Grace Lutheran Church History

 



The first known church services in DeWitt were conducted between the years 1903 and 1913. Pastor Lothringer conducted the earliest services. Because written records are not available, the early history is based on memories of some of our senior members.

The first church services were held on alternating Sunday afternoons in a building known as the Old Free Methodist Church located on the northwest corner of 6th Avenue and 13th Street and this mission group was known as “The German Lutherans”.

In 1915, Pastor Louis Eschbach came to serve the congregations of Calamus, Grand Mound, and the Mission at DeWitt. In January, 1917, a young people's society, the Luther League, was formed and this group helped establish Grace Lutheran Congregation.

The Luther League was a forerunner of what is now called LYF. The first League meeting was held January 10, 1917, in Pastor Eschbach’s Grand Mound home. There were 13 charter members. In a letter dated 1957, Rev. Eschbach said “Since Grace congregation was not organized yet at that time, the members of the League did all the work. They collected the necessary funds, ushered, took care of the communion vessels, taught Sunday School, etc. Christmas was one of the high festivals. The League members saw to it that a decorated tree was in the church and gifts for the children were provided.

The year, 1917, marked the organization of another very important group of workers for the church. Seven ladies met and organized the Ladies Aid. Meetings were conducted in both German and English.

The earliest record available regarding a Sunday School is from the minutes of the Luther League meeting of June 14, 1918. The minutes state that the League decided to hold their annual picnic and the Sunday School was to take part in the program. The teaching of Sunday School children was done by League members.

With the help given by the Luther League and the Ladies Aid, it became evident to the Mission Board that the mission possibilities in and around DeWitt could no longer be overlooked. In early 1924, a call was extended to Rev. W.P. Schroeder, a missionary in Canada. He accepted the call and he and his wife arrived in DeWitt during the summer of 1924.

On February 15, 1925 some 21 members met to discuss the organization of a congregation. A constitution and the necessary by-laws had been prepared and were read and discussed at this meeting. A week later another meeting was held for the final adoption of the constitution and the election of officers who would serve this newly formed congregation. The name chosen for this organization was Grace Lutheran Congregation of DeWitt, Iowa.

In July of 1928, the Congregation bought the old Baptist church building after raising $2000 and borrowing $1500 from the Synod Church Extension Fund.

In July of 1929, the congregation voted to build a full basement under the Church building. The estimated cost of this project was $3000. Work was completed and dedication services were held in October 1929. Later, it was necessary to build a balcony in the Church in order to seat all those attending worship.

In the year 1930, the congregation voted to become self-supporting. The congregation had grown to the point where it felt the need to reach out and bring the word of God to its neighbors to the north. The first step was to begin Sunday school in the town of Welton. Then services were began on alternate Sundays, and finally on every Sunday.

Pastor Schroeder served Grace Congregation until the summer of 1934 when he accepted a call to Charter Oak, Iowa, where he served until his death.

Reverend Theodore E. Hinck was installed as Pastor of Grace Congregation in the fall of 1934. He had previously served parishes in Burns, WY and Dillon, IA. While he served Grace Lutheran Church, the congregation built a new and larger house of worship. The new building, 40 x 104 feet, is of Gothic design with exterior walls of Indiana Bedford stone. All of the windows in the sanctuary and a greater part of the chancel furnishings were gifts from members. The new building cost about $140,000, exclusive of excavation work and other work done by members of the Congregation. With grateful hearts, the members of Grace Church dedicated their new church edifice to the glory and service of God on Pentecost Sunday, May 13, 1951, just 13 months after the day of groundbreaking.

The new educational wing, a 2-story addition was was dedicated on March 21, 1965. The exterior was finished in the same stone as the main Church.

The Rev. Gerald l. Petsch was installed as Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church on Jan. 21, 1968. He served as Pastor for 20 months and then accepted a call to Granite, Oklahoma. The Rev. Thomas Spahn was installed as Pastor on Aug. 2, 1970. He served until 1974. The Rev. Alfred O. Pautsch was installed on May 30, 1976 and served as Pastor of Grace Church until 1982.

Pastor Ronald H. Goodsman was installed as Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church on May 8, 1983 and served until ill health compelled him to resign in 2000. A daughter church was founded in Maquoketa but failed to survive. In 1988 Grace Camp, consisting of 87 acres, was purchased and a camp ministry was begun. About the same time, the congregation began purchasing properties near the church for senior citizen housing, which became a reality in late 2000 with the dedication of Grace Towers.

Pastor Galen Drawbaugh was installed as Interim Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church on July 16, 2000 and served until the end of 2001.

Pastor Keith A. Speaks was installed as Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church on February 10, 2002 and served until November 2005.

Pastor Garland Gotoski was installed as Assistant to the Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church on September 8, 2002 and served until his retirement at the end of June 2007.

After nearly two years of vacancy which was precipitated with the departure of Pastor Speaks, the congregation welcomed Pastor Timothy Carr, formerly of Houston, Texas as their new senior administrative pastor in July of 2007. With the arrival of a new pastor came the plan to rebuild the professional church work team. With this in mind, Grace then called a new graduate from Concordia Seminary, St Louis, Mo. This minister, Brad Brown, was installed in July of 2008 as an Associate Pastor for Youth and Camp Ministry. Additionally, the congregation welcomed a D C E Intern, Miss Alli Oppenner, from Concordia University Chicago for calendar year 2009. Once again our church is fully staffed and ready to meet the challenges of mission and ministry for DeWitt, Clinton County and beyond.


On December 5th, 2010 our current pastor was installed as our senior pastor here at Grace;  He continues to serve in that capacity today.  The Rev. Charles Ronald Rafferty is a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa and has been married to Carol from Cedar Rapids, since 1970.  They have one grown son, Shane and one grandchild, Gaige who reside in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Pastor Rafferty has a background in business and theology.  In 1973 he graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.  From there, he had a successful career in the real estate industry in both Iowa and Colorado. In 1987, he attended the seminary in Ft. Wayne and earned his Master of Divinity degree. Pastor Rafferty came to us from Pittsburgh, Pa where he served two congregations and was the speaker for the “GOD WITH US” radio program with Salem Communications.

 In our inner structure here at Grace, Pastor Brown received and accepted a call to serve another congregation; during the interim, the congregation called a DCE Mr. Mark Sperry, a former son of the congregation to serve the congregation with youth ministry in January of 2013. Mark trained for ministry at Concordia University, Seward, NE and has previously served at congregations in Pearland, TX, Houston, TX and Clive, IA.  Mark and his wife Cindy have been married since 1997 and have one daughter named Yana.