The Lord richly blessed the efforts of the members of Trinity Lutheran Church and their minister, The Rev. E. T. Leckband, resulting in tremendous membership growth in 1955. Plans were made to relocate and build two churches -- one on the southeast and one on the west side of the city. A successful congregational stewardship and building fund drive enabled the purchase of four lots in the Charles Russell Addition in February of 1956. Ground breaking ceremonies for an educational building and chapel for Eastside Trinity Lutheran Church took place November 3, 1957.
God provided the Rev. Arnold F. Boehnke as pastor to start the second parish. He was installed as co-pastor of Trinity Lutheran on December 15, 1957, and began conducting worship services in Lincoln school on January 19, 1958. Sunday School classes had been conducted there since May, 1957.
The first worship service held in the new church building was led by Rev. Boehnke on October 26, 1958, with 170 worshippers in attendance. Under Rev. Boehnke’s leadership the new congregation began to take shape: weekly Sunday School classes were conducted for the Deaf and the Blind with hearing members of the congregation providing transportation. Worship services for the deaf were conducted once each month. The adult choir was begun and family gatherings were held in homes each month; establishing the fellowship essential to a healthy congregation life. Rev. Boehnke preached his farewell sermon on December 7, 1958, and the Rev. John D. Senter of Fort Benton served as vacancy pastor.
With the assistance of the Montana District Mission Department, Peace Lutheran Church was organized on December 15,1958. The charter membership consisted of 89 communicants and 54 baptized souls released from Trinity Lutheran, the mother church. A temporary “Steering Committee” was selected which consisted of the following people: Frank Biegel, President; Herb Rast, Vice-president; Orvall Nelson, Secretary; Elmer Senkbeil, Treasurer; Lyle Olson, Membership Secretary and Gene Sieckman, Financial Secretary. A Constitution Committee consisting of Don Torgenrud, Carl Mack, Craig Brawner, Ed Hickel, Sam Juvick and Bill Rickman was formed. The constitution was approved at a voters meeting on February 13, 1959, and the first election of officers was held: Herb Rast, President; Lyle Olson, Vice-president; Orvall Nelson, Secretary, and Oscar Hearing, Treasurer. The congregation was incorporated March 26, 1959.
The Rev. Arthur Kreidt was installed as the first resident pastor of Peace on August 30, 1959. The Lord continued to bless the efforts of the pastor and people of Peace as 1960 saw the new church building dedicated on October 30th, the corner stone was laid on November 27th.
Opportunities for growth and service increased as Walther League and the Ladies Guild were organized. The music program expanded with the addition of two children’s choirs and annual original Christmas pageants. Rev. Kreidt preached his farewell sermon on February 13, 1966. The Rev. Donald E. Thuss from Power served as vacancy pastor.
The Lord provided a new shepherd for His flock with the installation of The Rev. Harold L. Hingst on September 11, 1966. Educational programs were stressed as a Pre-School Vacation Bible School was started. Wednesday Weekday School grew to include classes for grades 1-8, children’s choir and a hot meal. Family Bible studies were conducted in homes throughout Great Falls, and an active evangelism program was begun. Increased attendance on Sunday mornings eventually required the addition of a third Sunday morning service.
Several improvements were made to the church building during Pastor Hingst’s ministry. The contemporary baptismal font, individual communion service, the eternal flame, advent wreath, credence shelf, candle shelves and flower shelves were dedicated. The permanent Sunday School dividers and pulpit and lectern handrails were installed. The nativity mosaic was permanently installed on the front of the church and the first of the stained glass windows was dedicated.
The informal Friendship-Fellowship adult group was formed with monthly activities planned. Members looked forward to frequent Youth Folk Worship services and monthly visits from Theophilus the friendly church mouse in the Peace Talks, the monthly newsletter.
Redeemer Lutheran Church and Peace Lutheran joined to sponsor a 13 member Vietnamese family in 1975.
The congregation’s first Parish Worker, Esther Stinnett, was commissioned on September 18, 1977.
Rev. Harold Hingst preached his farewell sermon on June 18, 1978 and Rev. Al Glinsmann of Trinity Lutheran church served as vacancy pastor.
The Rev. Dr. William Bersley was installed as Peace’s third pastor on August 13, 1978. Rev. Bersley’s emphasis was on family activities. The congregation enjoyed annual congregational retreats and weekly summer family nights. Adults experienced a deepening of their faith in God and commitment to each other through small sharing groups. The children responded enthusiastically to Pastor Bersley’s invitation to come forward for the weekly children’s sermon. Maundy Thursday Seder dinners brought a new depth of understanding and appreciation to Holy Week, which continued through the impressive Good Friday Tenebrae Services and Easter Services with special music. The young people of the congregation, by now called the Lutheran Youth Fellowship, started the annual talent show which has become an annual highlight. Rev. Bersley preached his farewell sermon on July 27, 1980. Pastor Glinsmann again was our vacancy pastor.
By the grace of God, Peace was spared a long vacancy and The Rev. Mark J. Nicolaus was installed September 21, 1980. Pastor Nicolaus immediately embarked upon an enthusiastic every-member visitation. Monthly visits to the State Prison at Deer Lodge became part of his routine.
Recognizing that Peace has many members working on Sunday because of the essential nature of their occupation, Wednesday evening services were added on a year-round basis. Peace’s congregation became a moving force in establishing Lutherans For Life in the Montana District and a local Cascade County Chapter was formed.
After years of patching and repairing the flat roof, a new pitched roof was built and leaking ceilings ceased to be a problem. Encouraged by Pastor Nicolaus, members concentrated their efforts on attempting to pay off the mortgage on our church. Pastor Nicolaus preached his farewell sermon on August 24, 1986. The Rev. Joseph Howlett from Power served as the vacancy pastor.
The Rev. Robert Eckelman was installed as Peace’s fifth pastor on May 3, 1987. Several more improvements were made to the church building during Pastor Eckelman’s ministry. The Sun Room was built, adding additional space for fellowship. Windows were replaced in both offices, and a sprinkler system was installed.
An important milestone for the congregation occurred with the church debt being paid off. A celebration service was held on July 4, 1991, during which the mortgage was burned.Pastor Eckelman retired from the ministry at the end of December, 1995. The Rev. Bruce Zagel of Trinity served as vacancy pastor until July, 1996.
In July of 1996, Esther Stinnett retired from the position of Parish Worker after serving for 19 years. During that time, she created most of the stained glass windows seen on the east wall. She was very active in the church as organist in LWML, singing in the choir, and as a midweek teacher.
The Rev. Henry (Hank) Drummond took over the vacancy in July, 1996 and was installed as the sixth pastor of Peace on September 22, 1996. The Missions Committee for the District suggested that Peace and Christ Lutheran Church for the Deaf become a dual parish and the agreement was signed on July 18, 1996. Pastor Drummond continued to serve the deaf in the state, traveling to Billings once per quarter and to Missoula once each month. He re-started the Lutheran Deaf Camp each year at Trinity Lutheran Camp in Bigfork. At Peace we saw an increase in membership requiring the congregation to return to two worship services, with the Christ Lutheran for the Deaf church service in between our two services. Pastor Drummond instituted a new format for confirmation and reintroduced children’s messages during the school year as part of our worship services. The Lutheran Adults, Married and Single (LAMS) group was reformed and congregational retreats have begun each year as well. Pastor Drummond led the “Early Bird” Bible study each Thursday morning at Hardees on 10th Avenue, along with other Bible studies during the week. Pastor Drummond introduced us to a Family Night on Wednesdays with classes for all ages, and a potluck was added once a month before classes. He also introduced the DELTO program for men wishing to enter the pastoral field and started with two men from our congregation. He also trained four men for the LAP (Lay Assistant Program) and they have been a great help during our vacancy. We also celebrate Fat Tuesdays every year the night before Ash Wednesday.
During Pastor Drummond’s service we saw improvements to our building such as remodeling of the church office, an addition of the church library, new entry doors, new windows in the Fellowship Hall and new energy efficient blinds for the Fellowship Hall and Sun Room. A new fence was placed around the flower garden with the theme of the Alpha and Omega in the design. A chain link fence in the back lawn area with a playground for the children were installed. The west parking lot was also fenced in for additional parking. During the summer of 1998, congregational meetings were held to discuss the needs of the existing building. A building committee and a remodeling committee were posted and we went to work raising funds for a new sacristy and additions to the offices, kitchen, bathrooms and furnace room. Pastor Drummond’s farewell service was July 24, 2005, as he accepted a call from Miami, Florida. Pastor Kent Stenzel of Trinity, Great Falls, served as our vacancy pastor.
A decision was made at the fall 2005 Voter’s meeting to go ahead with plans for expanding the rest rooms, furnace room, kitchen and offices. Laborer’s For Christ were contacted and came in May 2006 with the completion done in September 2006.
In February 2006 we extended a call to Rev. Steven Schlund from Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Ravenna, Nebraska. Pastor Schlund accepted the call and was installed as the seventh pastor of Peace on May 21, 2006.
During Pastor Schlund’s tenure, the building project was completed and dedicated on October 29, 2006. Further improvements were made on the building. New carpeting was added throughout the church. The sanctuary was insulated and received new carpeting and vinyl flooring, replacing the linoleum and old carpeting. The pews were removed and completely refinished. The chancel area was redesigned which resulted in the communion rail and altar being moved forward and the lectern and pulpit being moved back. The western wall in the sanctuary was taken down, resulting in more seating space for worship. A new Sunday School room was added and the Quilters’ Room was redesigned. The Library was improved and expanded to include a conference table and chairs. Air conditioning was added to the church office and pastor’s office. Many members contributed to a massive landscaping effort which resulted in several flowerbeds that have drawn the attention and admiration of members and non-members alike. The east parking lot was resurfaced and the west parking lot was paved for the first time ever.
Pastor Schlund began a Men’s Bible Breakfast which meets at JB’s restaurant on Wednesday morning at 6:30 AM. Family Night on Wednesday evenings has expanded to include a potluck dinner at every session and every other week meetings during the summer. Pastor Schlund started an “Adult Inquirers’ Class” on Sunday evenings in the fall for people who wanted to join Peace or just wanted to know more about the Christian faith. Worship returned to one service on Sunday morning at 9:30 AM to unite the Peace family together in worship and allow Pastor Schlund to teach the Adult Bible Class. Christ Lutheran Church for the Deaf began a new worship schedule with worship at 8:30 AM every Sunday morning and Bible Study on Tuesday mornings at 11:00 AM.
A committed was formed to prepare for the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Peace Lutheran Church. Laura Brandt chaired the committee. “Grace and Peace Be Yours in Abundance”, based on 1 Peter 1:2b, was chosen as the theme for the celebration and October 12, 2008 was chosen as the day for the celeberation. A special worship service was held at 4:00 PM on that date with former Pastors Eckelman and Nicolaus leading the service. A catered meal was served in the fellowship hall after the service.
The Lord has certainly blessed Peace Lutheran Church in the past 50 years for which we are all grateful! We pray for His continued blessing as we continue to reach out to all people with His “grace and peace” in the coming years!