As you walk into the lobby at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, if you don’t at first encounter a flurry of foot traffic, a look at the church bulletin will give you an idea how rare it is for this quiet moment on the church grounds.
Some days are booked from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., or 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., activities listed almost each hour in between.
“It’s always remained dynamic here,” said lifetime member Jerry Moeller. “Some churches suffer to keep going, but we’ve kept the magic formula, somehow.”
The 67-year-old Sunday greeter — who has held many other roles at his church over the years — added, “I go by at night and am amazed at how much activity is going on.”
With at least 38 committees or teams at this church of 3,000 members, the Rev. Peter Marty, senior pastor, said of his church, “It’s absolutely on fire.”
Located at 2136 N. Brady St., St. Paul’s will make news later next month as it builds a new 12,000-square-foot, 750-seat worship space on the south side of its grounds. The people here have made the $6.3 million undertaking possible, having approved the expansion in January 2005.
St. Paul’s members also keep many irons in the fire involved in everything from church council, to teaching at the church’s religious education program, to serving as “grandparents” for pupils at nearby Madison Elementary School, to going abroad on a mission to Tanzania (the latest international mission).
And that’s to say nothing of the many opportunities members have to gather for support groups or to learn more about church teachings — daytime or evenings, weekdays and weekends. Almost the entire basement of St. Paul’s is dedicated as Faith Trek, a teaching space for younger members (rooms cleverly painted with themes such as a forest, an under-the-sea scene, a stage, and a movie theater complete with popcorn maker). The preschool — claimed as the largest in the Quad-Cities — is on the west wing of the first floor.
Church members say that the size of the church and all it has to offer are pluses. Joan Baril of Blue Grass, Iowa, is one of them.
Visiting with others after 8:30 a.m. Sunday service in the fellowship hall, her friends joked with her about her 6-year-old daughter Mary Beth’s ability to find doughnuts to match her outfit — even when it’s purple.
Baril said her church is worth the 20-plus-minute drive for her family.
“It’s such a warm, welcoming place. You’d think a church with almost 3,000 members wouldn’t be intimate, but you can have a personal experience here.”
Her experiences have included involvement on the board of Camp Shalom, which the church started and with which it remains affiliated, its offices are on site, and her husband Steve’s recently finishing three years on the church council.
Georgeann Kreiter of Moline said such a big church can be friendly when it has so many subgroups.
“I like the friendliness of everyone, the music, and the kinds of things that are available to do in terms of education and activities,” said Kreiter, who has been a member for about 12 years. “Even though the church is really large, there are groups within it where you feel included. It’s a warm, caring church.”
Kreiter has been a buyer for the Book Corner, a not-for-profit book and gift shop right in the building, since its inception in Fall 2001. She purchases gift items that are created by “people living on a shoestring.” These items include Fair Trade Coffee, gift items from Ten Thousand Villages, food items from the Bean Project in Denver and Enterprising Kitchens in Chicago.
The congregation of St. Paul Lutheran Church dates back to 1882. Meeting first at 14th and Main streets (now the parking lot for Third Missionary Baptist Church), the current church was built in 1951.
When he was growing up on a farm near Mounty Joy, Jerry Mueller came into town for church with his family. He estimates that St. Paul’s membership has grown tenfold since he was baptized, at about age 9, in the “old” church. “I think there were about 300 people back then.”
Not only has the congregation grown by leaps and bounds, but also three other Lutheran churches have sprung from it: St. Mark in Davenport, St. James in Bettendorf, and Faith Lutheran in Eldridge. Now seed money is being invested in a new church called Seeds of Faith in the Linn County community of Mount Vernon, Iowa.
Marty said the church he has led for almost 10 years has traditionally given away 20 percent of its revenues to causes both local and global. “That caught my eye when I came here,” he said.
He describes his church as dynamic and loving, steeped in the Lutheran Christian tradition.
“Lutheran Christians care a great deal about striving to make faith active in love. The scriptures and love in the human community come together to make the Lutheran church. We’re a body of people in the body of Christ.”
He also described the Lutheran Christian experience and goals of worship.
“Lutherans are known for emphasis on God’s grace shaping their lives, delivering the beauty of creation, and making a repentant life possible. Strong Lutheran worship delights in congregational singing, creative Biblical preaching, and honesty about our sinfulness and the privilege of forgiveness,” he said.
The 8:30 a.m. Sunday service leans toward the traditional, with organ music accompanied by a 75-member choir, and straightforward readings and responses. One unique feature to this service is that the pastors give young children a recap of the Gospel reading for the day, in terms they can understand.
A team of church members is working on creating a more contemporary service, which either could replace one of the three current services or possibly supplement them.
Whatever the approach to each service, the 5,500-square-foot worship area tends to be packed. Marty said he looks forward to converting it to a chapel and proceeding with the new building project.
“The whole purpose of this (building project) is to reach more people with the Gospel,” he said.
He added that location is everything.
“We have a deep resolve to stay in the city instead of going out and building in the farm fields.”
Shortly after work begins on the expansion, another exciting addition to the St. Paul Lutheran community will begin: a pastoral residency program. In August, three pastors-in-training will join the church for two years, working alongside the church’s three pastors. Their advisory team will include the three pastors, two associates in ministry (lay persons specially trained to help in the areas of parish education and outreach), and a resident advisory team of parishioners.
The recently ordained candidates will remain at St. Paul’s for two years to supplement their recently completed seminary studies. The Lilly Endowment is supporting the program for two cycles.
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St. Paul Lutheran Church
Address: 2136 N. Brady St., Davenport
Services: Three weekend services: Saturdays at 5:30 p.m., and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Established: 1882; current building constructed 1951
Pastors: Senior pastor Peter Marty; administrative pastor Paul Huber; teaching and mission pastor Jennifer Henry
Staff: Church staff of 18 people
School: Professionally staffed preschool is largest in Quad-Cities
Classes: Learning and Fellowship for All (includes Sunday school and adult religious education): 9:50-10:40 a.m. on Sundays
Other: Library and not-for-profit bookstore; began Camp Shalom in Maquoketa and still shares an affiliation. More than 1,100 children attend the camp each year.
Upcoming: A pastoral residency program will help train up to three recently ordained ministers. It is slated for a late summer start.
The church in May will break ground for a new worship space and more.
Office hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.