From left: Mike McArthur, Heather Meyer, and Lori Reid look at a 1970-1971 yearbook of the congregation.
The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Editor's note: Updated version reflects corrected dates of celebration dinner and service.
Augsburg Lutheran Church is celebrating its 100th anniversary in a time of transition. Until the congregation calls a new pastor, the Rev. Bill Fink, who also is a chaplain for ProMedica Hospice, is the Sunday pastor and the Rev. Stacy Lauer-Scovanner, the senior pastor at both Bethany and Reformation Lutheran churches, fills in for such church needs as visitations and funerals.
Members of the 100th anniversary committee, including Pastor Fink, met in the sanctuary recently to talk about Augsburg's past, present, and future. They said that members of the congregation help one another, with service by the eucharistic committee and other volunteers. “I think we have bound together and just kept rolling along,” said Judy Encheff, the church's program developer, who is responsible for outreach ministries and is the longest-serving staff member, having started there in 1989.
This weekend is an opportunity for Augsburg and friends to pause from that rolling. “The reflecting back on everything is wonderful, and this is the time that we should be doing that,” said Heather Meyer, a lifelong member of the church. “We should be looking back on old photos and talking about the way it was. What becomes difficult is when a congregation wants to continue thinking about the way it was and not thinking about what could be."
Augsburg will be “pretty much continuing the same service that we've been doing to the West Toledo neighborhood” in the next year, said Jason Wagner, president of the church council and a member since 1998. Augsburg “is so important for this area both spiritually, and sustaining people's food” with its Feed Your Neighbor program.
What the church needs for future viability, said Mike McArthur, a council member and lifelong member, is “that next generation, that's what we're trying to work on with Judy's group. She's got about 12 to 15 sophomores, juniors, seniors that are in my opinion truly interested in staying around. You ask what our focus for next year is? To keep those teens coming. Pastor Bill tells it a lot: 'Don't overwhelm; sprinkle a little light to them and let them come for more.'”
“We just continue to put ourselves out there and serve the community as best as we can, and maintain the status quo and adapt as things happen,” said Mr. Wagner.
Augsburg had some major adaptation experience after it caught fire in May 2005. The church was built in 1922, with members putting up their houses as collateral. After the fire, the sanctuary “was entirely black; everything was charred black,” Mrs. Meyer said. "We consulted with an architect and we were able to rework parts of this worship space to open it up a little bit, brighten it.” They added video capabilities and flexibility in use of the space.
Reimagining “goes 365 days,” said Lori Reid, the administrative secretary and a lifelong congregation member. The restoration added “something as simple as open seating, [and] drums were never a part of this worship setting before.”
The changes have helped Augsburg to be more welcoming, too. “The physical presence of this building is intimidating,” said Mrs. Meyer.
But “we have a very multicultural neighborhood,” said Mr. McArthur, and at Augsburg they work “to make them feel you are accepted here. These kids get the message that you are beautiful, you are in a safe place, just hang out with us.”
At Augsburg's 50th anniversary in 1964, church membership numbered 3,539, with 1,883 communing members. “We were the biggest Lutheran church in Ohio at one point,” Mrs. Meyer said. Today, the number is about 350, but Augsburg continues to serve its Library Village community.
Augsburg hosts a dinner at the church at 6 p.m. Feb. 22, then will hold special worship at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 23. Both Bethany and Reformation have canceled Sunday services so they can worship with Augsburg, and the three choirs will combine into one mass choir. And “we have invited our former members and pastors,” said Mr. Wagner.
It's one more time to share “the old stories,” said Mrs. Reid, like when “we bought a car for our pastor that was leaving, and we were able to share our older building to start another congregation. And that's what it's about, is being a part of the community and reusing what we have to help someone else.”