The history of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church dates back to 1840, and a piece of the church’s history, thought to have been a part of the original structure, is now back home.
The church, located on Salisbury Highway, will celebrate its 120th anniversary Sunday in a subdued fashion, but the recently recovered centerpiece will be front and center.
St. Paul’s recently brought an antique pump organ, believed to date back to the original church site, to the sanctuary, more than 40 years after it was replaced by an electric organ.
Bonnie Miller, who is 94 and a member of the church, compiled a history of the church and of the organ.
Miller said the church was founded in 1840, 21 years prior to the start of the Civil War and before railroads had come to Iredell County. Pastor Benjamin Arey organized the congregation, which consisted of 22 people. Some of the founders were immigrants who fled Germany when Lutherans were being persecuted.
Land was purchased form Andrew Rickert, and according to courthouse records, Jacob Lentz and Charles Barringer paid $5 for 24 ¾ acres about a mile west of the current church building, where the church cemetery now is located. Founding members built a 40x60 structure from hand-hewn timbers and framing.
In 1885, the congregation decided a new location was needed due to the proximity of the railroad tracks and the present two-acre site was donated by Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Bost and J.A. Bost. According to church history, the building was dismantled, the pieces numbered, loaded onto wagons and reconstructed on the land just east of the current sanctuary. That structure stood unaltered for the next 65 years.
Under the leadership of the Rev. W.H. Dutton, the building was relocated a distance away from the highway on the same lot and updated with new underpinning and landscaping. A new metal roof and electricity were added and six Sunday school rooms were added to the rear of the original structure. The cost was $1,400.
In 1950, Dr. W.B. Aull came out of retirement at age 80 to become the supply pastor and three months later, he became the full-time pastor.
He and his wife lived in Landis and they packed their lunch and came to Statesville practically every weekday to attend to church business and visit with the members. During the seven years of his ministry, membership increased by 100% and benevolence by 500%. The Aulls deeded eight more lots of adjacent land to the church to be used for expansion. In 1953, an educational building named for Aull, was completed.
In the various relocations, the pump organ was a mainstay and was used for many years during worship services.
When the electronic organ was purchased, the old organ was no longer needed and space did not allow for both organs. Walter and Doris Gibson, devoted members of the congregation, adopted the organ and moved it to their home. After their deaths, it found a new home with Mr. Gibson’s sister, Marie Gibson Deal.
By 1968, the congregation outgrew the little frame church that used to house the organ, and under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Paul L. Conrad, a new sanctuary was built. The cost was $76,950, a large sum for a small rural congregation. Despite the large price tag, the congregation was debt-free by 1983.
The church congregation sought to buy the organ but was unable to at that time.
Later, the organ changed hands again, this time to Deal’s daughter, Delores Brown of Asheville. Recently, Miller wrote, Brown decided the organ should be returned to its original home. She called the current pastor, Paul St. Clair, and asked if the church wanted to reclaim the organ. The congregation, Miller said, was elated.
Brown donated the organ to the church and St. Clair and Glenn Cooke, a devoted member of the congregation, traveled to the Asheville area and brought the organ home.
It now sits in a prominent place in the sanctuary. The pump organ will be played on special occasions, joined by a piano and the current pipe organ.
Due to COVID-19, there will not be a large assembly at Sunday’s anniversary assembly as would be fitting. Worship will be virtual and can be accessed online at Facebook at Saint Paul ELCA.
Miller said the congregation, though small in number, is large in love and happy to have the little antique organ back home “to help us worship God.”
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