A confirmation class at St. Matthew’s in the 1920s.
by ALEXANDRA RETTER
With influences from people who immigrated to the U.S., a number of pastors and a school, Saint Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church has many aspects that compose its 100-year-long history. To mark the 100th anniversary of the organization of the church, St. Matthew’s will hold several special services throughout this year.
Worship services on January 4 and 5 celebrated the anniversary, and it will also be marked with worship services on June 6 and 7 and December 5 and 6. A heritage hymn sing will take place on September 19 and 20 as well. The annual candlelight service, which recognizes the dedication of the church, will be held on December 6.
St. Matthew’s is a daughter congregation of Saint Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is on the East End of Winona.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people immigrated to Winona from Germany. Those who were Lutheran formed churches for themselves, and St. Martin’s was the first such church in Winona, St. Matthew’s member and unofficial church historian John Berg said.
St. Martin’s had grown a great deal by the World War I era, Berg shared, and in 1919, it voted to allow around 160 of its members to begin a new congregation on the West End of Winona. St. Matthew’s was then organized on January 4, 1920.
Members soon started to fundraise, and a group of women at the church bought its two lots on the corner of Wabasha and High streets, Berg stated. The church was built, and the house of worship that is currently used was dedicated in December 1925.
Many children who attended St. Matthew’s received their education at St. Martin’s School starting in the 1940s, Berg explained. In September 1956, St. Matthew’s dedicated its own school, which remains open today and currently serves students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Berg said many students go on to attend Luther High School in Onalaska, Wis.
By the late 1940s, Berg said, St. Matthew’s had expanded to such a degree that it organized a daughter congregation in Goodview, Goodview Trinity Lutheran Church.
Services were conducted at St. Matthew’s in both English and German.
“Today, as we are preparing for the observance of the silver anniversary of St. Matthew’s congregation, the world is engaged in a bloody conflict, the proportions of which have never before been experienced,” the booklet prepared for the 25th anniversary of the church in 1945 during World War II reads. “Amidst the changing national and world history, our congregation has been privileged to carry on the work — the building of God’s Kingdom — unhampered. Services have been conducted and are conducted at present in both the German and the English languages, and the history of the congregation is one of progress, under God’s divine blessing.”
The church has had 10 pastors and 27 vicars, or seminary students who are training to be pastors, since its organization. There have also been hundreds of baptisms at the church since it was organized, Berg said.
One pastor, A.L. Mennicke, served for over 50 years. He became pastor in May 1938. “The pastor preached his first sermon on Mother’s Day, a year after the former pastor had delivered his last sermon in the pulpit,” the 25th anniversary booklet reads. “In the evening on the day of installation, the congregation held a reception for the pastor to which also the pastors who had served the congregation during the vacancy were invited.”
Berg shared that there have been a number of groups at the church. “The church has always had many organizations trying to serve people of all ages, and that kind of fellowship has helped us to grow in our faith,” Berg noted.
The organizations at the church today include an adult fellowship group, a women’s fellowship group, club 3:16 for individuals in high school, choirs, a hand bell choir, a caring committee that assists church members who are older and who remain at home, various Bible study groups and Sunday school.
Berg and his wife have been members of the congregation since 1974. “It’s been important to us, and I think most of our members, because we are a Bible-based church which preaches salvation by grace alone,” he stated.
He said their children attended school at St. Matthew’s. “We have appreciated the benefits of a Christian school for our children, as have many of our members,” Berg explained.
Deb Sonnenberg, who has been a member for over 40 years, said she is proud she and her family members are part of St. Matthew’s Church and School. “During a time when the world is overwhelmed with unknowns and insecurities, I am grateful that I feel protected and safe because of my strong faith in Jesus Christ,” Sonnenberg said.
Amy Bohme, who first became a member in 1971 and rejoined the church in 2015 after returning to Winona, said her grandparents were members, her father joined the school when it opened, her mother taught at the school, she and her siblings went to the school and today, her children attend the school and she teaches there.
“The members are a community of loving individuals supporting each other in good and sad times,” Bohme noted. “St. Matthew’s members share their blessings with those around them.”
Tom Frisk, who has been a member since 2005, said Lisa Frisk, his wife, has been a member since birth, and they are glad to have their two sons attend St. Matthew’s School. “St. Matthew’s feels like a part of our extended family,” Frisk shared. “It is a wonderful church and school.”
Robbie Brown, who has been a member since 2016, said St. Matthew’s helped him when he moved to Winona. “When I was relocated to Winona for my job, I had very few people who I knew,” Brown stated. “Because I transferred my membership to St. Matthew’s, I grew closer to my faith in Christ because of the welcoming members, wonderful activities and weekly services. It also allowed me to build and cultivate relationships within the city of Winona and feel a complete part of this community.”
Craig and Joleen Smith, who have been members for 35 years, said they consider the church to be their second home. “We enjoy fellowship, spiritual guidance and opportunities for our faith to grow,” they said. “The members here are warm, caring individuals willing to help in any capacity.”
Member Angela Bunke said she started to take part in the choir at St. Matthew’s in 1966 when she came to Winona for college, and she is still a choir member today. “Our family has been involved in a variety of aspects of the church and school. While our children came before the advent of the preschool, I see its outreach to so many in our community,” Bunke noted. “The church’s members truly are a family and have proved to be very supportive throughout the ups and downs of life.”
St. Matthew’s is located at 766 West Wabasha Street. Worship services are held on Saturdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m.