When Tom and Joan West set out to write a book about St. Paul Lutheran Church for the Barr Street congregation's 175th anniversary, the work started with an unsettling discovery.
The church had never really had a historian, the Wests learned.
“We had boxes upon boxes of loose photos, papers and newspaper stories,” Joan said.
In August, about a year after they started the project, the book, “Now Thank We All Our God,” arrived at the printer. The 96-page, full-color book now is available at the church office.
Founded Oct. 14, 1837, St. Paul is the mother church for many other Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregations in the area. These churches sprang up as the local population increased and spread out from the central city.
St. Paul's early pastors included the Rev. Friederich Wyneken and the Rev. Wilhelm Sihler, both of whom were active in formation of the LCMS. Sihler also founded Concordia Theological Seminary.
The Wests, who went to grade school together at St. Paul's school and to high school at Concordia Lutheran High School, got their first taste of book publishing when they put together a book of biographies of classmates for their high school graduating class' 50th reunion.
They also had seen a book about the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and a book published in 2000 on the architecture and symbolism at Trinity English Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne.
“Theirs (Trinity's) turned out so nice, we figured we better do one almost as good,” Tom said, grinning.
The Wests' St. Paul book, which contains more than 250 photos, begins with a history of the congregation. They arranged the remainder of the book so a visitor sitting in a back pew of the sanctuary can use it to take a virtual tour of the historic building, which was dedicated in 1905.
A fire had destroyed the congregation's previous church in 1903, the Wests said. Fortunately, many of the church records were stored in the pastor's residence or church office, which were in separate buildings near the church and were not damaged by the fire.
Along with the congregation having no historian, the Wests faced other challenges in preparing the book:
•From the early 1840s to about 1922, all of the congregation's official documents and minutes of voter assembly meetings were written in German. The Wests had to get help with translation.
•They wanted to make sure they provided accurate information about Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod doctrine and the religious symbolism used in St. Paul church's architecture and decorations. So they asked St. Paul's three pastors to review their text, as well as professors at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne.
•St. Paul Lutheran School, which they believe is the oldest continuously operating grade school in Indiana, actually preceded the congregation by six months to a year. Adding all the information they found about the school to this book would have doubled its size and made its purchase price cost-prohibitive, said Joan, the fourth generation of her family to attend St. Paul and the chairwoman of the congregation's 175th anniversary planning committee.
“There was no way we could use everything, so we tried to pick out what we thought would be of interest to the modern congregant,” Tom said.
They hired local photographer Steve Blakey to take many of the most important and complicated photos, such as the many images of the church's stained-glass windows. The Wests also took numerous photos themselves and used others submitted by congregation members.
“A lot of people helped us with it,” Tom said.
Looking back on the project, the Wests said they enjoyed learning all they discovered about their congregation and church building.
“Spending a lifetime at St. Paul's, I learned so much about St. Paul's I didn't even see,” Joan West said.
They hope the book provides the same enjoyment for others who read it.