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story.lead_photo.caption At left, Makayla Stubinger, of Reinhardt Circle catering, hands a fried chicken dinner to Jimmy Crawford during Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church's 125th anniversary celebration Sunday. Photo by Gerry Tritz / News Tribune.

At Sunday's 125th anniversary celebration for Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russellville, Pastor Ed Merckel said the church is built on living stones — the people.

"They're solid. They've been able to withstand some storms in life, and there's a commitment that represents stability," Merckel said. "The cornerstone, of course, is Christ. That is the living stone. And our faith in him is at the heart of our life together."

He said the church and its 175 members are welcoming and community-oriented, and it strives to appeal to children.

"Someone once told me that we have to pay attention to our children because they are the future of the church," Merckel said. "And I said to that person, 'They will be the future, if we make them part of the present. We have to minister to them and their families now, not sometime in the future.'"

The church has had several recent baptisms, and there are more on the way, he said.

One new family in the church is Cory and Beth Volkart and their two young daughters. They've attended for a year, but just joined a couple weeks ago.

"We enjoy listening to Pastor Merckel giving his sermons," Cory Volkart said, adding they have friends and family in the church. "Everybody's been so nice and polite with us."

Becky Verslues is a lifelong church member and co-president of the congregation's Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

"One of the things I remember most about this church is all the Christmas Eve programs. That's kind of the highlight of the church year for me."

She tells a story about how, when she was 3, she had a part in the Christmas program and was set to deliver her line: "I am baby Jesus." But her mother had the wrong time they arrived too late for her to say the line. Verslues' aunt, who coordinated the program, told her after church, "You can say it now," and she did, not realizing at the time that people were streaming out of the church service and didn't hear her.

She said she appreciates how friendly everyone at the church is and how much everyone works together.

"A lot of churches don't make it this many years," she said. "I think we're very proud this church has lasted and it's a growing church."

The church does a lot of activities, she said, including a toy giveaway in December, and it provides meals at the Salvation Army.

Despite church attendance trending down nationwide, Merckel believes "a form of the church will always be here, until Jesus comes again. It's won't be the same form we've had necessarily, but there will be some form that tells the story about Jesus and God's love and gives the world some good news in the midst of a lot of bad news."

The church recently added a sign in front that it uses for inspirational messages or church/community events. Future projects for the church include livestreaming and expanding its parking lot.

The church started in 1895 in a different location in Russellville. The current church was built in 1912, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The brick Romanesque Revival church has a steeply pitched center gable with a large arched stained glass window. Beside the church are a parsonage, schoolhouse, parish hall and a field area.

The church is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of the three primary Lutheran branches.

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