Early in 1927 a small group of Lutherans gathered together in the parlor of Mrs. Bena Haas for worship and bible study. As their membership increased, they moved their worship services to Redeemer in Louisville, then back to New Albany, where they assembled regularly in a vacant room at a local icehouse. As their group grew in numbers, Mr. Henry Mueller called on Mr. George Dietrich and Mr. John Dietrich to discuss the possibility of organizing a Lutheran Church in New Albany.
On August 2, 1927, delegates from Concordia Lutheran Church and Redeemer Lutheran Church of Louisville, KY and St. Johnís Lutheran Church in Lanesville, IN (which were the only Missouri Synod Lutheran Churches in this area) held a meeting to form a Church Federation for the purpose of securing a city missionary, with the aid of Synod, to cover New Albany and Louisville. However, the Federation considered it of great importance for the missionary pastor to concentrate his efforts in New Albany for the time being. The mission board was contacted for names of candidates.
On September 18, 1927 the adoption of a constitution and the election of officials effected a permanent organization. In Article One the name Federation of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, Missouri Synod, of Louisville and Vicinity was adopted.
Six candidates for city missionary were nominated, and the newly formed Federation elected the Rev. C.E. Ahlbrand of Littlefield, Texas, who accepted the call and was installed on November 17, 1927 at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Louisville.
On November 18, 1927, Rev. Ahlbrand, Mr. Henry Mueller and Mr. John Dietrich rented a second floor hall (a poolroom occupied the first floor) at 211 State Street, New Albany, for $20.00 a month. Finding a place to worship and making it ready; notifying all the prospective members, borrowing an organ, lectern and hymnals made it a busy week. Dieckmannís Funeral Home loaned folding chairs, dropping them off on Saturday afternoon and picking them up on Monday morning without charge. The first service was held on Sunday, November 20, 1927. A drop-leaf table was the first altar and pulpit (this table is presently located in the narthex). A large coal-burning parlor furnace was used and coal was carried in from several blocks away by one of the members. Miss Helen Dietrich was the first regular organist.
After first service, a temporary Church Board was appointed and arrangements were made to hold two services every Sunday a morning service and an evening service. A Sunday School was started almost immediately with the children’s classes taught in one group by one teacher. Pastor Ahlbrand taught the Bible Class.
On December 18, 1927 the first confirmation service took place. Mr. Alvin Ehalt and Mr. Robert Alles, Sr. were confirmed on January 8, 1928. The first baptismal service was held on February 5, 1928 in which five Maraman children were baptized. (Note: Four members of the original congregation are still active at Grace today. They are: Austin Dietrich, Marie Cleveland Eisman, Mildred Alles Messenger and Emma Maraman Pfeffer one of the first five baptized children.)
In April 1928 the congregation had approximately 30 communicant members. By mid-1928 the congregation had grown to 60 souls and 38 communicant members and was outgrowing their space. The group was encouraged by the Federation to go ahead with their building project.
And it came to pass.
In August of 1928, Grace Lutheran Church (the name chosen by the congregation) bought a piece of property on the corner of East 10th and Oak Streets at a cost of $6500. The property included a brick house that served as a parsonage until 1943. A frame chapel was erected on the rear of the lot. Future plans were to raze the house, build a new church and use the frame chapel for a Christian Day School.
In 1930 a one-room school was begun in the basement of the chapel with an enrollment of 18 pupils with Pastor Ahlbrand as teacher. Within a year the school had grown to 35 pupils with an additional staff member.
More blessings abound.
In the summer of 1936, Rev. Ahlbrand accepted a call to Kokomo, IN. He was succeeded by Rev. Gustav Reschke, who was called from Maysville, KY and installed on August 11, 1936.
By 1943 the congregation decided they had outgrown the property and purchased the abandoned two-room James Whitcomb Riley Public School at 1804 Charlestown Road at public auction for $4475. After limited refurbishing the congregation and school was dedicated in December 1943. The east room was used for a chapel and the west room for a school. In 1947 another room was added to the school but the continued growth of both congregation and school made a new facility necessary.
Ground was broken for the new building in May of 1950 and was dedicated in April of 1951. By mid-1956 the school had a total enrollment of 117 students. In August of 1959 Rev. Reschke accepted a call to Sebring, Florida and was succeeded by Rev. Paul Visoky who was installed in November of that same year. Rev. Visoky was subsequently called to minister to a Polish-speaking congregation in Pennsylvania and was succeeded by Rev. T.W. Buehner who was installed in February 1963.
The Congregation of Grace Lutheran at Dedication of Church on Charlestown Road, April 15, 1951
From the fullness of His grace.
By 1962 the congregation had grown to 600 souls. At a voters meeting in 1968 it was decided to close the Christian Day School at the end of the present term and to call a Director of Christian Education to help instruct the children in the faith. D.C.E. Art von Werder was installed on February 23, 1969.
On June 28, 1970, Rev. R.L. Garber was installed as pastor of Grace following Rev. Buehner’s decision to broaden his occupational base in other fields. In the early part of 1973 Grace congregation was again making plans to go forward as the facilities were again becoming too small for the growing Church and Sunday School attendance. On the lot at 1787 Klerner Lane that had been purchased ten years prior, a new building began to emerge through the tireless efforts of many members. Ground breaking took place in May of 1974.
The new facility was dedicated on September 15, 1974. Two services were held on Dedication Sunday with Rev. Gustav Reschke preaching at the 10:00 service and Rev. Paul Visoky at the 3:00 service. The interior of the church is designed in such a way to cause our eyes to focus on the cross in which our faith is centered. The primary purpose of the building is not to have a beautiful place to worship and to meet, but under the blessings and guidance of God, the facilities are to be used to the fullest extent possible as a useful tool for building His Kingdom.
As the needs of the congregation continued to grow and more and more demands on the pastor seemed evident, Rev. Dr. Curtis Peters was installed on January 15, 1978 to assist Pastor Garber with ministerial responsibilities. On August 20, 1978, D.C.E. Henry Loppnow was installed to fill the void left by Mr. von Werder who had accepted a call from another congregation. In 1983 Pastor Garber was called to serve in other fields of ministry and the Rev. Robert Dehnke was installed on September 11, 1983. After several years of service to Grace, Pastor Dehnke became terminally ill and Vicar Bruce Kischnick was assigned to serve at Grace to assist Pastor Dehnke in his ministry. By the time of Pastor Dehnke’s demise in 1991, Vicar Kischnick had completed his vicarage and the congregation called him as full-time Pastor. He was ordained and installed at Grace on July 14, 1991.
Plans to expand the present building to include more seating in the sanctuary, enlarge the narthex and create more space for needed Sunday School and preschool classrooms were being formulated at about this same time Pastor Peters accepted a call to Concordia in Louisville. Rev. James Rees was installed as Associate Pastor on September 8, 1996, and a new one million dollar addition was completed in 1998. Rev. Rees left after four years of service and the Rev. Matthew Woods was installed as Associate Pastor on June 10, 2001.
Future Leaders of Grace
After D. C. E. Henry Loppnow enrolled in the seminary at Fort Wayne, Grace was without a youth leader for several years. In 2001 the decision was made by the voters assembly to hire a youth director to plan and guide activities for the youth and encourage Bible study and prayer. After considering several candidates, Mrs. Mitzi Lyon was commissioned on February 4, 2001 as Youth Director of Grace Lutheran Church.