Over 100 years ago, the newest immigrants to Yates County established a community of faith that survives to this day. Those “green Danes,” as the transplants from Denmark were referred to, came to the United States for a new opportunity of freedom and prosperity. As they were welcomed to their new country with foreign ways and speaking a different language, so too has their church, St. Paul’s Lutheran, welcomed new and different faces into their congregation as the last 100 years have passed.
This Sunday, St. Paul’s will celebrate their centennial with a special service at 10 a.m. and luncheon for their congregation, returning former pastors, Rev. David E. Olson (1961 - 1965) and Rev. Russell D. Scheel (1966 - 1981), and Bishop John Macholz of the Upstate New York Synod. After the service and meal, there will be a ceremonial reopening of the original church’s cornerstone from 1917 and the current building’s cornerstone from 1970.
According to their recorded history, the origin of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church begins with many years of missionary work among the growing Danish colony around the Penn Yan area by visiting ministers. The Lutheran Church was the state church of Denmark, so establishing a church body here was expected. Visiting ministers of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church occasionally conducted services here until 1909 when after a survey and visit from the president of the Atlantic District, the Rev. Max Mathiesen came and regular services began.
In 1912, Pastor Lewis Larsen arrived and the congregation was organized. Five years later, on Jan. 28, 1917, the church was incorporated under the name of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. That same year, the congregation purchased the present lot on Hamilton Street for $500 and construction began. The first church was designed and built by local men and resembled churches in Denmark. Services continued exclusively in Danish until the 1930s, but by 1942 were all in English. The present church was constructed in 1970 during Pastor Scheel’s tenure, but the handsome carved oak altar, built in 1926 by Jens Larsen and polished by J.C. Christensen, is still present in the new sanctuary.
Carved into the altar are the words, “Et Er Fornødent” in Danish from Luke 10:42 meaning, “it is needful.” That continues to be the motto of St. Paul’s as they continue both in their journey of Christian faith and in their long history of serving others, here at home and in relief efforts around the world.