St. Matthew Lutheran Church-----1951-2016/75th Anniversary!

2016 marked the 75th Anniversary of St. Matthew Lutheran Church.  In 1917 Pastor Jacobson of Stockton and Pastor Jacobs of Valley Home traveled up to the Mother Lode lumber and mining community of Tuolumne City and were guests in the famous Turnback Creek Inn from which they canvassed the area and then Sonora, the bustling county seat of Tuolumne.  Although Lutheran services had been held in Sonora with guest preachers in various borrowed churches since 1929, a meeting to organize and begin St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church was held on May 25, 1941 to form a voting membership.   Charter members of this fledgling congregation included Mr.’s. and Mrs’s John Wolff, Wildor Jones, Albert Eckstein, Alver Hillberg, Hugo Poch, Edward Pfeiffer, Arthur Stevahn and Mr.’s Albert Gimbel, Roger Spilde, Hershel Keiser, Walter Jacobs, Ernest Muller and Donald Pfeiffer.  In a congregational meeting held on July 20, 1941, the constitution and by-laws were discussed and approved.  The services at this time were held on Sunday evenings and Sunday School was held in an old rickety schoolhouse with a potbelly stove that was donated to the church in Shaw’s Flat, but, during the World War II years, services were held only once or twice a month.  Throughout the history of St. Matthew, it has held services in various locations.

At the Beginning:

In 1929, before the church was officially started, services were held sporadically in the Methodist Church of Tuolumne City.  Since the guest Pastors had far to travel (from Valley Home and Modesto) services were held once per month in the St. James Episcopal Church in Sonora.  Once the church officially began, it secured the use of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Tuolumne City for a Sunday School and for services the first and third Sundays of each month while services continued at St. James the second and fourth Sundays of the month.  Soon, services were held each Sunday evening only at the Tuolumne City Episcopal church.  In 1950, the church bought the St. Michael’s Episcopal Church building in Tuolumne City for $3500.  In 1950 a Sunday School was begun in the Aronos Club of Sonora and Sunday services were also held (in addition to Tuolumne City) at the Aronos Club.  Lois Courtney, who spoke at the 50th Anniversary Celebration, remembered that there were “faith inspiring sermons, fun programs, and warm fellowship” when the church met at the Aronos Hall. 

Growing and Building

In 1952, the church bought .9 acre of land in the city of Sonora for $8200.  An additional $400 was added to this from the sale of the Shaws Flat property, which became a bit famous as it was used as a filming site for “The Little House on the Prairie.” Soon a new church was built on Jackson and Solinsky Sts in downtown Sonora, designed by Roy Lane of Columbia and built by Harold Peterson with much volunteer labor and materials.  It still stands today and is currently the New Life Bible Church. A parsonage was constructed from a pre-fab house the Pastor secured from Vallejo, which was dismantled and moved to the building site.  The building was funded with a $10,000 loan from the Church Extension Fund.  Soon services were discontinued in Tuolumne City for lack of interest and in 1956 services were also started in the Moccasin Clubhouse.  The Tuolumne property was sold, and the proceeds were applied to the loan. 

The Hope Lane Church

In 1968 word was received that the Seventh Day Adventists wanted to sell their property on Hope Lane in downtown Sonora and build a new facility next to Sonora Community Hospital, but the Mormon Church had already applied for the property and St. Matthew was given second choice.  The price was set at a firm $55,000.  Fortunately for St. Matthew’s the Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City vetoed the deal and St. Matthew was happily awarded the chance to purchase.  A new parsonage was also constructed adjacent to the church by Gil Kunz, who was also assisted by volunteer labor.

These were ecumenical years in Sonora.  Even after the property at Hope Lane was bought, the Seventh Day Adventists continued to hold services in the building on Saturdays and the Mormons on Sunday afternoon and during the week.  The Baptists then began to use the Solinsky St. property and eventually bought it for $30,000.  By 1982, St. Matthew was thankful have a Mortgage Burning Service since the church was paid off with officers Tom Lewis, Al Schlenke, Harry Schimke and Grant Gulseth.  To top it off, in 1984, a new organ was purchased, and a concert was provided by Rev. Brother Clyde T. Shaw.  The organ was a Rodgers-Glascow, 740 with antiphonal speaker and it was paid for when installed.  This 1.26-acre site with church and parish hall served the congregation well for 25 years.

Our Present Facility

As the 21st century began, it was apparent the Hope Lane church was inadequate, so efforts began in early 1996 to identify and hopefully purchase a piece of property suitable for expansion of the church that would be located more “mid-county” to accommodate the members who attended from all over Tuolumne County and still be accessible to those from Calaveras Co.  Soon 5.21 acres in the “Christian Heights” development off Tuolumne Road in Lambert Lake Estates was purchased for $150,000. A generous loan, interest free, was provided by a church member to purchase the land, which was paid back as construction began.  Architect Jack Ross of NAI Associates of Scotts Valley, California was hired to develop a site plan for the property, and Boyce Construction was hired after the loan on the property was paid off. 

Fund Raising was conducted and a brochure was created with the slogan “New Hearts, New Heights.” The Ground-Breaking Ceremony was held on August 9, 2002 and the new 10,000 square foot church was scheduled to be finished by the summer of 2003.  This new larger church, now valued at $2,770,000, was a combined effort of many church members who shared their expertise and contributed not only their money, but also their time.  The Men’s Breakfast Group, according to Bob Anderson, met every Saturday and “cleaned up” the building site so that the workers could start again on Monday AM.  While many volunteered their time and expertise for the building of the church, three men, Glenn De la Motte, John Dickerson, and Glen Peterson shared their construction skills for 8 hours per day every day for a year.

Since the church has been built, improvements have been made.  An addition was added in 2011 to expand the meeting rooms, stained glass windows were added above the altar, on the sides and in the narthex between 2005-2014 and just recently, a new organ replaced the previous one.  This new digital organ is among the nicest in the entire county and is an Allen Bravura with 29 stops and two manuals.  On April 17 of 2016 Mr. Stacy Piontek, Director of Music at Trinity Lutheran Church in Pleasanton, Ca provided a concert to introduce the capabilities of the organ. 

The Pastors of St. Matthew

The year was 1917 when Pastor Jacobson of Trinity in Stockton, and Pastor Jacobs of St. John’s Valley Home made the trek up to the Mother Lode mining communities of Tuolumne and were guests at the Turnback Inn.  They canvassed the area and also Sonora to determine the viability of a new Mission in this area, which ultimately resulted in St. Matthew Lutheran. Officially started in 1941, the same year of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the US involvement in World War II, St. Matthew has flourished for 75 years. Many thanks to the Committee which compiled quite a bit of info and held a wonderful celebration for the 50th Anniversary which resulted in significant outreach in the community.  Here is a list of the Pastors at St. Matthew with a few anecdotes collected from meager archival data retained by the church. 

Pastor Bertwim J. VonRenner (1941-48) came from Valley Home and in the beginning, services were held only once or twice a month, but soon grew to the dual parishes of Tuolumne City and Sonora.  Services were held the first and third Sundays of each moth in Tuolumne City, while services were continued in Sonora at St. James’ Episcopal Church on the second and fourth Sundays of the month. The Sunday School started in 1947. Pastor Von Renner, being part time, received help from Pastor Jacobs, retired of Valley Home (1942-45) and during the war years, services were somewhat sporadic.

Pastor Marcus Wolfram (1949-50) was the first called and ordained Pastor for St. Matthew and reportedly was “totally bald like Yul Brynner.” He was called to serve both St. Luke’s in Oakdale and St. Matthew’s budding parish.  Services were now discontinued in Sonora since St. James was undergoing renovation and were held Sunday eve in Tuolumne City.  Rent to use the St. James facility during this time was $4.00 per Sunday. 

Vicar Monroe S. Teachenor (1950-51) served his vicarage/intern year in Sonora.  During this time, he met his future wife, Agnelsa Kjergaard, a young teacher at Trinity Lutheran School in Stockton.  Vicar Teachenor reports that he “bought a reed organ at a second-hand store in Jamestown called the Wigwam, but the bellows didn’t hold air well, so he hooked it up to a vacuum cleaner and it had lots of OOMPH” Ed Pfeiffer, church member who lived next door reported that “it sounded like a whole orchestra.”  He soon took the pump organ to “O’Bannon’s Motel, taught German and drew in a crowd singing “old Kraut songs” and Ed Pfeiffer evidently never tired of Vicar Teachenor singing “Pistol-Packin Mama---in German!”

Vicar Palmer L. Jahnke, Jr (1951-52) came to replace Vicar Teachenor, who returned to Concordia to complete his seminary training.  Sunday morning services continued in Tuolumne City and in Sonora.  The congregation then petitioned the Mission Board for permission to call a full-time pastor to serve when Mr. Palmer would leave. During this time the first Mission Festival was held with about 60 people from Modesto, Stockton and Oakdale as well as Sonora and Tuolumne in attendance.  Speaker was Rev. Janke Sr. of Livingston.  A collection of 45.52 was donated towards expenses, $10 of which went to Rev. Janke for travel expenses. This was also the beginning of Lenten services, which were held Tuesdays in Sonora, and Thursdays in Tuolumne.

Pastor Monroe S. Teachenor (1952-55) was the first full time called and ordained Pastor of St. Matthew.  His installation was held in the Tuolumne church and Pastor’s wife Angelsa was the organist and assistant.  The first real confirmation class consisted of Jim Rae, Kae and Venice, the children of Coyla Dyson.  Vacation Bible School was held for 2 weeks at each church location. The first wedding during this period was Ed and Lillian Pfeiffer and members who joined during this time included the Gilbert Kunz family of Shaw’s Flat (among many others) and the Sunday School grew as Pastor and Mrs. Teachenor took in 3 foster boys and soon had their own baby named Karl.  During this time the church bought land next to the old Sonora City Cemetery and a pre-fab portable was purchased in Vallejo, taken apart and put together to serve as a parsonage on the site. In 1954, the Pastor’s salary was $3,180.  Ironically, Pastor Teachenor left in 1955 to go to Atwater and a later Pastor at St. Matthew left the same church many years later to come to Sonora.

Pastor Leo Scheelk (1955-57) oversaw the building of the first church building, which was dedicated on July 17, 1955 and a vote was soon passed to join the Missouri Synod.  In 1956, the church celebrated its 15th Anniversary with a special service and an extra bedroom and hallway for the parsonage was proposed to be built by Gil Kunz. The Pastor’s Report at the Voter’s Mtg noted that 50 Sunday and 12 Special Services were held with a total attendance of 2723 persons.  Pastor Scheelk received a raise on Jan 13, 1957 which amounted to $2.00 per month which supplemented his salary of $384 per month.  In July 1957, Pastor Scheelk resigned and Pastor Nitz, of the Ca. Nev Hawaii District Office assisted to find a replacement.

Pastor Joseph Galambos (1957-63) arrived from Oregon in Nov. 1957 to serve as Missionary at Large until the congregation decided to make a call.  In 1958, the church extended a call to Pastor Galambos.  The congregation was incorporated as a non-profit organization of the State of California in 1959 and at the District Convention the congregation was received as a member of Synod.  Regular services were held at a Moccasin Mission and the Pastor regularly visited the county hospital, the county hospital in San Andreas and the TB Sanitarium at Murphys as well as protestant services at the Vallecito Conservation Camp.  It was during this time that the Vietnam War was brewing, and Pastor’s son Gary was sent to Vietnam as a helicopter pilot in 1963.  Soon after Pastor Galambos left Sonora for a church in Newman, Ca, his son Gary was killed in Vietnam and a previous article about Gary was done in honor of Veteran’s Day in the previous newsletter.  During the time of Pastor Galambos, the church grew from 71 to 86 communing members.

Pastor Roland H. Roehrs (1963-64) serviced only one year at St Matthew and unfortunately little is known about his service, but he came from Minnesota and left in 1964 to move to southern California.

Pastor Wallace Brookfield (1965-85) came to Sonora to serve on a part-time basis from Concordia College in Oakland and soon accepted a call and was installed.  Soon thereafter he married Ellen Brookfield, who served as organist at St. Matthew for many years.  His four children were born and raised in Sonora and during this time a parsonage was built adjacent to the church, which was now at 29 Hope Lane since the church bought the property from the Seventh Day Adventists in 1968.  Pastor’s mother, Agnes, who had lived with him briefly in Sonora before he was married was killed in a car accident in 1969 and the Parish Hall at 29 Hope Lane was named in her honor.  In 1982, the church was paid off and a new organ was purchased and paid for through the efforts of the Lutheran Women in Mission group. In 1985, Pastor Brookfield died, leaving his widow Ellen and four children and the church sold the parsonage to Ellen and her family.  Pastor’s son Scott and grandson Eric currently regularly attend and are members of St. Matthew.

Pastor John V. Herrmann (1986-2000) was called from Holy Cross (Atwater) and installed.  Soon the church offered not one but two Sunday services.  The interior of the church at Hope Lane was remodeled and a 50th Anniversary Service and Banquet was held with Pastor Oswald, District President and former Pastor Teachenor of Berkeley.  During this time, four Vicars served at St. Matthew—Vicars Klemsz, Riddle, Plughoeft and Depaoli during 1995-98.  In 1999 the property on Joshua Way was paid off and a building program had begun.  Pastor Herrmann had lived and grown up in Sacramento and left in 2000 to go back to the church where he had grown up and where his father had served in Fair Oaks. 

Pastor Tom Sharpe (2001-current) came to Sonora from Strongsville, Ohio near Cleveland, but he had roots in California near Tracy, Ca.  Like Pastor Herrmann, Pastor Sharpe “believes in outreach efforts.”  During this time St. Matthew has had one Vicar (Clausen) and two Directors of Christian Education.  The new church was built and finished during this time and two services, including a contemporary service continue to be offered.  Efforts to provide outreach have been ongoing both through community efforts and through education, mostly recently provided by author and consultant Dr. Peter Steinke.  According to Sharpe, “my main purpose is for the church to have a mission beyond itself.”

For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11.