A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHRIST LUTHERAN CHURCH, WANTAGH, NEW YORK
By the middle of the 19th century the Long Island Railroad extended into what would become eastern Nassau County. About the same time, several German-American farmers moved their families eastward into Jerusalem. This area is now known as North Wantagh. By 1859, these families had secured an acre of property from the town of Hempstead for a planned chapel. Helped by the German mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, they organized a congregation, built a small chapel called St. John of Jerusalem, and established a cemetery. For reasons not completely clear, this congregation ceased to exist shortly after the turn of the century. The building served only as a chapel for funerals and burials in the cemetery for the next 15 years.
By 1926 many of the local community with Lutheran background came together to organize a Lutheran congregation. The infrequently-used chapel was reactivated and Pastor Carl H. Miller from the Christ Lutheran Church in Freeport was invited to temporarily serve the small congregation in addition to his duties in Freeport. The first Lutheran service in the church was held on Thanksgiving Day, 1926. The name Christ Lutheran Church was chosen; and in the following six months, the congregation was received as a member of the New York and New England Synod. The Rev. William Steinbicker was named supply Pastor, and on June 28, 1929, Pastor Steinbicker was officially called as the first Pastor of the church, serving until 1934. During his pastorate, the land located at Island Road and Church Road was purchased for a future church building.
The Rev. William Avery was named Pastor in late 1934. During his ministry, the first building fund was established and plans were drawn for a new church building. Pastor Avery left in 1938 and the Rev. Thomas Van Pelt was named Pastor in the same year. Shortly after his arrival, ground was broken for the new building. The cornerstone was placed in December 1939 and the new church was dedicated on April 17, 1940.
In 1947 Pastor Van Pelt left and in the spring of 1948 the Rev. John Dries was called to be pastor. Dramatic changes were taking place in our area at this time. New homes were being built at an amazing rate, and what had long been farming areas suddenly became family communities. This growth was shown in our church membership and it quickly became apparent that the existing church was inadequate and a new building was needed. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on June 7, 1953 for a new sanctuary. Dedication services were held in this new building on February 7, 1954. Our records show the average attendance more than doubled, increasing from 205 to 416. Sunday School enrollment swelled to 777 with a staff of 84. Related activities were growing as well, among them, Scouting which was first sponsored in 1950. These activities now represented a considerable amount of time, talent and participation.
By the late 1950's it was evident that we had to make a decision to provide education and fellowship facilities for our still-growing congregation. Plans were drawn up for the present Parish Education Building on Island Road. The building was erected and dedicated and the fellowship hall was named in honor of the Church's first pastor in 1959.
As we grew it became clear that pastoral assistance was needed. In 1957, the Rev. Calder Gibson was called to be Assistant Pastor. He served until 1960 when the Rev. Edgar Oestreich was called as a replacement. He served until 1963. The Rev. Malcolm Lerch was called to be Assistant Pastor in 1964 serving until 1968. The 1960's proved to be an exciting and challenging decade, as the community and the congregation continued to grow. Confirmation classes were often in excess of 60 young people.
During the late 1960's membership stabilized and the position of Assistant Pastor was not filled. On July 1, 1970, Pastor Dries was stricken with a fatal heart attack. It seemed to mark the end of an era for the congregation and it left our future uncertain. On January 1, 1971, the Rev. Paul Reisch became pastor and shortly thereafter, the Rev. John Sabatelli was called to be Assistant Pastor. After much study during 1971 and 1972, renovation to our present building was planned to meet the needs and purpose of our maturing congregation. The proposal of a worship area in the semi-round with a free-standing altar and movable seating best met these needs and work began in November 1972.
By the 1970's the earlier influx of Lutherans to Nassau County had slowed to a trickle, older members moving away, the birthrate had dropped sharply, and the future was becoming increasingly difficult to predict. Past formulas which had been so successful no longer applied. New directions were established for Christian Education, Worship and other aspects of parish life. A healing ministry was established, forums were held centering on the social issues of the day, and an extensive shepherding program was started.
In October 1975, Pastor Sabatelli resigned to accept a call further east on Long Island. In the spring of 1976 the Rev. Richard Dishno became our last assistant pastor, serving until 1978. By the middle of the 1970's our congregation's new direction became even more apparent as we established programs to involve us with our seminary, our youth, our world missions and increasing service to our elderly. The 1970's and 1980's were exciting years to be part of our congregation - years in which we instituted a successful intern program; saw our youth program expand fourfold under our youth directors; felt the joy of aiding fellow congregations; committed ourselves to the relief of world hunger; and looked inward to establish care giving groups. This list could continue to include the communion and confirmation programs, worship services with new books of worship, and musical support admired by all. The success of the programs might be measured by the number of Church members who have gone into the ministry, or the number of interns who have gone on to calls after training, or the commitment to support church programs with time and treasure.
Pastor Reisch left in 1985 and in October 1986, the Revs. Martin and Martha Nale were called to be Co-Pastors of Christ Lutheran Church. They began their ministry in January 1987. The debt for the major sanctuary renovation of 1972 was retired and other needed significant property maintenance and renewal were begun in the late 80's. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America came into existence in January 1988 as the result of the merger of three Lutheran bodies. Christ Lutheran Church became a part of this new national church. A Stephen Ministry Program was begun which trained members to care for those in need under the supervision of the Pastors.
In January 1993 Pastor Martin Nale became the only pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. The confirmation program was changed with the emphasis being put on retreats and allowing students to build relationships with the Pastor and other lay leaders. The Christian Nursery School, which had begun in 1953, was significantly expanded in the late 1990's in response to increased need from the young families in the area. For the first time since it was built, the education building on Island Road is not being rented out in a significant way. It is now used full time for ministries related to the church. Major renovations made it possible to move the nursery school program to the education building. The former nursery room is now a handicapped-accessible fellowship room with a handicapped accessible bathroom, making it possible for us to hold events that can include all people. More plans for renovation are coming in the future. These changes also have enabled the Church to provide better accommodations for its Sunday School.
New stained glass windows are a recent addition to the sanctuary and a new Allen Quantum church organ was installed in the spring of 2006. Plans are underway to enhance and update our worship space in other ways. Worship has always been at the heart of our ministry and renewing our worship is a constant goal.
Christ Lutheran Church has a long history of providing its buildings for use by community organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, and others. All of this is part of a continued effort to serve Christ through serving others. In recent years, a number of members of Christ Lutheran have been involved in Diaconal training. These trained leaders assist in worship as Deacons and do specialized ministry in other areas outside the church. Eighty years have seen much change, yet the mission and ministry of Christ Lutheran Church remain the same. We look to the future and continued witness to faith in Christ.