wooded areas.

At first, reading services were conducted with one of the elder members in charge. By the efforts of Schneider’s brother-in-law, John Otte, a reverend from Cincinnati, Ohio, was engaged to serve as pastor.

The earliest official acts — four baptisms and a funeral — are recorded in 1856, but it wasn’t until January 1857 that the first constitution was approved. Then in April of that year, the land was deeded.

In the late 1860s, the church’s old parsonage became the congregational school, and a new parsonage was built.

By 1871, the school had around 50 students, but the old log church was decaying and too small for the needs of the congregation. Plans were put in place for a new 32-by-50-foot brick church, complete with a brick steeple to be placed above the roof.

The cornerstone for the new church was laid June 16, 1873, and a formal dedication of the newly completed church was Nov. 2 of that year.

New school buildings were erected in 1876 and 1899.

Land across from the church was purchased in September 1908 to build a one-story, three-room house for the school’s teacher.

The interior of the church was remodeled in 1912, and the construction of an addition to the west end of the church in 1927 forced services to be conducted in the public school in Dudleytown.

The young people of the congregation asked for approval in 1938 to build a parish hall on the east side of the road on donated land, and it became a gathering place for the community for church and civic functions.

After 48 years of service, Edward C. Ude resigned as the school’s teacher in October 1962 after suffering a stroke earlier in the year.

A replacement teacher couldn’t be found, so the school was closed, and the congregation agreed to pay tuition to allow its students to attend neighboring Lutheran schools.

In April 1969, plans were formulated to consolidate all of the church buildings on the west side of the road. Three years later, an annex with two large meeting rooms, four Sunday school rooms, a smaller meeting room, a study for the pastor and restrooms was dedicated.

The old school was razed in August 1972, and the school bell was placed outside the new building as a reminder of the years the school served the church.

A harvest festival in the fall has been a popular event at Emanuel for years. It not only brings the members together but also draws people from other Lutheran churches in the area. Nowadays, between 600 and 700 people attend.

“It’s a big thing here. It’s a good money generator that helps keep the facility up,” Holle said.

“There’s also fellowship and getting to work with people you may not know, but you work together on wherever you end up in the process of helping out with the meal,” Snyder said. “Pretty much everybody pitches in.”

Another way members feel a part of Emanuel is they are encouraged to join a committee or become an officer.

“We have about 11 to 12 family units that have joined our congregation in the last 10 years,” Snyder said.

“Some people drive good distances to come here,” Holle said. “One thing, I think, is a smaller group is easier to adapt to. Everybody knows everybody here pretty well by first name. It’s just a tight-knit community, a tight-knit group. I would say that’s one of the biggest things those people like.”

People also understand the importance of the church’s history, Holle said.

“I think the history does have something to do with us being here for so long,” he said. “I think that means something to people.”

History also has kept other Jackson County Lutheran churches vibrant, as St. John’s Sauers and St. Paul Wegan celebrated 175- and 160-year anniversaries, respectively, in recent years.

“We do have a unique community here that started back in the 1800s and has gone on ever since,” Snyder said. “I think that the churches all work together.”

Metz has had connections to some of the other Lutheran churches and is happy to be at Emanuel.

“I was baptized in Sauers, I was confirmed at Immanuel in Seymour, I was married at Zion in Seymour, but I’m going to be buried here,” she said, laughing.

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The congregation of Emanuel Lutheran Church, 2174 S. County Road 750E, Dudleytown, plans to celebrate the church’s 160th anniversary at 9 a.m. Sunday with a church service, followed by food and music.

The guest speaker will be the Rev. Daniel P. May, who has been president of the Indiana District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod since 2003.

May graduated from Concordia College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois; and Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois. He served his vicarage at St. John Lutheran Church in Defiance, Ohio, and pastorates at First Lutheran Church in Natchez, Mississippi, St. Peter in Fort Wayne and St. James in Lafayette.

Prior to his election as district president, he served the district as vice president from 1992 to 2003. He and his wife, Judy, are members of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne.

Following the service, lunch will be served in the church basement around 11:30 a.m.

Time between the service and lunch will be spent socializing and listening to music under a tent. Casual dress applies, and anyone planning to attend is asked to bring a lawn chair.


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