One month ago on Jan. 20, the Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Minocqua celebrated its 40th birthday. In four decades, the church has grown to 210 adult members who, as a congregation, continue to strive toward the church’s original missions of worship, education and fellowship.
Joy Messerschmidt became a member of Rock of Ages three years ago. When she moved up north, the decision to join the church was easy.
“It was just very friendly and welcoming,” she said of the congregation. “It’s a very caring church.”
Rock of Ages is currently being led by an interim pastor, Reverend Kevin Hoogland, from Merrill. He is serving the congregation after Pastor Phillip Beukema accepted a call to Minnesota in late November.
In the meantime, the Rock of Ages congregation has been working to put together their own call.
“We’ll be calling a minister in the near future,” Messerschmidt said.
Since its inception, the Rock of Ages has had a number of ministers — six in total — but arguably the church’s first, Reverend Harold Winter, had the greatest impact. His goals for the church have continued to serve as its bedrock.
A church is born
Before Jan. 20, 1980 — the day the church was officially recognized as an organized congregation — Rock of Ages was known as the Missouri Synod Lutheran Mission of the Lakeland area.
The church’s origins date back to roughly eight months prior when a meeting was held by the North Wisconsin District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod at the Minocqua Town Hall on May 21, 1979. Reverend W.L. Kreuger of Wausau, who was a missions counselor of the North Wisconsin District, had indicated there may be demand for a new congregation in Minocqua.
Interest in creating a Missouri Synod mission church in the Northwoods was confirmed and a month later, Pastor Winter of Stoughton, was called to lead the congregation.
“It’s like a start-up church,”Messerschmidt said, explaining the function of a mission church.
The congregation decided to call Winter as he had been successful in starting other churches including Rib Mountain Lutheran Church in Wausau and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Stoughton.
Marti Albrecht, a longtime member, credits Winter with getting her involved in the church in 1979. After Winter lead the church through its infancy, he became its resident pastor on March 9, 1980.
Albrecht had grown up in the Missouri-Synod Lutheran Church and joined after she met her current husband, Steve Spire. Spire was confirmed and baptized at Rock of Ages and the couple was later married by Pastor Winter.
She and her husband moved the family to Wausau in the 1980s where they now split their time, and although Winter left the church in 1985, the couple still attends service at Rock of Ages each Sunday they spend in Minocqua.
“We never left the church,” she said. “We kept it as our primary church.”
Albrecht remembers Winter being a large proponent of the name Rock of Ages.
“He always said, ‘If you don’t have a solid foundation, there isn’t any sense in doing anything else,’ and that’s why the Rock of Ages was the name that he really liked,” she said. “He really wanted Rock of Ages back then to have a solid ground — stick with the basic teachings of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.”
Mary Glocke, another early member, recalled the name being suggested by George Goett who was inspired by the hymn “Rock of Ages Cleft for Me.”
As the founding members considered the significance of the rock in the Bible, they reflected on a story from the Book of Matthew about the wise man who built his house on the rock, allowing him to weather the storm. The name Rock of Ages was born.
While Rock of Ages was flourishing in its first year, the church did not yet have its own building, but was meeting at St. Matthias Church in Minocqua.
Albrecht remembers her daughter Katherine as being one of the first babies baptized at Rock of Ages in late-March of 1980, second only to Denell Woller, who was baptized on the church’s birthday, Jan. 20. Both baptisms took place at St. Matthias.
The land for the church’s current location on Highway 70 had been purchased in January 1980, but construction did not begin until August of that year. The building was dedicated March 1, 1981.
According to an Ironwood Daily Globe article from March 27, 1981, a total of 197 people attended the ribbon cutting ceremony.
As membership grew, as did the need for a larger space and by 1993, plans for an expansion were developing. Further construction began in 1995.
On Oct. 6, 1996 the current building was dedicated and included a new sanctuary seating 200 people, a fellowship hall, library, classrooms and offices.
The original church space is now used as conference rooms as well as for Sunday school and the church nursery.
Albrecht and Spire’s family has grown along with the church. Last month, Albrecht’s youngest son Chris, who was baptized in the first Rock of Ages sanctuary in 1982, had his own son baptized in the new sanctuary.
“It would be three generations were baptized in January,” Albrecht said.
Continuing to serve
The space added through the 1996 addition has allowed the church to host events like potlucks, a summer rummage sale and annual December Rock of Ages Ladies Guild Cookie Walk.
Many events are free and open to the public.
“We’re not in town so people don’t actually see us and know that we’re out on Hwy 70,” Messerschmidt said. “We’re here.”
This year, Rock of Ages also served as a drop-off center for Operation Christmas Child, which is a national organization that helps collect shoeboxes with gifts to send to children around the world. Rock of Ages has participated in the program before, but 2019 was its first year as a drop-off site for other local churches.
“We collected over 700 boxes from other churches in the area,” Messerschmidt said.
Currently, Rock of Ages holds services on Sunday at 9 a.m. with Bible study following at 10:30 a.m. The church also holds Wednesday Bible study at 10 a.m.
Rock of Ages welcomes children and families and will host Vacation Bible school in July.
There will be events celebrating Rock of Ages 40th Anniversary, the theme being Celebrating 40 Years of God’s Grace, throughout the year.
For more information, the church office can be reached at 715-356-3848.
Delaney FitzPatrick may be reached via email at [email protected].