In the mid-1960s, Lutheran families that had moved to the area discovered there was no Lutheran church in all of Brunswick County. These “Brunswick Lutherans” reached out to both the Missouri Synod and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). The two entities agreed that the LCA would start a Lutheran mission in Southport.
Here is the timeline of those early efforts, based upon the major milestones of the church recorded in the Church Record Book and research by church members.1
1967: The first meetings began with a group of seven Lutherans who gathered together for worship.
1969: The Brunswick Lutherans held their first communion service at the home of Mrs. Marie Johnson.
4/13/1972: Rev. David Johnson met with Brunswick Lutherans to begin planning regular church services. Ten days later, they held their first worship service in St. Philip’s Episcopal Church with Rev. John Barringer supplying leadership.
Summer, 1972: Dean Lingle, seminarian, served as supply pastor. Dr. John Futchs and Dr. Walter Beck assist occasionally. (Left, Rev. Dean Lingle at his ordination in 1975)
February, 1973: Rev. Hollis Miller accepted the call from the Board of American Missions as Mission Developer for the Brunswick Lutherans. Having come from a background of serving the poor and striving for racial equality, Pastor Miller took this role to heart and proceeded to knock on every door in the community.
2/25/1973: Pastor Miller held the first service of Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church.
9/16/1973: Charter Sunday held at Southport Community Building, where the journey to creating and passing a charter began. Pastor Miller and Dr. Ernest Misenheimer officiated.
9/23/1973: Sunday School began in the church center.
11/26/1973: The first church council was elected and the constitution adopted.
12/16/1973: Organization Sunday held at the Community Building. Pastor Miller and Dr. George Whittecar officiated. By this time, 114 members had signed the charter and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church was officially organized.
- Pastor Miller received and accepted the call as St. Peter’s first called pastor.
- The first Church Council appointed the following committees: Christian Education, Worship and Music, Property, Stewardship-Finance, Social Ministry, Evangelism.
- The first budget was adopted and the first Member Response campaign was held to receive member pledges for the upcoming year. Rev. Dan Dickhart from the Division for Parish Services provided assistance.
- Pastor Miller initiated the church’s first newsletter, called The Fisherman.
1/21/1975: Congregational dinner held at Trinity United Methodist Church, with Dr. R. Douglas Fritz as the keynote speaker.
June 1975: The congregation met with Mr. Jack Reisch, LCA church building consultant, to initiate building plans. A Building Committee was appointed.
July 1975: St. Peter’s held a successful Cooperative Vacation Church School with the Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Methodist churches.
12/7/1975: Groundbreaking held for the new church at the West Trace site, with150 persons in attendance. TV coverage was provided.
12/11/1975: The church signed a contract with Moore Construction Company of Myrtle Beach, S.C. with Mr. Ken Bennett, associate, to build our first church (now the Fellowship Hall).
March 1976: The first young adult group, Youth Lutheran Adults (YLAs) was formed.
3/28/1976: Our first mortgage. The Lutheran Men’s Group received a check for $50,000 from Home Mission Foundation.
4/25/1976: Building underway, Pastor Miller submitted his resignation to accept a call as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Rock Hill, SC.
5/7/1976: The church council appointed a pulpit committee to begin the search for a new pastor.
6/20/1976: First worship service held in the new church building. Pastor Miller’s sermon that day was a farewell to an appreciative congregation.
11/7/1976: Rev. Wayne Wood stepped in as the congregation’s interim pastor.
3/13/1977: Pastor Wood held a dedication service for the church building, including the laying of the cornerstone.
9/4/1977: Rev. Herman Fisher answered the call and began his ministry at St. Peter’s, which he continued for two years until his 73rd birthday. This was a time of substantial growth, in part because of a population surge due to the Nuclear Power Plant.
With the church growing in numbers and finances, Rev. Fisher helped facilitate the acquisition of an organ received from St. James Lutheran Church in Rockwell, NC (home church to Rev. Hollis Miller), as well as the purchase of a new Baldwin piano. The church maintained a strong Sunday School program for all ages.
January 1979: The pulpit committee extended a call to Rev. James H. Cone.
5/25/1979: Pastor Cone began his ministry. This is the year that is also notable for the change in liturgy. The green hymnal was introduced and the congregation had opportunity to explore new worship experiences.
1980: A relationship developed with the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches to deliver joint community Bible School programs. Saint Peter also supported the Southport-Oak Island Interchurch Fellowship (SOIIF) through contributions of money and food, and by participation in interchurch worship services.
4/11/1982: After serving nearly six years, Pastor Cone resigned to accept a call to Bethany Lutheran Church in Kannapolis, NC.
5/23/1982: The pulpit committee extended a call to Rev. Paul D. Townsend from Steubenville, Ohio, who began his ministry on June 8th.
7/18/1982: Installation of Pastor Townsend by Dick Little, assistant to Bishop Misenheimer.
Summer 1982 and 1983 recorded two more successful joint Vacation Bible School (VBS) events.
1983: Pastor Townsend launched Fisherman’s Hope (see below), which was key to building enthusiasm for bettering the church, prompting the collection of memorial gifts to build an altar platform and rails. The Fisherman’s Hope was still an important feature of the church at the time of the 25th anniversary, and beyond.
12/16/1983: As part of the Tenth Anniversary Celebration, the altar platform and rails were dedicated, along with linens and pillows from the church seamstresses. The event included special choir music and a covered dish dinner. There were 65 in attendance, and special guests were Boyce Whitener, Rev. Hollis Miller, Rev. Dean Lingle, and Rev. Herman Fisher.
4/1/1984: Bishop Michael C. D. McDaniel preached and presided over eucharist. Beginning of evangelism effort.
8/1/1984: The church held an Eleventh Year Celebration at which the Synod bishop was a guest speaker, traveling to Southport from Trinity I Hickory, NC. The event featured a Christmas Cantata by the choir.
9/2/1984: Rev. Dr. Wallace E. Fisher led an evangelism workshop and preached.
7/23-27/1984: The church history records another successful VBS with Southport Presbyterian and St. Philips Episcopal.
8/12-16/1985: Again, the church history records a successful VBS with Southport Presbyterian and St. Philips Episcopal. This event culminated with a joint communion service, an addition which continued annually.
1986: St. Peter’s received a gift of antique pews from Our Redeemer Church in Greenville, NC. Prior to this, the congregation sat in chairs during worship. The pews were originally built in 1869 for a Dutch Reformed Church in Yonkers, NY. When the new sanctuary was built, the pews were donated to another church.
8/14/1988: Pastor Townsend preached for the last Sunday before moving to Gloria Del, Saisbury, NC.
March 1989: Rev. Charles McManus began his ministry at St. Peter’s.
1990: The second mortgage was retired. This event took the church off mission status. Later in the year, the congregation put forth a special fundraising effort to pave the parking lot. The church also finalized their new constitution which was approved by the ELCA and adopted by the congregation. This constitution introduced the current spelling of the church name: Saint Peter with no abbreviation or possessive apostrophe.
1991: The church purchased new robes for the choir and acolytes, as well as a dossal curtain. Outside, road markers and a lighted church sign were added. Another highlight in this year is that the North Carolina Lutheran/Catholic Covenant was signed, resulting in shared fellowship and worship between Saint Peter, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church.
August 1991: Following the loss of beloved and active member Charles Moretz, his family established the Charles Moretz Scholarship fund. The scholarship continues to assist members pursuing higher education.
December 1991: A large outdoor manger scene was donated to the church by Pastor McManus’ former congregation, Lutheran Chapel in Gastonia.
1992: In this year:
- The church received a storage shed and riding mower through memorial gifts.
- Our talented seamstresses created new linens for the altar.
- Saint Peter partnered with Trinity Methodist Church and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church to deliver their VBS program; a partnership that continued for three years.
12/16/1993: Rev. McManus presided over the 20th anniversary celebration, after which he retired from ministry.
8/23/1994: Rev. Kenneth Langsdorf began his ministry at Saint Peter.
November 1997: Church membership increased to the point that the parking lot was expanded and Pastor Langsdorf had to deliver two services each Sunday.
1998: As the church prepared to celebrate its 25th anniversary, it enjoyed a strong financial standing. The mortgage had been whittled down to about $5,000. Meanwhile the loss of a dear member Marguerite Lowder brought with it a significant and generous gift from her estate of $30,000 to be designated for a building fund. The church planned to purchase three additional acres for the purpose of expansion. A building committee was formed to oversee the project to increase facilities for worship, fellowship, and Christian education.
12/11/1998: The 25th anniversary dinner at Skip’s Chandler was attended by 105 members, as well as former pastors Miller and McManus, charter members David & Patsy Heist, Ted & Cathy Holth, Marty Kesmodel, Howard Moss, Susan Holth Nguyen, Delphia Oberjohann, Irene Robinson, Ada Sellers, Susan Miller, and Marie Fullwood.
12/12/1998: Bishop Leonard Bolich conducted the 25th anniversary celebration.
4/25/1999: Pastor Ken accepted a new call to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Mount Holly, NC. From this point, Rev. Lawrence Barretti served as interim pastor through 12/12/1999.
6/6/1999: Rev. John Bush, Capital Fundraising Consultant, kicked off a fundraising campaign with a celebration. The campaign for the new building featured an anchor with a cross and fish. The words, “Anchored in Faith” appeared above a long chain. Links to the chain were painted gold each time $10,000 was collected. From 51 families they raised $388,000.
11/14/1999: The congregation extended a call (with unanimous approval) to Rev. Joseph Tursi. It should be noted that while the LCA encourages pastors to remain in a call only 5 or 10 years, Pastor Joe remained with us as our longest-running pastor for 11 wonderful years.
2000: Pastor Joe shepherded the church through the tedious decision-making processes required to erect a new building. One thing became clear after months of frustration with the first builder — we were not on the same page. After much frustration and subsequent prayer, Pastor Tursi happened across a company from South Carolina that specialized in building churches — and which had a relationship with a purveyor of stained glass windows!
March 2001: The church signed with Southern Design and Construction to build the sanctuary they designed.
April 8, 2001: The former sanctuary before it was remodeled to become the Fellowship Hall we know and love today.
August 2001: At last, it was time to get out the golden shovel for another groundbreaking ceremony.
Early 2002: With many discussions and redesigns, the committee and Pastor Joe come up with a trinity window representing God the Father (the burning bush), the Son (the vine), and the Holy Spirit (the dove). Now it is time to get the window installed.
June 2002: The first worship service was held in the new building, with a dedication in November.
Between these occasions, the old church was converted into the Fellowship Hall that it is today, with the addition of a commercial kitchen, offices, Sunday School rooms, and a library. Most of this work was performed by church volunteers in preparation for Dedication Sunday.
July 2006: The Giannatasios walked down the aisle for the first time as husband and wife. Even then, nobody in the church realized the significance of this beautiful event. Even Dale was surprised when Nick announced a couple years later that he wanted to go to seminary.
August 1, 2011: Pastor Joe handed the reins of the church to Rev. David Nelson, who also happened to be well-versed in church finance and organization.
2019: Church attendance grew to an average of 285 on a typical Sunday, with a total membership of more than 500 people. The position of Associate Pastor was created to assist the Senior Pastor, and newly ordained Pastor Nick accepted the call to serve as Saint Peter’s first Associate Pastor. Later in the year, Pastor Dave handed the reins to Pastor Nick. As it turned out, the world was about to change, and the role that the new pastor took on was a greater challenge than either of them could have imagined.
2020: Rev. Jason Huebner accepted the call to join Saint Peter as Associate Pastor supporting Pastor Nick. Even as the church was banned from holding services in the sanctuary, “mobile services” took place in the parking lot. Around this time, Pastor Nick ran across an article about church gardens that contribute to local food pantries, and the idea for the Saint Peter Giving Garden was conceived. Funding came together quickly, and soon the area was cleared and members gathered to build the first plant boxes.
December, 2020: Building on nativity-themed park events he’d seen (similar to Fall Corn Maze events), Pastor Jason helped the church organize the first Journey to the Manger, a series of five outdoor scenes to share with the community. Masks were worn.
2021: Pastor Nick blessed the completed Giving Garden. Over the course of that first summer, harvesters donated 558 pounds of produce for the SOIIF Food Pantry. Meanwhile even as the church began meeting again, attendance had fallen to about 185 people per Sunday. Following this success, Pastor Nick retired and Pastor Jason became stepped into the Senior Pastor role.
2022: The church actively welcomed new members as Brunswick County continued to enjoy record growth. Among them were retired Rev. Wade Brinkopf and his wife Chris from Colorado. Meanwhile, a relationship had developed between the Giving Garden team and the FFA kids from Brunswick County High School. With additional plant boxes, the donated harvest increased to 976 pounds.
December 2022: The Journey to the Manger live nativity walk had double the 2021 attendance. Then the Christmas Cantata filled the sanctuary to overflowing, so that additional seating was required in the narthex.
June 24, 2023: Pastor Wade accepted the call to become Associate Pastor and was welcomed at an Installation ceremony followed by a large fellowship dinner that required additional outdoor seating. Thoughts turned to expanding our Fellowship Hall to accommodate more people.
- Many thanks to Gary and Tootie Tagtmeyer, Natalie Sinclair, and Carol and Glen Rubow for their work on the first half of this history, originally accumulated for the 25th anniversary celebration. ↩︎