County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

Harrison’s St. Luke Lutheran Church Marks 50 Years

From Humble Beginnings to Thriving Congregation


HARRISON – St. Luke Lutheran Church in Harrison has recently marked a truly auspicious anniversary – 50 years of growth and service to its congregation and local community. The congregation celebrated this special anniversary during Divine Service Sunday, June 11, which was followed by a catered reception. The Rev. Warren Graff served as preacher, with other former pastors, members and friends of the congregation invited to attend.

Reaching such a landmark anniversary requires steadfast commitment to a shared faith and to the community the congregation serves. And, as previous actions are a prime indicator for future success, St. Luke Lutheran would seem to have many more years of service ahead.

To better understand what has gone before, the following is shortened version of an extensive 20-page printout detailing St. Luke’s history, amassed by Linda Bailey and revised this spring by current pastor, the Rev. Timothy J. Sheridan. It begins with a brief descriptor followed by the church’s evolution grouped by year(s).

“St. Luke Lutheran Church of Harrison is located in beautiful northern Michigan, just off U.S. 127, about 120 miles south of the Straits of Mackinac and 15 miles north of Clare. The town’s slogan “20 Lakes in 20 Minutes” highlights Harrison as a tourist area known for outdoor recreation.

Harrison’s natural beauty and tranquil atmosphere offer an ideal retirement locality for many who previously owned resort cabins in the area. It is close to the center of a diamond formed by the cities of Houghton Lake, Gladwin, Clare and Cadillac. Harrison is a small town with a population of approximately 1,150 as of the 2020 census.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod began its work in Harrison with a summer preaching station, established to meet the needs of Lutherans who spent much of the season in the woods and on the lakes in the area. From 1969 to 1972, the Mission Board of the Missouri Synod sponsored a summer chapel at the local school in Harrison, with services conducted by vacationing pastors.”


“In 1973, as new missions were beginning throughout northern Lower Mihcigan, the Mission Board sponsored the establishment of a congregation in Harrison.

The congregation in Harrison was established as a dual parish with another mission congregation, Prince of Peace in Clare (established 1965). Prince of Peace had about 200 members and was being served by its third pastor, the Rev. Luke Stephan.

On Jan. 3, Stephan and a group of interested members from Prince of Peace, together with the Rev. Paul T. Heinecke, Executive Secretary of Missions of the Michigan District, held an informational meeting in the basement of the Mid-Michigan Bank of Harrison.

It was decided that since the population of the town was growing, there was a need for a Missouri Synod congregation in Harrison. Several organizational meetings were subsequently held. On March 14, the newly-formed congregation was given permission to establish a presence in Harrison.

The first service was to be held Easter Sunday, April 22. The following temporary officers were elected: Jerry Brandt, president; Barbara Richards, secretary; Don Richards, treasurer and Donna Carty, financial secretary. The congregation also determined to name themselves St. Luke Lutheran Church, in honor of both the evangelist who penned the Third Gospel and Pastor Stephan.

A temporary worship space was established in the recently vacated post office building located on the corner of Old 27 and North First Street. Erwin Wagner of Birch Run, Michigan, donated a Hammond organ to the newly formed congregation.

Easter Sunday of 1973 was a beautiful day for St. Luke’s first worship service. Lilies adorned the altar, as well as paraments newly made by Betty Brandt. Kevin Clennan served as the first acolyte, wearing a new gown sewn by his mother, Joan Clennan. Carol Stephan, wife of Pastor Stephan, was the first organist. One hundred people attended the first service.

The first Communion service was celebrated May 20, 1973. May 27: Robert Lewis Flowers, son of Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Flowers of Harrison, was the first person to be baptized. May 30: the ladies of St. Luke began to organize their chapter of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML), known in the present day as Ladies’ Christian Fellowship (LCF). Officers elected were Edwinna Pickering, president; Betty Brandt, vice president; Barbara Jones, secretary; and Gladys Carty, treasurer.

During the next few months, several possible construction sites were visited.

At an organizational meeting on June 20, St. Luke was officially organized as a member congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and was incorporated as a non-profit organization in the state of Michigan.

Forty communicant members were accepted as part of the initial membership by a vote of the St. Luke congregation on Charter Sunday, July 22. The original charter members and their families were Linda Bailey; Jerry, Betty, Cindy, Peggy and Curt Brandt; Gladys Carty; John, Donn and David Carty; Bruce, Joan, Eileen, Kevin, Neil and Brian Clennan; George and Vivian Fowler; Lewis and Zina Heiden; Lorna Hildner, David, Barbara, David Jr., Jeff and Dawne Jones; Donald, Charlotte, John, Paul, Cheryl and Michael Kelly; Carl and Bernice McConnell; Clara Moleski; Alice Neitz; Bert and Edwinna Pickering; Donald, Barbara, Patrick and Annlynn Richards; Margaret Ritz; Daniel and Clare Schissler; John Schneider; Frances Smacy; Walter and Mary Spidler; Otilla Stahlman; Ralph and Barbara Swinehart; Osceloa, Alvera and Terry Waltemyer; and Ralph and Amelia Webb.

During the month of August, the congregation decided to purchase approximately 3.5 acres in a wooded area on the west side of Fourth Street in the city of Harrison. The necessary purchase money was loaned from the Church Extension Board. Also during this month, the church received a gift of almost $2,000 as the result of a mission walk conducted by a wonderful group of teenagers form the East Detroit/Roseville area.

Sunday School classes began on Sept. 9. Three classes were formed to teach children from the age of 3 years old to eighth grade. The Sunday School staff was Joan Clennan, superintendent; Betty Brandt, nursery and kindergarten teacher; Barb Jones, elementary teacher; and Barbara Richards, junior high teacher.

A building committee was formed and met with Rev. Heinecke on Dec. 6 to discuss the duties of the committee, which included members Bruce Clennan, chairman; Walter Spindler, Ralph Swinehart, John Kelly, Barbara Richards and Jerry Brandt. Pastor Stephan also attended.

The first candlelight Christmas Eve service was held with a large attendance Dec. 24.”


“New board officers were elected for 1974: Dan Schissler, vice president; Bruce Clennan, financial secretary; and John Kelly, secretary. Twenty-five members met with Rev. Stephan and Rev. Heinecke on Feb. 7 to discuss the building program Those present pledged to give an additional $5,000 in offering for 1974.

Peggy Brandt served as the first female acolyte for the church on Feb. 24.

In April, the congregation approved a church constitution and bylaws. The constitution committee consisted of chairman Dan Schissler, Donna Carty, Jerry Brandt, Betty Brandt and Margaret Ritz. The constitution was officially approved by the Michigan District Convention on June 22. Lay representative Ralph Swinehart signed the Synod Constitution and St. Luke was received into membership in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Peggy Brandt, Kevin Klennan, David Carty and Paul Kelly were members of the first confirmation class, confirmed on June 2. Ken Ralapaugh and Pat King, the first couple to be married in the church, wed on Oct. 5.

The building committee met several times during the summer of 1974, and Gordon Merritt of Merritt, Cole and McCallum of Farmington, Michigan was selected as architect for the building project. Preliminary plans were approved by the building committee, presented to the Mission Board in September, and officially approved at a Sept. 8 congregational meeting.

Don Atkinson of Harrison was chosen as general contractor and a brief groundbreaking ceremony conducted by Stephan was held at the building site Nov. 24. Earth turning members of the congregation included Pastor Stephan, Jerry Brandt, congregation chairman; Bruce Clennan, building committee chairman; Edwinna Pickering, LWMI chapter president; Dr. Henry Hennis, Prince of Peace church council member; and two children of the congregation Neil Clennan and David Jones.

Letters of congratulations were received from the Mission Board and Church Extension Board. Congregation members then assembled in the temporary worship space for a potluck dinner.”


“New board officers for 1975 were Elayne Russell, secretary, and Carl McConnell, chief elder.

With the coming of warmer spring weather, work on the church progressed, thanks to many dedicated members who put their skills to use.

The cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new sanctuary was held July 20, with about 60 people, including both members and friends of the church, gathered at the building site. Bruce Clennan read the list of contents placed inside the cornerstone box. Don Atkinson placed the stone in mortar, and Stephan offered special readings. A picnic and fellowship followed at the city park.

The choir began practicing March 24, and gave its first musical offering on May 19, singing “Here is My Life.”

In May, bake sale and bazaar proceeds were used to purchase a bell for the church, a bell which had been used by the old Hamilton Township school. During late summer and early fall, members worked many hours at the church. Annlyn Richards, age 3, spent her afternoons riding her tricycle back and forth on the sidewalk while her mother, Barbara, stained woodwork. Margaret Ritz spent many hours designing and sewing a banner depicting St. Luke the Evangelist, which still hangs in the sanctuary.

In October, the LWML agreed to donate $1,000 for carpet and also gave $500 for electrical wiring.

The first service in the new building was held Nov. 28. Elyane Russell was organist, and refreshments were served by Jessica Beasley and Cindy Brandt. Michael Rice of the Country Bakery of Harrison donated two specially decorated cakes.”


“April 18 marked the first Easter Sunday observed in the new building, and Edwinna Pickering rang the bell. Dedication Sunday was celebrated May 28, with St. Luke members gathering to consecrate themselves anew and to dedicate the building to the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Approximately 200 people attended this service.

The church campus is located at 616 S. Fourth St. on a beautiful wooded 5.6-acre parcel of land, near other churches and public schools. The expanded acreage guaranteed the possibility of future building programs to accommodate congregational growth, later realized with the completion of Luther Hall in 1994. There is also a kitchen (most regularly used for the weekly “Coffee Hour,” a time for lunch and fellowship enjoyed by many of the members) and a secretary’s office. A pastor’s study was added later.

The original building itself had about 3,000 square feet of floor space and was multipurpose. Adult Bible Study, Sunday School, and confirmation classes have been held in the fellowship hall.

In contrast to the narrow Gothic approach to church architecture characterized by straight rows of pews, the sanctuary was designed to give the congregation a sense of being gathered around the alter for the Lord’s Supper (although the room’s orientation changed in intervening years). The chancel is furnished with altar, pulpit, baptismal font, communion rail, and crucifix custom made by the Kawkawlin Church Furniture Co.

The building was a pilot project of the Michigan District Mission Board, intended to help standardize plans to be used for similar parishes elsewhere in Michigan.

In all, the building program was a community effort depending heavily on the use of volunteer labor and donations.

[The anniversary program also noted fondly members who have served over the years, such as the late John Paul who greeted worshipers every Sunday until his death in 1987.]

On July 17, Stephan presided over his last confirmation class before departing for Topeka, Kansas. Vacancy pastor was the Rev. Frederick Weisenborn, with the permanent pastoral position offered to the Rev. Warren G. Mandell of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In November, he declined the call issued jointly by Prince of Peace and St. Luke, and the congregation extended the call to the vacancy pastor who had served both congregations for nearly four months.”


“The Rev. Weisenborn, who was ordained July 4, 1954, by his father at Zion Lutheran Church in Red Cloud, Nebraska, accepted the call and was installed Jan. 2.”


“In February 1978, Margaret Ritz made the church’s Christian flag, which was presented to the congregation by the LWML. The United States flag was presented to John Paul, chief elder of the congregation, by three members of the American Legion Post 404 Auxiliary.”


“Poor health led to the July 31, 1979, resignation of Rev. Weisenborn, who later passed away in 2005 in Concordia, Missouri. Paul Wargo was called to serve as pastor of the two churches and was ordained and installed as pastor on Nov. 2, 1979.”


“With the 1983 realization that the potential for both the Clare and Harrison churches would be better achieved if each had its own pastor, Rev. Wargo chose to become full-time pastor at Prince of Peace. That left St. Luke to call a retired pastor to serve on a half-time basis. In August, the Rev. Dr. Paul Zimmerman (who had served 30 years as president of three Lutheran colleges) accepted that call and was installed Sept. 11, 1983.”


“Pastor Zimmerman informed of his intention to retire completely to devote time to writing as well as to serve the synod as chairman of its Board for Mission Services. He passed away Jan. 28, 2013, in Traverse City.

The Rev. Pranschke was installed as pastor Sunday, Nov. 1, 1987. He is remembered as a loyal supporter of youth in the congregation, attending numerous high school athletic events.”


“During a special service on Sunday, July 14, seminary graduate Warren Graff was ordained and installed as the first full-time pastor of St. Luke.”


“In August 1994, the fellowship hall was expanded and named after Dr. Martin Luther. Alterations included addition of new bathrooms, a study for the pastor, kitchen redesign, and a church secretary’s office.”


“After nine years at St. Luke, Graff accepted a call to serve Grace Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He retired from that congregation in 2022.

The Rev. David Hakes began serving St. Luke half-time as intentional interim pastor on May 26. He passed away in September 2019 from chronic myeloid leukemia.”


“On April 8, Michael W. Schaedig accepted the call to serve as pastor of St. Luke and was ordained and installed Aug. 24.

On July 20, St. Luke members celebrated 30 years of service to the Lord with a special service and dinner.

During his tenure at St. Luke, Schaedig also mentored a son of the congregation, Kurt Laskowsky, who became a 2020 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. Laskowsky is the son of Karl and Karen Laskowsky and the grandson of Betty and the late Harold Laskowsky.”


“Sunday School teacher Ann Thayer was elected director of Christian Education, a capacity in which she continues to faithfully serve.”


“After the church’s mortgage burning in 2011, the board of directors tackled what to do with the funds previously earmarked for the mortgage. Thus, St. Luke’s Mission of the Month was born and continues today, providing financial support to those who share the Gospel and help neighbors in need, both within the community and around the world.”


“In 2019, Schaedig accepted a call to serve St. John Lutheran Church in Cheboygan, Michigan, and the Rev. Keith Lemley served as intentional interim pastor from Fall 2019 to June 2020.

During the pastoral vacancy in 2019 and after the completion of Pastor Lemley’s interim, Chaplain Kent Aughe assisted in conducting worship services at St. Luke.”


“On April 29, Seminarian Timothy Sheridan was called to serve as pastor of St. Luke. He was installed as pastor July 26 by circuit visitor Rev. William Winter. The Rev. Daniel Burhop, of Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Reese, Michigan, preached the sermon. Sheridan began his time at St. Luke in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”


“The current Board of Directors includes Dick Harris, president; Dick Forster, vice president; Shannon Coulson, recording secretary; Carol Stuhr, treasurer; Jerry Brandt, financial secretary; Mike Georgia, property director; Ann Thayer, director of Christian education; Norma Wright, youth director; Kay Forster, director of evangelism; Bill rick, director of stewardship; and Jerry Hubbard, chief elder.

The committee formed to celebrate the church’s historic 50 years celebration, was chaired by charter member Linda Bailey and co-members Barb Curtindale, Dorothy Burdo, Suetta Kernen, Judy Evans, and Pastor Sheridan. Appointed by the board of directors as St. Luke’s first church historian, Linda Bailey has worked tirelessly in organizing half a century’s worth of the congregation’s board minutes, as well as a plethora of photographs and other commemorative items from St. Luke’s past, which were to be displayed for the anniversary celebration.”

[The highly detailed recounting of the church’s history and evolution closed with the following paragraph:]

“The congregation offers thanks and praise to the triune God for His continued grace and guiding love shown to St. Luke Lutheran Church. We pray for God’s merciful blessing as we continue to worship Him and receive and share His gifts in Christ in our community and beyond.”

St. Luke Lutheran Church is located at 616 S. Fourth St. in Harrison. Worship services are held at 10:30 a.m. Sundays, with Bible Study at 9:15 a.m. Sundays and 10 a.m. Wednesdays. Sunday School also begins at 9:15 a.m. Sundays. Church office hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday (closed Friday).

Find more information at or call 989-539-6312.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here