The members of Campus Lutheran Church have changed over the years, from a congregation made up of MU students and faculty to its present status as a communitywide house of worship.
The church’s organ, however, has stayed the same.
Affectionately known to the congregation as “the old girl,” the pipe organ was installed in the church only a few months after Campus Lutheran was dedicated, 40 years ago Saturday. On Sunday, church members will gather to celebrate the original dedication and Campus Lutheran’s role as a pillar in Columbia’s spiritual life.
Campus Lutheran Church was conceived in the early 1960s, when the Rev. Paul Czamanske was asked by the Western District of the Lutheran Church to divide the growing congregation at Trinity Lutheran into a “town church” and a “campus church,” according to “A History of the Campus Lutheran Church” compiled by Dorothy Runbeck Stout, a church member.
“The idea was to separate ministry to community and ministry to campus,” said the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Frerking, who led the congregation from 1965 until his retirement in 1997.
While the new church was being built, at 304 S. College Ave., the two congregations began attending two different Sunday services, Frerking said. Construction was completed in the fall of 1964 and several months later, on Feb. 7, 1965, Frerking performed the dedication, during which the building, altar and pulpit were dedicated.
Campus Lutheran’s current minister, the Rev. Dave Benson, said the congregation steadily grew out into the community as MU students graduated and stayed in Columbia. The congregation eventually settled into a “town and gown” church, with members from the university and the outside community.
Today, Benson estimates that about 70 of the 250 regular Sunday worshippers at the 11 a.m. service are college students. The church’s ministry remains largely focused on the student membership, Benson said. The college ministry, led by Associate Pastor Kent Pierce, offers students a chance to worship on Thursday evenings, in addition to various outreach projects.
“The intention of the campus ministry is to reach out to this highly mobile population in Columbia and to incorporate them into the community of faith,” Frerking said.
The once-healthy student population at Campus Lutheran began to dwindle in 1968, as campus unrest and anti-institutionalism increased, Frerking said. Around that time, more and more Columbia residents who were not connected to MU began to join the congregation. More recently, Frerking said, student interest in spirituality has attracted more members from campus.
Sunday’s commemoration will include a 10 a.m. worship service, a noon feast at the church and, at 2 p.m., a hymn festival, with music arranged by former organist Tom Leeseberg-Lange.
Leeseberg-Lange has been playing the organ for nearly 40 years. While studying advertising at MU in the 1970s, he began playing for the Sunday service at Campus Lutheran, a gig he continued until 1979. On Sunday, Leeseberg-Lange, who now lives in Maryland, will once again sit at “the old girl,” while Frerking introduces each hymn with a few words on the hymn’s history or spiritual emphasis.