On February 17, 1962 interested members and pastors of neighboring congregations met at The Lutheran Church of Webster Gardens on Watson Road to consider the beginning of a Lutheran parish in Crestwood, Missouri. This meeting, sponsored by the Western District (now the Missouri District) of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, had some positive results. A steering committee was formed and had its first meeting on March 23. Members of this committee were: Richard Abeln (current member, wife Dottie), William Bratvogel, Dr. William Burmeister, Dr. William Ehrett, William Ellermann, Albert Kasten, Henry Klein, Paul Koenig, Ralph Mueller, Conrad Proft, Rev. Arnold Soeldner and Eldren Sulhoff. There was a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm among these twelve men as they met weekly in each others’ homes to plan the Lord’s work. Their first big undertaking was to spearhead a community canvass that took place on June 10 and covered some two thousand homes in the Crestwood area.
Seeing such enthusiasm displayed by the steering committee and other participants, the Board of Missions for the Western District, on June 12, approved the beginning of a parish and the calling of a pastor. Subsequently, several pastors were called in succession by the District, but all of those callings were declined. However, this delay did not dampen God’s Spirit at work among His people in the Crestwood area.
On November 25, 1962 our first worship service was held at the Crestwood Elementary School on South Sappington Road with 183 in attendance. The Rev. Thomas Spitz served as pastor for this first worship service. The first Sunday school class was held on December 2, 1962 with 38 youth in attendance. Early in the following year, on January 20, 1963 the young parish celebrated its first service of Holy Communion. The first Ladies Guild meeting was also held in January. Later, on May 26 the parish conducted its first baptismal rite for the infant Daniel Mueller, son of Ralph and Doris Mueller. 1963 continued to present first time events for the young congregation. The first VBS was on June 17 to 28 and the first Picnic was on September 15 at the church site.
The Rev. Ralph Bringewatt, a missionary to Taiwan who was on furlough, agreed to accept the temporary position of “interim pastor” until a regular pastor could be called. Ultimately, the Rev. Phillip Gerken accepted the call to serve as our first pastor and was installed on September 4, 1963. With the arrival of a shepherd for the young parish, God’s flock in Crestwood quickly began to form. Over the Christmas holidays in December 1963, we settled upon an appropriate name for our new parish on the second ballot. We took the name “Prince of Peace” because it would remind everyone of the peace we have in the Infant Lord Jesus.
Mrs. Juanita Solovic became the church secretary. Then on March 15, 1964, 141 communicants signed the Charter, officially organizing and incorporating Prince of Peace Lutheran Church as a congregation. Two months later, on May 17, Pastor Gerken confirmed the congregations first confirmation class which consisted of five young people: Ralph Bulle, Steve Goetsch, Brenda Kasten, Sandra Solovic, and Marilyn Vogt.
A great amount of the Lord’s work had been accomplished. It would soon be about two years since we had first begun worshiping together in the Crestwood Elementary School. The congregational members were beginning to desire a permanent facility for conducting worship services. Land was purchased by the District and consisted of the present property stretching along New Sappington Road and included the property with two frame houses located on Old Sappington Road. The congregation chose the architectural firm of Froese, Maack & Becker for the drawing of plans for a church building. After the building plans were approved, the Nothum Brothers were hired as the general contractor.
The groundbreaking for the construction was held on July 26, 1965 and the cornerstone was laid on November 21, 1965. Approximately six months later we bid farewell to our temporary place of worship at the Crestwood school. On Mother’s Day, May 8, 1966, we dedicated our new church building with two worship services – 418 attending in the morning and 327 attending in the afternoon. It was a momentous occasion celebrated by the congregation and by many friends of Prince of Peace.
The new church facility included a large fellowship hall with a functional kitchen and restrooms on the lower level. The sanctuary, narthex and small office space was located on the main floor level. The sanctuary was a beautiful design with curved sidewalls fitted with stained glass windows, large wooden arching beams, and a wooden planked ceiling. Sitting in the sanctuary, one has the unique feeling of being in an ark. The exterior of the building featured a golden crown at the base of a golden cross that are mounted on a faceted steeple, rising high above the sanctuary. A golden crown symbolically fit for the Prince of Peace. The main entry into the narthex of the church was on the west side near the south end of the building. The narthex that included a stairway to the lower level, was adjacent to the small office space for the pastor and secretary on the south end of the building.
Originally, the altar was located on the north end of the sanctuary. The congregation sat on folding chairs and music was accompanied by a piano and a small organ. Bible classes for both youth and adults were held in the parish house located at 8527 Old Sappington Road. Christian day school education that included kindergarten through eighth grade, was provided through sister parish, The Lutheran Church of Webster Gardens at 8749 Watson Road.
Pastor Gerken left in July of 1967 to accept another call. Professor Lorenz Wunderlich of Concordia Seminary served as our vacancy pastor until the Rev. Alvin Sasse accepted our call and was installed on February 26, 1968. Within the next few years, a number of noteworthy events occurred. In May of 1969 Prince of Peace joined in “Partners in Progress,” a venture to upgrade housing in Kirkwood’s Meachem Park. In June of 1971 one of our parish houses on Old Sappington Road was opened as a youth counseling center operated by the South County Y.M.C.A. The other adjacent house would serve as home to a Cambodian refugee family sponsored by our congregation. Always supportive of Christian education, in 1973; Prince of Peace joined Webster Gardens, Concordia-Kirkwood, and Mount Calvary-Brentwood in a consolidated school venture named Christ Community Lutheran School (CCLS).
As with many Lutheran congregations in St. Louis in the 1970’s, Prince of Peace was greatly affected by the doctrinal controversy that troubled our Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and its St. Louis seminary. Eventually, in February 1977 a split erupted in our congregation with Pastor Sasse and many of the members leaving to form their own congregation in Sunset Hills. Only a few of the elders and council members remained to provide the much-needed leadership at this critical time in our congregation. As the remaining members of Prince of Peace pulled together, Vacancy Pastor George Wittmer helped our congregation in the process of calling a new pastor.
With the installation of Pastor Marcus Strohschein on October 30, 1977 Prince of Peace soon began showing signs of new growth and vitality. A Long-Range Planning Committee was formed to begin looking into the possibilities of the future for the congregation. Again, the congregation began thinking in terms of a building expansion program. The committee met with an architect and then presented preliminary plans to the voters in December of 1979.
Like many congregations, we also thought that it would be great to have a pipe organ in our sanctuary, but cost was an issue. In 1979 through the efforts of some of our members, Bethel Lutheran congregation in University City agreed to give us their 40 year old Kilgen pipe organ if we would just remove it from their sanctuary. They also acquired a similar organ from the Greater Fairfax Baptist Church in North St. Louis. A large group of people set out to construct one good operational organ from the two old organs and many new leather parts.
By the end of 1979 the debt on the parsonage had been paid off and the two houses on Old Sappington Road had been sold. At a special dinner on April 27, 1980, the theme “Let Us Rise Up and Build!” was proposed. An announcement was made that the architectural services would be provided by H.B.E. Corporation. The voters readily approved the building program on June 9, 1980. After a year of fund-raising efforts, the bid of Calhoun Construction Company was accepted, and groundbreaking was held on May 17, 1981. Soon after this, Pastor Strohschein accepted another call and left on June 7, 1981. The Rev. George Wittmer again assumed the role of vacancy pastor and aided in the calling process for a new pastor.
The setback of losing their pastor on the threshold of a building program did not discourage the members of our congregation. As they have had to learn time and again, the church is built upon Jesus Christ – not upon pastors or other personalities. A call was made to our current pastor, Rev. Mark S. H. Smith. When Pastor Smith had first arrived for a visit, he walked into the newly constructed narthex. A solid wall still separated the new narthex from the sanctuary under renovation. Looking to his left, Pastor Smith saw Richard Ablen on a construction scaffold laying brick in the area of new stairway to the lower level.
On January 10, 1982, Pastor Smith was installed as the fourth pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. The following months were challenging as Pastor Smith and the congregation not only became acquainted, but they also had to contend with the inconveniences of a building under construction. Still using metal folding chairs for seating during construction, some of the members would arrive Saturday mornings to sweep and dust off the chairs before worship service could be held. Pastor Smith could not use the original office area due to construction and, therefore, changed into his worship apparel in front of members arriving for church service. Everyone made the best of it as the construction continued to its conclusion.
During the construction and renovation, the seating arrangement was completely reversed such that the altar was placed in the area of the old narthex. At this time also, the metal folding chairs were replaced with new wooden oak pews. The old office area on the south side was converted into the new sacristy. The new construction included a meeting room, new restrooms on the main level, a narthex with a stairway to the lower level, and new office space for the pastor and the secretary. In spite of such extensive changes, worship services continued as always, and attendance remained promising. The dedication of the new addition to Prince of Peace was held on Mother’s Day 1982, appropriately on the anniversary of the original building dedication in 1966.
The next seven years saw some changes in the life of our congregation. With the revision of our constitution and bylaws came changes in procedure. With the changing needs and makeup of the congregation came a series of different organizations like Mother’s Day Out, Silver Circle and even a short-lived Hand Bell Choir, just to name a few. Pastor Smith’s life, too, changed for the better as he married a daughter of the congregation, Barbara Uelner, in October 1984. Eventually, the couple was blessed with two children, and as their young family grew, they were granted a housing allowance. This enabled them to vacate the parsonage and purchase their own home in Crestwood.
In 1989 Prince of Peace marked a milestone in its history as the congregation celebrated its 25th anniversary year. The anniversary committee chose as its year-long theme, “Preaching the Prince + Proclaiming His Peace.” Seminary President Karl Barth served as guest speaker at our Charter Day Dinner held on March 12, 1989 at the Viking Restaurant, at the corner of Lindbergh Boulevard and Watson Road.
The year of 1990-1991 was a difficult time for our congregation and our pastor as approximately thirty of its members expressed dissatisfaction with Pastor Smith’s conservative leadership. After months of tension and friction as members chose sides in the controversy, the group of unsatisfied members finally left Prince of Peace for other congregations. Vacated positions on the staff and council had to be quickly filled by members who remained. One positive event which marked the end of this difficult period was the installation and dedication of the brick sculpture adorning the entryway of our facility. The artwork was designed by member and artist Milton Geis and installed by member and brick mason Richard Abeln Sr. and his son. The brick-relief image of our Lord Jesus reconciling the boy and girl under the cross and crown conveys the Lord’s peace to the Crestwood community as well as the congregation’s care for children.
As years passed, our wonderful and successful Mother’s Day Out program was eventually superseded by our excellent Pre-Kindergarten program in association with CCLS. The first graduates of these early childhood programs are now adults, some with small children of their own. A couple of these early children grew up and returned to the early childhood program as teacher’s assistants. Occasionally one will recognize Pastor Smith in the community and thank him for our church’s involvement in their young adult lives. The congregation continues to value its strong association with Christ Community Lutheran School, one of the finest Lutheran School systems in the LCMS. Over the years, many of our children have been educated at CCLS as well as at nearby Lutheran High School South; with which we are also associated.
With the aging of our membership as well as the general population, Prince of Peace found that it needed to provide elevator access between the two levels in our facility. This need precipitated another fund drive and a third building program in 1997. “Build Up and Uplift” was our theme as we enlisted the expertise of Team Four, Inc. in the designing and installation of a new elevator, classrooms and expanded office space. The expanded new office space on the main level included a pastor’s office, an office manager work space, a work room and a finance room. The previous office space was renovated to provide for a new large conference room and the old conference room was turned into a Library Room used in part for youth meetings. The lower level addition also included an additional restroom and meeting room known as the “LifeLight Room.” This new meeting room took on the name from the LifeLight Bible study series that has been so much a part of our congregational life.
With the 50th Anniversary milestone approaching, the congregation decided to prepare for the celebration events by refurbishing the Sanctuary, Narthex, and Kitchen. In the original design and construction in 1965-1966, the Sanctuary walls were painted directly over the concrete blocks. We hired a contractor to make an attractive, smooth plastered wall for repainting. We also had the Narthex walls refurbished and repainted. The Sanctuary and Narthex looked like new. The congregation celebrated the milestone event with a 50th Anniversary Dinner on March 16, 2014 followed by a 50th Church Picnic later that year.
Indeed, along with regular Christ-centered worship, Bible study and other aspects of Christian education, easily make up the main emphasis of our ministry at Prince of Peace. Our congregation is proud to have a circle of members who weekly gather to read works like the Book of Concord, and Luther’s Bondage of the Will. Confirmation classes are faithfully taught by the pastor himself. While our yearly confirmation classes may be small, they are better educated than most. Neither should we forget the summer Vacation Bible School programs that are a source of joy in Jesus for so many children of our members and the community over the years.
Prince of Peace has always had a warm regard for Concordia Seminary and we enjoy playing host to its students and professors. We also enjoy the distinction of being one of the closest congregations in proximity to the Missouri Synod’s International Center, located only a mile away. Because of the proximity, Pastor Smith has been able to co-host a weekly radio program, “Law and Gospel” on Synod’s KFUO Radio. We love our Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and we support its missions at home and abroad.
We also practice our Christian love for the needy through our food pantry, church garden, and social ministry fund by which innumerable needy people have been helped though the years.
We give thanks to our gracious and loving Triune God that He has blessed our congregation so abundantly during these past fifty-plus years. We know that this half-century life of our congregation has not always been easy. Prince of Peace has had its share of challenges as well as much joy. Yet, through it all, there has always been the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding. As we move into the next quarter century, we pray that at least one thing at Prince of Peace never changes, namely, the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ. When our gracious Lord returns on the Last Day, may He still find this congregation actively reaching out to God’s people with the ministry of His Word and Sacrament, urging people to RETURN TO THE PRINCE + SHARE GOD’S PEACE.