It all began in 1860
First Evangelical Lutheran Church had its beginnings in 1860, not long after Beaver Dam was incorporated as a town. At the time, the population of Beaver Dam was 2,700.
In January 1860, a group of seven men met with the Rev. Hans Peter Duborg, a Lutheran minister from the vicinity of Columbus. They adopted a constitution that formed the basis for the first Lutheran Society in Beaver Dam. Rev. Duborg often walked the distance of 10 miles to Beaver Dam. Since that first pastor, 41 pastors have served our congregation. It is interesting to note that 16 served the first 100 years and 26 since 1960, many of them concurrent with other pastors on staff.
All of the first members were of German background. Many of the settlers arrived in Beaver Dam and sought work through want ads in the Beaver Dam Republican, as the newspaper was called at the time:
WORK WANTED: About 20 Germans, just out from the old country, are now stopping
in this village for employment. Among them is one blacksmith, three carpenters, one
wagon-maker, together with farmers and laborers. Also quite a number of attractive girls
who want places to do housework. For further information apply to Michael Waldhier
at the new grocery store.
There are still descendents in our congregation from these early members of this church.
The first church building
The very first church was a small remodeled building purchased for $300. It was located on James Street across from where St. Peter’s School is located.
In 1875, there were differences of opinions in the church over money matters and lodge membership, which eventually split the congregation. The pastor resigned and left with a number of the members. They went on to form St. Stephen’s congregation as part of the Wisconsin Synod. First Lutheran chose to be a “non-syndical congregation” at the time and did not become affiliated with a synod until 1958 when it became a member of the Wisconsin District of the American Lutheran Church. Presently, we are a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The first organization was the King’s Daughters, dating back to 1888, a Bible study group, which introduced the concept of Circles. The Ladies Aid, the Lutheran Youth Organization, and the Brotherhood were other early organizations.
Church building erected in 1892
By 1892, the congregation had grown to 143 families. More space was needed. Land was purchased on the corner of North Center and West Mackie and a new church was built in 1893. This location was chosen because the church would sit high on a hill with a spire 114 feet high so “it can be observed all over town.” The builder was John Herr.
Three bells would hang in the bell tower high above the city: Gloria, the largest; the next in size, Concordia; then, Virginia. They have called us to worship through the years and were installed in our new bell tower which was erected in 2010 for our 150th anniversary as a congregation.
Church services broadcasted over the air waves
Alfred Wittmann served as pastor from 1938 to 1957. Early in his ministry, the congregation began the radio program “Christ’s Messengers.” The first program was aired over WIBU, Sheboygan and WWCF-FM, Baraboo. In 1954, the program began broadcasting over WBEV in Beaver Dam.
German & English church services offered
At this time, the congregation was still holding weekly services in German. The German service was an 8:15am, followed by two English services. By 1940, the average attendance at the German service had dwindled to nine; so, in 1941, it was held only once a month. German services were ended in 1953.
The church that was built in 1893 underwent major remodeling and renovation three times. The Fellowship Hall (now called Friendship Hall) was added in 1951 and the education building in 1965 in response to facility needs.
New church building dedicated in 2003
Finally, in 1999, after remodeling and rebuilding, adding, subtracting and moving as needs changed, we started to consider what to do to bring us into the new millennium. How could we help our aging, much changed, frequently redecorated, much beloved church to be ready with excitement to face a future with unknown needs and challenges? Together we had faced wars and many changes in Beaver Dam and growth of our congregation.
So, on October 15, 2000, it was thirteen hundred families (2,294 souls) that decided to build a new church on the same site where the church had stood for more than one hundred years. It was with much emotion that we watched the church being torn down; but soon the feelings were replaced with the pleasure of seeing the new replace the old. The new church building was dedicated early in 2003.
30% of the membership – age 0-24
48% of the membership – age 25-64
22% of the membership – over 65 years of age
The percentages are somewhat similar to national averages for congregations.
Traditional and contemporary services offered
Music reflects the signs of the times. We offer a traditional pipe organ service and introduced a contemporary service in the late 1990s which includes an alternating Adult and Youth Praise Bands.
Supporting the community and beyond
We have not only been responsive to our own needs, but have been sensitive to the needs of our community and beyond. For example:
At the time Monarch Range closed, leaving many unemployed, we developed programming and support to help the families involved.
Similar help was made available during the farm crisis experience of the 1980s.
Support was provided as PAVE got underway; FLC led the effort to fund the new shelter for victims of domestic violence in Dodge County.
We resettled a Romanian family who were fleeing oppression under Communist rule.
We started a daughter congregation in Columbus and for our 125th Anniversary, we became involved in starting a mission church in Florida.
We share our facility with the community, providing space for voting, the American Red Cross Blood Bank and other events we can accommodate, like public forums for current issues.
It is our intent to not only serve the members of First Lutheran, but to also open our doors to offer a welcoming, hospitable environment to all in the community. In so doing we strengthen the foundation that has roots in the beginning of this community.