First Lutheran celebrates its growth as it turns 125

Worship: Despite dramatic growth and a new location, the onetime country church prides itself on maintaining its people-oriented traditions.

January 05, 2001|By Diane Reynolds | Diane Reynolds,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

First Lutheran Evangelical Church began in October 1875 in a modest clapboard building on Church Street in Ellicott City. Today, as it celebrates it 125th anniversary year, First Lutheran has changed location and grown dramatically but never lost touch with its roots and traditions.

Older members remember driving from family farms or Ellicott City homes to a church that was the center of their community life.

"As I was growing up and into my 20s and 30s, I knew everybody in the congregation," says Eleanor Thompson, a descendant of founding members.

"There were maybe 50 members in the church on Sunday mornings," agrees Charlotte Wallich, whose grandparents also were founding members. "It was in 1945, when Pastor Herbert Payne came, after the war, that the church started to grow."

The growth has continued ever since and is the biggest change that older members see. In 1956, to accommodate its expanding numbers, the church moved to its current suburban location on Chatham Road. In 1996, the church dedicated a large new sanctuary. Today, First Lutheran boasts 2,100 members.

"When I came here 16 years ago, we had 1,100 members," says the Rev. Glenn E. Ludwig. He attributes the growth to several factors, including meaningful worship done well, resources for all ages, friendly people and competent staff.

"Certainly, my being here 16 years makes a difference. Long-term pastorates tend to bring a stability people are looking for in a crazy world of change," he adds.

"I think the church reflects the growth in Howard County," says Rosemary Fisher, First Lutheran's administrative assistant. "We've become less of a white suburban church but are still very middle class, with young, professional families."

Ludwig points to the beauty of the physical building as a focal point for growth: "Our worship space has won three awards for design and construction. I think that's attractive to people."

"God works through beauty," agrees the Rev. Andrea Wiegand, associate pastor. "The architecture is well thought out, and has a story behind it and a Christian significance."

The sanctuary is a brick-walled octagon punctuated with softly colored stained-glass windows. The altar is the center of the room, dominated by a Tau cross, which is in the shape of a capital letter T. The granite of the large baptismal font at the entrance to the sanctuary is repeated in a slab under the altar, tying together the two sacraments of baptism and communion.

Despite the contemporary look of the sanctuary, the church holds to the traditional Lutheran liturgy. "We pride ourselves on doing it well," says Ludwig. "In this day and age of contemporary worship, we're traditional by intent."

Wallich, a lifetime member with two grandchildren baptized in the church, agrees that the liturgy has changed very little over the years.

Liz and Mike Roberts joined the church six years ago because it was "close to home" but have come to value it for more important reasons. "We've stayed because of the people and the pastor. His sermons are just wonderful and insightful," Liz Roberts says. "The people are a second family to us."

Linda Lovell, a member since 1983, also comes for the people and the pastor, a sentiment echoed over and over. "What I personally value is the spirit of the people, the pastoral leadership we've had and the fact that it's a congregation with a lot of little kids. I always thought that was a sign of a healthy church."

"This is an exciting time for First Lutheran, the transition from being a country church to a church of mission," says Gigie Sijera-Grant, an intern from Pacific Theological Seminary who works with multicultural church members.

Wiegand concurs. "There's a real and blossoming interest in social ministry. The church is growing another step. Since it's bigger than a lot of churches ... there is a lot of energy in it," she says.

First Lutheran Evangelical Church

Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Leadership: the Rev. Glenn E. Ludwig, pastor; the Rev. Andrea Wiegand, associate pastor

Size: 2,100 members

Location: 3604 Chatham Road, Ellicott City

Date founded: 1875

Phone: 410-465-2977

Worship services: 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m. Sundays

Children's program: Sunday School, 9:30 a.m.; nursery for children younger than age 3.

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