Luke 24:36-48

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

By Dr. Keith Wagner

Today we are reflecting and celebrating 135 years of ministry as a congregation in the Sidney Community. It all began in 1868 when a handful of German immigrants decided to begin a new church. One of the main “shakers and movers” of that effort was Charles “Pop” Timeus. He and his wife, Sophia, were charter members. The other two founding fathers were A.R. Friedman and George Bayer. Timeus was a local businessman who was educated in Germany and became one of Sidney’s leading citizens. It has been said that Timeus had a jovial disposition. He served as the president of the congregation for almost 40 years. As for Sophia, it has been said that she was very charitable and devoted to the ministry of the church.

Legend has it that St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reformed Church was a gathering of folks who didn’t seem to fit (or be welcomed) in other local congregations. Some left the Lutheran Church because of a dispute about communion practices. It has also been documented that some local saloon keepers felt welcomed at St. Paul’s and therefore joined the membership. As a result St. Paul’s became known as the “Lager Beer Church.”

The German speaking congregation worshipped in German every other Sunday until 1909, when they moved into the church building on the corner of S. Main and South Streets. Until that time children were taught German in catechism classes. The congregation was small, about 50 members.

Timeus was in the grocery business which was known as the C. Timeus Grocery Company. He sold groceries, liquor and beer and later added bakery products for which his store became widely known. He later began an ice business and slaughter house. He was also one of 8 other men who helped to create the first power company, the Sidney Gaslight Company.

As we look back to the origin of the church there are several themes that have remained constant over the years. St. Paul’s continues to be a refuge for people who don’t seem to feel comfortable in other congregations. In the last decade we have received folks from other churches who became disgruntled or disenfranchised. As a congregation we are very tolerant of people who are new to the community and also receptive to folks who have gone through separation or divorce. Like our charter members we continue to welcome people who don’t feel welcome in other churches.

Ironically, our scripture today expresses the same understanding. Jesus was not recognized by his disciples until he reminded them of the mercy of God and their need to be in the business of forgiveness. The Greek word for forgiveness means to release, to hurl away, or to make oneself free. Forgiveness enables us to let go of our past mistakes and move forward. Jesus’ acceptance of his disciples, who a few days before had rejected and denied him, moved them to remember their calling and the opportunity to live in God’s abiding grace.

The disciples were “startled and frightened” when Jesus appeared in their midst. But in the midst of their brokenness and confusion he inspired them and enhanced their faith. They were struggling for hope and assurance and striving for identity in a cruel and hostile world. Thankfully, Christ’s appearance gave them the hope they needed to continue and build the church.

The second theme I would like to lift up today has to do with food. I stated earlier that Timeus was in the grocery business. The first leader of St. Paul’s served the community by providing one of our basic needs, food. In the previous paragraph (in Luke), Jesus became known to his disciples in the “breaking of the bread.” To help them to believe that it was really him, Jesus asks them for something to eat. “They gave him a piece of broiled fish.”

After worship this morning we will join in the fellowship hall for dinner. I know of no other way for folks to get to know each other than across the table. A common meal brings people together. That is the primary life event where we share the stories. It is no accident that the church survives on potluck dinners, coffee hours and special meals. Our current building was financed through hundreds of chicken dinners prepared by the Women’s Guild. There is just something about the presence of food that brings people together. Breaking bread together provides an opportunity for folks of the faith to bond together. I believe we can truly celebrate the fact that from the earliest days of the church, food has been the lifeblood of the congregation.

The third theme has to do with mission. Our first members faced many challenges. They struggled in the first 40 years, moving from place to place, until the first sanctuary was built in 1909. Besides the fact that Jesus reminded them of the need to be forgiving he also reminded them of the need for “repentance.” Repentance comes from the Greek word, metanoia, which means conversion or turning. We are called away from the world’s standards and therefore called to live by a different one.

For example, the early women of St.Paul’s were known for their deeds of mercy and caring. They frequently walked the streets of Sidney, visiting the sick and the lonely. They understood their calling to meet the needs of others in the community. Their faith took them to the streets just as Jesus called his disciples to preach to the nations.

If you read some of the historical writings of St. Paul’s you will discover numerous activities and ministries that have occurred over the years. One of the most common ministries has been our teaching ministry. From the earliest days the church maintained a Sunday school. Here in Luke we hear Jesus “opening the minds of the disciples to understand the scriptures.”

Its no accident that there are many educators in our midst. Education is a high value in the life of our congregation. Our radio program, “The Church on the Hill,” has now been on the air for over 12 years. Hundreds of people in West Ohio have told me how much they appreciate this valuable mission. Some of you may be surprised to learn that today’s message is on the Internet. Hundreds of pastors visit this on-line ministry every week. It is quite possible that our story is being shared with as many as 500 other congregations this morning throughout the world.

Ministry has continued through the years because as a church we have turned from other things in life and been willing to walk in new directions. Whether its working toward the construction of a new facility, starting a new Sunday School Class, or sending care packages to our soldiers in Iraq we have been willing to travel on various missionary roads.

What will the future be like for St.Paul’s Church? Hopefully we will continue to break bread together, continue our forgiving, tolerant and inclusive spirit and be willing to accept new challenges and turn in directions that serve the people of God. This we can be sure of, just as Jesus was in the midst of his disciples he is still in our midst, accepting us, loving us and challenging us to build his church.

Copyright 2003 Keith Wagner. Used by permission.