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St. James Lutheran Church

Celebrates 100 Years

October 25, 2017  

Rapid City Journal, Butte County Post, retrieved from

Nobody in attendance at the time capsule opening had ever done anything like that before. A small crowd of adults and children gathered to watch a worker from Wilen Masonry pry the cornerstone from the brick wall of St. James Lutheran Church in Belle Fourche and chip away at the concrete behind it.

“I see a box!” Congregation President Larry Shoemaker gestured with his hands to show the size of a box in the hole behind the newly removed cornerstone.

Eager to know what the box, a nearly 60-year-old time capsule, might hold, the crowd of five to twelve-year-old I-Praise students surged closer to Shoemaker to watch with him as the mason chipped away concrete from the opening. Many kids held bits of concrete or broken brick, tangible mementos of the day. Adults in the background wondered aloud what might be in the box.

After much more work with hammer and chisel, the mason pried the copper box from the wall. Shoemaker held it up with a grin. “I was worried there wouldn’t be anything,” he said. The time capsule was a memory for several of the older congregation members, but no one had been able to say exactly where it was or what it contained.

The box, soldered closed, had no visible opening. The mason said he could grind it open, but the grinder would create sparks, perhaps damaging any paper contents. Instead, several men took turns with the hammer and chisel until finally, the lid was loose on three sides.

Shoemaker directed the crowd, ranging in age from the children to a 92-year-old member, to the fellowship hall where everyone could see and be out of the brisk October breeze for the opening.

The idea of opening the time capsule was part of the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the St. James Lutheran congregation. Several people had thought it shouldn’t be opened until the building itself was one hundred, but the majority of the members were curious and ready for the contents to be revealed.

“Why wait until we’re all dead?” said one member.

In the fellowship hall, at a table surrounded by children and adults, Shoemaker removed, read, and held up one item at a time. There were books: the red hymnal of the time period, Luther’s Small Catechism, a ragged Bible signed by Carl Schulz who was pastor from 1940-1944, and a small book titled Biblical History of School and Home by Dr. M. Reu, published in 1953.


He held up a yellowed copy of the Church Constitution. An adult commented, “I wonder how much it has changed.”

There was a program for the Cornerstone Laying on April 12, 1959. The edges of the paper were deteriorating as if it had been chewed.

“Could there be a mouse?” someone said.

“No dried mouse in the box,” answered another person with a chuckle.

Next Shoemaker held up several stapled pages that said it was a brief history of St. James. The church, started in 1917, was just over forty years old at that time.

Finally, there was the 1958 Annual Meeting Report. That document listed all the members of the church at that time. It also listed all the “giving” members and published what their monetary contribution for the year had been, a fact that surprised most of the adults.

As the group looked over the documents, several people found their names in the meeting report. Men were listed by name, but their wives were listed only as “Mrs.”

I pointed out a name in the paper to a little girl, then turned to the 92-year-old lady behind us.

“This is Mrs. Rothermel.”

The child’s eyes were wide as she tied the name on the old paper to the white-haired woman.

All that paperwork was perhaps not quite as exciting to the children as they had imagined the contents to be. The list of things to put into the “new” time capsule includes things such as photographs, recipes, newspapers, money, and even a box of Jello.


Decisions will be exciting. There is limited space.

The church has been celebrating the centennial with historical tidbits during worship for most of the year. We learned that our original services were in the Ingersoll School in 1917, a central location to include the other half of the congregation at that time, the people of the area around Nisland. Those services were in German.

Twenty-three pastors have been called or have filled in while the church was in the call process. Pastors Fred Hallstrom (1974-1996), G.E. Landgrebe (1955-1968), Jeff Otterman (2005-2016), and Hans Sacrison (1996-2004) served the longest calls over the years. Pastor Jean Helmer is currently filling in.

The infrastructure changed greatly over the years. Nisland and Belle formed two separate congregations, and each built a white church with a steeple. The church in Belle Fourche was at the corner of Lawrence and Ninth Street, currently Emmanuel Baptist Church. The parsonage was next door, up the hill.

The history talked about when women became voting members of the congregation. A 94-year-old former member, who now lives in Texas, recalled that her friend, Lydia Stumpf, was one of the first women to hold a position “that was normally held by a man” on the council. “She did a very good job!”

The congregation grew until the Sunday School classes, held in the church basement and in the parson-age, were too large for the facilities. Sheets formed “walls” between classes in the basement, and students sat back to back on benches with only the sheet between them.

The congregation anticipated an amount of $65,000 in loans and donations to complete a basic new build-ing. Members volunteered a great deal of the labor to build the building. The final amount, minus finishing details, was very close to the figure. The “new church” has been at 1100 Stanley Street for nearly sixty years.

Members once again volunteered when the church added a large upstairs kitchen and fellowship hall in the late 90s and remodeled the basement and the kitchen there in the last few years.

The church has upgraded lights and sound systems several times. After many years of broadcasting services on KBFS, the church currently records services, making DVDs for shut-ins.

A short article in the 1989 church directory mentions the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, the new set of handbells (still used), the new lights (replaced), the new choir robes (replaced), and the new sprinkling system (still hanging on).

The regular choir, in the latest iteration of robes, and the handbell choir add to worship regularly, and they make an annual Christmas caroling visit to the local nursing home and area assisted living facilities. Parish nurses visit people in need for support and comfort.

What has changed little is the church’s commitment to service. Quilters piece, assemble, and tie together hundreds of comforters that are shipped to Lutheran World Relief, given to local folks in need, given to Canyon Hills Youth facility in Spearfish, or sold to buy additional batting and other supplies to keep that mission working.

Church volunteers prepare and serve a free Thanksgiving dinner on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, serving anywhere from 450 to 700 people. In addition, the church serves a monthly potluck called Dinner Belle for anyone who wants to attend. Both of those food ministries have resulted in involvement of people who are either from other churches or perhaps not from a church at all, people who merely enjoy the food and the fellowship offered.

Volunteers help man the Compassion Cupboard. An event in its third year, the “Nothing But Christmas Rummage and Bake Sale,” donates all of its sales to the Compassion Cupboard.

Although we sometimes worry that membership may be down or that the budget is lagging behind, there is no question that in a time of need, members will answer the call and respond with labor and funds to fulfill the need.

Sound and light committee member Bruce Ude has created a video of those “Centennial Minutes” and other significant events about the church and its people. He will make DVDs for members.

Although people have suggested a DVD be included in the “new” time capsule, a website that addresses items that should or should not be put into a time capsule discourages computer media. In fifty years a person will probably not find a DVD player.

The official Centennial Celebration at St. James was Sunday, October 22. The program after the worship service began with a banquet, followed by a program involving history and song. President Shoemaker reviewed the contents of the time capsule, and members tried to decide what should go in the next one.

Although the original box has been damaged beyond repair, the hole in the wall will be refilled with a new, carefully filled and sealed time capsule, and the granite plaque will be newly mortared in.

The inscription on that plaque says, “St. James Lutheran Church. A Friendly Church with a Mission.” Maybe “for One Hundred Years” should be added.

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