In 1932, the Lutheran Youth groups from Charleston and Danville canvassed the Paris, Illinois area looking to establish a Lutheran mission. A small group was gathered who met twice a month for worship. These first services were held in an upstairs room at 247 North Main. The rent for the room was $7 monthly.
The next year poor attendance drove the worshipers to meeting in homes. At the same time a family that had attended the Lutheran services in Broadlands and Danville, took note of an ad for Lutheran services in Paris in the Beacon News. The tiny group in Paris was greatly surprised and bolstered with the appearance of John and Emma Lorenzen, their four daughters, and their two infant sons. By fall the mission had started to grow to the point that they rented space for worship from Trinity Methodist at the corner of Kimball and Central.
In 1934, Spencer and Clara Werner moved to Paris and purchased a corn mill. They helped to establish Grace Lutheran Church and though Spencer died in 1964, they have supported Grace Lutheran projects such as the pipe organ, Grace Lutheran Village, and the Child Development Center through the Werner foundation.
The congregation continued to grow that by 1936 the “Paris Lutheran Mission” began to meet weekly in a frame Chapel on South Central (formerly the Paris Bible Church). As the mission concluded its first decade, Sunday school was started, a pedal organ became a part of worship, and a congregation was taking shape. On August 29th, 1939 the mission was organized into the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church and by 1944 the congregation was self-supporting.
The 40s was a decade of growth for the congregation. Yet, by 1949 the old frame church began showing its age. A new church was needed. On May 22 a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the corner of South Main and Newton. Soon after, the cornerstone was laid which contained among other things: a Bible, Luther’s Small Catechism, a hymnal, the church constitution and a church history, list of officers of the church, its societies and two copies of the Beacon-News.
The church was gifted with donations of materials from around the Paris community, and indeed from many places around the country, including a centerpiece stained glass window above the altar, donated by the Pabst Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Some people say the grain in the window is barley that is used in beer making.) On October 1st, 1950 the first service was held in the new church building (the same building used today).
The emphasis of the congregation was continually the great gifts of mercy and forgiveness from God, gained by his Son Jesus Christ on the cross, and given in Word and Sacrament. To this end the renowned organ builder Lawrence Phelps added the biggest addition to the congregation’s worship in 1978 with the building of a world-class pipe organ. It was a design collaboration between Paul Bunjes and Lawrence Phelps and the last organ Phelps built. The organ dedication was held on September 13, 1981.
In 2012, Grace Lutheran established a Vision Statement as part of a long-range strategic plan. It states that we are “Called to Witness, Mercy, and Life Together in Christ”. Grace Lutheran Church will continue to emphasize three major goals:
In 2013, a maintenance fund was established to provide funds for the maintenance of the Church’s facilities. An endowment was also established to provide a consistent source of funds for the annual maintenance of the Church’s landscaping.
Pastors Serving Grace Lutheran
The idea of a retirement village for Lutheran senior citizens originated in the Board of Directors of the Spencer Werner Foundation of Paris, Illinois in their meeting of November 1986. The board soon involved the congregation of Grace Lutheran Church in the project.
Construction began June of 1988. The first residents, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Krueger, of Springfield, Illinois, arrived at the end of March 1989. Grace Lutheran Village has been the home to over 130 residents over the last 25 years. It currently has 42 residents occupying the 30 apartments.
The community building, at the center of the complex, is the main gathering place for social activities. It includes a lounge, library, office, large dining room, kitchen, exercise room, and pool table room. Activities include weekly coffee hours, potlucks, weekly cards and games, Bingo, eating out, and monthly birthday/anniversary parties. A highlight of the year is the annual Christmas party. The residents enjoy a great sense of fellowship.
A replacement fund was initiated shortly after the units were built and major projects have included:
The Grace Lutheran Child Development Center (Werner School) was started in 1999 and completed in the spring of 2000. The first class (preschool and kindermusic) was started in September, 1999 in a Sunday school room and moved to the new building in the spring of 2000 when it was completed. The CDC has a capacity of 88 students in infant, toddler, tots, prebeginner, begindergarten, and preschool. It is currently full.
In 2006, Lois Wiggins donated the profits from the sale of a farm ($250,000) to start a CDC endowment fund. Through many fund raisers (coordinated by Joan Bauer and many others) $50,000 was raised each year from 2007 through 2011. These funds were matched by the Werner Foundation to establish a $1,000,000 endowment for the CDC.