OPHIEM, Ill. – The upcoming 130th-anniversary celebration will be bittersweet for the pastor and worshipers at Grace Lutheran Church in Ophiem.
The Rev. Nancy Jaster is the pastor of the church, which is tucked along the countryside in western Henry County. Grace Lutheran is one of the three churches which make up the Churches of the Edwards River Ministry. The other two churches are First Lutheran in Sherrard and Bethany Lutheran in Woodhull. Jaster serves as pastor of the three churches.
Faced with the advancing age of its members and a decline in the community population and church membership, services will not be held at the church after June 30.
“It is sad to see their ministry end, yet it is also good to remember that they have blessed many people and those blessings will continue,” Jaster said. “The current members will continue to be faithful in the new places they worship.”
The pastor said with the final service on June 30 at the church, “there is still much work to be done before the closing is official. Decisions still have to be made as to what will be done with the church building and land. The congregational records will need to be sent to the ELCA Archives. Because of needing to still tend to these things, donations will still be important to keep the utilities on to the building until the final closing sometime in December.”
Past and present members, as well as guests, are invited to the anniversary celebration which will be a worship service at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, with a reception from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
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In tracing the history of the Grace Lutheran congregation, whose original name was Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ophiem, it is necessary to consider the early beginning of the Ophiem community, which dates back to 1849.
On May 1, 1849, 300 people left Gothenburg, Sweden, on the sailing vessel “Charles Tottie.” After seven weeks and four days, they arrived in New York and traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., by canal boats. From Buffalo, they boarded a steamer for Chicago and the remainder of the trip was made by canal from Chicago to Peru and from there the immigrants and their belongings were carried across country in nine wagon loads, at $18 per load, the only mode of transportation at the time. They arrived in Andover on Aug. 2, 1849.
During those early pioneer days, disease was prevalent, in many forms, and claimed the lives of young and old alike. These circumstances awakened the desire for spiritual guidance in these pioneers.
The Rev. L.P. Esbjorn played a prominent part in the history of the Swedes in America. In 1850 Esbjorn organized the first regularly organized Swedish Lutheran church in America, in Andover.
When the Swedona congregation was organized in 1859, many people in the Ophiem community became members of that church, transferring from Andover.
In the beginning years, services were held in homes and in a schoolhouse. In 1875, a lot was donated with the stipulation that a school house or a church should be built.
The reasons listed in history records stated that the growing community felt the need for more religious activity both with services and religious instruction.
At the annual meeting of the Swedona congregation on Jan. 15, 1875, it was decided to build for religious purposes. The church, 28 feet by 36 feet, was constructed during the summer of 1875.