By Brandon Lemons
(Photo: the 1973 building addition.)
Last week, I began a series of articles on Friedens’ tagline, which is “Deep roots. Authentic relationships.” Over the next few weeks, I’m planning to write a handful of articles delving into Friedens’ deep roots and authentic relationships, along with why we celebrate these aspects of Friedens Church.
This article continues highlighting the most obvious aspect of Friedens’ deep roots, which is the church’s history. It picks up in the mid-1930s, which is when the church’s ministry transitioned from German to English.
By the mid-1930s, Friedens was already 80 years old (the church was founded in 1854). Friedens was on its fifteenth lead pastor at that point, and ministry was quickly transitioning to all-English in response to the changing culture. Yet still today, the original German heritage is present in features like the name (“Friedens” means “peace” in German) and in the sanctuary’s stained glass windows, most of which have German inscriptions.
Friedens’ building has experienced major transformation through the years. In 1933, a 35-foot-long addition was built onto the sanctuary’s west end. In 1973, an education wing was added for classes. (That same year, a Sunday school building that had stood on the southwest corner of Friedens’ property was razed after it was deemed too costly to bring up to building code.) In 1990, a project that started as a plan to build an elevator transformed into an even more valuable addition that included Fellowship Hall and three additional downstairs classrooms. Then, in 2020, a major renovation and addition was completed, which made the facility more welcoming, functional, and accessible (including finally adding an elevator).
For the building and congregation, a major event in 2002 was a fire that destroyed the inside of the sanctuary. The blaze started when lightning struck the steeple, causing the old wiring to go up in flames. A million-dollar renovation of the sanctuary ensued, which was thankfully funded by insurance. During the process, the sanctuary was flipped 180 degrees, so the back of the sanctuary became the front. This enabled much better traffic flow into and out of the sanctuary, along with providing a stage that is highly beneficial for worship teams, Christmas programs, and much more. The fire also had a major impact on the congregation – a positive, unifying effect as it inspired the congregation to work together with flexibility, creativity, and faith to overcome the obstacles and come out of this trial stronger than before.
Through its 167 years, Friedens has been associated with a number of denominations. It started as a Lutheran church. Most of the denominational shifts came via mergers, so Friedens was swept along in broader denominational changes over which Friedens had little control. An example of this was in 1934, when a denominational merger led us to become Friedens Evangelical & Reformed Church. Another denominational merger in 1957 led Friedens into the United Church of Christ (UCC). Friedens remained in the UCC for a few decades, until some long-held concerns about the UCC’s beliefs and practices relative to the Bible led Friedens to leave the UCC in 1992. Whereas most previous denominational changes had been unintentional on Friedens’ part, this was a highly intentional change in an effort to regain a focus on the centrality of Jesus and the authority of the Bible. Friedens remained an independent, non-denominational church until 2008, when it joined the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). Friedens’ leadership had been in conversations with the EFCA since the early 2000s, but the leadership wanted to be cautious to ensure that Friedens remained faithful to the Gospel and the Bible.
As referenced earlier, Friedens was on its fifteenth lead pastor by 1932. In the years since that pastor left (in 1939), Friedens has had only five lead pastors. Think about that – 15 pastors in the first 85 years, and only 5 pastors in the next 82 years! What changed? The simple answer is that Friedens’ pastors began staying longer. The shortest lead pastorate since 1939 has been twelve years, and the longest has been 21 years. A significant catalyst for this change was the denominational shifts; Friedens’ earlier denominations moved their pastors frequently, whereas its more recent denominational affiliations don’t move pastors around, so pastors have been free to remain at Friedens longer. This has worked well for Friedens, because studies show that longer pastorates generally lead to healthier, more stable churches.
It’s fun to look back at the fascinating stories of Friedens’ history, the changes to the building, the number of pastors, and more. But what I value the most is Friedens’ commitment to being faithful to the Bible and to Jesus. This commitment has led Friedens to take intentional steps that weren’t always popular outside of the church (e.g., the decision to leave the UCC was predictably unpopular within the UCC). This type of fidelity to biblical Christianity has taken courage.
We stand on the shoulders of those who went before us. While not glorifying the past or living in the past, we are still grateful to be part of this long-term work that God is doing for His Kingdom through Friedens Church. It’s relatively easy and common to have a recent church plant that is faithful to the Gospel, but it is much more remarkable to have a church that has weathered myriad storms, passed through the hands and leadership of so many people – most of whom are no longer alive – and to continue thriving today.
In a society that is constantly changing and is filled with countless uncertainties, there is something special and reassuring about being part of a church that is relevant to contemporary culture yet has historical roots that run deep.
Next week, we will look at a different angle of Friedens’ deep roots: the biblical roots that extend even deeper than the founding of Friedens or even the founding of the USA.