History of St. Paul Lutheran Church

In 1910, Lutherans in Vernon began to meet for Sunday afternoon services with Pastor Holtzen of Zion Lutheran Church.  At first these services took place in homes, and were later held at the Wilbarger County Courthouse.

On April 5, 1912, a group of nine voting members, F.E. Lowke, Andrew Lowke, Henry Hildebrandt, Carl Hildebrandt, August Teinert, Henry Graf, Robert Graf, Harry Michels, and Herman Droemer, met with Rev. Holtzen and officially organized the congregation.

At this same meeting it was resolved to build a church and begin a school.  F.E. Lowke presented the congregation title to an acre of land on the corner of East Yamparika and Atlanta Streets. Within six weeks, on May 27, 1912 the small building, built at a cost of $45.00, was dedicated and the following day, May 28, 1912, teacher L. Dippold opened the school.   For the next two years, Lutheran seminary students, L. Karcher (1914) and John Brandt (1915), taught at the school. 

On April 16, 1916, the congregation petitioned the Texas District Mission Board to call a pastor to Vernon.  On September 3,  J.A. Birnbaum, newly graduated from Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Illinois was ordained and installed as the pastor of the congregation.   From 1916 to 1926, Pastor Birnbaum also served as the full-time instructor in the school. 

WW I brought much anti-German sentiment in our nation.   On one morning in 1918, Rev. Birnbaum went to the church and noticed that the windows were broken.  A note attached to the front door of the school read, "If you are wise, you will leave Vernon."  Why? Because Rev. Birnbaum preached and taught in the German language.  He took the note to the sheriff, who accompanied Rev. Birnbaum to the editor of the local newspaper. The editor of the newspaper wrote an article in the local newspaper the next day with the statement, "The act of yesterday, destroying church property, making threats, is in the highest degree un-American."  City officials, bankers, doctors, clergymen and much of the citizenry came to Rev. Birnbaum's defense. They told him to "stay right where he was". The threats ceased - and he did stay, for 50 years of fruitful ministry.

The church grew rapidly during these years, and soon it outgrew its already expanded building on Yamparika Street.  Throughout the next several years, at every Voters' meeting, members discussed the burning issue, "building a new church."  In 1917 a decision was reached to purchase ground on East Wilbarger for a parsonage and future church home.  Two acres of land were purchased on East Wilbarger in 1918.  In 1921, with a membership of 175, but with a capacity of only 125 in the existing building, many people were often forced to remain outside, especially on festive occasions.  So with a balance in the building fund of only $197.62, the people of St. Paul decided to build a brick church at a cost of $20,000.  In 1921 Wilbarger Street was paved.  This was both a blessing and a challenge. The paving improved the location.  However, the government assessed the congregation $1,500.00 for the paving.    

The new building was dedicated in March of 1923. Professor H. Studtmann, President of the Texas District, delievered the morning sermon, which he based on Mark 9:1-8.   He also preached an evening sermon on Psalm 87.   

Ten years later, in 1927, the congregation established a mission – the present Immanuel Lutheran Church of Harrold.  That same year, St. Paul called Miss Clara Obenhaus, a member of the Lutheran Church in Clara, to serve as its teacher.  She was followed in 1930 by a succession of teachers.

Among the many highlights of these early years was the hosting of the Texas District convention of the LC-MS in 1934.   That the small town of Vernon was chosen to host the convention testifies to the strength of the congregation at that time.   For an entire week, the members hosted Lutherans from throughout the state of Texas.  Theodore Graebner, the early editor of the Lutheran Witness in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and popular professor at Concordia Seminary, served as essayist at the Convention.

During World War II, Pastor Birnbaum served as chaplain for the Lutheran servicemen at airbases in Childress, Frederick, and Victory Field.  He also served as chaplain to the German prisoners of war at Childress during the war.     He was quite active in Vernon community affairs, and provided pastoral care to people of all faiths at the local hospitals.  Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Illinois, awarded him the Doctor of Divinity in 1957.

The Lutheran Laymen's League Convention convened at St. Paul Lutheran Church in 1957. 

The Walther League, an organization for young people in the Lutheran Church, was formed in 1920.  In 1932, 1942, and in 1952, St. Paul, Vernon hosted the state convention.   Through the years, the Walther League was very active, and travelled throughout the state for meetings and conventions.   Highlights of the Walther League and its successor organization were yearly planning meetings for the officers at Lake Kemp cabins. Wednesday night Bible studies, evangelism, volleyball games, organizational meetings, and service projects engaged the young people of the church.   Many have led the youth of St. Paul through the years.

The parochial school received a new school facility in 1949.  It was a happy day when the school moved out of the church basement. An estimated 1,000 visitors attended as Pastor Birnbaum preached a dedicatory sermon on the church lawn.  A neighboring building was bought in 1955 for Sunday School use. 

In 1950, a balcony with seating for 100 was built to provide additional seating capacity.  Soon after this, a second Sunday morning service was added to accommodate all those wishing to worship the Lord on Sunday mornings at St. Paul.

Dr. Standifer had built a sanatorium on property adjacent to the church in 1922.   In 1955, St. Paul paid $15,000.00 for the former sanitarium, and 15 Sunday School rooms became available.

For the fiftieth anniversary of the congregation, services were held on August 12, 1962, with Rev. John Huber preaching, and on August 19, with Rev. Albert Jesse, District President, preaching on John 3:16 for the 10:00 a.m. service, Rev. Leon Birnbaum preaching at 3:30 p.m., and Rev. Emory Hingst, preaching on Psalm 115:1, at the 7:00 p.m. service.   In 1966, Pastor Birnbaum retired after serving for 50 years at St. Paul.

In 1967, the congregation had a communicant membership of 374, baptized membership of 476, and averaged 293 in worship on Sunday mornings.  Pastor Jacob was quite busy his first year here.  He made over 800 pastoral calls, confirmed six youth, an attended 95 congregational meetings.  Twelve members transferred in.  Sunday School enrollment was 134, and 90 children attended VBS.  Mr. Terrence Daberkow served as school principal, with two called teachers: Mr. William Nielson, and Mr. Alfred Gallmeier.   Kindergarten teachers included Mrs. Diane Daberkow, Mrs. Marilyn Rogers, and Mrs. Pat Schur.    Mr. Doyle Graham served as Congregation Chairman, with Mr. Floyd Graf, serving as Vice-Chairman.

Boys Scouts (Troop 51) and Cub Scouts (Pack 51) were active during these years.

During these years, each elder had a particular area of responsibility, such as the Sunday School, Youth, Communion, Stewardship, Day School, and others.   James Golden served as Chairman.

The Principal's report from 1967 showed that 48 enrolled in Kindergarten, and 63 in grades 1 to 7.  A Parents Teachers League (P.T.L.) was organized to involve parents in the education of their children.   The school purchased "modern equipment" (an overhead projector, science lab table) to enhance the education of the children. 

Sunday School Teachers' Meetings were held semimonthly to strengthen the Bible knowledge and teachings skills of our 17 Sunday School teachers.   Don Schur served as the Superintendent.

Fifty-six members were listed as members of the Men's Club which met every third Tuesday.  They supported the work of the church, attended two rallies, and supported students going into full-time church work, the Lutheran Hour, and the L.L.L.  Leroy Hobratschk served as President, assisted by Wilbert Schulz.

Diane Daberkow had been teaching the Kindergarten.   In 1966, so many enrolled that another class was needed.  Marilyn Rogers and Pat Schur each thought to ask the other one to watch her children and teach a class, but so many enrolled that they started two classes.  At the suggestion of Herbert Anderson, both applied.  Both were hired and two new classes began.  All three classes met in the building that had at one time been a hospital.   The day school met in the school building next to the parsonage.   Highway 287 ran right through town, and when trucks passed by, the teachers had to quit talking because it was so loud.   They painted their own rooms the summer before school began in 1966.   Since no printed curriculum existed, the three got together and put one together.  Each day began with prayer and a Bible Story.  Teachers stressed the alphabet and phonics, numbers and science projects.     

When the church moved, the school closed, but the Kindergarten continued on East Wilbarger for a time until rooms became available at the new location.  The rooms on the East side were to be used only as  Sunday school rooms, but the Willinghams gave the church $10,000 so we could extend the building ten feet to make two Kindergartens rooms.

In March 1974, during Pastor Jacob’s ministry, six acres of land were purchased at the present location.  On June17, 1976, ground was broken at a special service.  The sanctuary, parish hall, and school rooms were built and dedicated on May 1, 1977.  Dr. George Beto preached.

It was during Pastor Loeschman’s ministry that the $500,000 building debt was retired after just eight years. The congregation purchased an additional three acres of land for future expansion.

Pastor Rossetter Leavitt accepted the call to become St. Paul’s fourth pastor and was installed on January 17, 1988. Two years later in November 1990, the congregation dedicated a new Activity Center and Education Building.  This building project cost $392,000.

The Bell Tower was built and dedicated on July 7, 1996.  Stained glass windows, refurbished from the church on East Wilbarger, and were rededicated to the glory of God on April 20, 1997. A hand bell choir, the Joyful Ringers, began to assist in the worship services in 1998.  Mrs. Cristi Schur took over for Pat Schur as School Director at this time.  Mrs. Virginia Kieschnick directed the hand bell choir, until Mary Neuberger became director in 2015 through 2023.. A Director of Christian Education was also added to the staff in 1998. Dan Parker, our D.C.E. arrived in 2005, and faithfully served until 2015 as our Youth Director and minister of outreach to Vernon College and the State Hospital.

As of 2012, St. Paul Lutheran School currently enrolls 67 children in two preschool classes, two pre-kindergarten classes, and one kindergarten class. The school also provides a "Stay & Play" program for afternoon day care. In 2022, under our director,  Mrs. Patti Scott a summer program was added and attendance in summer has more than doubled in registration for 2023. Our teachers include Mrs. Lisa Aderholt, Mrs. Melissa Gfeller, Mrs. Sherri Koch, Mrs. Pam Matus, and Mrs. Pam Walker.

For many years, the evening Lutheran Women's Missionary League has met on the second Thursday evening of the month, and the afternoon L.W.M.L. met at 2:00 p.m., originally on the first  Friday and now on the first Wednesday.  The Young at Heart Group met at 2:00 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month.

Many members of our congregation have travelled with other North Texas Lutherans to Taveta, Kenya to provide eye exams, construct glasses, and share the good news of Jesus Christ with 2,500 Kenyans.  This is a five-year commitment to work with our fellow Lutherans in Texas and Kenya to share the love of Jesus in this very practical way.  This mission combines the great commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself" with the great commission, "go and make disciples of all nations."

The choir, the bell choir, the confirmation class, and the youth all meet on Wednesday evenings.   Mrs. Eugenia Graf, daughter of Pastor Birnbaum, served as one of our three organists, along with Mrs. Virginia Kieschnick and Mrs. Bobbi Graf, who continues to serve as Congregational organist in 2023..

Five pastors have served the congregation - the first, Dr. J. A. Birnbaum was called in April of 1916, and served the congregation and the people of Vernon from 1916 until 1966. God called him to his heavenly home in 1988. Other pastors who have served at St. Paul include Rev. Roy Jacob (1967-1977), Rev. Albert Loeschman (1978-1987), Rev. Rossetter Leavitt (1988-2001), and Rev. Paul Neuberger, the current pastor, who has served since August of 2003.  Rev. Keith Kubitz, a son of the St. Paul congregation, has also served vacancies at St. Paul, as well as many of the congregations in Northern Texas and Western Oklahoma. All these pastors have clearly proclaimed the same message, summarized in the words of St. Paul: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”(Romans 6:23).

For over one hundred years, God has blessed the people of St Paul Lutheran Church. He has enabled them to serve the community of Vernon, the surrounding areas, and the church throughout the world. The school has provided quality Christian education since the founding of the church in 1912.  Many sons and daughters of the congregation have gone on to serve as pastors, Lutheran school teachers, and missionaries. To this day, St. Paul Lutheran Church and School exist to serve God and the world by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed.

We praise God for all the blessings He has bestowed on us at St. Paul. We ask for His continued blessing and presence as we seek to share Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century.  We also thank the community of Vernon for their support and partnership in many good causes during these past 100 years.

2012  100th Anniversary Services

January  8:        Guest Preacher:     Rev. Keith Kubitz          

May 13:              Guest Preacher:    Rev. Roy Jacob

June 10:              Guest Preacher:   Rev. Al Loeschman

August 26:           Guest Preacher:   Rev. Terry Daberkow.

September 23:    Guest Preacher:   Rev. David Schatte

October 28:        Guest Preacher:    Rev. Rusty Leavitt