St. Matthew Lutheran Church

Sundays 8:30 am

Wednesdays 7:30 am

History

St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Laurens New York celebrated 100 years, September 12, 2015. A festive service was held at 3 PM at the church, and a banquet dinner was held at the Masonic Hall in Laurens at 5 PM. The welcome was given by the Hon. Frank Wood, Laurens Town Justice, Master of Ceremonies. Memories, remembrances, and a slideshow were presented to the congregation and their guests.

 

This is how it came to be…..:

     A few Danish families living in the West purchased land in Laurens because of its cost savings and moved here around 1910. One of the Danish settlers, the Rev. Anders Kirkegaard, brought his family to Laurens in 1913. He purchased the Peter Barton Farm on Civil Street. Rev. Kirkegaard held religious services in his home for the Lutherans in the area. In 1915, the group rented the Christian church to hold their services. The Christian Church disbanded in 1920.

     A copy of a newspaper article written May 4, 1924, by Grace Odell Martin gives us an interesting look back in time. The title read, 90-Year-Old Church is Sold at Auction for $1110 to a Woman Antique Collector. And now will it be a place for beanbakes, movies or dances?

     You wouldn't like it yourself, but suppose that you were the old church in Laurens, Otsego County, and had stood broadfaced and straight-steepled for 90 years, while all about you buildings grew and decayed, altered or shifted or just disappeared. Like the stagecoach giving way to the S.N.Y.R.R., bound for Hartwick and Utica. For 90 years – christenings, weddings, funerals, prayer meetings and services were held on Sunday as usual. Your founders children grew old and died and their children moved away or were uninterested in your seats on Sunday, evermore sparsely occupied.  Your stone foundation as firm as ever beneath your walls, but your human pillars gradually crumbling away.

     This building sold at auction for $1110. A day of wind and gust and pouring rain with a larger gathering than any recent service held at the church. With a few damp but determined women and a half hour of auctioneering, the Christian Church was sold to Mrs. Van Buren for $1110! Mrs. VanBuren was interviewed and said she had not decided what she would do with it.  At this time it was being rented to the Lutherans who had been using the building for the last five years.  Mrs. VanBuren didn't buy it for an antique, although she said she might be called one, but as an investment. Maybe it would become the store to show off her collections. Mrs. VanBuren had just purchased a church built in 1835. 

     Mrs. Ryder, who had lived in the home next to the church for more than 70 years, had for a long time been a caretaker, was greatly interested in the fate of her old neighbor. She mentioned how it would be strange not to have a preaching going on there every week. She said she had swept out and started the fires for many years and also rang the first bell for services.

      The Christian Church was built in 1835 and started out with 35 members. Rev. Mr. Butler was the first pastor and served there for many years. Charter members of the Christian Church, which cost $800 to build, included the Steere, Briggs, Straight, Aspinwall, Fenton, Carpenter, and Clark families as recorded in Hurd, Otsego County, page 172.

One of the Christian preachers was Elder Mayne, who disappeared and left a wife and two children and no one ever did know what became of him. The last regular preacher was Elder Loucke.

     Then it was closed for a few years until about 1918, the Danish farmers who settled around here wanted a church and rented the building. Mr. Kirkegaard was their preacher, along with Mr. Christiansen. Mrs. Ryder mentioned that she bet they wished they had bought the church when it was on the auction block.

     Instead the Lutherans decided they were going to build! They wanted to get away from that noisy trolley that went by the church, but where was the money supposed to come from? With eggs and butter so low the farmers barely had money for feed.

     Quoted in the newspaper article was a Methodist woman who said that it was a shame we sent our husbands to that auction to buy that church for a village hall, because as you know this town hasn’t a place, except the churches, where people can gather. Her own husband ran the price up to $1100 and then got scared out.

A Presbyterian was quoted as saying, if that bunch, the Methodists, had got it there never would have been a dance there.

     The newspaper article ends by saying you wouldn't like it, yourself, to serve faithfully for 90 years, and then to see ahead of you what?  Movies, perhaps; the annual beanbake of the relief Corps; a dance, unless that bunch were to control it and possibly rows of antique furniture, now would you?

      Mrs. Van Buren eventually sold the church to the Lutherans in 1930 for $1200 . There were 48 charter members, nine of them from the Kirkegaard family, they organized St. Matthew Church. Rev. Kirkegaard's son Scriver and his son-in-law Louis Wagchal attended Hartwick Academy and became ordained ministers. Rev. Wagschal became the pastor of St. Matthew from 1944 until his retirement in 1965.

     The photo, seen above, from the Dick Rose archives of Rev. and Mrs. Louis Wagchal was taken for the Daily Star on Saturday, October 4, 1975 in honor of his 60th anniversary of his ordination in the Lutheran Church.

Some interesting facts from the history of St. Matthew history:

  • First collection taken in church was January 13, 1920

  • First records logged in 1921

  • First christening-Marius Jorgensen

  • First recorded marriage- Mr. and Mrs. Chris Jensen

  • First English service November 8, 1929.

 

      Improvements have been made to the physical facilities of the church over the decades. The music program of the church was enhanced by the purchase of a Conn organ.

     The Otsego County Lutheran parish was formed in 2005. This includes St. Matthew Lutheran Church-Laurens, Atonement Lutheran Church-Oneonta, Evangelical Lutheran Church-Hartwick Seminary’ and St. John's Lutheran Church-Burlington.  Rev. Paul R. Messner is the present pastor for the parish.

Congratulations on a successful hundred years.

A special thanks to Rose Nelson for the information and articles submitted for this article.