Out of the corn and soybean fields, it rises like a beacon of hope. Its steeple can be seen for miles, and at night, even further because the cross on top of the steeple is lit. 180 years ago or so a group of immigrant German farmers, meeting in homes, decided it was time to have a church. They built one of logs, in the same spot as is now Hope Lutheran Church, 1465 Walnut Ave., in Brighton. The services were all in German and men sat on one side of the room and women on the other. There was a divider between them.
Today it is the oldest Lutheran Church west of the Mississippi still conducting services. Kinda-sorta located in the middle of a triangle of Washington, Fairfield and Mt. Pleasant, some people say it’s in the middle of nowhere. The congregants differ, saying, “It’s in the middle of everything.” Just off the Germanville Road that meanders between Lockridge and Brighton, and off 146th Boulevard, is Walnut Avenue and Hope Lutheran Church. The founding farmers believed, “It is certainly better to worship in a log church and be a golden Christian than to worship in a golden church and be a wooden Christian.” At the turn of the century, the German language began to give way to English, at first just one Sunday a month. Because of World War I, German was dropped altogether, and men and women were allowed to sit together. (Oh, my gosh!)
In its 175 years, 32 pastors have served Hope Lutheran Church. Rich, colorful stories abound. The steeple bell is rung before and after services, its unique tone peals through the countryside reminding people of its Godly presence. The church elders ring the bell but kids sneak in for the thrill, the rope lifting them off the ground.
In the early days of the log church, a storm came up while a service was being held. The roof of the log church blew off. The minister was in the pulpit and the pulpit was left standing with the Bible still on it. Ladies’ hats blew off. One man told of being carried off by the wind or tornado and then let down. There were people hurt but no one was killed.
In the early 1960s, it was reported that there were escaped convicts in the area and everyone was to lock their vehicles and stay inside behind locked doors (no one ever locked their doors). When the convicts were found the church bell would be rung to let everyone know that all were safe. Children huddled with their parents and startled at every night sound, like pigs feeding at feeders. The “convicts” were found sleeping in a garage. They were teenage runaways from New Mexico. The bell was rung and all breathed a sigh of relief.
Another time, there was a family from California who came to visit the graveyard that adjoins the church. They were interested in finding a certain grave marker of a distant family member. While they were searching, one of their children disappeared and could not be found. When he was found, once again, the church bell would be rung. The family and church members searched and searched. It was feared the child had drowned in one of the nearby farm ponds. Preparations were being made to drag the ponds when the child was discovered asleep on a picnic table. Relieved family members heard the happy bell ring out.
Come one, come all to the Hope Lutheran Church 175th Anniversary Celebration, 1845-2020 (it wasn’t celebrated last year because of COVID). Rooted in the past, looking to the future. At 5 p.m. Sept. 17 at 1465 Walnut Ave., Brighton there will be an ice cream social and sing-along. The following day at 2 p.m. Sept. 18 at Lake Darling, will be all kinds of activities, including supper and talks from former pastors. On Sunday, Sept. 19 there will be a 10:15 a.m. church service, with Pastor Ryan Dexter presiding, followed by a cemetery walk-through. The church will also be selling cookbooks, with all the recipes from former church cookbooks, plus some new additions. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.
Hope Lutheran Church: a little outta the way, but a whole lotta hope.
Contact Curt Swarm at firstname.lastname@example.org