Plans are well underway for celebrating the 100th anniversary of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church at Scapa on Aug. 7.
Special events marking the occasion begin at 2 p.m.
The unique church, located northwest of Hanna, which has served families from Endiang, Scapa, Dowling and beyond all these years certainly has a fascinating history, explained local resident Les Stulberg, who is also a councillor with the County of Stettler.
“St. Peter’s Lutheran Church was originally built in Wetaskiwin in 1911,” said Stulberg. “Within 10 years, that congregation disbanded as many returned to the United States.
“When the Lutherans from the Dowling Lake area (later known as the Endiang – Scapa – Dowling area after the railway came through) heard the vacant church was available, they thought it would be perfect for them.”
As Stulberg explained, prior to this, they had been worshipping in school houses and pioneer homes – sometimes even in sod houses when Lutheran pastors came through.
“One such minister was Rev. Julius Zaetschky who had previously served in Wetaskiwin,” said Stulberg, noting that Zaetschky was instrumental in locating the church initially and then organizing and founding St. Peter’s.
“Pastor Zaetschky and local men – Peter Drexel, Gottlieb Glubrecht, Chris Hintz, Robert Lange, Julius Schultz and Carl Weich – travelled to Wetaskiwin in the winter of 1920 to dismantle the church,” said Stulberg.
“They removed the steeple, cut it into eight-foot sections and loaded the pieces on railway flatcars for shipping to Craigmyle. From there they transported the pieces to the present location by team and bobsleigh where it was reconstructed.
“Gust Abram donated the land for the church and adjoining cemetery. Gus Stulberg brought sand and gravel from his nearby homestead for the foundation and all the Lutherans in the area turned out to help,” he said.
“The church that literally came to the people in pieces was ready for services in May of 1921.”
With such an incredible beginning, the church also went on to build quite the community legacy over the decades.
“The church is near and dear to the hearts of many in the Endiang, Scapa and Dowling areas as there are many descendants still living in the area of the original pioneers who built the church and worshipped there,” said Stulberg.
“Many too were either baptized, confirmed, married or have family members buried there. It has also brought the community together as volunteers have restored the church to its original condition with the addition of new cedar siding and shingles, windows and most recently in 2020 new metal cladding for the steeple.”
Stulberg said that volunteers continue to maintain the church and care for the cemetery.
“Personally, for me, St. Peter’s has special meaning for several reasons – my grandfather was involved in the original reconstruction of the church, I’ve helped with the restoration and maintenance of the church and cemetery, I was baptized there and I have many family members buried in the adjoining cemetery,” explained Stulberg.
Fittingly, with its unique history, St. Peter’s has also been declared a Historic Site and that in itself is a source of pride for the community, said Stulberg.
”Regular services were discontinued in 1978 but since then there have been occasional church picnics and summer services, weddings, funerals and an annual Candlelight Christmas Service that is well-attended, plus a few other special services,” he added.
Which brings us to the exciting plans for next month.
“On Aug. 7, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church will mark its 100th anniversary with a celebration,” said Stulberg.
“The organizing committee wishes to welcome former members, descendants, neighbours and friends to commemorate the Centennial Anniversary. A worship service will be held at 2 p.m. followed by a light lunch, refreshments and fellowship.
“It’s an opportunity for much reminiscing, visiting and connecting with families that you haven’t seen in a while and tour the church that has served the area for 100 years.”
As Stulberg pointed out, “Often times passers-by will stop and tour the church and cemetery and sign their names in the guest book in the entry way. To the locals it is a piece of history – their history – and unlike so many things the pioneers built like schools, railways, the towns with grain elevators and other businesses that are no longer existing – St. Peter’s is still standing as a bold testament to the faith of our forefathers whose blood, sweat and tears built the church and carved communities from the barren land they arrived to,” he said.
“The early pioneers faced some daunting hurdles, yet their faith saw them through those tough times. This church has also been an inspiration to many in different ways,” he said.
For one, a Three Hills poet who visited the cemetery on several occasions was taken by the grave of a young woman which inspired him to write several published poems, said Stulberg.
“Photographers, some from as far away as Calgary, have photographed the church in various artistic forms as it has inspired them, too.”
For Stulberg, marking the anniversary is of course vital, as is the work to preserve this amazing piece of history.
“I think it is important to preserve this gem for future generations, for them to enjoy and to honour those before us who gave so much of themselves to create it. I am looking forward to connecting with family and friends as we come together to mark this special milestone for St. Peter’s Lutheran Church,” he said.
“To watch the joy as people reconnect following an absence of several years in some instances, especially following the lock-down restrictions of COVID-19 which prevented people from getting together will be rewarding.”
In the meantime, the committee is also working on a 100-year history book.
If you are planning to attend the Aug. 7 celebrations, please email Dean Viste at firstname.lastname@example.org, Scott Viste at email@example.com or Leo Erion at firstname.lastname@example.org.