Colette M. Jenkins
The contents inside a time capsule behind the cornerstone laid a century ago at St. John/St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will remain buried for now.
“It’s a little disappointing. We really wanted to see what the congregation put in there 100 years ago,” said Sue Schweikert Harman, whose grandfather and great-uncles built the church. “We’re not giving up completely, but it won’t be opened for the anniversary celebration.”
Plans to open the cornerstone and remove the time capsule were scrapped after a brick mason and congregation president Art Kaufman ran into structural problems a couple of weeks ago while drilling.
Church leaders decided they would revisit the possibility of getting to the time capsule after Sunday’s 100th anniversary celebration. The special program, themed “A Century of Faithful Building,” will be at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at the church, 282 W. Bowery St.
If the cornerstone had been opened, the anniversary committee, chaired by Harman, was hoping to find a variety of items, documented in church records. Among the contents listed are a Bible, a hymnal, a church constitution, issues of the Lutheran newspaper and local community newspapers.
Kaufman and Harman said the congregation will assess whether it wants to explore getting to the contents at a future date. Meanwhile, it will focus on the rich history of the church and the impact that it has made over the years.
“So many people have come and gone. It’s amazing! But one thing has always remained the same — we’re a family,” Harman said.
The congregation traces its beginnings to 1891 at Zion German Lutheran Mission in Akron. In October of that same year, a constitution was adopted and the organization became known as St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The congregation’s first church building was dedicated in 1895 on Coburn Street. In the early 1900s, the congregation withdrew from the Lutheran Missouri Synod because of doctrinal differences about predestination. Those who stayed with the denomination formed Concordia Lutheran Church.
Shortly after the split, the St. John’s congregation merged with the Grace English Lutheran Mission. The newly merged congregation retained the St. John’s name.
In 1914, the congregation purchased a lot at Bowery and Cedar streets — its present location. The cornerstone was laid that same year by Schweikert Bros. (G. Edward, Samuel G. and William F., who were all members of the church). The building, which cost about $53,000, was dedicated in April 1915.
An educational wing was added and renovations to the basement of the original building were completed in the 1950s. The church also experienced growth and purchased a new organ during that decade.
The sanctuary was renovated in the 1960s and the congregation made a decision to emphasize evangelism to share the Gospel message. In addition to caring for parishioners and the community around the church, the congregation was instrumental in establishing other Lutheran missionary congregations, including St. Mark’s in Tallmadge, Bethel in Richfield and Calvary in Brimfield Township.
As families began moving out of the city in the 1960s, St. John’s experienced a decline in membership. That trend continued into the 1970s and 1980s, when the congregation began joining in fellowship with other downtown churches.
In January 1992, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church merged with St. John’s to become St. John/St. Paul. Seven years later, Firestone Park Lutheran Church joined the congregation.
The current pastor, the Rev. Richard R. Gordon, was installed nine years ago. During his tenure, he has encouraged the congregation to reach out to the community. His vision included the establishment of an urban youth outreach to provide a safe haven for teens. The program evolved into a nonprofit called Oasis Outreach Opportunity Inc., which now owns a facility at 847 Crouse St.
Among the sons and daughters of the church are the Rev. Abraham Allende, who was recently elected as the new bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“This congregation is committed to being a blessing to this community. They don’t want the building to just sit. They want it to be used — that’s why we have been home to Pastoral Counseling, Oasis, A.A. groups and anybody else that we can serve,” Gordon said. “While we are grateful to have been on this corner for 100 years, we understand that the church is more than the building. We’re not here to serve the building. We’re here to serve the people.”
More information about the local church can be found at www.sjspakron.org or by calling 330-253-6835.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She can be followed at www.twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins.