Augsburg Lutheran Church marks 100 yearsWritten by David Yonke Editor, ToledoFAVS.com | | David.Yonke@ReligionNews.com
Exactly 100 years ago Feb. 22, six people from Glenwood Lutheran Church met in a room above a grocery store in West Toledo and started a church in what was then a distant suburb of Downtown Toledo.
Augsburg Lutheran Church is celebrating its milestone centennial year with a catered dinner the evening of Feb. 22 and a special worship service at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 23.
After branching off from Glenwood Lutheran on Monroe Street, Augsburg quickly began to flourish in West Toledo’s Library Village neighborhood. The first Augsburg Lutheran Church building was built in 1916, a wooden chapel on a wooded lot just half a mile west of the grocery store. The building could seat 120 and was quickly outgrown by the expanding church.
The congregation broke ground at its current location, 1342 W. Sylvania Ave., on Aug. 16, 1921 and moved into the imposing stone structure, with its large bell tower, the following year. It was built at a cost of $55,000 with members of the church council putting up their homes as collateral.
By the end of the 1930s, Augsburg’s Sunday school had more than 600 members and the number of confirmed members of the church was 1,019.
Augsburg underwent several renovations and expansions over the decades, including the addition of an educational unit, music room, lounge and chapel. When Augsburg celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1964, the church had swollen to 3,539 baptized members.
“It was the largest Lutheran church in Ohio at one time,” said Lori Reid, church secretary and lifelong member.
Lynne Jacobson, 57, also a lifelong member of Augsburg, remembers when the church facilities were bursting at the seams.
“The gymnasium was filled, there was a house next door and that was filled for Sunday school classes. They also had Sunday school upstairs in the church, and that was filled,” she said. “Every Sunday we had two services and the church was packed to the gills. My family always came late so we had to sit in the back row.”
Pat Dermer, 64, a member of Augsburg since 1958, said many members lived in the neighborhood.
“There were many people in this Library Village area who walked to church. My mother never drove so we always walked here,” she said.
Today, Augsburg has about 350 members, with Sunday attendance averaging 70 or 80 people. Much of the decline in numbers reflects national trends, especially for mainline Protestant churches. In addition, members say changing neighborhood demographics have impacted attendance.
Augsburg has gone from having a full-time pastor to having two part-time pastors, the Rev. Bill Fink who serves on an interim basis and presides at the Sunday services, and the Rev. Stacy Lauer-Scovanner, who handles weddings, funerals and visitations for Augsburg members — in addition to serving as senior pastor at Redeemer and Reformation Lutheran churches.
Lauer-Scovanner praised Augsburg’s members for their devotion in carrying out the work of the church.
“This is an amazing congregation full of people who are passionate about sharing the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with those around them, in word and in action, and they feel called to be disciples in the world,” she said. “They reach out to kids and teenagers, to people who are hungry, they take Communion to those who are sick, and when a need arises, they are ready to step in.”
Fink said the shared pastoral duties have worked well, largely because of the support of the church’s lay leaders.
“They do a great job, not only with their lay Communion assistance but also with social ministries,” he said.
The church continues its outreach to Library Village, including providing free groceries through the Feed Your Neighbor program.
“We’re using our best coping skills but we’ve kept everything going,” Dermer said.
“This congregation is dedicated,” Jacobson added. “We will go on no matter what.”
One of the church’s most traumatic moments came in May 2005, when it was struck by an electrical fire. The stone structure survived but everything inside was damaged or destroyed. Rebuilding and restoration, which took more than a year and a half, included a redesign of the sanctuary, adjacent rooms and office spaces. The sanctuary was given a more open feel and a nursery with large windows was built right off the main sanctuary.
This weekend, the anniversary celebrations will not just reflect on 100 years of ministry, but look ahead as well, Fink said.
“We don’t want to be stuck looking backward. We are looking ahead to the next hundred years,” he said.
David Yonke is the editor and community manager of Toledo Faith & Values (ToledoFAVS.com), a website that provides in-depth, nonsectarian news coverage of religion, faith and spirituality in the Toledo area.