One hundred years after it was founded in Krum, St. Paul Lutheran Church has weathered the pandemic with renewed dedication to sharing the Gospel and serving Denton in small but humble ways.
“We’ve been talking about the ministries that have grown out of the church, but we end up talking about people,” said the Rev. Russell Tieken, the pastor of the downtown Denton church. “It’s been the people who began the ministries that have been part of the church and the community for years.”
St. Paul Lutheran Church began in a humble building in Krum with a circuit-riding minister. The congregation moved to Denton a few years later. The burgeoning church ministered to soldiers at Camp Howze during World War II, and then built a ministry to students at University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University.
The church incubated the Denton Bach Society and the Denton Senior Center, and today has an international ministry that brings the mostly white congregants together with Lutheran immigrants from Asia.
“They are often really isolated,” church member Mary Rosenboom said. “The international ministry we have has brought Chinese Lutherans to the church, and we’ve found that they are really interested in our culture. This is a way for them to learn about our culture and for us to learn about theirs.”
The ministry had led to joint feasts before the pandemic, where the Chinese American Lutherans taught their Texas neighbors how to make dumplings and the Denton congregants shared their favorite potluck dishes, often with German flavors.
Some of the ministries have been quieter. St. Paul Lutheran has had a booth at the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival for 17 years expressly for attendees to get some rest, shade and a spot to change their babies’ diapers or breastfeed.
One of the church’s most important ministries is its Christian Learning Center, a day care and after-school ministry. The learning center continued through the pandemic with lots of prayer and precautions.
One of the newer ministries is the church’s “smoker ministry,” which is dedicated entirely to barbecue for gatherings and fundraisers. The denomination hosts some barbecue competitions, too.
The congregation is looking toward the future with optimism, even after having to shift to more virtual gatherings during the pandemic.
“We did keep some semblance of worship during COVID,” said church member Carol Danner. “We went with guidelines, but we did think it was important to have some in-person worship and time.”
While St. Paul is a midsize church landlocked by the neighborhood and businesses on Elm Street, the congregation is looking to a future marked by a rapidly growing town.
“The idea we’re working with is ‘onward,’ just like our T-shirts say,” Tieken said. “We’re asking ourselves how we’ll be sent to serve.”
The church bought 20 acres of land on the north side of town for a future physical expansion, and uses it for Boy Scouts camping trips and church retreats.
In the meantime, members said, the task will be to “live into the Gospel of Jesus,” as Tieken put it.
“Our congregation is pretty firm on the fact that the Gospel is the word of God, and that this is what God’s word says,” said Ron Dupree, director of Christian education. “The culture changes. Some churches change. We haven’t. God’s word is God’s word.”
The church is celebrating its anniversary with events through next weekend. Saturday featured an Oktoberfest dinner and festivities, and a special service on Sunday included former pastors and the district president of the Missouri Synod. The church will have an anniversary concert next Sunday, Oct. 17.