|History of Trinity Lutheran Church in Billings, MT|
Although the Word of God has been preached in this area of Montana for roughly 120 years, Trinity Lutheran Church was first formally organized as a congregation in 1919. Missionaries and Circuit Riders served Eastern Montana in the early times. Prominent among these was Rev. Henry T. Rauh, who guided the fledgling mission through its formative years, 1906 until 1920. In 1920, Rev. Paul T. Brauer was called from Bozeman, and served until the end of 1924. Pastor Rauh filled the vacancy, assisted by Pastor H.E. Vomhof of Laurel and G.A. Walz of Park City until a new pastor was called. Rev. John F.S. Her was called from Sheridan, Wyoming in late 1926, and served until he departed this earth in early 1929. Once again, Pastor Rauh filled the vacancy with help from Pastor Walz until a new pastor could be called.
The first church building for Trinity was erected on property purchased at 7th Avenue North and 29th Street, and was dedicated in 1914 at a cost of $8000.00. Rev. Paul M. Freiburger was installed as pastor in November of 1929, served the congregation for 47 years, and continued as assistant pastor for several more years. During his service, property was purchased on Grand Avenue, and a new and larger church building was erected and dedicated on July 12, 1953. Since then, the building has undergone a major renovation, and parking properties have been acquired to the east and north of the building.
A Christian day school began operation in the church basement in 1955, with Mrs. Beata Gumpf as teacher. A new school building was built in 1959 on an acreage purchased on 28th Street West and Belvedere Drive. As the school has grown, additions and renovations have been made to accommodate the needs. Richard Thomas has been serving as principal since 1990, and the school has achieved recognition in the community as a premier K-8 educational institution.
After Dr. Freiburger retired, Rev. Lloyd C. Warneke was called, and served the congregation from 1976 to 1982. Rev. Richard L. Thompson served as pastor from 1984 to 1993; during which time Pastor Harold V. Huber, Montana District President, served as assistant pastor during the time between 1978 and 1984. The next Montana District President, Rev. Albert G. Pullmann, served as assistant pastor from 1985 to 1989. Since his retirement, Pastor Thompson has graciously filled in from time to time as pastor during vacancies at Trinity. Rev. David L. Poovey was installed in July of 1995, and served until he accepted a call in late 2002. During this time, Rev. James A. Haugen was called to serve as associate pastor in 2000. In May of 2003, Pastor Daniel Rinderknecht was called to serve as senior pastor, and was installed that September. Pastor Haugen accepted a call in October of 2003. Rev. Timothy Richholt accepted our call as associate pastor, and was installed in October of 2004. Trinity Lutheran Church has been blessed with many faithful shepherds who have guided its course from the beginning.
Over the years, members have been released from Trinity to form the nucleus of our four sister congregations in Billings. Although the way has not always been smooth for our church; the Lord has been gracious, forgiving our failures and blessing us abundantly. To Him alone be the glory!
Photo by James Woodcock
|Early History of the LCMS in Montana|
In the spring of 1883, Rev. Adolph Pfotenhauer was finishing his first year in the ministry, making a survey mission journey in Minnesota. He was accompanied by his brother, Rev. Frederick Pfotenhauer. In the Red River Valley area, a woman (and her child) from Miles City, Montana was visiting her sister in Minnesota. The child was baptized, and the mother requested Pastor A. Pfotenhauer to see what could be done for "the very many Lutherans who were moving into Montana and were there being scattered as sheep without a Shepherd." The information reached the Missions Commission of the Minnesota - Dakota District of the Missouri Synod. Many immigrants were moving westward to the Montana Territory, and a 400% population increase occurred east of the Missouri River between 1880-1885. A report was given by Rev. A. Pfotenhauer to the Minnesota - Dakota District, and a budget of $4,000 was made in 1884 to subsidize thirteen "Reiseprediger" (traveling preachers) in the district.
In 1884, Rev. Herman Glaess, a 25-year-old Reiseprediger from Perham, Minnesota, served a parish 240 miles long with twelve preaching stations from Brainerd, Minnesota, to Jamestown, North Dakota. Born in Germany and a graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, his parish ran along the route of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The full extent of this line had been completed on September 8, 1883, running directly from his parish to Helena, Montana, as a through line to the Pacific Coast. Glaess was commissioned to make a Montana trip to investigate the mission possibilities, and to serve with Word and Sacrament whatever German Lutherans he might find. In March of 1884, Glaess was among the first Lutheran pastors of any synod to enter Montana on an official mission for the Lutheran church. Rev. Glaess traveled on the train through Glendive, Miles City, Billings, Bozeman, passing by Big Timber and Three Forks of the Missouri (viewed by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition slightly less than 75 years earlier in 1805), to his final destination of Helena. Glaess limited his activity to Helena due to ill health. The first public Lutheran worship service in Montana was held on Sunday, March 23 of 1884, Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Rev. Glaess' health declined over the next few years, and he resigned from the ministry in 1889 because of throat trouble. He then moved to Chicago.
The second pastor commissioned to travel to Montana was Rev. Friedrick Pfotenhauer (Adolph's brother) in 1885, who did much preaching and gathering of Lutherans in various areas of Montana. Of interest to the local community is the fact that Pfotenhauer met seven adult Lutherans in Billings, and baptized one child here. A second missionary journey was made to Montana by Rev. F. Pfotenhauer in 1886 because a young minister declined the call in 1985. Many baptisms of his missionary journeys to Montana are recorded at First Lutheran Church in Helena, Montana. It was the only organized church at the time in the Montana Territory. (Montana didn't become a state until 1889.) Later in his career, Rev. Pfotenhauer became president of the Minnesota District in 1891, then vice president of the Missouri Synod, eventually serving as president of the Missouri Synod from 1911-1935.
Rev. John H.W. Meyer, upon graduating from Concordia Seminary in 1886, was ordained and commissioned as a Reiseprediger to Montana at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Chicago, Illinois. He accepted the call to become the first resident pastor in the Montana Territory. Living and working in and out of Helena, Meyer served sixteen preaching sites from Butte to Miles City, including a few mining camps. He played a part in laying a foundation for the formation of a congregation in Helena; and in 1887, First Lutheran Church was organized while Meyer was out of town. The next year, Adolph Bartling, a new graduate of the seminary, was ordained in his home church in Addison, Illinois. Bartling accepted the call to Butte in September of 1888, and was installed as pastor there. The work serving the various preaching stations was now shared by two pastors. Back in Helena, Rev. John H.W. Meyer was present for the laying of the first cornerstone for the First Lutheran Church building on May 1, 1889. That same year marked the end of his Montana calling, and Meyer accepted a call to a Lutheran church in Richton, Illinois due to an impending breakdown of his health.
During these years, Montana was a part of the Great Northwest District; which also included both Dakotas, Minnesota, and Central Canada. In 1906, South Dakota had grown in population to where they withdrew to form their independent district. As the number of LCMS congregations continued to increase in Montana and the Dakotas, the North Dakota - Montana District was organized. This took place during the convention at Great Bend, North Dakota in June of 1910, with many Montana pastors and missionaries present. May of 1945 marked the 24th and final convention of the North Dakota - Montana District of the LCMS, taking place in Wahpeton, North Dakota. From then on, the congregations from these two states met as separate districts of the LCMS to meet the growing needs of each state.
|The First LCMS Montana District Convention|
In October of 1946, Montana held its first convention as an organized district of The Missouri Synod, with Rev. Paul M. Freiburger of Billings as the first Montana District president. At this convention held in Lewistown, Pastor Freiburger stated, "These are turbulent times in which we are living. Our District is small, our numbers few, distances great, but our extremity is also God's opportunity. The Lord is also with us." He pleaded that Montana Lutherans learn to "Go forward with Christ," using Moses and the children of Israel as a reference. Rev. Freiburger also encouraged delegates of congregations to become involved in the "Each One Reach One" endeavor in synod, and to "Go Forward in Christian Education - in Stewardship." He said, "We can meet these needs by liberal, Scriptural, proportionate, all year round giving. Our love for Christ ought to constrain us to give for the Kingdom's cause. We must go forward by contending for the one true faith and by witnessing for the Savior."
Missouri Synod President Dr. John W. Behnken delivered the sermon, using 1 Corinthians 4:8b, "We are perplexed but not in despair. Since the Lord knows these conditions as well as we do, and since He is also an all powerful God Who has promised His help, therefore we were urged also to say with St. Paul, 'We are not in despair.'"
Dr. Behnken also gave a report on conditions in Europe since the war. He stated, "I've used the word indescribable many times. I've heard and read it often. But never did I know what it meant. I know now. I've seen destruction which is indescribable." He gave a very vivid picture of the anguish and suffering, ruin, and destruction which he saw.
Mr. Martin Daib, Field Secretary of the Lutheran Laymen's League presented the purpose and program of the organization. "The objectives of the League," Daib said, "are to encourage one another to actually participate in the work of the congregation; to increase in the membership a deeper sense of stewardship; to promote additional opportunities for training in Church work; to promote educational facilities for churches, such as schools, Universities etc.; to promote systematic study of the Scriptures; to train more missionaries among the lay membership; to provide greater Church fellowship; and to cooperate with other Church organizations." He asked, "With a program like that, should anyone object to becoming a member of the LLL?"
The essayist was Rev. Arnold Henry Grumm of Fargo, North Dakota, president of the North Dakota District. He said, "The basis of true church fellowship is personal fellowship with Christ by faith. This saving faith, begotten by the Holy Ghost through the Word, and this faith alone, is the inward, invisible bond of fellowship truly uniting all believers into one spiritual body. The inward, invisible fellowship should manifest itself according to God's will in outward visible fellowship of believers in the local congregation, and beyond the local congregation. We recognize fellow believers by their confession of faith based on God's Word and expressed in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. This Confession of faith constitutes the outward bond of fellowship. It is God's will that the believers should always be intent to keep the outward bond of fellowship intact so that God's Word is purely taught and the practice of the Church is in harmony with that teaching. Believers, who because of lack of knowledge, do not comply with God's command to continue in His Word, and as a result have fellowship with terrorists, separate themselves from fellow-believers that continue in all of God's Word, and thus destroy the outward bond of fellowship. The purpose of the outward fellowship is the mutual strengthening in faith, the preservation and promotion of the unity of faith and the joint extension of God's Kingdom through the world. The end is the glory of God and the eternal welfare of men. Therefore we should diligently strive to preserve the true fellowship of faith that exists among us, avoid everything that hinders it, and strive to help remove all errors and difficulties that separate fellow believers."
On the last day of the convention, Rev. L. Tormoehlen stated, using Acts 1:8, "We must move forward with Christ also in Gospel Publicity." The speaker stated, "If Christ had lived today, would He not have used telephone, telegraph, radio... every available means for spreading the Gospel? He wanted His Word spread into the world. Christian Publicity is one way of accomplishing that."
Also on the last day of the convention, it was reported that the St. Louis Cardinals had won the World Series. The devotion for the final session was led by Rev. Paul Ernst, using as his text Matthew 25:40. He stated, "We must go forward with Christ in the cause of Christian charity."
LCMS Montana District Seal