In the mid-1960's the American Lutheran Church Division of Services and Mission in America was identifying promising locations to establish new congregations. At that time Springfield had no American Lutheran Church (ALC) congregation, although there were four congregations of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and five Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregations. The Missouri Synod also had Concordia Seminary in Springfield. The Springfield community was growing with prevailing thought at the time for residential and business expansion to develop to the northwest toward the airport. In 1965 the American Lutheran Church purchased property along West Jefferson from the Boosinger family and began construction of a new church building and parsonage.
Construction was completed in May 1966. Pastor Walter Ekeren accepted the call to serve this new congregation and our first service was conducted on Sunday, July 24, 1966 with 20-25 people attending. The church building was considered an initial unit with worship space considered temporary until growth in membership and financial resources warranted construction of a permanent sanctuary on property to the west. We had an altar, pulpit and baptismal font but used metal folding chairs on the vinyl tile flooring. Altar furnishings, communion service and other items were borrowed from other congregations until we had the means to purchase our own. The combined parish hall/education unit had portable partitions which established individual Sunday School classroom areas but could be dismantled and converted into tables for potluck dinners, meetings and other activities. The nursery area (now the secretary's office) had a window and speaker system so nursery attendants could view and hear the worship service.
As the years passed, membership stabilized at around 200 and it became apparent that the metropolitan area was growing to the southwest rather than the northwest. The initial thought that we would move from our temporary sanctuary to a new and larger one in a few years was all but forgotten. In 1979 we purchased used pews from another Springfield church when they remodeled and installed them to replace the metal chairs. We had to place the pews at an angle on both sides to accommodate their length but that design proved so popular that it was incorporated into the eventual new sanctuary.
We were becoming quite cramped for space for education purposes. This led to a construction project in 1982 to add three classrooms on the north side of the building and expand the parish hall on the south side. (The brick and stone wall as you walk down the hallway was once the exterior wall of the Church.) The cornerstone near the east entrance denotes the original 1966 construction date and the 1982 addition date. These additions served our ministry well for many years although we often discussed the need for a larger narthex and a larger and better equipped kitchen.
Atonement has always been a fiscally responsible congregation with membership well aware of our stewardship responsibilities. As a mission congregation during our early years we were subsidized by the ALC. In mission status we were not entirely self-governing but received oversight from the Board of American Missions. Pastor Norman Orth, Pastor Don Johnson and others from the board would visit and meet with our church council a couple times each year. We were making progress paying our $100,000 debt to the ALC Extension Fund but it was going to be slow.
Then in 1975 came the United Mission Appeal, a nationwide fundraising campaign of the ALC to enable more rapid development of new congregations. Members of Atonement gave generously to the United Mission Appeal with no expectation of return. Much to our surprise we subsequently received a grant of $65,000 which we added to by borrowing $35,000. We paid off the Church Extension Fund and came off mission status in 1975.
While a mission congregation Atonement received financial and other support from many other congregations, some local and some far away. Lincoln, Hartsburg and Ernden in our ALC cluster were especially supportive as were the LCA congregations in Springfield. In remembrance and gratitude for this support we began a tradition of giving a portion of our surplus funds at the end of each year to a mission congregation. In more recent years we have devoted those funds to local charities but we must always remember the challenges we experienced and the assistance we received as a mission congregation. Our close relationship with Springfield's LCA congregations became even better with the 1988 merger that joined ALC and LCA into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
From its inception Atonement has been governed by a constitution and administered by an elected congregation council and a system of committees each of which is chaired by a member of the council. Atonement's committee structure belies negative attitudes about committees being unable to get things done. Virtually everything that happens at Atonement is due to the work of one or more of our committees. It has proven to be a very effective and efficient system. Standing committees are Worship and Music, Parish Education, Stewardship, Evangelism, Social Ministry, Property and Finance. We have also established a Kitchen Committee which is sort of a Social Ministry subcommittee. We have also had building committees and other ad hoc committees to work on special projects.
Part of the reason our council/committee structure has been successful is the fact that Atonement has been blessed with a lot of administrative and managerial talent. Many members have careers in administration both in the public and private sectors. Others are entrepreneurs and successful business people who understand and practice good management. Throughout our history this talent has been generously shared in the administration and management of Atonement Lutheran Church.
What we look for in our pastor, more than a manager, is a spiritual leader to effectively preach the Word, administer the sacraments, and minister to our membership and community. Atonement's pastors and their dates of service have been:
- Walter Ekeren - June 1966 - May 1969
- Steve Hein, Interim Pastor - Summer of 1969
- Kenneth Schlueter - September 1969 - November 1976
- Richard Roth, Interim Pastor - February - May 1977
- Myron Bartel - May 1977 - October 1979
- William Wake - December 1979 - August 1989
- Wayne Edmund - April - December 1990
- Paul Schwartzkopf, Interim Pastor - September 1991 - April 1992
- Jon Berg - September 1992 - May 2015
Pastor Ekeren got Atonement off to a solid start. Much of what we do and how we do it remains as begun by Pastor Ekeren. From our first service of just over 20 people, by January 1967 we had grown to 54 baptized and 36 confirmed members. Until adoption of our constitution every family unit was represented on the church council. Our first Vacation Bible School in 1967 had 26 students and 9 teachers and helpers. Member Orville Tranby designed and constructed altar candle holders so we could return borrowed items to Luther Memorial. We began our tradition of presenting Bibles to third graders. Families alternated weeks in cleaning the church. One Sunday each month we had a potluck luncheon so members could get acquainted and enjoy Christian fellowship.
Pastor Schlueter's ministry saw an era of growth to the point that we conducted two Sunday worship services with Sunday School in between. We became very involved in the community at large with Pastor Schlueter's activity with Project New Start, sponsorship of a Boy Scout Troop, our Panic Pantry for the needy, a Nursing Home Participation Program and working with Grace Lutheran to sponsor refugees from Southeast Asia. We enjoyed a close relationship with several student families of Concordia Seminary who regularly attended our services and became active in our congregation. It was during Pastor Schlueter's ministry that we began using lay assistants in worship services.
During Pastor Bartel's two years with us we organized the American Lutheran Church Women (ALCW), returned to a single Sunday service and refurbished the sanctuary with pews, carpet and light fixtures. We conducted Stewardship Cottage Meetings.
Pastor Wake's ten year ministry at Atonement saw establishment of our Prayer Rings, Luther Leaguers going to national conventions, construction of a new education wing and expanded parish hall and continued participation with Grace in relocation of Laotian families. We helped establish a new mission congregation in Peoria and invested over $1,000 in the Seminary Appeal. Men's Prayer Breakfast and Ascension Day Breakfasts were started, our constitution was updated and we celebrated our 20th anniversary. In 1987 we sent $3,000 to a Springboro, Ohio mission congregation and $2,000 to Peace Lutheran mission congregation in Peoria. We had previously given Peace Lutheran a $5,000 gift. In 1988 we again voted to conduct two worship services each Sunday but reverted to a single service after a short period of time.
Pastor Edmund's nine months with us was a rather tumultuous time in our history. Conflict arose concerning administrative matters with some effort made to revise our council/committee way of doing things. Pastor Edmund's background was that of pastor as administrator and that was not the tradition here. The Synod Office, Bishop Kaitschuk and his assistant, Pastor Zenker were very helpful during this time and Pastor Edmund's ministry with us was rather brief.
Pastor Berg's ministry at Atonement began Sunday, September 6, 1992, and we have enjoyed a wonderful 17 years since. We have remodeled the parsonage and, after a most gratifying and successful stewardship response from our membership, we constructed our beautiful permanent sanctuary as originally intended. We have a very good relationship with other congregations, excellent confirmation ministry, youth programs and good stewardship. In 1996 we held a service of rededication to celebrate our 30th anniversary and we have since celebrated 40 years as a congregation. We also celebrated the 30th anniversary of Pastor Berg's ordination. We joined Immanuel Lutheran of Colfax for two years participation in the Foods Resource Bank. We completed two cycles of the Natural Church Development program under the leadership of Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Jackie Linden-Schade. Pastor Berg has recently begun conducting Monday evening worship services to better serve the congregation and the community.
Among the strengths of Atonement's Ministry has been our education program. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, our confirmation program and adult Christian education have been top priorities since our beginning. Our founding pastor, Walter Ekeren, had used The Bethel Series in his previous congregation. This is a two-year study of the Bible produced by the Adult Christian Education Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin. Author of The Bethel Series is Pastor Harley Swiggum of Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison, hence the series title. Pastor Ekeren wanted Atonement to have this excellent program but we did not have the financial ability to purchase it. Then Mr. & Mrs. William Willinger, former parishioners of Pastor Ekeren, gave the series to us and nine members enrolled in Pastor Ekeren's teacher training class. The Bethel Series has been a popular and successful part of our educational program with 15 classes conducted and 106 students completing the study. The Bethel Series motto "Blessed To Be A Blessing" is echoed in Atonement's mission statement, "Blessed to be a blessing, we are led by faith to share Christ's love."
Part of Pastor Swiggum's philosophy in developing The Bethel Series in the 1950's was his recognition of the increasing mobility of the American population. As Bethel Series graduates would make career moves to new communities they would take their newly acquired biblical literacy to their new congregations. This has certainly proved to be the case with Atonement. Early in our history we realized the mobility of our membership. Numerous families have been with us and then transferred due to career moves to other communities across the country. Another aspect of our education ministry has been our excellent library. Well stocked, properly organized and beautifully displayed, our church library is a resource to be enjoyed.
In addition to our effective committee structure, competent administration, stewardship and fiscal responsibility, pastoral emphasis on word and sacrament, and parish education, Atonement builds everything on a foundation of prayer. Prayer is our daily link to God. We have historically had Prayer Rings of members who collectively communicate and then pray for individuals with special concerns, illnesses and problems. Both ladies' and men's prayer breakfasts meet weekly with excellent attendance and participation.
Youth ministry has been another priority for Atonement. From an active Luther League in our early years to cooperative youth activities with other Springfield ELCA congregations to our current youth program we have a fun and dynamic avenue to develop the next generation of faithful Lutherans.
Atonement has historically been very community minded and involved in ministry beyond our congregation. We were one of the congregations that spearheaded the founding of Contact Ministries. We once sponsored a Boy Scout troop and currently sponsor Cub Scout Pak 12. We were very supportive of Pastor Schlueter's involvement in Project Head Start. Pastor Berg served as an on-call volunteer chaplain at Memorial Hospital for ten years. For decades we have been active in the Grace Lutheran Food Pantry where we provide volunteers, goods and financial resources. We provide meeting space and support for the Sons of Norway, the Breakfast Optimist Club, the Youngston Hill Homeowners' Association and we are a polling place for three Springfield election precincts.
Much of the furnishings, equipment, and landscaping and decor of our church have been given as memorial gifts from members, families and friends of our congregation. Early in our history we established a policy to not placard or tag these items. Instead we keep a book in the narthex which describes each memorial gift. We also have a memorial wall in the narthex and a separate book describing those memorialized.
In 1999 the congregation began discussing the need for improved worship space, a larger narthex, a kitchen and restrooms. This led to discussing the original idea to build a permanent sanctuary on the west end of our building. It would entail a lot of work and significant financial commitment but the congregation was overwhelmingly in favor. Following a very successful Building Fund Appeal, we hired a church architect and constructed a wonderful addition with beautiful worship space, a sacristy, a larger narthex, modern restrooms, a new well-equipped kitchen and expanded parking lot. The former sanctuary was converted to our new parish hall and the former kitchen to a coffee bar. The new building was completed in 2001 and will serve us for decades to come.
Another wonderful aspect of Atonement's ministry is our music. In our early years we had a series of volunteer choir directors until 1991 when we employed Brenda Peck as our Music Director. With Brenda's musical talent and professionalism our choir leads the congregation in songs of praise. We once had a children's choir and Brenda often offers special musical works during services.
Among the many remarkable things about Atonement's history is the number of pastors, either retired or in other ministries, who have been among our members. These include John Bahuth, Gary Sproat, Jane Jenkins, Hal Bolm, and Jackie Linden-Schade.
In a few years, Atonement will celebrate its 50th anniversary. As a congregation we have had a blessed history though not without challenges which we have met with prayer, hard work and Christian fellowship. God works through us as a congregation, as individuals and through the ministry of our pastor. Blessed to be a blessing, we are led by faith to share Christ's love.December 2009