COLE COUNTY HISTORY: Church founded through influence of Russellville, Lohman congregations

In the years following World War II, many younger people began leaving their rural upbringings and moved to Jefferson City to embark upon their careers. A number of these individuals belonged to Lutheran congregations in Russellville and Lohman at the time affiliated with a synod that has since become the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Although several continued to make the trip of several miles to these smaller communities to attend worship services, a small group of these Lutherans resolved to organize a new congregation closer to their homes in the city.

"A new congregation of the ... Lutheran Church is now being formed here," reported the Jefferson City Post Tribune on July 10, 1959. "The Rev. Edward R. Baack has moved from Pittsburg, Kansas, to a parsonage at ... Mesa Ave., to supervise work in the new mission church, tentatively named Our Savior's Lutheran Church."

In a letter dated Aug. 5, 1959, extending an invitation to participate in the organization of the new church, Pastor Baack wrote, "The first service will be held this coming Sunday, August 9th, in the McClung Park Recreational Hall at 10:30 a.m. ... We will worship in the Park until the first unit of our church is completed."

An estimated 80 people attended this first worship service. After receiving a subsidy for operating expenses provided by the Mission Committee of the Central District of the American Lutheran Church, Our Savior's Lutheran Church was officially organized on Dec. 13, 1959.

Pastor Howard Hahn, at the time serving as pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Lohman, along with William Gemeinhardt, traveled around the Jefferson City area to locate an adequate property for the new church.

"Plans for construction of the church started immediately after the organization took place," explained the 10th anniversary booklet printed in 1969. "The groundbreaking service was on May 22, 1960, and the dedication of the sanctuary at 1529 Southwest Boulevard was on November 13, 1960."

The booklet added, "Until this time, the congregation had continued to meet at the recreation pavilion at McClung Park."

Shortly after Our Savior's Lutheran Church organized, it earned the designation as the youngest congregation in the new American Lutheran Church (ALC). The ALC was formed during a convention held in Minneapolis in the spring of 1960, where the earlier iteration of the ALC, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church, merged.

During the summer of 1960, Otto Schramm and his wife, the sole remaining members of the former Lutheran congregation in Centertown, donated their church bell to Our Savior's Lutheran Church. The bell was used during special occasions for many years by the Jefferson City congregation and, after a recent renovation, is now prominently displayed near the main entrance.

The congregation of Our Savior's received a $60,000 loan because of the graciousness of St. John's Lutheran Church of Beatrice, Nebraska, whose congregation offered their church property as collateral. This loan was later refinanced locally through Exchange National Bank.

"The first unit will consist primarily of a chapel seating 120 persons, with overflow facilities to accommodate 40 additional persons," noted the Jefferson City Post-Tribune on Feb. 5, 1960, describing early church construction. "The building will also house the church office and a general activities area in the basement will double for classrooms and for fellowship functions."

Plans for the contemporary structure were prepared by the architect firm of Hollis and Miller of Overland Park, Kansas. The construction contract was awarded to the Roy Scheperle Construction Company, whose company also built the new Trinity Lutheran Church in Jefferson City around the same timeframe.

In the span of a decade, a congregation that had begun with 37 confirmed members and 57 baptized grew to 156 confirmed and 220 baptized. From its founding in 1959 until January 1967, the Rev. Edward Baack served as pastor for Our Savior's Lutheran Church, at which time he accepted a call to a church of the same name in Lincoln, Nebraska.

"The Rev. Harold J. Laursen accepted the call to be the new pastor," church history notes. "Pastor and Mrs. Laursen and their children, Kathryn, Elizabeth and James arrived on March 1, 1967, from Kennard, Nebraska."

He was succeeded by the Rev. Robert F. Klein Sr., who was installed in May 1973. During Klein's tenure, additions were made to the church to include classrooms and increased sanctuary space. In the summer of 1988, a new sanctuary was dedicated on the north end of the original church building. Parts of the original church were converted into storage, classrooms and office space.

It was also in 1988 that Our Savior's became part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America following the merger of three Lutheran church groups.

After Klein's departure in 1994, the congregation of Our Savior's was served by an interim pastor for one year prior to the installation of the Rev. Dr. Scott Musselman, who continues to serve the congregation.

"There is a house next to the church that one of our members purchased years ago and then donated to the church," said Stan Linsenbardt, who has fulfilled the role of congregational president, treasurer and bookkeeper in past years.

"Now it's being used as housing for one of our members and for storage," he added.

Though possessing only a brief history when compared to other area churches, Our Savior's Lutheran has grown from a small seed into a bustling congregation in a short period of time.

"A faithful core of Christians have worked diligently in the evangelistic outreach of the congregation and have supported the financial program with sacrificial gifts," noted the bulletin from the church's 10th anniversary celebration in 1969.

And just as other churches inspired the establishment of Our Saviors Lutheran Church, the anniversary booklet describes a hope that the spiritual influence of the congregation will extend outside the church walls.

"We pray that the Communion of Saints they experienced while members of Our Savior's Lutheran Church has enriched their spiritual lives so that the influence of (our church) is felt beyond the community of Jefferson City," the bulletin added.

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

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