About Us

Reformation Lutheran is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

 

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A Comprehensive History of
REFORMATION EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
Eastlake, Ohio

The history of Reformation Evangelical Lutheran Church began in May 1957, as the Rev. David Witwer was called by the Lutheran Church in America’s Board of American Missions to establish a congregation in Eastlake, Ohio. Pastor Witwer began canvassing the city of Eastlake and the neighboring village of Timberlake, seeking interested people who would like to establish a Lutheran Church in the area. He knocked on many doors, inviting the surrounding community to join him – with God’s help – in this endeavor.

Pastor Witwer’s efforts were successful and in July 1957 the first worship service was held at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Eastlake. Fifty-four people attended the first service. Later, in September, the first Sunday Church School was held with thirty-five people present. The following Sunday twenty-six children were baptized. Imagine that service!

Later that year (December 1957) 112 adults and 63 children were identified as charter members of Reformation Evangelical Lutheran Church. The actual date of the signed charter was March 30, 1958, and was referred to as “Organization Sunday”. As of this update there are three charter members remaining – Dora Butchock, Margaret Ware, and Ralph Davis. In addition there are three children from that era – who are now adults – who were charter members: Vickie Dawson Hartley, Doug Davis, and Robert Miller, Jr. Two years later, in 1959, the congregation voted 40-5 to purchase property for $30,000 on Lakeshore Blvd. to build a church; the site on which the present church now stands.

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In 1960 the congregation was constantly on the move. The cost of renting space at Thomas Jefferson school became prohibitive and the fledgling congregation moved to the old Eastlake Fire Station for two months (August and September). The congregation was asked to relocate so as to guarantee effective fire control in the city, so they moved to the old Eastlake City Hall for two months (October and November). By December 1959, the congregation returned to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. Five years later, in March of 1962, groundbreaking ceremonies were held to construct a church building, and, by the end of October, the first worship service was held in the present building. Pastor David Witwer left after serving eleven years as mission developer and pastor.

A member of Reformation church, who was in real estate, persuaded the congregation to purchase a house in Timberlake that would be used for a parsonage. In 1969 Pastor Nickolas Mays arrived at Reformation and was the first to live in the parsonage. He would serve the congregation for six years before departing in 1975 for a congregation in Crestline, Ohio. Later, he obtained his Ph.D. after which he served a congregation in Toledo, Ohio.

Pastor Carl Mangold arrived to serve the congregation in 1975 and lived in the Timberlake parsonage until 1978, at which time he went to serve a congregation in Michigan. Eventually he made his way to Arizona and served as a social worker. Pastor Ronald Graham accepted the call to serve Reformation in 1979, coming from Napoleon, Ohio. Pastor Graham also served for three years, leaving in 1982 to serve two rural congregations in Illinois.

Reformation faced a challenging period from 1982 through 1986, during which time the congregation had no pastoral leadership. The congregation was financially depressed and dwindling in worship attendance. The congregation owned some property to the east of the present church, which was sold, and is currently the site of the Sussex West Apartment complex. However, we were a “resilient” people – tenacious and determined to move forward. The Ohio Synod, LCA, under the leadership of Bishop Kenneth Sauer, provided supply pastors to support the congregation during this time.

Our most frequent supply pastor was a gifted gentleman by the name of Rev. Gary Schreckengost from Youngstown, Ohio. Under his timely and creative leadership the congregation began to recover and move forward. Many willing members “pulled up their sleeves” and, with a little “elbow grease”, helped to sustain the congregation. This included, but was not limited to – Eileen Habina, our volunteer organist; Bob Miller Sr. with wire and duct tape in hand as our property manager – ably assisted by Steve Skrajner and Andy Ochke; and Jean Shriver (her husband had temporarily relocated due to a job transfer) who donated her time to type up bulletins and staff the church office when needed. Eventually, the church parsonage was sold for $128,000 in order to keep the congregation afloat. By the end of 1986 the congregation was ready to call a new pastor and a call committee was formed.

Pastor Roger Willer accepted the call to Reformation on January 1, 1987. Pastor Willer’s able leadership revitalized the congregation. He shored up the congregation’s communication by establishing a newsletter, running a contest to determine its name – “The Tidings”. He also guided us in establishing the Endowment or Trust Fund. The “big event” during this time was the burning of the church mortgage. Pastor Willer’s varied gifts – administration, worship leadership, education and youth, among others – enabled the congregation to regain its footing and, once again, move forward. Pastor Willer’s wife, the Rev. Carole Willer, was a strong influence as well during this time and chaired the 30th Anniversary Committee in 1988. After 6 years, Pastor Willer went on to Chicago to earn his Ph.D. and now serves as Director of Studies for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (successor to the Lutheran Church in America).

Again without pastoral leadership, the Rev. David Thielo from neighboring Christ Lutheran Church, served as our interim – responding to immediate requests, visiting shut-ins and those hospitalized, and providing guidance at congregation council meetings. He also worked alongside Sandy Blanchard who was leading the Sunday School and Confirmation programs. Eventually, the Rev. Jim Kulma became our stated supply pastor, leading worship and teaching an adult Sunday School class.

A call committee was then formed including Pat DeVeny (chair), Drew Marsh, Larry Shriver, and Bill O’Brien. A call was extended to Pastor Jeffery Silleck who was then serving as an associate pastor at a congregation in Toledo. Pastor Silleck guided us through several construction projects as our membership grew. Gary Blanchard was instrumental in helping to obtain a loan from Lutheran Brotherhood (now Thrivent Financial) for our building purposes. Pat Coil worked hard to get stained glass windows installed in the sanctuary and the church altar was repositioned, so that a new pipe organ could be installed. Pastor Silleck’s wife Sharon was an accomplished organist and led the church choir during this period. A new roof, furnace, and air conditioning units were added to complete the renovations. Pastor Silleck then left in 2001, after seven years of ministry, for a congregation in Columbus.

Following Pastor Silleck, the Rev. John Anderson, who was recently retired from a neighboring congregation in Mentor, served as our interim pastor. Once again a call committee was formed and Pastor Karen Tews was called to serve the congregation in April 2002. Pastor Tews and Ed Laukiavich were instrumental in rewriting the constitution. Pastor Tews left Reformation in June 2004 for a congregation in Ashtabula, Ohio, and is now serving Calvary Lutheran Church in Antigo, Wisconsin.

Pastor David Thielo was again providing pastoral support during the vacancy, until Rev. Jim Eckert arrived to serve as interim pastor. Pastor Eckert revitalized the worship life of the congregation with rich worship services and dynamic preaching. After almost 2 years as interim pastor, Rev. Eckert enlisted in the U. S. Navy. He was commissioned a Lieutenant and sworn into the Navy on August 27, 2006 at Reformation Lutheran Church by Navy personnel. He served for a time in the Persian Gulf on the Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz. Lieutenant Commander Eckert then reported for shore duty as Command Chaplain for several Naval security agencies throughout the country. While on active duty he was awarded several commendation and achievement medals. Pastor Eckert has had a varied career as a Navy Chaplain, is now serving as a Reserve Chaplain for the Coast Guard in the district encompassing the Great Lakes and headquartered in Cleveland, and as pastor of The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Brooklyn, Ohio.

During 2006 Pastor Bruce Hathaway provided interim support for a brief period of time, until the Rev. Barbara Holzhauser was called to serve as interim pastor in 2007. During this period the addition of a new entrance, portico, and foyer was added to the front of the church.

Rev. Holzhauser was ordained in 1989 and has served various congregations in Pennsylvania and Ohio. In addition, she served as ELCA Associate Director for Evangelism in Chicago, a position that grew from her role as project director for an Augsburg Fortress resource entitled – “Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations”. She has spent much of her pastoral work focusing on the renewal of small congregations. Pastor Holzhauser is currently a bi-vocational pastor, as she also serves as a Spiritual Care Coordinator with Hospice of the Western Reserve.

Reformation has been blessed and grateful for the many pastors who have served the congregation throughout its history – whether they be interim, supply, or fulltime servants of the Gospel. We have had seven full time pastors, averaging 5 ½ years in tenure. We are a hopeful people and, with God’s help, we are confident that our best days are ahead of us. It is no surprise that our current mission focus reflects who we are and where we are headed . . .

“United in Christ, our mission is to GO out into the community, SOW seeds of hopefulness, and GROW as loving disciples.”

Submitted by William I. O’Brien for the occasion of Reformation’s 50th Anniversary celebration in June 2008.

“Oh, and one more thing, ‘I love this church!’” (W. O’Brien)

 

(*Edited 2015)