Founded in 1874, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was the first church to be established in the Village of Oak Lawn and has been a cornerstone of the community since its establishment.
Origin to 1940
Oak Lawn's historical archives record that the first settlers in this vicinity, then known as Black Oak, arrived in 1858. During subsequent years, many settlers of German heritage moved into the Black Oak area. These German settlers, aware of their need to hear the Word of God proclaimed, arranged for a Lutheran minister to lead their worship. His name was Rev. Herman Wunderlich, and he was a supply pastor from nearby Tinley Park. His first worship service was held on May 26, 1867, at a schoolhouse at what is now 95th Street and 55th Avenue. Services were conducted on alternating Sunday afternoons. From this humble beginning, the Trinity congregation was formed.
Pastor ·Wunderlich served the new Lutheran community for three years, until 1869, and was followed by Rev. Reinke from Blue Island, a supply pastor who served two years. Pastor H. Ernst, another supply pastor from Blue Island, served from 1871 to 1879. During Pastor Ernst's tenure, on February 9, 1874, twenty-four members of new congregation signed a constitution, written in German, and officially established the new Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Membership in the new church grew. In 1880, during the tenure of Pastor Duborg, the fourth supply pastor to serve the congregation, Trinity decided to call a full-time resident pastor. About that same time, one of the congregational leaders, Joachim Lange, donated land' at 5000 W. 95th Street, for the construction of a church building. The new church, dedicated on October 9, 1881, was a white frame structure with a tall steeple, and would serve the congregation for 59 years. The following year, in 1882, Pastor Duborg accepted a call as Trinity's first resident pastor.
During these early days in the life of the congregation, worship services were conducted in German, and the minutes and records of the church were kept in German. During worship services, the men sat on one side of the church, and the women on the other side. Children were relegated to the balcony.
Other pastors that followed were Pastor Eisenbach, Pastor Meyer, Pastor Scheffler, Pastor Brockhaus, and Pastor Prange.
Words from the 75th Anniversary booklet read, “Throughout the years the word of God has been faithfully preached and taught, the Sacraments administered, souls were added to the church and cared for through the ministrations of the church. The passing years may have brought many changes, but the work of the Kingdom has gone on without interruption. For this we give thanks to God. As years went by it became more and more evident that the old church on 95th street was no longer adequate for the growing congregation. There was no longer room for the growing Sunday School and there were no facilities for social events and organizational activities. The “new church” was dedicated on June 16, 1940.”
Time passed, and the Trinity community continued to grow. During the tenure of Reverend J. H. Prange, who served as Trinity's pastor from 1926 to 1943, the church reached several milestones. First, in 1931, Trinity celebrated the 50th anniversary of the church building. In 1937, Trinity adopted a new constitution, now written in English, and recognized the women members' right to vote in congregational affairs. Also, the congregation recognized the need to expand the facilities to accommodate the large Sunday School program. With the railroad running behind the church property, and an increasingly busy 95th Street in front, the decision was made to relocate. Mr. and Mrs. Albert Brandt, who were members of the church, donated land at 95th Street and Brandt Avenue. The congregation undertook to construct a larger church building at the new location, which is still the home of Trinity today.
1940 to 1999
The new church building, a modem Gothic stone structure, was dedicated on June 16, 1940. Reverend Prange led a procession of the church council, the building committee, the choirs, the membership and friends, from the old church building to the new. Unbeknownst to that happy processional, America would soon be engaged in the Second World War. The years that followed the end of the war, however, would witness tremendous growth for both the Village of Oak Lawn, as well as for Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Trinity experienced growth in membership in the years after the war and during the "baby boom.” This growth is reflected in the expansion of Trinity's physical facilities. In 1956, Trinity dedicated the addition to the church building in the form of an auditorium, a kitchen, classrooms, and offices for the church and the pastor. In 1966, Trinity dedicated the parsonage across Brandt Avenue from the church. In 1968, the congregation dedicated an addition in the form of the Rademacher Room, currently known as the Library (a large meeting room with home-style decor), choir room, and additional classrooms. With an expansive physical plant, Trinity can accommodate virtually any type of activity.
Trinity also saw a growth in ministries during this time. Linda Bensen joined the Trinity staff as youth director in 1968. While still serving as the youth director, Linda's role at Trinity grew significantly over time. She has been a wonderful influence on all of the Trinity youth, as well as the adult members, throughout her tenure here. In 1969, Trinity acquired a used school bus and has maintained a bus ministry since then. Trinity later acquired a church van. With the bus and van, Trinity has sent members, and especially the youth, to all parts of the country for both recreational and service projects. In 1984, Trinity opened a Pre-School, under the direction of Cathy Cepican, where children ages 3 and 4 are taught the love of Christ. The Pre-School has operated at full capacity in virtually every year of its existence. In 1992, Trinity began "Saturday Night Alive," an informal worship service for those unable to attend Sunday morning worship. In 1999, Trinity created the staff position of Director of Christian Education and hired Cathy Cepican for this position. The Christian Education Director is responsible for both youth and adult education. Trinity offers a wide variety of other ministries, including Vacation Bible School, Boy Scouts, women's circles, craft fairs, and rummage sales. In 1999, Trinity proudly celebrated its 125th anniversary.
During this period of growth and development, Trinity was also blessed with stability in the ministry. Pastor Becker joined Trinity in 1952 and served the congregation until his retirement in 1969. Pastor Landgrebe succeeded Pastor Becker in 1969 and served until his retirement in 1984. Pastor Dahl followed Pastor Landgrebe in 1984 and served until his retirement in 1999. For a period of 47 years, Trinity was served by these three dedicated ministers, each of whom was admired and respected by the congregation.
2000 – 2017
Pastor Norman Femrite served as Pastor at Trinity from 2000 to 2007, before accepting a call in Princeton, Illinois. During Pastor Femrite's tenure, Trinity continued to expand its ministries. In 2004, at a Council retreat, Trinity’s mission statement “Teaching the love of Christ” was established. In 2005, Trinity became involved in the PADS program, providing housing and meals to the area's homeless on Saturday nights during the November to April months. In 2007, Trinity adopted a "Praise Service" style of worship at the 11:00 a.m. Sunday service, offering contemporary Christian music for all who are attracted to a more modern style of worship experience. Also in 2007, Trinity began “TLC’s Heavenly Brew,” a coffee-house fellowship, outside of the normal church hours. The inaugural Trinity Golf Outing was held the first Sunday in June, thereby establishing a treasured tradition that continues today.
Pastor Michael Borcherding began his ministry at Trinity Lutheran Church in December 2007. During Pastor Borcherding’s tenure, the youth and senior ministries continued under Linda Bensen’s leadership and direction and the Christian Education ministries, including Sunday School, Confirmation and Vacation Bible School. Preschool, continued under Cathy Cepican’s direction. The preschool currently ministers to 60 preschool students and their families every year. Additionally, the Praise Service (11:00 am on Sunday mornings) was continued and supported with improvements to the sound system, a screen, and projector. Amanda VanCawenberge was named Praise Director in 2009. Another innovation introduced in 2009 was support of the Feed My Starving Children ministry.
Under Pastor Borcherding’s leadership, in 2011, the congregation completed a Transforming Church Insight (TCI) survey. Following the survey, cottage meetings were held, identifying areas of focus for the congregation, including:
In 2012, Pastor Borcherding began to focus the congregation’s efforts around six ministries: worship, nurture (education and youth), fellowship, witness, stewardship and service. In 2014, Trinity Lutheran Church celebrated her 140th anniversary over All Saint’s Weekend, November 1 and 2, 2014. In 2015, the Council conducted a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) of Trinity Lutheran Church. Results of the SWOT analysis served as the foundation of our current strategic plan.
In 2016, Linda Bensen, Minster of Word and Service, and Cathy Cepican, Director of Christian Education, announced their retirements effective August 1, 2017. Their combined years of service and ministry at Trinity totaled more than 70 years. Linda Bensen accepted the redefined part-time position of Minster of Word and Service, focusing on visitation and senior adult travel ministry. Cathy Cepican retained her role as Preschool Director, also on a part-time basis.
Trinity was shocked and saddened by the unexpected death of our pastor, Reverend Michael Borcherding on December 22, 2017. The staff, in particular Linda Bensen, and the Council worked diligently to arrange for supply pastors until Pastor John Lang agreed to serve as Interim Pastor. Reverend John Lang served as Interim Pastor from January 2018 – April 15, 2018 and skillfully and kindly ministered to the Trinity congregation as we moved through the initial stages of the grief process. He creatively and lovingly led the congregation through Lent, including the Wednesday night Lenten services focusing on Luther’s Small Catechism, Confirmation, and Easter. Trinity was also blessed to welcome Pastor Thomas Prochaska as Interim Pastor, effective May 15, 2018. Pastor Prochaska will minister to Trinity and support the congregation through the call process.
Trinity Lutheran Church has experienced expected and sudden changes since August 1, 2017. The unexpected death of Pastor Borcherding and the subsequent tenures of two wonderfully skilled and caring Interim Pastors in Pastor Lang and Pastor Prochaska plus approximately six weeks of supply pastors is a lot of change for any congregation. It is certainly unprecedented in our congregation’s history.
However, the spirit of our congregation lives on. Attendance and offering has remained fairly stable in the months since Pastor Borcherding’s death. The congregation, led by first Pastor Lang and then Pastor Prochaska in collaboration with the Elders, continues to minister to each other, including the grief ministry initiated by Pastor Lang. Pastor Lang donated a number of copies of the Journeying Through Grief series to Trinity’s library. The series was initially used to help congregation members move through their grief at the loss of Pastor Borcherding, and the series continues to be used to minister to congregation members who have lost loved ones. The congregation, led by the Deacons, have been working together to improve and expand the use of technology to communicate more efficiently and effectively with the congregation and friends of Trinity. A redesign and update of the church’s web site is planned for the spring. The Trustees have completed several projects on the building, including a redesign, repair, and/or upgrade of the library (formerly known as the Rademacher Room), the Loft (a space dedicated for use by and for the youth programs), the altar care room, the flat roof over the auditorium, code required to host the BEDS Plus (homeless) program, as well as unexpected issues that occur (leaking, pipe, etc.).
Summer programing, including youth mission trips and Vacation Bible School, were successfully held. The junior high school group traveled to Boone, North Carolina. In Boone, NC, the junior high school group helped serve the local community by volunteering at Hospitality House. This organization is focused on providing services, food, clothing, and housing to homeless and low income individuals. Our senior high school students went to New Orleans, LA. There they spent a week helping local organizations such as the NOLA Tree Project, City of Love Church, and others serve the local population in beautification projects and food ministries. The number of youth attending a mission trip summer of 2018 totaled 35. Vacation Bible School hosted approximately 120 children (pre-K through 5th grade) and approximately 60 junior high and high school volunteers to present Raging River Rampage! The program was a beautiful blend of cherished traditions (puppet shows, music, Bible stories, devotions, snacks, recess, closing parent program, and offering projects) and new innovations (moving the daily opening and closing and the parents’ program to the sanctuary, incorporating STEM activities into the program, using sign language to reinforce the daily theme, ‘coin wars’ to benefit, in part, the ELCA’s clean water initiative, and collection of over 200 cases of water for Flint, Michigan).
Our Youth Program is another example of cherished traditions and new innovations. Traditionally, our youth have taken trips to enjoy some recreational activities and also to volunteer at service projects. Our young people were inspired to serve others by breaking out of the walls of Trinity to impact those in our neighborhood as well as those located outside our geographic area. These impact ministries include serving the homeless in Chicago and serving meals for our BEDS guests. Additionally, some youth were inspired to initiate projects of their own and stirred sponsorship provided by Trinity’s congregation and outside agencies. One example is our Flint Water Project. Designed and implemented by a teen in our congregation and supported by the Director of Youth and Family, this ministry has thus far served over four and a half pallets of clean water to area of Flint, Michigan. As a result of this mission project, Trinity has become mission partners with two churches in that area, including one congregation that crosses denominational lines.
In spite of the recent changes, expected and unexpected, Trinity's staff and congregation continue to find ways to enhance the warm, family atmosphere, which Trinity members as well as guests enjoy and look forward to. Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church began as a rural church among immigrant German settlers, and has become an established metropolitan church. Trinity's congregation has witnessed many changes along the way, many of them in the recent past. With each new challenge, however, the guiding hand of the Lord has been evident. Always mindful of the work that remains to be done in the kingdom, and with abiding faith that our God will sustain us, Trinity prepares to write the next page in its history.
Worship is the center of our life at Trinity. We gather to hear the Good News, to receive God’s grace, and reflect Christ’s love in our lives. Like the warmth of our sanctuary, the hearts of Trinity’s people provide a warm welcome to our friends – both old and new – as we gather in Christ’s love. We have proclaimed, celebrated, and shared Christ’s love for 140 plus years!
Praise and Glory to our Lord Jesus Christ for continuing to bless our congregation!