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Southeast Nebraska church celebrates 150 years

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 9:00 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - It’s hard not to be impressed by St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on Highway 50 near Elk Creek. The church is marking its 150th anniversary.

“I have a lot of pride in this church, and it’s very active for a rural church,” church member Vern Kettelhake said. On the weekend of June 5 and 6, the church will celebrate 150 years. “The constitution was drafted in 1871,” office secretary Ruth Beethe said. “At that time, seven men signed the original constitution, and the first church they built was just a very crude shed.”

Beethe says the congregation saw plenty of growth early on. “In 1886, they decided to build a new church,” she said. “They had outgrown the shed they had been worshiping in all those years, and so they built a church actually identical to this one in 1886.” 10 years later, that church was hit by lightning, and it burned down. “They decided to build another one identical to that structure, which they did in a few short months in 1896, and dedicated it then,” Beethe said. The church that stands here now, is the one that was built in 1896.

The structure of the church is based off of one in another state. “It’s patterned after the St. Peter’s Church in Schaumburg, Illinois,” church member Leslie Othmer said. “That’s where my great grandfather came from, and he lived right across the section here.”

The church has many unique features that people notice. “It has always had the balcony, and the pipe organ, but the front of it features the raised pulpit and the altar. That was made to look like it had originally,” Beethe said. The pulpit offers the pastor a good view of those in attendance.

“My dad was very strict, we had to go to church every Sunday,” long time church member Leona Beethe said. “If we went out on Saturday night, we would need to be able to go to church the next morning. You would not be able to stay home. You went to church.” Beethe says where people sat in the church years ago was memorable. “The men and women would not sit together,” she said. “The men would sit by themselves, and the women would sit by themselves.” Of course, all of that has changed...

Not only do many parishioners remember going to church each and every Sunday, but they also remember attending school on the grounds. “There were 42 or 43 students, and teacher Joseph was the teacher,” Leona Beethe said. “We walked to school,” church member Robert Bartels said. “We lived about 2 and a half miles from here and walked everyday back and forth.” Some students rode horses to school. “They had the stalls where the cemetery is now,” Leona Beethe said. “There was a stall for each horse. Each person owned a stall, and they would ride horses, and put them in the stall.”

Church members have different memories about their connection to St. Peter’s. But one common denominator is an appreciation for the building’s beauty. “It always amazed me in the days when this church was built, the 1890′s, that they could build such a nice looking church at that time,” Bartels said. “The German people apparently had a lot of technical skills.”

For these parishioners who have attended here their entire lives, the church is home. It’s a home that has served southeast Nebraskans well for 150 years. It is now well-suited to continue that service into the future.

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