St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Amsterdam observes three anniversaries this year — the founding of the local church 120 years ago, groundbreaking for its current facilities 75 years ago and the ordination of its pastor, the Rev. John Califano, 35 years ago.
St. Luke’s three anniversaries will be celebrated Sunday, Oct. 21, at the church with Lutheran Bishop Marie Jerge attending.
The first German Lutherans who came to Amsterdam established a local place of worship by 1863 and a Sunday school in 1867. A small church was built on Grove Street in 1869. Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was constructed at 42 Guy Park Ave. in 1887 and is an active congregation today.
There was a split at Trinity Church in 1892 over language. Services at Trinity Lutheran were then conducted in German. Parishioners who favored an English liturgy left Trinity to form St. Luke’s Lutheran, at first located at 84 Guy Park Ave., a block and a half west of Trinity Church.
The St. Luke’s congregation grew, and in 1929, a fund campaign raised $80,000 in pledges to build a new church at Division and Pine streets. There were even 608 pledges from people who were not St. Luke’s members. The property was purchased for $26,500 from Abram V. Morris in December 1929.
However, the Great Depression was under way and times were hard. Pledges came in slowly. In April 1930 church leaders decided to postpone construction until the economy improved.
Groundbreaking for the new facility did not take place until July 1, 1937. The building designs were drawn up by a local architect, Howard Daley, working under the direction of the firm of Ritcher and Eiler from Pennsylvania. The builders were Boehm Brothers of Buffalo, who agreed to construct the church, Sunday school and parsonage for $61,500.
The Rev. W. Edgar Pierce, then pastor of St. Luke’s, preached on a Biblical passage from Ephesians when the cornerstone was laid on Aug. 29, 1937 — “Jesus Christ Himself the Cornerstone.”
William Slyke, a St. Luke’s member for over 40 years and 77 years old at the time, restored furniture from the old St. Luke’s to a “magnificent finish,” according to a church history.
The new church was dedicated during a weeklong series of events beginning Feb. 6, 1938. Dr. E.D. Burgess, president of the United Lutheran Synod of New York, preached the sermon. Another service featured a sermon by Dr. C.W. Leitzell, president of Hartwick College. Gertrude Haskins performed the first organ recital.
Construction of the parsonage did not begin until 1941. It was dedicated on Oct. 18, 1942.
Pastor Califano was ordained in 1977. He came to Amsterdam in 2001, at first as a chaplain at Community Hospice and St. Mary’s Hospital. He became pastor of St. Luke’s in 2005.
For five years, St. Luke’s has been in a joint ministry with Todos Los Hijos de Dios (All God’s Children Lutheran Church), a Spanish-speaking congregation that offers a worship service at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. The St. Luke’s weekly service is held Sundays at 10 a.m.
Today both St. Luke’s and Trinity Lutheran churches in Amsterdam are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The Lutheran churches in Amsterdam cooperate in holding a vacation Bible school each August.
St. Luke’s is the current home of the AMEN Place soup kitchen, previously located at the former St. Casimir’s Roman Catholic Church on East Main Street. AMEN stands for All Ministries Embracing Need. A community meal is offered every Tuesday at 1 p.m.
The Faithful Followers, a group of women at St. Luke’s, holds a bargain basement sale in May and October to help needy people.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. Reach him at [email protected]