CULLMAN, Ala. – St. Paul’s has something wonderful to show its congregation when it finally returns to worship in-house: repairs and to the church’s roof were officially completed as of Friday morning, in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the current building April 12, which falls on Easter Sunday. Repairs to the building’s skylights, which offer dramatic lighting inside the sanctuary, are nearing completion and are expected to be finished early next week.
St. Paul’s Pastor John Bussman told The Tribune, “The roof has really been a long time coming, especially after the (2018) hail storm. I think the main thing that the people were looking to have restored were the skylights. We really didn’t realize how dark the room could get, but to have those skylights back will certainly help. As far as the building goes, it’s turning 50. You know, 50 years since the building was dedicated, coming up on Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, no one will be in there! But we are recording our services, so the people will at least get to see inside through YouTube.”
He continued, “But, really, having been around for 135 years, ideally, I guess, you’d want to build one building and stay in that building forever, and not have to do any kind of repairs or anything. But through however many buildings, however many years, it’s been a good opportunity for us to look back at our history, to look back at old pictures and hear stories, and just really see that, no matter what kind of times we’ve been in, even as we are in these times now, we are seeing God’s providence through it all. And being able to have a building like we have that really, its unique design kind of gives us an opportunity to bear witness to the Gospel. But we’re just really excited to have the project done, even more excited to get our people back inside to worship together.”
Bussman said that his congregation is “doing as good as possible. We’re putting out our services, Wednesdays and Sundays, on YouTube. Next week, I’m going to be putting out probably three Bible classes a week on YouTube, as well. My associate pastor and I are basically keeping in contact with our people through the phone. So, we’re working through our entire roster of people right now, calling them, making sure they’re doing the best that they can- I know it’s different for everybody. Trying to do pastoral ministry without contact- a big part of our ministry is visitation; take that away and it’s hard, especially for our shut-in members, for our members in nursing homes, assisted living, just to have that taken away.”
Bussman is particularly concerned with older members who suffer from various forms of dementia and might not be able to understand what is happening right now.
“For somebody to forget and sit lonely is just a terrible thing. So that’s another reason we’re trying to make use of the phone and get in touch with our people as best we can.”
History of the St. Paul’s facility
Emily Trahan, St. Paul’s director of creative services, shared the history of the church building:
The current church building is the third worship facility in St. Paul’s history. The congregation was established in 1885 with the signatures of 95 members. The original building was built in 1886 and dedicated Jan. 1, 1887.
From St. Paul’s Golden Jubilee 1936:
“…in a meeting of January 31, 1886, the congregation decided to build a house of worship. Mr. J.H. Karter, a merchant of Cullman, offered the congregation a lot, 90×132 feet on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Sixth Avenue Street, East. The offer was gratefully accepted. A frame house of worship, 30×50 feet was erected on this lot and dedicated to the glory of God on Reformation Day of the same year.”
For almost the entirety of the history of Cullman, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has stood on the same corner.
Second Church Building
“Church attendance grew steadily and after three decades, the original church was starting to show wear. In September of 1920 the congregation decided to build a new house of worship and launched a fund for the purpose of building a place that could hold the growing congregation. On July 30, 1922 the cornerstone of the new church was laid and by February 11, 1923 the building was completed and dedicated to God. According to the account recorded in The Golden Jubilee of 1936 “it was a happy occasion. The building operations had been completed without any delay or interference.”
Third and current church building
“The day of dedication for the current church building was April 12, 1970 but planning began much earlier than that. It was voted upon in September of 1963 that a new church should be built. A building committee was appointed by the Church Council in October of the same year. In January of 1965, the firm of Charles H. McCauley Associates of Birmingham was hired. In June of 1967, the congregation assembled and voted overwhelmingly to accept the basic design and plans for the building. In January of 1969, the congregation approved acceptance of the bid from Word & Boggus Company of Guntersville for construction of the new church. April 6, 1969, Easter Sunday, was the farewell service for the old church building. Later that month, ground breaking and construction began. In January of 1970, the Cornerstone Laying Service was held and then, on April 12, 1970, 50 years ago Sunday, the current building was dedicated. It has remained a well-known and recognizable structure to all those who have lived or worked in Cullman throughout the years. Its incredibly unique design is not just limited to its outward appearance, but its internal appearance as well.”
From “The Day of Dedication Service” April 12, 1970:
“The building has a structural and material integrity achieved through the use of natural materials. There is nothing in it that pretends to be something it is not. All materials are genuine and not imitation. The purity and simplicity of form used in the design give the building a timelessness which is appropriate to Christianity.
“The seven laminated arches sweep upward 58 feet. The altar is a stone base with a slate top.
“The pews furnished and installed by the L.L. Sams & Sons Company of Waco, Texas are arranged like a fully extended fan to reflect the family gathering or “family circle” idea. At a family reunion the people are glad to see each other and happy to be a part of that worship. This should also be true when Christians gather for worship. All those present are one participating and interacting body. No one should feel that he’s only a spectator on the fringe of the action. There is seating for 750 worshipers. The same theme is carried out by the circular Communion rail. Thirty-six to forty communicants can gather around the Lord’s Table at one time.”
“After suffering significant damage from the tornadoes and hail storm, as well as approaching the 50th Anniversary of the building, it was time for a new roof. It is not an easy feat, due to its incredibly sweeping angles. With much thanks to the crew for weathering the storm of bad weather and this current pandemic, our new roof is complete. Our skylights are being repaired and work should be completed just past our 50th anniversary of the building’s dedication. Due to its thoughtful design and construction and its consistent care by our congregation, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church will continue to be that bit of Cullman skyline recognizable to all for many more years to come.”
Trahan told The Tribune, “Ever since I was a young girl, I have had a fascination with older architecture and its ability to survive through the years. Thoughtfully designed and well-built buildings aren’t as easy to come by these days. It seems sometimes you trade interesting design for the well-built aspect or vice versa. Luckily, with our church building, those families before us in our congregation saw to it that thoughtful design and well-built went hand in hand. Every aspect of our building serves a purpose. No airs, no obvious pomp and circumstance, just a breathtakingly beautiful house of worship that has served St. Paul’s congregation for the last 50 years and with good care and stewardship, will continue to serve for 50 more.”
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