Church History

Following is a summary of the history for

First Evangelical Lutheran Church

Xenia, Ohio

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1844-1944 Written by Sandy Ring

  The birth of First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Xenia, Ohio, is a rich heritage. Like every life, there is a part to cherish, a present to celebrate and a future to anticipate and hope in the graciousness of God our Creator.

  The early beginnings of Lutheranism in Xenia, which go back at least 133 years, are a bit obscure. These first preaching services were held in the German Reformed Church at the corner of Monroe and Church Streets that later was bought by the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

  However, it is known that in 1841, John Lehman, who had studied at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA, became a licensed minister and was commissioned to be a missionary to the scattered Lutherans living west of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania.

    He made his home in Xenia, where in 1841, he was pastor of a Lutheran congregation, (the first known reference to a Lutheran congregation in Xenia). However, Rev Lehman did not confine his efforts to Xenians, for he also had a Lutheran congregation at Yellow Springs, and a small gathering of Lutherans at Springfield (which was then smaller than Xenia).

      Every Saturday, Rev Lehman would ride his horse to Springfield in order to preach to his congregation there on Sunday morning. Then he would ride to Yellow Springs to preach on Sunday afternoons and regardless of the weather was back in Xenia by Sunday evening for a weekly sermon.

     On July 20, 1844, while serving as pastor of the Xenia church, Rev Lehman’s wife, Sarah Elizabeth, died. In 1847, Rev Lehman left Xenia and moved to Lancaster and at the urging of Rev Keller, Solomon Ritz became pastor of the Xenia church. He was a revivalist and favored the use of the English language in the churches, instead of German. He was pastor for a few years of the parish consisting of the Xenia church, Mt. Zion Church, west of Xenia, Beaver Church, Aley Church & Union Church.

     During the year 1848 under the direction of Solomon Ritz, a church building 40 by 55 feet was put under roof on West Main Street. Unfortunately, the wood for the inside burned, resulting in a $300.00 debt. Rev Ritz appealed for help through the Lutheran Observer, a well-known periodical in its day, to keep from having to sell the structure to pay for it.

      Apparently it was saved, for on February 10, 1850, the church was dedicated (with a $125.00 debt still due.) The house of worship thus erected was apparently the same building that was used by First Lutheran Church, although many years later a Sunday School unit was added onto the rear and still later a kitchen was added. In 1851, The Rev Ritz left Xenia and moved to Ashland.

     He was followed by Rev A. Bartholomew whose service was terminated at the end of a couple of years, after which the congregation was served by the Rev G. Peters and Rev J. Borns until the Rev J. Geiger took charge in 1856. The latter resigned in 1859 after which the congregation was without a pastor until the Rev J.F. Shaffer was installed as pastor on August 25, 1861. Mr. Shaffer continued as pastor for more than 20 years.

     During the early nineteen hundreds the church was served by numerous pastors including the Rev Harry Hanshue, Rev Miller, Rev Albert Uhl, Rev Adrean LeBold, and Rev Roberts.

      In 1935 Rev Luther Bright became pastor of the Xenia church and served until 1949. He was succeeded by Rev Frederick S. Lambertus in 1949. Rev James B. Metzger became pastor in 1954. While serving the congregation, plans were made to build a new church and educational building. Pastor Metzger resigned June 20, 1963, to become pastor of Oakland Lutheran Church, Mansfield, Ohio.

      He was succeeded by Pastor William O. Calvert in November 1963. Pastor Calvert officiated at the groundbreaking for the first unit of the building program on February 23, 1964. On October 25, 1964, the remodeled Sunday Church School and new Parish Education Building were dedicated. The cost was $78,500.00. Pastor Calvert resigned on January 5, 1970 to become Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Newcomerstown, Ohio.

      Various supply pastors served the congregation until Pastor Herman D. Hammer formerly a missionary to South America, accepted the call on September 1, 1970. Pastor Hammer resigned on September 30, 1972 due to ill health. Rev Manfred Holck served as vice-pastor from October 1, 1972 to July 1973.

      A call was extended to Mr. Jerry N. Volz on July 15, 1973. He officially took office on October 1, 1973. He was ordained and installed on February 23, 1974. That was the first known ordination service at First Lutheran Church.

    On April 3, 1974, at 4:40pm, Xenia was struck by the most devastating tornado ever recorded. The church, parish educational building, and parsonage were completely destroyed. From our congregation, 10 homes were completely destroyed and 26 homes were damaged. Mrs. Ruth Palmer, 81 year of age, died as a result of injuries she suffered when the house in which she lived was totally destroyed. The terrible twister left a writing trail of terror through Xenia and Wilberforce, ballooning out until it was three-quarters of a mile wide and 15 miles long, killing 32 people and injuring 1,100. In the total community, 1,139 homes were totally destroyed and 1,700 homes were damaged. Though the church and parish educational building were destroyed on that disastrous day of April 3, First Lutheran Church of Xenia was not. In many respects it was stronger than before. The decision was made to rebuild on the same property. During this time we continued to meet at the Xenia YMCA until a new building was completed in 1976.

      Rev Jerry Volz served us until Rev Dean Stewart came to us in 1978. During his service the need for more Sunday School rooms, an enlarged narthex, an elevator and a more flexible sanctuary were deemed necessary. This remodeling project took place in 1990 and resulted in all the features we were needing to make our church more accommodating for its functions. The added debt was a concern, but hopefully with the steadfast commitment of members, this too shall be eliminated in the future. Rev Dean Stewart left in October of 1991, after thirteen years of service, and Rev Mark Oster came to us on May 12, 1992.


New Church Building
1994 - 2004 Written By Harold Warren


     During 1994, the 150th anniversary celebration of the founding of the church continued. Theme for the festivities was: “Serving Christ’s Way for 150 years” submitted by Lee Warren.

     In addition to Pastor Mark Oster, several special guests visited First to participate in the proceedings, including: Pastor Bob Brown, Pastor Denise Grant, Pastor James and Lila Metzer, Pastor Tom and Sue Rutherford, Pastor Dean and Gretchen Stewart; Pastors Yvonne and Rodger Rohrbach, Pastor Jerry and Phyllis Volz and Ben and Beth Stewart.

      In 2003, the Lutheran Social Services of the Miami Valley became Lutheran Social Services of Mid America. The Parish Resource Center, with educational advisors assigned, has books, videos, and other materials free for check out to members. Access to committees and various other programs is available, also.

     As a member of the Miami Valley Pastoral Covenant, our congregational members may use the council center services at a reduced fee. Such services provide individual, couple, or group counseling in marriage and family therapy. Additional services cover pre-marital and grief counseling, and divorce recovery counsel.

     Deb Baldwin was a delegate to the ELCA Assembly in Indianapolis in 2001, and she was elected delegate to the Southern Ohio Synod Council in 2002. Cathy Bengson will be a Southern Ohio delegate to the ELCA Assembly in 2005. Our representative on the Synod’s Multi-Cultural Task Force is G.T. Johnson.

      Our participation in the Xenia Area Association of Churches continued. Since 1994, the first Sunday of the month has been designated as FISH Food Pantry Sunday. We are involved, also, in the Xenia Area CROP Walk, Habitat for Humanity, and Interfaith Hospitality Network. We provide meeting space for We Care Arts, Hispanic Ministry, Alcoholics Anonymous and Alanon.

     A Memorial Fund Committee exists to decide where undesignated money received in memory of a loved one, may be utilized to the best advantage of the church.

     In 1998, the women of First published a cookbook. Title of the book was “The First Lutheran Mixing Bowl” a title submitted by Genell Benner.

      In June 1992, Pastor Mark Oster was installed at First. He served until August 3, 1997, following the acceptance of a call to an Ashland, Ohio congregation.  Pastor Herbert Neve was appointed interim Pastor after Pastor Oster left.

      Mrs. Evie Ennis became church secretary in September, 1994.  Mrs. Jean cross accepted the position of Music Director, Choir Director, Organist and Pianist in March, 1995.

     In September, 1997, seven members of First formed a call committee to select a new pastor. Bob Altick, Clancy Cross, Christina Davis, Paul Handwerker, G.T. Johnson, Sue McGatha and Opal Snell were members named.  In June, 1998, an invitation was issued to Pastor Glen Bengson, and he was formally installed on August 9, 1998.

      Four members of First completed seminary training and became ordained ministers. They were: Thomas Rutherford, Dick Gilbertson, Mary Ann Fiene and Ben Stewart.

    Pastor Glen and Bishop Holloway of the Southern Ohio Synod, authored very perceptive, sensitive and soul searching comments in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. These observations appeared in the October, 2001 issue of Discover First.

     G.T. Johnson joined 32 other Lutherans in a five day Civil Rights Bus Pilgrimage through parts of Alabama and Georgia; He also visited Germany and Martin Luther sites with a travel group.

     Pastor Glen and Cathy, Paul & Rose Handwerker and Bill & Barb Taylor traveled to Israel and Jordan in May, 2000 for a tour of Holy Land sites.

    In September, 2000, a tornado struck Xenia. One person was killed, sixty homes destroyed, and two hundred homes damaged, four churches were severely damaged. The Lutheran Disaster Response provided assistance to victims.

     First sent youth to various ELCA Gatherings including Atlanta in 1994; New Orleans in 1997 St. Louis in 2000, and Atlanta in 2003.

     In the Stewardship financial area, 53 members have formally pledged annually since 1994. Major efforts were initiated by the Council in the effort to overcome the general financial short fall experienced by the church for the past ten years. Several budget cuts were enacted, and other cost cutting measures investigated in order to help First stay afloat financially. Thankfully, the church’s financial status is now in good condition, supporting an annual budget of over $170,000. This includes benevolence to the Southern Ohio Synod and ELCA of $18,000 and many special offerings to improve the church facilities and respond to human needs.

    In 1995, Bob Altick presented a comprehensive plan to reduce our debt, primarily through increased pay down on the mortgage obligation. The Stewardship Committee, in an effort to inject more interest and enthusiasm in financial giving, started giving plays and skits on stewardship, and putting lyrics to existing hymns about stewardship. Harold Warren wrote the plays and the lyrics. The theme for the 2005 stewardship promotion is the theme for the 160th Anniversary of the church: “Grateful to God”. Appropriate lyrics in support of the theme have been written to the tune of “Soon and Very Soon.

  Within the last five years, several changes have been made to the physical plant. In 2003, a new sound system for the sanctuary was installed. Also the bell tower received a new automated sound system. The Pastor’s office was remodeled; the secretary’s office, the work room and the conference room all were carpeted and painted. A new furnace and air conditioning acquired, a big screen television was made available, and the parking lot surface improved.

1994 - Present Day is being written.


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