St. Philip’s Lutheran Church History
Beginnings in a Broom Factory
St. Philip’s Evangelical Church was an outgrowth of a survey done by the Wisconsin and Missouri Synod. Surveys were conducted in the 1930’s and the 1940’s in the heavily populated area of Milwaukee’s inner city. In 1952, through the efforts of Pastor Bertram Sauer, two information classes were formed. When Pastor Sauer became ill Rev. Paul Knickelbein was called to continue his work. Pastor Knickelbein continued to instruct the two classes. The Synodical Conference Mission Board continued to finance the pastor as well as the running expenses of this mission during its early stages.
Work in this mission field commenced that same year. Missionary Bertram Sauer began a major canvassing effort on the near north side of Milwaukee. Meanwhile, the Synodical Conference purchased as worship facility located at 5th and Meinecke from the Seventh Day Adventists at a cost of $25,000. Prior to its remodeling and use by the Adventists, the structure had been broom factory. The fruits of Missionary Sauer’s canvassing were evident in two adult information classes that had begun. One of these met in the church at 5th and Meinecke; the other met in the home of Nathaniel and Laura Harris. In all, about 10 people were being instructed through these two classes and the roots of St. Philip’s were being planted and watered.
One of the information classes consisted of Mrs. Dora Rankin, Mr. Jessie Rankin, Mr. Art Coleman, Mrs. Louise Coleman and Mr. James Hicks was held at the church at 5th and Meinecke. The other class was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Harris in the Hillside Housing Project. This class consisted of Mr. Paul Thomas, Mrs. Eula McThadden, Mrs. Mary Gandy, and Mrs. Laura Harris. Most of theses members were confirmed June 27, 1955. Along with the newly confirmed members and the following people: Mrs. Marie Givens McGill, Mrs. Eleanor Hiley, Mr. Savage McCants and Mr. Nate Harris who were already members of the Lutheran church became the beginning of St. Philip’s Lutheran Church.
During Pastor Knickelbein’s pastorate St. Philip’s made considerable progress, about thirty adults were confirmed. In October of 1955, the congregation was officially organized under the name St. Philip’s. Among the first councilmen the following were the first elected officers, Mr. Gessler Safford, president of the congregation: Mr. Art Coleman, secretary, and Mr. Nathaniel Harris treasurer.
In October of 1955, the congregation was officially organized under the name St. Philip’s. Within six months, however, Pastor Knickelbein accepted a call to St. Marcus Lutheran Church in Milwaukee. On February 19, 1956, Pastor Milton Burk was installed at St. Philip’s where he would remain until 1966. Under his leadership the Lord blessed the work going on at St. Philip’s to the extent that the mission board made special note of the “substantial growth”, with both attendance and interest growing. Few transfers were being accepted into the congregation; therefore growth at St. Philip’s depended primarily on adult converts. From 1956 to 1959, Pastor Burk reported 60 adult confirmations and 62 baptisms. The small group that had made up the nucleus reported in 1954 had grown to 205 baptized members and 98 communicant members by 1959. This certainly qualified as “substantial growth”. Along with this growth, however, came new decisions for the young congregation.
10th and Garfield
The increase of new members and their children soon had St. Philip’s searching for a larger facility, which could also accommodate their desire to open a Christian day school. There were already 25 children from the congregation that were attending school at Bethesada Lutheran. St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church and School located at 10th and Garfield had decided to relocate further west to follow their members who were moving in that direction. The decision was made to purchase this facility which included the sanctuary, five classrooms and an auditorium, as well as all of the furnishings. A joint effort of the Wisconsin Synod and some of its individual congregations in the Milwaukee area covered the bulk of the costs for this facility. The members of St. Philip’s also raised a substantial amount of money to defer the costs and the Lord granted a further blessing when an anonymous donor gave a large sum of money to cover maintenance costs at the new location.
St. Philip’s moved into their new location in 1958. Permission was soon granted for St. Philip’s to begin a one-room school. Five calls were extended for their first teacher and all were returned. Therefore, Edward Meyer, a graduate of Dr. Martin Luther College, was assigned to begin the school that St. Philip’s was hoping for. 36 students were enrolled in the first year. In the following year, Miss Patricia Radsek was called as a second teacher and St. Philip’s school enrollment jumped to 59.
Both church and school flourished in the early years at the new location on 10th and Garfield. In 1960, just five years after its founding, St. Philip’s counted 231 baptized members and a school enrollment of 72. During the course of 1960 through 1961, St. Philip’s was noted for the number of adult converts that it was gaining; each year more adults than children were being confirmed. Financially things were also progressing well for St. Philip’s since they continued to be able to support the missionary as well as cover the maintenance costs of their new facility from congregational giving.
The school followed suit with the success of the church. What began as a one-room school soon expanded to three, encompassing grades one through eight. The kindergarten age students attended St. Marcus just a short distance away. In 1961, two new teachers were called to St. Philip’s, Joyce Vetting and Paul Thomas. One of these would replace Miss Radsek who had married Ed Meyer the previous year and resigned soon after to begin a family. The additional teacher then was needed to facilitate the growing enrollment at the school that soared to 95 students in the 1961-62 school year. In 1962, all of the attending children belonged either to member families or prospects. This is remarkable considering the fact that in the present day, about two-thirds of the St. Philip’s student body is made up of non-members. The Lord was truly blessing every aspect of St. Philip’s work.
In 1964, the district mission board’s report brought both good news and bad. Membership had reached the 300 mark and school enrollment was sitting just below 100 students. A new teacher, Else Flagel, was called to replace Mr. Thomas. St. Philip’s continued to grow and adult confirmations still far exceeded those of the children. However, the property at 10th and Garfield was becoming a burden. Having already made an expensive repair to the heating system, it was also found that a great deal of interior as well as exterior work on the facility would need to be done soon; this would not be cheap. To further complicate the matter, the route of the planned expressway, Interstate 43, was threatening the property as well. In addition to this many of St. Philip’s members were located or moving farther north than the 10th and Garfield location. Once again St. Philip’s would have to consider a move.
A Difficult Decision
Circumstances dictated that St. Philip’s would have to move. Upcoming repairs meant that it would be more beneficial to move sooner rather than later, however, deciding where to move would prove to be a very difficult decision. Two sites especially were considered, Bethesada Lutheran at 11th and Chambers and Divinity Lutheran at 1st and Chambers. Both churches had recently become
available as the congregations had relocated either further west or further north. The first choice, in the eyes of the members of St. Philip’s was Bethesda. This choice was logical for several reasons. First, it was a bit closer to the present location at 10th and Garfield, and also closer to more of the membership. Second, and perhaps more important, it had a very large school on site. The major setback however was the cost. The asking price for this property was $75,000 and the mission board decided that this was more than it was willing to spend at this time. A Baptist Church eventually bought Bethesada. The second option of Divinity was not popular among the membership of St. Philip’s. The major reason for this was the lack of an onsite school. St. Philip’s school, which had begun with about 25 students, was now nearly 100 strong. Principal Ed Meyer was opposed to relocating at the Divinity facility. The congregation and teachers had worked hard to make the school a success and the Lord had certainly blessed their efforts. It is not surprising then that many had doubts about moving to the proposed 1st and Chambers location.
Reluctant to move to this property, several other plans were suggested. One thought was to disband the congregation and join membership with St. Marcus. Another option would be to remain intact as a congregation and hold separate services at St. Marcus. The final option was to simply remain at their present location at 10th and Garfield in spite of the perceived difficulties of the coming freeway as well as the mounting maintenance costs. After deliberating the pro and cons of each choice, the congregation reluctantly decided that the Divinity property at 1st and Chambers was the best option. The final agreed price for the facility was $48,000. But that was not the final price for the cost of this move. There was no organ at the new location and so St. Philip’s would have to pay the costs to move the organ. Also, the congregation refused to give up the idea of having their own school. It was determined that with a remodeling effort, one wing of the church as well as its basement could be converted into three schoolrooms. The cost for this was estimated at $15,000. When this figure is added to the $48,000 already paid and factored in with the cost of moving the organ, all of a sudden the $75,000 asking price of the well-equipped Bethesda site doesn’t seem so high. The decision to relocate on 1st and Chambers would have an enduring impact on the congregation, both good and bad; an impact that would be felt for the next 35 years of its history.
June 13, 1965 marked the first worship service held at the new facility on 1st and Chambers. During the course of that summer the necessary renovations would take place. When the school began the following fall, three new teachers were on staff. Miss Else Flagel had resigned following the end of the 1964-1965 school year. Over the summer months, the remaining two teachers Joyce Vettings and Ed Meyer received and accepted calls elsewhere. Janet Bitter and Delores Cook were assigned to St. Philip’s upon graduating from Dr. Martin Luther College. Mr. Norbert Sprengeler accepted the call to be the principal for the newly relocated school. School enrollment leveled off in the mid 70’s during these years at 1st and Chambers. The members viewed the new location as “not conducive for a school”; it was too small and very crowded. This may have taken a toll on the teachers as well. In 1968, the school once again had three new teachers: Daniel Feldt, Diane Kloke and Kathleen Schumacher. The school would see the arrival of three new teachers once again in 1970.
Pastor Burk, who had been serving the congregation since 1956, saw them through the difficult transition from 10thand Garfield to 1st and Chambers. In the fall of 1966, Pastor Burk received and accepted the call to be Dean of Men at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Pastor Burk was described as a “sincere, trusted and well liked pastor.” When Pastor Burk left St. Philip’s, membership stood at 286 baptized and 160 confirmed; enrollment at the school was 72. The Lord had blessed his nine years of service at St. Philip’s and after accepting the call to Wisconsin Lutheran College his love for St. Philip’s was manifested in his continued service to them as vacancy pastor until this position was filled the following summer.
Pastor Daniel Pautz replaced Pastor Burk in the summer of 1967. It is recalled that later in the evening on the same day that Pastor Pautz was installed at St. Philip’s; the Milwaukee riots broke out. “There was concern for all the people who had come to St. Philip’s for this special service.” The large-scale riots did not break out until well after the installation service. Pastor Pautz’ service to St. Philip’s would not last long. His wife suffered from severe arthritis. On advice from several physicians, pastor Pautz accepted a call to Arizona a year later. After his one year of service, St. Philip’s membership stood at 271 baptized and 161 confirmed; enrollment at the school was 72.
A New Image
In the summer of 1968, Pastor Gary Schroeder was called to serve St. Philip’s. Congregation member’s note that the congregation took on a new image during the years Pastor Schroeder served. He was described as mission minded, a people person, a teacher, he was up front with people and they appreciated that. Membership at St. Philip’s reached an all time high of 580 baptized souls in 1974 under Pastor Schroeder’s care and the Lord’s blessing.
Soon after Pastor Schroeder’s arrival, an extensive evangelism program was launched. Emphasis was placed on member involvement in outreach. During this time, seniors from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary also lent support to evangelism efforts at St. Philip’s. St. Philip’s had taken on the same image that had brought them into existence as a congregation, the image of outreach. When Pastor Schroeder’s service to St. Philip’s came to a close, membership stood at 576 baptized and 288 confirmed; enrollment at the school was 71. These seven years of service were anything but lean. From St. Philip’s Pastor Schroeder accepted a call to serve as a missionary to Hong Kong and his departure brought to a close an important era for the congregation.
The significance of the Christian day school that St. Philip’s was operating during this period of incredible growth should not be underestimated. About four years after Pastor Schroeder began; Ned Goede was called to teach at St. Philip’s. Eventually Mr. Goede would become the principal of St. Philip’s and remain with the school as a stabilizing factor throughout the remainder of its years at 1st and Chambers and well into its present location at Holton and Chambers. When the evangelism efforts of Pastor Schroeder’s years cooled off a bit, the school remained an important outreach tool bringing new prospects through the doors of St. Philip’s every year. The numbers of the school were down because of lack of space. This would prompt yet another move in St. Philip’s history.
Four four-year Pastors
Following Pastor Schroeder’s seven years of service, St. Philip’s would find itself with four different pastors, not counting vacancy pastors, within a sixteen-year period. Pastor Kurt Mahnke arrived at St. Philip’s in 1975. Membership when he arrived stood at 576 baptized and 288 confirmed. Just one year later, the membership had declined to 411 baptized and 229 confirmed. One explanation for this may be found in the District’s Mission Board report from that same year. They write regarding St. Philip’s, “they face the same erosion of membership of other churches in the inner city. As its members rise on the economic ladder, they move out of the inner city and affiliate with other congregations.” However, it should also be noted that there are also members who moved out of the inner city and yet continue to attend St. Philip’s. In the spring of 1978, Pastor Mahnke received and accepted a call to serve in Arizona. Membership when he left stoop at 438 baptized and 252 confirmed with a weekly average attendance of 160.
Seminarian James Witt III was serving as vicar during the final year of Pastor Mahnke’s stay. Upon graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, James Witt was assigned at St. Philip’s new pastor. Despite his young age and lack of experience, Pastor Witt would lead St. Philip’s through a change that would alter the course of its history. The financial burden of operating a school was taking
its toll on the congregation, even with the support it received from the synod. Just a few blocks away, Jerusalem Lutheran School was facing difficulties of its own. Its membership was on the decline and along with it, enrollment in its school. St. Philip’s had plenty of students, but lacked space and financial resources. In the fall of 1979, talks regarding a merger of the two schools commenced. Both congregations were in favor of discussing the matter. In March of 1980, an agreement concerning the school was reached. The newly merged school assumed the name of Beautiful Savior Lutheran School and opened its doors in the fall of 1980 with an enrollment of 118. Pastor Witt remained at St. Philip’s until 1982. Membership when he left stood at 404 baptized and 251 confirmed with a weekly average attendance of 121.
After serving as vacancy pastor and once returning the call to serve as full-time pastor, Helmut Flegel, a counselor at Wisconsin Lutheran High School became the eighth pastor to serve St. Philip’s in a full-time capacity. His years would prove to be a sad period in the history of the congregation. Pastor Flegel left the ministry in 1986. Membership when he left stood at 308 baptized and 193 confirmed with a weekly average attendance of 150. The school enrollment stood at 104.
In July of 1987, graduate Terry Reich, was installed as St. Philip’s new Pastor. Several outreach efforts that same year brought new members into the congregation. Pastor Reich followed suit by implementing new programs geared toward evangelism, stewardship and youth discipleship. Just two years later, a promising report by the district mission board concerning St. Philip’s was given:
Weekly worship attendance was up 16% over the past two years. A marked renewal in fellowship through active youth, men’s and women’s clubs. A Gospel Choir serves as an arm of outreach.
A dramatic increase in offerings projects total self-support within four years. A real sense of “friendship evangelism” finds people actively bringing in relatives and friends to share the Savior.
Although not all of the encouraging news came to fruition, it is evident that the Lord continued to bless his people at St. Philip’s despite a frequent turnover in pastorates. This same year marked the tenth anniversary of Beautiful Savior Lutheran School’s joint operation by St. Philip’s and Jerusalem. Pastor Reich served at St. Philip’s until 1990. Membership when he left stood at 260 baptized and 187 confirmed with a weekly average attendance of 143.
During this sixteen year period in St. Philip’s history when a number of pastors came and went, it should also be noted that on several occasions, Pastors Mark and John Jeske served vacancies for the congregation. Their service was greatly appreciated and they are credited with holding things together during some difficult times in the history of this congregation.
One More Move
In November of 1991, Pastor Raymond Kimbrough accepted the call to St. Philip’s and has remained with the congregation up to the present day. During the course of his years of service, St. Philip’s again underwent many changes; but these are changes that have brought them to the position they are in today, and these are changes that promise to keep them in the position they are today. When Pastor Kimbrough arrived, he found a congregation that had weathered some difficult times due to change, and yet, through change, had remained in tact. And, there were opportunities here. The neighborhood was filled with children, and the school remained a wonderful tool for outreach. However, financial difficulties remained a constant roadblock to the congregation. Paying the bills was a continual challenge and struggle. This was perhaps the biggest factor in St. Philip’s next and probably final move.
Already in 1992, the idea of merging St. Philip’s congregation with Jerusalem was being discussed at St. Philip’s. Before long, Jerusalem was approached. It was appealing on both ends because of the financial burdens that could potentially be lifted by joining together. Only one property would need to be maintained. St. Philip’s would no longer have to shuffle back and forth between their school and their church. Jerusalem, who had very few students remaining in the joint school, would be relieved of a great financial burden. Merger made sense, but it would not happen.
The merger talks were moving a little to fast for Jerusalem. In a voters' assembly held on September 20, 1992, Pastor Duane Erstad of Jerusalem stressed the need for this decision to be a spiritual one, not a financial one. It seems that those who favored the merger didn’t view it as being either a financial or a spiritual decision, but rather both. The merger talks would continue. As Jerusalem’s membership continued to dwindle, the idea of some sort of merger with St. Philip’s became more probable. Finally on September 19, 1993, a motion was made and carried by the Voter’s Assembly at Jerusalem to give St. Philip’s congregation complete ownership of Jerusalem’s entire church and school property. Jerusalem will retain the right to occupy and hold worship services as well as pay one-half of all maintenance for the church property.
In October of 1993, the St. Philip’s voters accepted the specific details made by Jerusalem. St. Philip’s sold their property at 1st and Chambers and moved into their new and current home at Holton and Chambers in March of 1994. For nearly the next ten years, both congregations would exist and worship under the same roof, but never merge. Jerusalem congregation officially closed in 2003. Whatever interest they had remaining in the property at Holton and Chambers was officially relinquished to St. Philip’s upon their dissolution. St. Philip’s, however, continues; both church and school. The school name was changed back to St. Philip’s Lutheran School in July of 2002.
Several other items of note should be mentioned concerning St. Philip’s in recent years. St. Philip’s Lutheran School participated in the School Choice voucher program. This plan allows qualifying families to receive a voucher from the State of Wisconsin to use for tuition at St. Philip’s. This had indeed been a blessing for the school and the congregation as a whole. It has allowed them not only to remain open, but also to thrive at a time when other synod schools are either merging or closing. Current figures show that about two-thirds of the students enrolled at St. Philip’s in 2005 are from non-member families. So the reinvigorated school remains as a valuable outreach tool to this very day, a tool that both the current pastor and principal at St. Philip’s are working hard at utilizing well. The down side of the Choice program is the lack of a back-up plan should these state monies be cut off. There is no doubt that the congregation has their trust in God, and not the wealth of the state; however, judging by the current enrollment and costs of operation of the school, it’s hard to imagine that St. Philip’s could continue at it’s current level without the Choice program in place.
Another item to note in St. Philip’s recent history is the remodeling that took place both within the school (on a smaller scale) and in the sanctuary on a grander scale. In the year 2000, the school underwent minor cosmetic changes, receiving a new paint job, carpeting throughout, windows and entrance doors replaced. The result is a much more comfortable atmosphere for the students. Just three years ago, the interior of the sanctuary underwent a major facelift. Cracking plaster, dark wallpaper and dim lighting had been calling for renewal for some time. At the cost of approximately $90,000, all gathered from our members, the sanctuary was renovated and repainted top to bottom with marvelous results. To this day St. Philip’s enjoys both an excellent and beautiful church and school, filled with children and growing in members.
Membership currently stands at 256 baptized members and 202 confirmed members. Average Sunday attendance is 140. The school enrollment stands at 123.
St. Philip’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Important Dates
1952: Beginning of two instruction classes by Pastor Bertram Sauer. One class met at the church at 5th and Meinecke, and the other met in the Hillside Housing Project.
1953: Pastor Paul Knickelbein accepts call to replace
June 27, 1955: Confirmation of first new members.
October, 1955: Organization of St. Philip’s Lutheran Church. Consisted of at least 43
1956: Southeastern Wisconsin District Mission Board
sponsors St. Philip’s.
February 1956: Pastor Milton Burk accepts call to replace
1957: St. Philip’s moves to old St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church building on 10th and Garfield.
1958: Mr. Edward Meyer called to be teacher of new St. Philip’s Christian Day School.
1964: St. Philip’s moves to old Divine Charity Lutheran building on 1st and Chambers.
Summer, 1966: Pastor Daniel Pautz accepts call to replace
Summer, 1968: Pastor Gary Schroeder accepts call to replace Pastor Pautz.
June, 1975: Pastor Kurt Mahnke accepts call to replace
May, 1978: Pastor James Witt accepts call to replace
June, 1980: Merger of Christian Day School with Jerusalem Day School to form Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran School.
July, 1983: Pastor Helmet Flegel accepts call to replace
July, 1987: Pastor Terry Reich accepts call to replace
November, 1991: Pastor Raymond Kimbrough accepts call to replace Pastor Reich.
1994: St. Philip’s moves to Jerusalem church building at Holton & Chambers. The entire church and school properties were given as a gift to St. Philip’s Lutheran Church by Jerusalem Lutheran Church.
July 2002: Beautiful Savior Lutheran School changes name back to St. Philip’s Lutheran School.
October 16, 2005: St. Philip’s Lutheran Church celebrates