Parishioners gather for a service at the old church on Howard Street in 1968.
Submitted photo below
When Diane Cyert was confirmed, each person in her class was given a Bible verse to memorize. “We had to recite our Bible verse for our confirmation,” she recalled. She picked the same verse as her aunt and her godmother before her: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit,” Cyert recited.
The first day she walked into Faith Lutheran Church, she noticed that there was vine wrapping around the stained-glass cross. “I sat there in that pew, and I looked at that vine. I said, ‘I don’t know, Lord, are you doing this to me?”
Cyert was a member of a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, her husband was Catholic, and her daughter was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). “We were going to three different churches,” she remembered. Her daughter planned to join the Faith Lutheran congregation — an ELCA church, and because Christians of all faiths can attend the communion, Cyert also decided to give the church a try. After her first service, Cyert walked up to the stained-glass window and, sure enough, there was a vine circling the cross. “The day I walked in, I felt so welcomed,” Cyert said.
Faith Lutheran is celebrating its 100th anniversary this weekend. “It’s really a privilege to have been here for so many years of our history,” Reverend Mark Dumke said. People often don’t take the time to tell the stories of organizations, he continued. “A centennial is our chance to tell our story,” Reverend Dumke added.
The church was founded in 1917. During the late 1880s, around 30 percent of Winona’s population were of German descent, and most Lutheran services were led in either German or Norwegian. A 1942 article in the Winona Republican-Herald said the church was founded by Reverend Luther B. Deck, who came to Winona with the intent of establishing an English-speaking Lutheran congregation.
The first church was established at 707 Howard Street and Reverend Edward Wicklund was the first pastor. In 1968, the congregation built and moved to the current church on West Service Drive. There have been 17 pastors over the years, and current pastor, Reverend Dumke, has served the longest.
Reverend Dumke has served at Faith Lutheran for 30 years. He was serving in Cottage Grove, Minn., when he and his wife began considering moving to a smaller community. “This congregation is a forward-looking congregation,” Reverend Dumke said. The congregation, he continued, is open to ideas and making changes when necessary. “Not once in 30 years have I heard someone say, ‘We haven’t done it that way,’” he said.
Over the years, the church has physically grown. In 1990, the congregation decided to build a new sanctuary, educational wing, and offices. The old sanctuary was too small for the congregation, but when they broke ground on the construction, the bids were higher than the estimated costs. They were able to build a wing, but a new sanctuary was placed on the back burner.
“Everyone knew that we weren’t going to build a sanctuary which everyone knew we needed,” said Reverend Dumke, who was the pastor back then too. During a meeting, the leader of the Quilters Guild stood up. “She said, ‘The quilters will donate $5,000 to the new sanctuary.’ That was a surprise to me. We took a vote and decided to build a new sanctuary,” Reverend Dumke said.
The parishioners at Faith Lutheran truly love their church, calling it a “home away from home.” People have joined for different reasons — some were drawn in by the music program or a thriving youth population — but they chose to stay at Faith Lutheran after making close friends and getting involved with volunteer opportunities. Cheri Eddy Crigler had been looking for a new church. That Sunday morning, Eddy Crigler walked into Faith Lutheran and felt immediately welcome. “This one just felt right,” she said. Her former church didn’t have a lot of opportunities for children, and with two girls, Eddy Crigler was looking for a church with other kids. “I wanted them to have an upbringing like I did. There were lots of kids when I was little and it was great,” Eddy Crigler said.
In 2000, Reverend Dumke said the congregation began to focus on its youth program. Kids, Reverend Dumke and other church members realized, were less interested in joining a church community as they got older. “There’s nothing unusual about that, but we weren’t seeing them come back to the church after they graduated from college and settled down,” he said.
That, Reverend Dumke said, was an indication that something needed to change. Instead of a traditional Sunday school, kids are now broken up into age-specific discussion groups. At the 10:15 service on Sunday mornings, a praise band performs. “We have way more kids who attend worship than we used to,” Reverend Dumke noted. “It’s our call from God to raise our children to follow Jesus.”
Last year, the church hired Bre Young as a full-time children, youth, and family director. Some of the parishioners have been impressed with all of the opportunities for kids, which includes Bible studies at the Acoustic Café, volunteering, caroling during Christmas, and campfires in the summer. “It’s camouflaged faith-based learning and socializing,” Eddy Crigler said.
“The youth get so much attention here both individually and as a group,” parishioner Jean Hayes added. Hayes and her husband are currently raising her granddaughter. She said they were looking for a church with a strong youth program and decided to join in 2014. She wanted her granddaughter to know that she had a support group. Hayes explained, “I wanted her to know that there was a community that cared about her.”
“It is a great support group,” parishioner Betty Kline agreed. Kline, who also has children, said that she’s seen the kids gather together to discuss what’s going on in school.
Currently, the church is working on another building project to add more ministry space, youth space, meeting rooms, and updates to the kitchen. The congregation has hope and vitality, Reverend Dumke stated. “Our centennial is not only an opportunity to tell our stories and claim our history, but it’s also a time to look forward to new stories that will be told and claim our future,” Reverend Dumke said.
Cyert has gotten involved in a number of church activities since she joined in 1994, including Wednesday morning Bible study. “I’ve learned so much about the Bible. That’s deeply strengthened my faith,” Cyert said.