Ev. Lutheran Church of Our Saviour, Stone Harbor

History 1914 - 2014



In 1907, Stone Harbor was no more than a tiny settlement of a few summer cottages in the vicinity of 83rd Street, "an abandoned excursion house and a deserted hotel." By 1910, the little barrier island community had grown from one or two year round families to 52 permanent residents. 

As the town grew, the need for spiritual guidance became apparent. The Catholic and Episcopal churches had been established and in November of 1910, Mrs. Anna Salvesen started the first Sunday School in Stone Harbor. The account of its beginning is recorded in a small worn notebook from the archives of "Our Saviour Lutheran Church." Each Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm, the children gathered at Mrs. Salveson's home. The Sunday School opened by singing a hymn, then after a few words of prayer, a chapter of Matthew was read, a few words were spoken about the chapter and a little about Jesus. Another hymn was song, followed by the Lord's Prayer. That year the first Christmas pageant was held with almost all the adults on the island in attendance. Santa Claus came in and presented each child with a small gift. The Sunday School continued until it grew too big for Mrs. Salvesen's home.

An early account of "Union" religious services in Stone Harbor is reported in the August, 1912 issue of the Cape May County Gazette. The article tells of services held at St. Mary's By-the-Sea and that "the recent installation of the electric lighting has made St. Mary's available for evening service, which seems to be appreciated."  In 1913, the first fire house was built on 85th Street and religious services were held in the hall every Sunday evening. Choir practice was held at the Turpin House or the Larsen cottage. It was at the fire house that the Sunday School was officially organized on March 8, 1913.

In October of 1913, fifteen ladies of Stone Harbor met and formed the "Union Church Club of Stone Harbor." The object of the club was to furnish interdenominational religious services every Sunday evening. It was through the efforts and support of the Union Church Club that Our Saviour Lutheran Church was eventually founded and sustained in its early years.

In 1914, a canvass of the community found thirteen Lutheran families and other interested Christian people. At the Union Church Club meeting, the women decided, "If the Lutherans could build a church we would favor the cause and help." In March of 1914,  the congregation voted to organize a Lutheran Church. In April, 1914, the By-Laws and Constitution were read and adopted. On May, 1914, the name "Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Saviour of Stone Harbor" was decided upon, new members received and the first Church Council was elected.

Mr. Turpin offered three lots on 92nd Street near Second Avenue for the new church building however, these lots were not accepted and the South Jersey Realty Company was asked what they could provide. The Realty Company conveyed a 40' x 110' lot on 86th Street to the Church for the consideration of $1 but this too was considered unsuitable for the site of the new church. In the meantime, the Episcopal church building was leased for six months at a cost of $50 and Lutheran services began there on June 21st.

Finally, on September 9, 1915, our present location was established when a 60' x 110' lot on the northeasterly corner of 93rd Street and Third Avenue was purchased for $1,150. Ground breaking ceremonies for the new church building were held on July 30, 1916. The Sunday School marched in a body from the Sunday School room in Borough Hall to the lot, addresses were delivered, special music was rendered, and the ground was broken by lifting a shovel full of ground by each person present. The offering amounted to $37.00 and was pronounced a success.

Mr. Turpin was given the contract to build the church for the sum of $3,960. The finished church building was dedicated on July 8, 1917.

As the church grew, so did the physical property. In 1942 the church was enlarged, the new Sunday School room and chancel were added. In 1945, the tower music system was donated in memory of Stephen C. Ludlam who had been killed in action in World War II. Members of the church contributed to the carillonic bells to honor all the men and women of Our Saviour who served their country.

As membership kept pace with the population growth of Stone Harbor, more space was needed and a Parish Hall Fund was established. In 1949 the new building was ready for use by a growing Sunday School. By 1954, our community church had grown from a handful of people meeting on wooden planks to a stately church building, useful parish building and community center, a handsome parsonage and above all a place of worship dedicated to serving God and the needs of our community and its people.

Addendum to the 80th Anniversary History of Our Saviour Lutheran Church on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the church, 2014.
 
Our Saviour Lutheran celebrated its 80 years of service to God and the community in 1994.   Pastor Glenn Schoenberger shared the story of the church weekly from the pulpit; artifacts, photos and documents were collected; a history was written and a video was produced.  The celebration culminated in a special service and shared meal in October.  The congregation looked back with pride, but also looked forward to a future of worship, fellowship, evangelism, and continued service.
 
The years following the 80th anniversary saw Our Saviour wrestle with the challenges of a changing society made more difficult by local demographic realities as the permanent population of Seven Mile Beach declined markedly and grew older.  As the Church celebrates its 100th anniversary, it faces the reality that in both Stone Harbor and Avalon, the year-round population has declined by at least 25% and the median age is 57.5.  As significant is the even greater decline in the number of children and young people.  Cape May Court House, the other likely source of members, has grown slightly, but even there the median age has increased to 47 and the number of those under 18 has declined. 
 
The Pastor and the church leadership are well aware of these realities and have worked untiringly to strengthen the church and to equip it for future success.  In 1996, a process of long range planning was begun and an analysis of the churchs strengths and weaknesses was undertaken.  The strengths were clear – a caring pastor, an excellent education program including a highly popular Vacation Bible School, a strong core of members, a family orientation, a strong womens organization, and a fine music program.  But there were weaknesses as well: lack of a clear mission; no mens or youth organizations; limited fellowship opportunities; a confusing committee structure; and cramped physical space.
 
The next few years saw the congregation seriously address these weaknesses with determination and imagination.  A mens organization – Men in Mission – was founded in 1997 as was a Teen Forum.  The Evangelism Committee attracted 10 new members and improved press coverage and community based activities.  The Lenten Suppers remained popular.  The Planning Committee completed a “Mission Statement” and strategic objectives.  A church directory was developed. 
 
In 2000, the congregation adopted a revised mission statement and a new, streamlined committee structure.  The Learning Committee is responsible for the educational activities of the church at all levels. The Service Committee is responsible for the congregations service to both the congregation and the wider community. The Support Committee is charged with overseeing the churchs finances and property, encouraging stewardship, and planning for future needs. The Witness Committee is key to the churchs overriding mission of bringing the gospel to those who need to hear it. The Worship Committee ensures that worship services meet the spiritual needs of the congregation. 
 
An examination of the major accomplishments of these committees and their members tells the more recent story of Our Saviour Lutheran Church.
 
The Learning Committee.  A strong Christian educational program continues to be a characteristic of the church.  While attendance at Sunday School has shrunk due to the changing demographics, Vacation Bible School continues to attract high numbers every summer.  The change in the worship schedule in 2001 allowed the Adult and Teen Forum and/or Confirmation Class to meet at 9:00.   The decline in the number of teenagers in the community made the continuation of their forum problematic.  The annual rummage sale to support the churchs educational activities was replaced in 2008 by a Strawberry Festival, and after two years, a Chicken Bar-B-Q.  The congregation is blessed to have Kathy Schoenberger who has led both the Sunday School and the VBS for over three decades.  Pastor Schoenberger has likewise enriched the educational programs through his leadership of Men in Mission and the Adult Forum. 
 
The Service Committee.  Under the aegis of this committee are Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELCA), Helping Hands, and the Parish Nursing Program.   The one-time evening womens group, Women for Service, joined with WELCA in 2005 and the united groups continue to provide goods and support to the needy, both here and abroad.  The establishment of the Parish Nurse Program in 2000 by Bonnie Kratzer added a new dimension to Our Saviours social service mission, and the congregation and the community have benefitted from programs on wellness, exercise, grief, diet, breast cancer and many more.  Bonnie has taken her model to the whole of Cape May County through Cape Regional Hospital.  The Blueberry Festival to support the Parish Nurse Program became an anticipated annual event in 2001.
 
The Support Committee.  This committee and its subcommittees have had a busy and productive two decades since the last anniversary celebration.  Besides managing the budget in challenging times and maintaining aging facilities, the Support Committee has overseen the planning for and completion of the renovations of Our Saviours physical plant.  The paying off of the mortgage on the adjoining property on 93rd Street in 1995 began the process of determining how to best expand the cramped physical facilities of the church.  An effort in the early 2000s to identify the needs led to hiring an architect to draw up plans.  However, dissatisfaction with the suggestions and the realization that community was changing led to a decision to postpone the project and undertake further study.
 
In 2008, the congregation was offered four options that ranged from merely making repairs to undertaking a major fundraising and building campaign to meet the identified physical facility needs.  The congregation adopted the most ambitious choice, undertook the “Grow With Us” campaign, and by 2012 had a new narthex, garden room, storage and outdoor space.  The contributions of Sue Rhodes, Jayne Lare, and Larry Kratzer were particularly appreciated and many more contributed to the effort.
 
The Witness Committee.  In 2005, the congregation adopted a new “mission and vision” statement: “to draw people to Christ and His Church” and “to be a growing, active congregation that welcomes all people to faith in Jesus Christ.”  While all the churchs committees – indeed, all its members – are called to achieve the mission and vision, they are the special responsibility of the Witness Committee.  Members worked to ensure Our Saviours visibility in the community through media, events, and an improved website.  They reached out to absent members and helped with the “One Call” notification service.  In 2010, as an example of direct action, the committee led the congregation to support  the local Family Promise program, through which homeless families are provided temporarily with housing, food, and the services they need.  Jeff and Dori Conlin have spearheaded this effort at Our Saviour.
 
The Worship Committee.   In addition to the necessary tasks like recruiting greeters and lectors, the Worship Committee, with the Pastor, oversees the practice of religion during the services at Our Saviour.  Worship changes over time.  As a result, there have been a number of changes since the last anniversary celebration.  Among the most significant was the change in the worship schedule in the fall of 2001.  After a survey of the congregation, it was decided to hold to a single 10:00 service with concurrent Sunday School during the off-season and add an additional 8:30 service during the summer.  Communion was to be served twice a month.  Making this change permanent was supported by 87% of the congregation in 2002 and attendance at worship improved. The Worship Committee had spent two years reviewing the changes to ensure that Our Saviours worship service became ever more welcoming, inclusive and responsive.  A second major change was the hiring of Renee Tobias as organist and choir director in December 2001.  The music program has flourished under her leadership. A final major change was the introduction of the new hymnal in 2006.
 
Conclusion:    This brief recounting of the two decades since last its history was written cannot begin to capture the variety and vitality of the activities that Our Saviour and its congregation have undertaken as they seek to spread the message of Gods grace and Jesuslove.  Nor can it come close to honoring the dozens and dozens of people who have been doing the Lords work. 
 
But if two people should be singled out as being the heart of Our Saviour for the past thirty years plus, they are Glenn and Kathy Schoenberger.   They will begin  their 32nd year of service to our congregation this May and, three years hence, Pastor Glenn will begin a well deserved retirement.  The members of Our Saviour celebrated with him when he earned his Doctor of Ministry degree in 2000.  They hear with pride the compliments of their neighbors about their pastor as he works with other churches to do good throughout Cape May County.  And they can only be deeply thankful that Kathy has been such a wonderful partner is this ministry.
 
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Saviour of Stone Harbor can look back with pride on a century of preaching and teaching and service.  It looks forward to its future with hope, but also with an awareness that the world and our little part of it have changed significantly.  Our Saviour, during the past twenty years, has recognized that it must adapt to this changing world. This is the best indication that its future will be bright.  The willingness to adapt, along with the power of the Holy Spirit, who is always working in the world, will guide this church to achieve its mission and vision: “to draw people to Christ and His Church" as we move into our second century.

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Lutheran Church of Our Saviour, 9212 Third Ave., Stone Harbor, NJ 08247 - 609-368-3031 - e-mail: oursaviour@verizon.net