Lutheran church marks 125th anniversary in Orland Park
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org September 12, 2013 5:20PM
Attending the groundbreaking for the current home of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, at 14700 S. 94th Ave., Orland Park, were (from left) Clifford Horn, Edward Duehr and Pastor Adolf Lach. | Supplied photo
Updated: October 15, 2013 6:02AM
It has been 125 years since 10 men signed a constitution to create Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Orland Park.
Today, its 2,100-plus baptized members have not strayed from their original mission. Then, as now, they bring the message of Christ to a changing world.
Evidence of their evolving faithfulness is in all their ministries, from CLEWS (Christ Lutheran Early Weekday School) preschool to OWLS (Older, Wiser, Livelier Seniors), as they strive to remain relevant.
The 125th anniversary has been celebrated throughout the year but will culminate Sept. 15 with a 10:30 a.m. festival communion worship service with the Rev. Walter Ledogar, pastor emeritus, followed by a 1 p.m. dinner at Silver Lake Country Club, with WGN-AM (720) radio’s Orion Samuelson emceeing.
“God has given us a strong foundation and deep roots of faith for a blessed future in our community and beyond,” said the Rev. Raymond Rohlfs, the church’s senior administrative pastor since 2002.
The theme for this anniversary year is a simple verse from Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church’s great legacy is having “so many faithful people,” Rohlfs said. Over the years, church members continually broadened their ministries as they reached out to serve the needs of their community.
As church members recently reflected on their historical roots, they also spoke excitedly about their current programs and activities.
When the church held its first service, in German, at Cooper School on 143rd Street and Beacon Avenue, no one would have thought that the small rural town of Orland Park would grow into a bustling suburb of nearly 60,000 — and that the small church would survive so well.
While other congregations were cropping up in the area during the late 1800s, including the Methodists and St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Christ Evangelical Lutheran members were able to build their first church in 1898 at 143rd Street and West Avenue. The first pastor, John Schulz, served 23 years, Rohlfs said.
A year before that, church members formed their first organization, the Ladies Aid Society, which still exists today.
In 1953, services in German were dropped — the last one was attended only by five people including the pastor and organist. Four years later, the congregation purchased five acres on 94th Avenue, preparing for the growth that was to come.
Christ Evangelical Lutheran was blessed with a few long-serving pastors — Schulz from 1898 to 1921, Rev. Adolf Lach from 1931 to 1964 and Ledogar, who served from 1965 to 2005.
Ledogar guided the congregation through its largest growth spurt, when membership soared from 445 in 1964 to 2,138 in 2012, according to church historian Helen Duehr.
During that time, the church launched ministries that could not have been conceived of back in 1888 — men’s dartball, youth orchestra, preschool programs, movie discussion groups, mission trips to Haiti and efforts to support U.S. troops.
“In 1965, it was still a rural congregation, with many full-time farmers,” Ledogar said, adding that the nature of the congregation changed dramatically over recent decades.
“We had to catch the wave as people from Chicago expanded to Orland Park. The biggest challenge was keeping up with our changing population,” he said.
The church expanded twice and acquired more acreage, giving it 11 acres with space for the future.
“I didn’t take many days off,” said Ledogar, who as pastor emeritus continues to volunteer 25 to 30 hours per week.
In 1972, Christ Evangelical Lutheran built its current church, 14700 S. 94th Ave., a few years before Orland Square Mall was built on adjacent land to the south.
Ledogar added staff, which opened the door for multiple ministries, especially for education and youth.
“You have to put money into staff. That is critical. You have to get people on the street where the people are,” he said.
His congregation was able to remain relevant despite the dramatic growth of the Orland Park area by having a good staff and offering “good music, good Sunday school, good vacation Bible school and getting youth involved in worship service.”
One ministry Ledogar oversees today is a welfare program that offers financial help to those in need with such things as a food voucher, a bus pass or a paid utility bill.
“It’s all about relationships and outreach,” he said. “We are very ecumenical. We don’t do anything that other churches don’t do.”
Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church may be located on a dead-end street, but it is very much alive.
“We’re worth finding,” Rohlfs said.