Thanks to Emily Breland of Hilton Head Island for sharing the story of Christ Lutheran Church as it celebrates its 40th anniversary.
"Christ Lutheran Church"
By Emily Breland
From Christ Lutheran Church's founding 40 years ago, its history, in many ways, parallels the growth and development of Hilton Head Island. Those four decades will be celebrated by its congregation on Oct. 27, along with a mortgage-burning ceremony.
When the mission pastor, the Rev. Boyd Cook, arrived in 1972, Hilton Head's population was approximately 2,500. He soon realized "native Lutherans" were scarce, so he began to advertise in The Island Packet plans to develop a Lutheran church on the island. Cook said, "One of my favorite tactics was to ferret out possible Lutherans by following cars with Ohio or Pennsylvania license plates, states known to have many Lutheran churches and institutions." Imagine how difficult it would be today for Cook to follow all those cars.
Once a congregation began to form, there was a need for a building in which to worship. The first home to the church was the Sea Pines Montessori School, situated then where the Holiday Inn now stands near Coligny Circle. The church met at the school from October 1972 until February 1973 until Father Paul Seitz of the Holy Family Catholic Church offered space in its small, but newly built, concrete block and stucco building on Pope Avenue. Seitz offered the building with two stipulations: Because Holy Family held one Mass at noon, Seitz asked, "Can you get in and do what you Lutherans do and be out by 11:30?" The second stipulation was that they had to promise not to nail anything to the doors.
The church continued to meet there until June 1973 when scheduling services with the growing Holy Family made the arrangement no longer feasible. Within a month, Paul and Gretchen Ramsey offered the Island Theater at Coligny Plaza as a new home, where the congregation worshipped until April 1976.
All three of these early homes to Christ Lutheran were given free of charge. This fact is evidence that an amazing community and ecumenical spirit existed on the island.
Among the new residents of the island at that time were Jimmy Rowe, present owner of Kinghorn Insurance Services, his wife, Phyllis, and their two daughters. The Rowes assumed the duty of setting up the theater for church on Sunday mornings, which included covering the candy counters with a sheet to keep the sweets out of sight from tempted children. Cook's son told his father in later years, "I hardly go to the theater and smell the popcorn without thinking of church." Jimmy Rowe soon became the treasurer of the church, and Phyllis became the pianist and organist; both posts lasted for the next 18 years.
A NEW HOME
In the early 1970s, there were three large land developers on the island, each of which gave land for churches. Land negotiations for Christ Lutheran were begun with the Phipps Land Company, a large national land development company that owned Palmetto Dunes. Robert Onorato, president of the Palmetto Dunes Resort, was the person who negotiated for Christ Lutheran Church. When Greenwood Development took over ownership of the Phipps group, Greenwood honored the land transfer. In honor of his great service to the church, Onorato was invited to be one of the lectors at the first Easter Sunrise Service at the Hyatt Hotel (now the Marriott) in Palmetto Dunes. He continued that duty for the next 20 years. Christ Lutheran remains the host church for the Easter Sunrise Service there each year.
In August 1975, the design proposal for the new church building was approved by the congregation. It included space for the new sanctuary, classroom and administrative space. Peter Sheratt, of Keanne-Sheratt Architects of Hilton Head and a member of the congregation, provided the inspiration for the design. Peter received the Golden Palmetto Award from the Town of Hilton Head Island for the design of Christ Lutheran Church on William Hilton Parkway. In addition, the first pipe organ on the island, built by Zimmer Pipe Organ Company of Charlotte, was also approved, a gift to the church in memory of Dorothy Kah Olbert.
On Sept. 7, 1975, the church conducted the groundbreaking ceremony among tall pines and majestic live oaks, with many notable members, church leaders, and islanders participating in the ceremony. But most important were the youngest members of the congregation, a group of children, who helped turn the first spades.
Wayne Edwards, noted sculptor and a charter member of Christ Lutheran, constructed and carved the interior cross, made of Honduras mahogany, that would be suspended above the altar. Edwards, renowned for his creation of King Neptune at Shelter Cover Harbour, also sculpted the shepherd statue of marble dust that stands in the sanctuary. Later he added the lamb at Jesus' feet when Deep Well Project founder Charlotte Heinrichs had it commissioned as a gift for her husband, George, who liked to sit in the pew near the shepherd. Additional works by Edwards include the hymn board and the carving on the lectern, along with his carving of the Ascension that hangs in the narthex.
LOVE COMPELS ACTION
As the dream of a permanent worship facility was nearing completion, the need for other programs began to emerge. One requirement of the then-Lutheran Church in America denomination was that the mission had to commit to serving the larger community. The mission church was to identify worthy community development projects to which congregations could commit their efforts. Christ Lutheran applied for an LCA grant to purchase freezer units that would enable shrimpers in the Hilton Head Island Fishing Co-op to expand their markets.
Also, through a denominational grant and gifts from the congregation, Christ Lutheran donated $10,000 to the Deep Well Project, making it possible to bring pure, fresh and sanitary water to islanders who so direly needed it. This program was known as "Love Compels Action." Today the Fellowship Hall of Christ Lutheran is named in honor of George and Charlotte Henrichs.
On Palm Sunday, April 11, 1976, Christ Lutheran opened its worship service in the Island Theater and then formed a processional to the new sanctuary for the remainder of the service. On June 20, 1976, the church held its dedication service, highlighted by an organ recital given by concert organist Sue Guerry of Savannah's Christ Episcopal Church to also dedicate the church's new organ.
Today, Christ Lutheran Church is still growing and remains committed to serving the community. Its enduring contributions include the 34-year-old, nationally accredited preschool. The church also hosts Red Cross blood drives, a voting precinct, various men's and women's groups and the Branch School. It continues to support Deep Well and, more recently, Family Promise.
The character of Christ Lutheran Church continues to be molded by its members, joined by all former and interim pastors, as well as its current pastor, the Rev. David Osborne. His wife, Karen, teaches music at the Hilton Head International Baccalaureate Elementary School and also serves as the director of music at Christ Lutheran.
Cook remembers driving across the bridge to leave Hilton Head to assume his next pastorate. He said it was an emotional experience, "in spite of the inconvenience of one small grocery store and being stranded on the island when an occasional barge rendered the turnbuckle bridge impassable. As much as it hurt to leave, now each time we drive back, our hearts don't hurt. They rejoice! It's a homecoming!"
This time it also will be a celebration.
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