In 1960, the beginnings of St. James were stirring in Jackson, Michigan. Sent by the Michigan LCA Synod, Pastor August Mueller was set with the task of building a faith community and formal church in the Summit Township Area. By January of 1961, the synod and Pastor Mueller had purchased the church’s first parsonage, gathered interest in this fledgling church, and held St. James’ first service at what is now the Cascades Manor House with nearly 75 worshippers in attendance. By the end of that year, St. James had picked up speed: 1961 marked over 125 charter church members, a Chapel Choir, a first communion service, and the purchase of four acres of land on South Jackson road. At the close of the year, an official “call” was extended to Pastor Mueller, and in early 1962, he was installed as the first pastor of St. James Lutheran Church.
Over the next four years, the congregation grew while the plans for a new church building began to unfold. The members of the church worked to build a foundation for the future church community to enjoy, such as the Adult Choir, Youth Group, and the annual Progressive Dinner. They also contributed their time and talents to the construction and furnishing of the new church building. The first “coffee hour” coffee urn was purchased by way of S&H and Gold Bell trading stamps, collected from the congregation; church members continued to donate stamps from their own purchases to supply the church with kitchen and Sunday School items as they prepared to move into their new building. Ground was broken on the project in June of 1965 and the new church – built and furnished for $112,000 – was dedicated on June 5, 1966.
The first fifty years of St. James Lutheran Church have seen a young church growing immensely, adapting to change, and always reaching out to the larger Jackson community to offer support and assistance to those in need. Shortly before the dedication of the new church building in 1966, Pastor Mueller accepted a call to Christ the King Lutheran Church in Livonia and stepped down from his position at St. James. He was succeeded by Pastor Carl Franklin, who would serve for nearly ten years as the head of the congregation. After Pastor Franklin’s retirement, Pastor Edward Wilson led worship at St. James from 1976 to 1978 and Pastor John Jack served as the head of the church from 1978 to 1984. In 1984, Pastor Leonard Dalgren accepted a call to serve at St. James. He served as pastor for over ten years before leaving in 1996. Pastor David Brobston accepted the call to serve as St. James’ new pastor in 1997 and served until 2007. After Pastor David accepted a call to serve a congregation in Defiance, Ohio, Pastor Bruce Lerum was called to serve in 2008 and served until 2012. In July of 2012, Pastor Travis Wilson was called to serve in 2013 and served until 2015, in 2016 Pastor Martha Porter-Reid accepted a call to serve St. James.
The St. James community has also benefited from the presence of seminary interns who have lived, studied, and practiced under the guidance of the pastors of St. James and the support of the congregation. Between 1974 and 2006, St. James hosted nine interns: Jim Skewes, Lora Gross-Thaemert, Judy Robertson, Eric Bodenstab, Scott Mauch, Vicki Blough, Zac Strum, Jessica Lambert, and Eliza Daniel would all serve their internship as part of the St. James community.
St. James has consistently remained a part of the greater community, by organizing time, talents, and funds to support the local community of Jackson as well as other national and global charities. Globally, the congregation collected toiletries and toys to be delivered to Vietnamese children displaced or suffering from the effects of the war, supported missionaries in Papua New Guinea, Central African Republic, and Argentina, while collecting over six hundred dollars to purchase Bibles for distribution in China and Russia. St. James also collected donations for relief organizations responding to the natural disasters: over a thousand dollars was raised for flood relief in the Midwest and an auction was held to raise money for a Mississippi church after Hurricane Katrina. Locally, St. James has also reached out to needy families and local organizations, participating with Jackson’s Adopt-a-Family program to purchase food and gifts for the holidays, holding a Red Cross blood drive, and organizing colunteers to collect and distribute for the local food pantry.
Fifty years after Pastor Mueller arrived in Jackson, St. James has transformed from a mission church worshiping at the Cascades Manor House to a well-established community of faith. In 2011, we celebrated 149 baptized members gathering for worship, Sunday School for all ages, and fellowship. The Prayer Shawl Group devotes time, supplies, and creative talent to knit and make quilts for the benefit of church members and friends. St. James members also gather for monthly Women’s Breakfasts, Tuesdays With The Men (TWTM), and men’s golf. Summers bring Vacation Bible School, the annual Rugged Cross Retreat, and church garage sales. In November 2010, “50 Years – 50 Blessings” began as a way to honor the many blessings received by St. James Lutheran Church from God in the past fifty years, with the hopes that the church continues to grow, change, and serve as a center of faith and fellowship for its members over the next fifty years as well.
–Written by Jessica Tackett for St. James’ 50th Anniversary Celebration
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