MUSCATINE, Iowa–125 years ago, not far from Zion Lutheran Church in downtown Muscatine, Grace English Lutheran Church opened its doors. At that time, Zion held services in German for Muscatine’s large German immigrant population, and younger generations, who predominantly spoke English. created a daughter church better suited to their needs. After spending a year in a wooden structure, the congregation built a brick building at the corner of Sixth Street and Iowa Avenue, which still stands today. In the early 1970s, the congregation had grown enough that they wanted a larger building and moved to their present location on Cedar Street. They removed English from their name, as none of the other local Lutheran churches offered services in other languages at that time.
As Reverend Susan Bantz, Grace’s newly called pastor, sat in one of the church’s meeting rooms and looked at a beautiful quilt made by families in the congregation to celebrate the church’s 100th year, a date struck her. She did the math and realized Grace Lutheran would turn 125-years-old this year. As the recent change in pastors and COVID-19 pandemic had kept the church from having many large events in recent years, Bantz felt it high time to celebrate. She selected Nov. 13 as the date to celebrate and began quietly working with other church staff members to put together a surprise for the congregation.
In the weeks leading up to the celebration, Bantz did some research, going back through the church’s membership registries and early documents to pull out some of most interesting facts about its 125 years. She found that the church had 18 pastors over the years, had had four congregation members go on to become pastors elsewhere, and that she represented the church’s first female pastor. In looking at membership records, she found that several families had deep ties to the church, with two of the oldest going back seven and five generations respectively. She also determined the church’s oldest (a 98-year-old), youngest (a 10 and a half week old), and longest continuous (a 96-year-old born into the congregation) members so she could honor them.
In the weeks before the anniversary celebration, Bantz hinted at something special to come. At the Nov. 13 service, Bantz decorated the church’s sanctuary in red, a festival color, and placed bright red balloons that wrote out the number 125 at the front of the church. During the children’s sermon, she gave each child a bag of 125 M&Ms to help them understand just how many years the church had operated for. Through worship and song, she emphasized the message of, “carrying on the work of generations,” and how Grace Church today would continue the mission of offering worship and sharing the gospel through education and outreach and how the congregation would continue to support each other in this work and their own journeys. Following the service, a special fellowship time, complete with a cake featuring images of all Grace’s different locations, capped off the celebrations.
A special occasion as Grace starts its time with a new pastor and looks forward to a future of continued service in Muscatine, Bantz felt the 125th anniversary celebration proved a success. “It was a simple celebration, but it was full of joy.”