Peace Lutheran Church, 455 Clark State Road, is celebrating its 175th anniversary with two worship services at 9 and 11 a.m. Sept. 29 on what has been designated as "Celebration Sunday."
The congregation's lead pastor, Dr. Kai Nilsen, said the milestone would be recognized during the services, when a CD highlighting the current music of the church also is expected to be available.
Nilsen, who has been on staff since 1993 and became lead pastor in 2005, said Peace Lutheran is known as a welcoming "come as you are" congregation and for its service to the community.
"We have community outreach and don't just exist for ourselves," he said.
Outreach programs include the HOPE picnic, a ministry to the homeless; a free weekly community lunch; Gahanna's Summer Lunch Club program, providing lunch for students during the summer; Interfaith Hospitality Network, a ministry for the homeless; and the Red Cross Ready When the Time Comes, offering emergency shelter for disaster relief.
Nilsen said the people of Peace Lutheran, with a membership of more than 2,000, provide the best testimony for the congregation.
"We have authentic people doing their work in local businesses and the community," Nilsen said.
Although several of Peace Lutheran's congregants come from Gahanna, key members also represent New Albany, Pickerington, Reynoldsburg, Westerville and Worthington, Nilsen said.
Peace Lutheran was founded in 1838 by the Rev. Wilhelm Schmidt.
The congregation gathered immigrants who were committed to a heritage of liturgical worship, Lutheran doctrine and a deep love of their German cultural traditions, according to Nilsen.
He said a pioneering spirit permeated the faith of the early members and prompted them to offer worship in English as one of the first Lutheran churches in the greater Columbus area to do so.
The congregation of 25 to 30 families first started meeting in a small church building along the banks of the Big Walnut Creek, where the old Lutheran Cemetery is on Johnstown Road.
That building later was torn down, and the bricks were used to help build the congregation's second building in 1895 at Town and High streets. That building is now known as The Sanctuary.
In 1964, the congregation moved to its third and current building at 455 Clark State Road. A new contemporary addition called the Connexions Center was added and dedicated in summer 2004.
He said Peace Lutheran provided the impetus to become one of the first congregations in the Lutheran denomination to ordain women clergy in the 1970s.
He said Peace Lutheran continues to look forward and adapt to new community and cultural realities.
Nilsen said the church doubled in size in the 1990s.
"That was the growth expansion," he said.
In 1994, Ron Lee became the lead pastor, bringing a vision of growth that would push the congregation beyond its traditional Lutheran boundaries.
A series of organizational, worship-style and outreach focus changes propelled the congregation through a decade of growth, expanding from 500 in worship to almost 900.
Contemporary worship emerged in the late 1990s, Nilsen said, as a catalyst for congregational growth.
By 2000, 75 percent of its worshippers attended the contemporary services and 25 percent attended traditional worship.
Though many long-term members grieved the transition, Nilsen said, Peace Lutheran has been a community that prides itself on its willingness to adapt.
In 2003, the pastoral leadership created a new building plan that focused on a place for contemporary worship and a multipurpose space for students to play and the community to gather. In summer 2004, the new Connexions Center was dedicated.
Nilsen said Peace Lutheran has connected with a new generation of people in worship, redefining the process for discipleship through small groups and opening physical space for the community to grow.
When he became lead pastor in 2005, he pushed to unify the community around the common purpose of service and creating ways for members to name, articulate and become personally responsible for overcoming their individual obstacles to grow in their faith.