2008-01-02 / Lifestyles

From Age to Age

Eggertsville church marks 180 years
by ELIZABETH TAUFA Reporter

O Over the past 180 years, St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Eggertsville has seen countless parishioners, 24 pastors, major fires and one very big moving project.

The church as it looked in 1912 for a fall harvest service, near Thanksgiving. Rev. Ernst Burk, pictured, was St. Paul's pastor at the time. The murals behind him were painted by Rev. Adolph Boettger, who served the church from 1865-1896. The church as it looked in 1912 for a fall harvest service, near Thanksgiving. Rev. Ernst Burk, pictured, was St. Paul's pastor at the time. The murals behind him were painted by Rev. Adolph Boettger, who served the church from 1865-1896. But after it all, the church still stands at 4007 Main St.

To celebrate the anniversary, the church held a special service that showed members of the congregation what going to church would have been like 120 years ago.

"Anything earlier than that would have been in German," said St. Paul's Pastor Dan Hoffman. "But people were really fascinated by the archaic language and how much it's changed. The kids really picked up on that."

"The service used King James English," said Mary Wolf, St. Paul's parish administrator and congregation historian. "It's what we would call sexist language. But in those days, 'mankind' was an inclusive term."

The church as it looks today. When the church was moved in 1933, changes were made to the inside of the church including the moving of the organ. Pastor Dan Hoffman and Mary Wolf are pictured. The church as it looks today. When the church was moved in 1933, changes were made to the inside of the church including the moving of the organ. Pastor Dan Hoffman and Mary Wolf are pictured. Officially incorporated on Dec. 18, 1827 by the Rev. Vincent Meyerhoffer, St. Paul's found a home in Eggertsville before Eggertsville was created.

"The original congregation came over in two groups," Wolf said. "The first group from Prussia settled in Cheektowaga and the second group, mainly from Alsace, settled in Snyder."

The church found a home on neutral ground, purchased from the Holland Land Company, midway between the two communities so as not to alienate one group, Wolf said.

The church continued to grow until 1879 when Edwin Boettger, the youngest son of then Pastor Adolph Boettger, allegedly accidently set fire to the sheds behind the church. Because of the unusually dry summer the area was experiencing, the then wooden church was quickly engulfed in flames. Due to the fact that there was no fire company close at hand, the area's bucket brigade could do little to save the structure.

"That was one of the earliest stories that The Amherst Bee covered," Wolf said, noting that one of the few telephones in the area was located in the Bee office. "It was a fairly considerable disaster."

Within two months, however, the new cornerstone of the church was laid. Services resumed that January.

Perhaps as a result of the fire, according to Wolf, Boettger's eldest son, Rudolph Boettger, was one of the founding members of the Eggertsville Hose Company.

In 1933, New York State made plans to straighten the curve on Main Street where the church sat. In order to do this, the church would have to be moved back, away from the street.

Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the church was successfully moved 85 feet to where it now stands. The building was also faced in brick, and the interior was remodeled to include a chancel and central heating was installed, replacing the inefficient potbellied stoves.

Members of the congregation came together to accomplish the work with much success. The state, however, did little more than plan the straightening of the curve, as it remains to this day.

"We figure the state owes us $18,000 plus interest because that's what it cost us to move the church," Wolf laughed. "Being a frame building, they had to put logs underneath it and roll it back."

After World War II, Main Street started to develop more and the church also started to grow within the community, making it the institution and congregation that it is today.

"The church started to be more open to community groups meeting in the church," said Hoffman.

Since the 1970s, the church has been the meeting place for groups such as the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Eggertsville Community Organization and the National Association for the Mentally Ill.

In the past, the church's parsonage, which is currently the offices for Lutheran Campus Ministry, housed developmentally disabled young adults. It ceased this practice when state regulations for such housing changed and changes to the parsonage would have been too expensive for the church to accommodate.

"It really is the belief of our congregation that the church is not just a Sunday meeting place, but a place that needs to be open to other uses," Wolf said of the church's place within the community.

"We hope that we've been a positive influence on the community and our neighbors," Hoffman agreed. "And we're now engaged in raising money for hospitals in Zimbabwe."

The church is trying to raise around $20,000 in order to keep qualified nurses and doctors from leaving Zimbabwe to seek more lucrative opportunities in other African countries.

But the church is also trying to reach out more at home by continuing a very popular Vacation Bible School in the summer and changing worship schedules in order to allow time and space for a contemporary worship service. Regular Sunday School is also being held separately from church services to allow members of the congregation to participate more freely.

"We hope people see us as a warm, welcoming, caring congregation," Hoffman said. "Not just because we've been here for over 100 years but because we engage in the community."

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