Indications are that the Lutheran families settled in the “wilds” of Baldwin County (Southern Alabama) as early as 1840. However it was not until much later that a Lutheran mission was established. In 1905 the Carl Schultz family of Marlow invited their former pastor and friend from Kenosha, Wisconsin, Reverend E. F. Dornfeld, to visit them. During his two-week visit Pastor Dornfeld was convinced that this area needed spiritual care. On his return to Wisconsin, he brought up the matter to the other pastors from the same area who sent the Reverend Carl. H. Buenger to canvas South Baldwin County more thoroughly. As a result, Vicar Otto Nommensen was sent from the Wisconsin seminary to establish a mission in late 1905. He was replaced by Vicar Ernst Dornfeld, who became an energetic influence in the Foley area.
In 1907, Vicar Dorfeld was replaced by Vicar Keturakat who was replaced by Vicar Ernest A. Wendland in July, 1908. This energetic young man determined that Foley was a growing town and spent much time and energy building the mission. When Vicar Wendland returned to the seminary in October 1909, he left his little flock under the care of Pastor Bruss of Elberta. In 1910 Vicar Wendland, now Pastor Wendland returned to Alabama, moved into the parsonage in Summerdale and continued his work in the Foley area. On April 7, 1912 St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was born and was affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Wisconsin and other states. On April 18 the board of trustees for St. Paul's received the deed for the purchase of two lots in Foley from the Chicago office of the Magnolia Land Co.
During the summer of that same year word was received that the Wisconsin Synod would be withdrawing from the Alabama mission field. In August Pastor Henry Meyer was ordained and installed as Pastor of St. Mark’s in Elberta, AL. Pastor Wendland turned over his flock to the new man. On August 17, 1913 the first permanent house of worship for St. Paul's was completed. In 1915, the first Sunday school was established and the first confirmation class, consisting of seven members, took their vows in the new church. After serving St. Paul’s for six and a half years, Pastor Meyer accepted a call to Cullman, Alabama and Pastor Arnold Bartling came to serve as pastor of the joint parishes of Elberta, Foley and Summerdale in 1922. He was followed by Pastor Paul Stueckler.
As the mission field grew in Baldwin County Pastor Stueckler asked the district to call another pastor to take over the work in Foley and Summerdale. Pastor Emil Tonn was assigned to this post and was installed on September 24, 1924. When Pastor Tonn arrived St. Paul's had 10 voting members, 40 communicants, 79 souls and 40 enrolled in Sunday school. During his ministry at St. Paul’s Pastor Tonn organized a choir and a Young People’s Society which became part of the Missouri Synod's International Walther League.
In January of 1926 a loan was made with the local insurance company and bank to build a parsonage in Foley. The Ladies Aid reduced the debt at a rate of $100 a year. Pastor Tonn was married while serving St. Paul’s and the couple lived in the new parsonage until Pastor Tonn accepted a call to Decatur, Alabama. On June 1, 1930 Pastor Emil Schultz was installed as pastor of the Foley-Summerdale parish. In October of 1931 the Ladies Aid offered to build a parish hall and the congregation prepared for the growth that came when St. Mark's Church in Summerdale transferred her membership to St. Paul's and closed her doors in 1934.
In 1937 Pastor Schultz accepted a call to Jennings, Louisiana and Pastor Wilder left St. Mark’s in Elberta. After the mission board reviewed the situation, they determined that one pastor could serve both churches. And so on June 5, 1938 Pastor Kurt Grotheer was installed at St. Paul’s and St. Mark’s.
In August 1945 Pastor Grotheer accepted the call to a parish in Itasca, Illinois and Pastor Walter Symack was installed in October to serve the dual parish. In 1947 plans were made for the expansion of the Parsonage and St. Paul's celebrated its 35th anniversary. Also during this time the congregation began in earnest to plan for bigger and better facilities. On October 11, 1951, 12 lots were purchased across the street from the old church and St. Paul's began preparing to build a new house of worship. In July of 1953 Pastor Symack accepted the call to Carlyle, Illinois and in January of the following year Pastor Conrad Soderstrom was installed. Around this time the members of St. Paul's decided that the need for a larger church could no longer be put aside. On November 19, 1957 ground was broken and a year later on November 16 the new church was dedicated.
Pastor Soderstrom remained in Foley until 1961 when he accepted a call to Springfield, Missouri. On October 15, 1961 Pastor Howard Welch was installed at St. Paul's and immediately began to compile an extensive history of the church which included the 75th anniversary booklet in 1962. In 1966, an education building fund was established, a building committee formed, and plans were approved by September 1969. The education building was dedicated on October 15, 1972.
In the mid-1970s members of St. Paul's voted to investigate the feasibility of establishing a mission in Gulf Shores, Alabama. In 1976 a special Gulf Shores mission fund was established and maintained until 1980 to subsidize work in that area. On April 11, 1971 Pastor Welch retired. On July 31, 1977 Pastor Keith Johnson was installed as the new pastor at St. Paul's. Shortly thereafter a Bible class was begun at Gulf Shores and the first service was conducted on July 22, 1979 in the South Baldwin Chamber Theater with 26 people in attendance. In August of 1980 Pastor Johnson accepted a call to Wisconsin and the vacancy at St. Paul's was filled by Pastor John Thies of Elberta. On September 28, 1980 Pastor Welch came out of retirement and took over the congregation in Gulf Shores.
On December 6, 1981 Pastor Chris Morales was installed at St. Paul's. During his ministry at St. Paul’s, church services were videotaped and taken to shut-ins, a monitor was placed in the cry room to make participation in the service easier for mothers with small children, a prayer chain involving the entire congregation was organized in 1985, and a committee was formed to make plans for the purchase and installation of stained glass windows for the sanctuary and the educational building. The stained glass was purchased and installed over a period of time as funds became available. In time Pastor Morales accepted a call to Borgalusa, Louisiana and St. Paul's was once again in vacancy but carried on in the capable hands of Pastor Harold Hoeferkamp who had previously retired from the ministry and was living in Gulf Shores.
During this time the congregation grew, the Sunday school thrived, young people were catechized and fellowship abounded. Pastor Hoeferkamp faithfully led the flock at St. Paul's for 28 months until November of 1998 when Pastor Michael Taylor accepted the call to St. Paul’s and moved his family to Foley. In September of 2000 St. Paul's opened a pre-school and by January 2001, 12 students were enrolled. However, in July 2007 the school closed its doors. On June 1, 2009 Pastor Taylor accepted a call to Cleveland, Ohio and once again St. Paul's was in vacancy.
For the next 28 months St. Paul's was led by five devoted pastors, all retired, who answered the call. Pastor Harold Hoeferkamp, Pastor Robert Rupp, Pastor Jack Jackson, Pastor Arthur Bodley, and Pastor Paul Wargo took care of the congregation until candidate Ryan Cramer was sent to the Foley church. Pastor Cramer was installed at St. Paul's on October 10, 2010. Today St. Paul's is still on the move. Because of God's blessings she will celebrate her 100th year anniversary in 2012 and looks forward to the future.
The History of St. Paul's Lutheran Church
ST. PAUL'S LUTHERAN CHURCH
a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
If you would like to find out more about the History of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, contact the church office and schedule a visit to our history room.