Our History is “His” – “Story” – St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Westlake, Ohio 44145
In the mid-1800’s a number of German Lutheran immigrant fruit growers settled in North Dover (now Westlake), Ohio, where they found good growing conditions. However, it was a long trip to Trinity Lutheran Church in Cleveland,; so in 1858 about 20 families formed St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church. Of the 93 charter members, 45 were children. Who could have imagined that in a few years the country would be in the midst of a horrible civil war? Who could have imagined that in 40 years automobiles would be invented? Who could have imagined that in 110 years man would walk on the moon? Who could have imagined that in 150 years the congregation would be celebrating an anniversary as we are during this year with over 2,500 members? Only the Lord … who from seeds of faith moves mountains in His kingdom, to God be the glory… great things He has done.
The congregation prospered from the start. In less than 2 years plans were made to purchase 4 acres of ground which is now our cemetery, and in 1863 the property on which the church and school now stands was purchased. From the beginning a school was an important part of this congregation’s history. As a matter of face, by 1869 enrollment in the school had reached 75 students. The first pastor of the congregation served for the first 53 years of the congregation’s history wrote of the importance of the school: “We faithfully taught the catechism and Bible history, reading, writing and arithmetic, as much as time and strength permitted.” Some of the 30 children in the original school walked as far as 5 miles, carrying their lunches. The school year ended in April to leave the students free for spring planting. Harvest time in the fall brought a school vacation.
As the congregation prospered both a new church and a new school were erected. The church was finished in 1877. The new church had an imposing bell tower that rose 78 feet into the air and was a sight marking for years during early aviation for planes flying into Cleveland from the west. The original altar from this church is in the Luther Room and the baptismal font from that church is used regularly for baptisms in our contemporary services. The old church was used for a school until 1911 when a beautiful new two-classroom brick school was built.
Worship services were conducted in German until 1922 when English services were held on alternate Sundays. By 1927 the decision was made to have both German and English services each week. When the congregation celebrated their 75th anniversary in 1933 there were 715 members. It was in the midst of the country’s depression and yet the congregation had so much to be thankful for.
With the 1950’s coming upon them the congregation saw the rural community that had planted this ministry become more and more suburban. Many new Lutheran churches were established in the area including the release of several members to form a new congregation in Avon (Faith Lutheran Church). St. Paul congregation also offered its school to many of these congregations and led to the formation of the West Shore Lutheran School Association and the eventual beginning of elementary schools in Fairview Park and Rocky River. St. Paul also became a founding partner in the Cleveland Lutheran High School Association. By 1958 a new 6-room school building was erected which still is used as part of our classroom footprint today.
By 1972 the old white wooden church was deteriorating. Conscientious care could not prevent what nature brought on including a fire in the tower that was discovered by a passerby about 2:30 one morning. In September, 1973, the 96 year old church building was razed and our present sanctuary was built along with the 45-foot tall Great Redemption Window.
Several additions have been made over the years to both the school and the church including the $2.5 million addition of classrooms and out Activity Center in 1994 that allowed the congregation to have an additional worship space to conduct contemporary worship which began later that year. More recently, a $3.5 million expansion added additional classrooms and church and school office space.
While much of the story told above speaks of buildings, the truth is that the humble history of this congregation has been told through the sacrificial lives of thousands of the people of God who have written the story of God’s ministry in this place by their desire to grow to be more and more servants of our Living Lord … and share the unchanging gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ… and to care for all of God’s people.
The congregation’s ministry has been served by thousands of faithful lay people. The congregation’s school has been served by dozens of dedicated teachers. And the congregation’s 150 years have been served amazingly by only 14 pastors including 3 current pastors.
Rev. John Ruprecht 1858-1911
Rev. Fred Reinking 1911-1922
Rev. William Shingle 1922-1957
Rev. Arthur Radtke 1957-1963
Rev. Paul Kavash 1964-1985
Rev. William Oaksford 1983-1992
Rev. Marion Pierson 1986-1995
Rev. Larry Wesolik 1993-2009
Rev. David Buegler 1996-2003, 2014-2016
Rev. Paul Burtzlaff 2001-2005
Rev. Matthew Peters 2007-2013
Rev. Christopher Otten 2007-2008
Rev. Ronald Young 2009-Present
Rev. Dr. David Buegler 2014-Present
Rev. Jeffery M. Smith 2015-Present
We pay tribute to the chapters of this congregation’s history that are yet to be written by the people who serve as the gateway between yesterday’s proud past and tomorrow’s glorious future. May we all be found faithful. To God be the glory!