The sprawling campus of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church running along the south side of Interstate 44 in St. Clair is a far cry from the tiny storefront location the members started out in 50 years ago.
Today Holy Trinity includes three large buildings on over 7 acres in a highly visible location (turning on the outer road just before McDonald’s). The main building houses the sanctuary as well as office and meeting spaces.
A second multipurpose building serves as gymnasium, banquet hall and youth center. And a third building is home to the church’s daycare center for children as young as 6 weeks old.
But back in 1963 when Holy Trinity was just getting starting, members met in a small storefront at 75 N. Main St. Today the building is home to Classic Florals.
Established April 16, 1963
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church was established April 16, 1963, after a group of families living in and around St. Clair — tired of traveling to Union to attend services at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church — began a petition and gathered signatures from local residents wanting a Lutheran church in St. Clair.
It was Floyd Eggermeyer and his wife, Marilyn, who went door-to-door with their two small children gathering these signatures, said Jim Garrison, Ph.D., a longtime member who once served as the church’s Director of Christian Education and who has put together a history of Holy Trinity.
With approval to move foward, Eggermeyer formed a committee of four to five men who met with the circuit counselor, Pastor Walter Gieselman of Beaufort.
“Following this meeting, the Missouri District representative met with Pastor Lammert (of St. Paul’s in Union), Circuit Counselor and this committee to establish a mission church to serve the St. Clair area,” Garrison noted.
Holy Trinity was established with 38 adults and 10 children.
Their first church was a rented storefront with a prime location in the heart of town. A member of St. Paul’s donated folding chairs so members would have places to sit.
Others gave what they could too, including ladies who worked at an undergarment factory in St. Louis. They donated a large roll of fabric for a window covering, said Garrison.
The first pastor of Holy Trinity was Pastor A.E. Miessler, a retired minister who was living in Washington at the time. He conducted the first worship service on May 19, 1963.
Holy Trinity became an official member congregation of the Western District (later the Missouri District) in June 1964.
That fall, Holy Trinity received financial aid from the Western District Mission Board to purchase land in Parkway Village to build its own church.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Feb. 27, 1966, and a cornerstone ceremony was held July 31 that year.
But before Holy Trinity could complete its new church, members were forced to evacuate their existing location because the building had been sold, Garrison noted. In early 1966 Holy Trinity was temporarily relocated to the International Order of Odd Fellows Building on Hibbard Street, today home to St. Clair Historical Society.
By Dec. 4, 1966, however, Pastor Miessler led the congregation through the doors of the new church in a formal dedication ceremony, said Garrison.
After less than one year at the new church, Pastor Miessler preached his farewell sermon on Aug. 27, 1967. Interim services were provided by Earl Feddersen, a fourth-year student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, under the supervision of Circuit Counselor Pastor Henry H. Schaefer.
“Earl Feddersen had camped on the Meramec River with his family near St. Clair and had attended this new church,” Garrison noted.
In January 1968, Holy Trinity called for a full-time pastor from that year’s graduating class and put in a specific request for Feddersen to be given the assignment.
“This had never been done before and was quite unusual,” said Garrison.
The request was granted, and Pastor Earl P. Feddersen, who graduated on May 19, 1968; was ordained on May 26; and confirmed his first class on June 2. He was installed formally as Holy Trinity’s first full-time pastor on June 9, 1968.
Holy Trinity added an educational facility for Sunday school along with a fellowship hall in the early 1970s by renovating an old barn on the property. The renovation process took three years.
But as Holy Trinity continued to grow, members soon outgrew the space. A classroom trailer was purchased to ease the crunch, Garrison noted.
Growth affected worship services too. Two services were held on Sunday mornings, but for special services on holidays, the church was filled to capacity.
The church’s planning committee could see that the “standing room only” conditions would force the need to expand, so a building committee was organized with Garrison as chairman.
“At first the building committee investigated enlarging the existing church,” he recalled. “It was soon discovered that an addition would cost as much as building a new church. The committee recommended that a new church be built next to the present church. This site, however, was blocked by the present church from the street.”
In other words, the church would be even less visible to the community than it had been, which, since it relocated to Parkway Village, wasn’t very visible to begin with. So when the plan was presented to the Voters Assembly, a couple of church members made a generous offer.
“Mr. and Mrs. James Ealer . . . stated they would donate 7-plus acres on the South Outer Road by Highway 44,” said Garrison. “After a minimum of discussion, it was voted unanimously to accept this offer and move Holy Trinity to this new site.”
Member John Sherrell was selected to erect the building. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Nov. 9, 1986.
Even in the construction phase, members felt ownership of their new church. When it was discovered just before carpet was to be laid that the floor was covered with drywall spackling, a group of some 20 volunteers showed up to scrape and scrub the concrete floor clean so the carpet could be laid on time.
The new church was dedicated on Dec. 13, 1987, just in time for that year’s Christmas Eve worship service. The church, even though it wasn’t quite finished, had record-breaking attendance of 339 worshipers, said Garrison.
There were only 26 empty seats available.
Day Care Becomes Church Mission
Even before the old church was vacated, Pastor Earl and Garrison were approached by a local child care provider, Aunt Lou, about renting the space for a daycare.
After hearing her presentation, they told her they were more interested in having her run a daycare on the site as a church mission, something to help the community and local families.
“The finances were provided showing that it would be self-sufficient,” said Garrison. “The board of education and the voters approved this mission endeavor.”
The daycare initially paid $100 per month rent, but after one successful year, that amount was increased to $500 a month.
“The Lord blessed the congregation and daycare with growth and service to the community,” Garrision commented.
In 2001, Holy Trinity relocated the daycare facility to the church grounds after building a new facility that could provide care for as many as 90 children.
The Child Care and Learning Center was dediced in summer 2002. It was then and still is the largest daycare in St. Clair, said Garrison.
Changes Lead to More Expansion
Garrison retired as director of Christian education in 1990, and Pastor Earl accepted a call as mission developer at Synodical headquarters in 1996.
A vacancy pastor, Pastor Kenneth Fischer, was assigned to Holy Trinity. He was serving two congegations at the time, so he delegated many responsibilities to the lay people, said Garrison.
As such, two groups were formed to serve the needs of the congregation — the Vintage Group, who served the retired people with fun and service, like paving the parking lot and installing storm windows; and the Boomers Group, who were mostly working-age members assigned to plan social activities.
One of their ideas was the Green Auction, a party held around St. Patrick’s Day where all things green were auctioned off with proceeds going toward construction of a pavilion as a social area for members.
The first event was so successful, raising $1,000, that the group decided to to hold the Green Auction again, the next year raising $5,000.
As the proceeds increased, so did the group’s vision of what it could build.
“Eventually they raised $140,000 which provided the down payment on a Christian Life Center,” said Garrison. “Their fund-raising was continued until the Christian Life Center was paid off.”
After a year of gathering information, the planning and building committee came up with two plans to present to the congregation. In the end, the vote was to build a multipurpose building that could be used both as a dining hall and a gymnasium.
Ground was broken for the new building in 1999. The structure was built with a combination of contracted and volunteer labor.
Bob Fawe agreed to lead the volunteer crew. The core team included Fawe along with John Bochert, Fred Duecker, Pastor Craig Fenske (who accepted the call to Holy Trinity in 1998), Garrison, Alan Hrastich and Don Lehmann.
“Women of the congregation took turns providing a noon meal for the workers,” said Garrison. “Leland and Linda Dierker took care of the cleanup as the building progressed using their truck to dispose of trash.”
All of the cardboard from unpacking chairs and tables was recycled, Garrison noted.
The Christian Life Center was completed and dedicated in fall 2000. It was and is the largest banquet hall in St. Clair, able to seat 450 people, and is open to the community for events.
Pastor Fenske accepted a call to Grand Forks, N.D., in 2006, bringing retired Pastor Willard Kassulke, Sullivan, to serve Holy Trinity. After a heart attack, he was replaced by Pastor Ronald Jansen in 2007.
Holy Trinity’s current pastor, Roger Altenberger, was installed June 1, 2008.
“He was warmly welcomed as he brought a new breath of fresh air to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church,” said Garrison.
With all of its pastors throughout the last 50 years, however, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church has followed its mission: “To bring the news of eternal salvation to the many souls in the St. Clair area and throughout the world, brining Christ to all nations.”