Note: Since updated, much of the text below appeared in a program prepared for St. Martin's 125th anniversary in 2003.
Under the leadership of Pastor Carl Schenk, the "German Lutherans" of Cross Plains met on May 20, 1878, in the old school house located in Valley Home Cemetery and organized St. Martin's Lutheran Congregation. Services were held and the Sacraments administered in this building which stood just north of the old St. Martin’s present location. The first officers of the congregation were: John Hirchenhan, president; Henry Scheele, secretary; and Adam Klueber, treasurer. Another congregation, The “English Settlers” of the Cross Plains area, used the building on alternate Sundays. Charter members of the congregation were composed of the following families: Henry Scheele, John Hirchenhan, Adam Reiche, Fred Harloff, Adam Grob, Mary Kading, Gustave Hering, Michael Klueber, John Lappley, Charles Meyer, Ferdinand Schulenberg, Emil Hering, John Albright, Albert Festge, Fritz Schubert, Edward Zeigler, William Meister, Fritz Roelke, Henry Schultz, Capser Strauss, Charles Binger, Mrs. Andelmann, James Schultz, Michael Brendler, John Denner and Charles Watzke.
In 1882, Pastor E. F. Scherbel began his pastorate and plans for building a church were formulated. A General Meeting of the two congregations was held along with those who had places of burial of German and English members. It was unanimously agreed to build a church just south of the school house, to be financed by the Germans J.. and English. The school house was to be sold, with the money going toward the church. The Building Committee consisted of the following: Pastor Scherbel, Gustave Hering, Albert Festge, Charles Brendler, James Meyer and James Simson. The church became a reality in 1886. The first Baptism in the church was administered on June 6,1886, that of Mina Wilhelmina Caroline Binger Bollenbach. The first marriage in the church was performed on October 6,1886, for Carl Meng and Alma Hering. In 1891 a bell was ordered cast by The H. Stuckstede Co. of St. Louis and was installed in the bell tower that same year.
Services were held in German until the 1920’s when they switched to English. During the services, the men sat on the right side of the church and the women and children on the left. Services were usually held on Sunday afternoon, but not every Sunday. This was mainly because one pastor sometimes served as many as five churches. In the early days of the church, a hat was passed for the collection.
Pastor George Knoblauch assumed the pastoral care of the congregation in 1912. His annual salary was $400, not including transportation, a horse. He served three churches. Pastor Knoblauch started Luther League Group for teenagers. during his tenure. They meet at various homes for fellowship and sometimes put on plays in the nearby villages. Also, during his pastorate a Ladies’ Aid was organized on January 14, 1916, with the following officers: Mrs. August Scheele president; Mrs. William Nagle, vice-president; Miss Bertha Hering, secretary; and Mrs. William Rolfs, treasurer. Pastor Knoblauch also started Confirmation classes.
In the fall of the year, a Sunday morning Harvest Festival was held when everyone brought a sample of their best fruits and vegetables, which were given to the pastor to help supplement his salary. Pastor Knoblauch’s daughter was at the 90th anniversary and said they ate a lot of chicken and sauerkraut. Pastor Knoblauch lived in Waunkee, where he also served a church. When they rode home in the sleight after a Christmas program at night, his daughter said, they could hear the wolves howling all around and they would all sing real loud to scare the wolves away. At Christmas programs, there was always a decorated tree with candles, that were lit—someone always stood by with a bucket of water.
In 1921, Pastor A. J. Soldan became pastor of St. Martin’s. A basement was built under the church in 1923. The Building Committee was composed of the following: E. D. Hering, Arthur Roelke, and Otto Festge.
Pastor George Beckman became pastor in 1928. As the congregation continued to grow, it was decided to enlarge the church. Ferdinand Kock, Oscar Petersilie and Fred Tank were in charge of the work. The addition to both church and basement was completed in 1939. Other improvements were also made at this time. The Ladies’ Aid purchased additional pews for the church and had a hot-air furnace installed for better heating facilities. A large register was placed right in the middle of the doors to the main body of the church (know as a floor register). The Luther League purchased a statue of Christ for the alter. The tall steeple, which was found to be unsafe, was removed from the church and replaced by a short tower.
In 1939, the yearly church “dues” were $5.00 for a single person and $10.00 for a family. Most of the members were farmers, so they furnished the wood for the furnace. It would be hauled to the church on sleighs and the chunks of wood thrown into the basement through the basement window on the left side of the church. Their dues may have been paid by furnishing the wood.
In 1941, Pastor E. T. Reiff assumed the pastoral duties of St. Martin’s until the pressure of his work at St. Luke’s, Middleton, necessitated his resignation in 1943.
Pastor B. F. Matter became pastor in 1943. In 1946 a Sunday School was organized by Waldemar Sanftleben. Stained glass windows were installed and dedicated in 1948. The average price, per window, with the inscription was $165. The gorgeous round window depicting Christ, which is in the balcony of the old church was priced at $230.00. In 1950, the congregation joined the Wisconsin District of the American Lutheran Church.
During Rev. Matter’s time, it was common practice to invite the minister and his family for noon dinner on the days that church was scheduled. Church services were still held in the afternoon. One Sunday, the services started late, because their dinner had been served late.
Pastor James Hughes was Called to St. Martin’s in 1950. During this time, the church continued its growth and improvements were added. A new organ was dedicated in 1951. A Women’s Missionary Federation was formed in 1951. In the same year, Daily Vacation Bible School was begun.
Before all important events, such as Confirmation, Easter and anniversaries, the women would gather at the church with mops and cleaning solutions to spruce up the church. Hot water was brought from home in a milk can.
In May of 1955, the 75th anniversary of St. Martin’s was celebrated. The women of the church served a large dinner. They had a wood-burning range in the kitchen of the church and all the water had to be carried in from the hand pump that was outside. Coffee was made in the large enameled coffee pots and the coffee grounds were mixed with an egg and added to the boiling water in the pots.
In 1955, Pastor Richard Warber assumed the pastorate of St. Martin’s. He also served the Mazomanie St. John’s church and lived in the parsonage at Mazomanie. Confirmation classes were held in Mazomanie and Luther League met there, too. One summer, a joint picnic of the two churches was held at Blue Mounds State Park. The congregation increased numerically and spiritually. In 1958, new red hymnals were purchased.
Pastor James P. Ullom accepted the Call to St. Martin’s in 1959. In the fall of 1959, a fourteen acre site, north of the church was purchased for future expansion. In 1960, Memorial Chimes were added to the organ by Oswin Kerl as a memorial to his wife and daughter. As plans were formulated for a resident pastor for St. Martin’s, plans for a parsonage took shape. Groundbreaking for the parsonage was in May 1961 and it was dedicated in October 1961. At the groundbreaking, Pastor Ullom guided the ground scraper and the entire congregation pulled with a rope. (The parsonage is now the Gunderson Funeral Home.)
In 1964, Pastor C. L. Kalmoe assumed the pastorate of St. Martins’, he along with every previous pastor, also served at least one other congregation while serving St. Martin’s. His other congregation was the West Middleton Church. Norma Liebetrau, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Marvin Liebetrau, was installed as the first parish worker for St. Martin’s parish in October, 1965. A Christmas Fair was held in 1965. A new piano was given to St. Martin’s in memory of Bonnie Lou Westphal by Mrs. Violet Meister and Gerald Westphal in 1967.
Rev. Curtis Everson was the interim pastor from October 1st through December 31st, 1967.
Pastor Richard Rem arrived in 1968. His other area of service, besides St. Martin’s, was the chaplaincy at Oakwood Lutheran Homes, Madison. He enjoyed working with the senior members of the church and organized hayride parties, Thanksgiving dinners and other activities for them. In May 1968, St. Martin’s celebrated it’s 90th anniversary. Mary Sommers, who was organist at the time, wrote the music for a special anniversary song. While Pastor Rem’s family lived in the parsonage, the basement was used for Sunday School and various meetings. For the anniversary celebration, clothes from years ago, old time confirmation pictures, etc. were set up in the basement. Tables of goodies for snacking were set up in the garage.
In 1970, everyone had their picture taken for the Church’s First Directory. Since the basement ceiling was too low in the parsonage, the pictures were taken in Pastor Rem’s living room.
One Christmas Eve, there was a live Nativity Scene in Lyle and Lii Festge’s barn, complete with animals and “Baby Jesus,” represented by little Heather Fitzsimons.
When Pastor Richard Rem left, his father was the interim pastor until Pastor Herbert Lange answer the Call to St. Martin’s.
In 1972, Pastor Herbert L. Lange was Called to St. Martin’s. He was the first full-time pastor for St. Martin’s. The need for a new church building had been recognized for many years and plans were laid for its immediate construction. Groundbreaking for the new church was held in November 1972. The first shovelsful of dirt were turned over by Pastor Lange, Harold (Bud) Bergum and Herbert Niebuhr at the site of the new church which was to be built on Church Street. The congregation walked over from the old church to the new site. In May 1973 the Cornerstone was laid. The new church was dedicated on July 22, 1973 at 3:00 p.m. with Pastor Lange and Bishop Nassen officiating. A reception followed in the Fellowship Hall.
The Baptismal Font from the old church was placed in the new church as a symbolic tie of the old with the new. The bell was removed from the old church, displayed in the narthex of the new church and then was hung in the new Bell Tower, which was dedicated in November 1975. The 83 year old bell was restored to its nearly new luster by Bernard (Buddy) Schroeder.
In 1975, St. Martin’s Lutheran and St. Francis Catholic church, both in Cross Plains, held their first joint Thanksgiving service, which has continued to become an ecumenical tradition. There was a combined choir and the Priest and the Pastor of St. Martin’s delivered the sermon in alternating years. The offering was given to area food pantries.
A nursery school was established and occupied the basement of the new church. On July 4th 1976, a service for our nation’s bicentennial was held in the old church. Our church was also featured on the Cross Plains village quilt block that went into the Dane County Bicentennial quilt.
In 1977, the first bazaar was held in the Fellowship Hall. Women of the church donated the many home-made items for sale. In later years, a brunch was added which was sometimes serviced by the Youth Group. Chili suppers and German dinners were also served. A new organ was installed and dedicated as well.
In 1978, St. Martin’s celebrated their 100th year anniversary. During the month of May, guest speakers were invited for a Sunday service and church services were held at both old and new churches. A special “picnic” was well attended and enjoyed by all. George and Harriet Englerth donated to the church their home organ and an electric stove. Harriet also provided flowers throughout the spring, summer and fall for the church alter and provided coffee and donuts during the summer services. By 1979, the membership had grown, so that it was necessary to conduct two services each Sunday and also two Sunday School sessions. The new Lutheran Book of Worship was dedicated in 1979.
In 1980, the Stewardship Committee completed its every member visitation.
In June of 1981 a reception was held in the Fellowship Hall in honor of the 25th anniversary of Pastor Lange’s ordination. Pastor Lange served St. Martin’s for eleven years. The only Pastors who served longer than he were Rev. Scherbel (30 years) and Rev. Beckman (13 years). Pastor Lange grew up in California and always said he would take an earthquake any time rather than one of our thunder and lightning storms.
On November 6, 1983, Pastor Susan Wendorf was installed as Pastor at St. Martin’s. She was the first woman pastor for the Church. She was well received and everyone enjoyed her sermons and her tales of her fishing trips. The Call Committee was comprised of Bud Bergum, Gale Kooistra, Karen Howery, Jean Zirk, Van Valaskey and Inez Liebetrau. Council members were appointed as chairpersons of the committees rather than liaisons to their assigned committees. This resulted in much better communication between the committees and the council. A self study in the form of a congregational survey was completed which resulted in the development of a mission statement and the setting of congregational goals. Approved and implemented a part-time church secretary (Jan Rodenschmit). A pledge drive was held which received 241 pledges with approximately $37,500 pledged. The church as approximately 446 members of which 340 are confirmed members.
In 1985, Pastor Susan and Jan Rodenschmit cleaned up the church records. At the end of the year, they reported 490 baptized and 364 confirmed members. New committees established this year were: Personnel, Planning and Church in Society committees.
In August 1986, The International Championship show of the Drum and Bugle Corns came to Madison. A notice in the Madison Papers challenged the public to send in an entry beginning with “I’d like a Drum and Bugle Corps, because....” Pastor Susan’s entry lamented the fact that the parishioners were always complaining about the hymns she chose for Sunday services and she wanted to prove to them that she DID have good taste in music. SHE WON and the Canadian Knights Corps came and did their show in the lower parking lot of the church for the Cross Plains community.
In December 1986, the Old White Church was leased for 99 years to the Cross Plains/Berry Historical Society for $1. Since then it has been restored to its original look and is used as the Society’s Museum.
A fellowship group for adults is created—AMEN (Adult Member Event Night). January 1, 1988 was the first official day of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in American. The ELCA is comprised of the former synods of the ALC, LCA and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.
October 9, 1988, St. Martin’s celebrated 110 years of ministry in the Cross Plains area. The festivities included music by the Madison Brass and guests for the day were members of the Lutheran Church of the Wilderness, from Bowler, WI, an ELCA congregation on Stockbridge Indian Reservation. The offering was given to this church. There was also a surprise visit from a Circuit Rider.
In January, 1989, Deb Goplin was elected as the first woman to serve as Council President. The parking lot was paved that year and in the summer we tried having Thursday evening services. Pastor Susan answered another Call in 1989 and Bob Anderson became our interim pastor. Doris Fish chaired the Call Committee. A new Council position, “Church and Society” will be added in 1990.
Pastor Rusty Wills came from Rio Church to take over the ministry of St. Martin’s in July 1990. The congregation welcome his family - wife, Linda and children, Jody and Kyle. Pastor Rusty loved music and his guitar was always nearby. He sang with three other pastors who call themselves The Clerical Aires.
The grand piano was purchased in 1990 and members of the congregation gave a recital. Rally Day was held in September under the Big Top with installation of teachers and sign up for Sunday School.
In July of 1992, the senior youth group went to Jamaica for a week to work. It was a very moving trip for the chaperons and the youth. On a Sunday night before Christmas, the Sunday School Christmas program was presented in the church parking lot. The audience sat on hay bales or stood. There was a live Nativity scene with animals. They told the Christmas story and sang songs. It was a bitter cold night. After the program, a chili supper was held in the Fellowship Hall.
In 1993, the Youth Group, under the supervision of Pastor Rusty, went to Louisiana after Hurricane Andrew’s devastation and worked with the people to repair the damage caused by Andrew. Dana Fuhrman and Janet Bergum started Jesus’ Joyful Juniors, which was a junior choir comprised of Sunday School age children.
During Lent, soup suppers were served and on Easter Morning the Youth Group served breakfast before and between services. During Pastor Rusty’s time, Rally Day was held outside under The Big Top (tent) to kick off the return to school and sign children up for Sunday School. The group now known as Soul Purpose, St. Martin’s talented musical group, was also started during this time. With their assistance, the 10:30 service took on a contemporary air. During the summer, worship services where held outside on the hill and we also tried holding Monday night services.
Praise and Worship songbooks were purchased in 1994, which added a new dimension to our services. New Kerry candles where purchased for the alter in addition to a new paschal candle. These candles use oil instead of wax, so they have a long life. The congregation supported a specific missionary family, the Rhody’s, who are working in Bolivia, South America.
In March 1995, Pastor Rusty accepted a Call and Pastor Janice Mynchenberg was named Interim Pastor. Sound and music equipment were purchased for the Sanctuary. Maureen Berghoefer resigned as church secretary and Phyllis Wendt was hired. A Call Committee was formed, chaired by Lois Weiland and comprised of the following congregation members: Irene Brockman, Charles Eastman, Jeff Eicher, Andrew Klock, Mark Larson, Artis Schulenberg, Linda Sebree and Mike Theis.
In December, the committee asked the congregation to approve Calling Pastor Rodney Hank to serve as their next pastor. His family includes his wife, Denise and daughters Elizabeth and Katelyn. With the approval of the congregation, a Call was extended to Pastor Rod and he began his duties at St. Martin’s on Monday, January 21, 1996. The parsonage was painted and fixed up prior to the Hank Family moving in. The congregation donated items for a Pantry Show to fill the kitchen cupboards. Pastor Rod’s installation was held on Sunday, January 21, 1996.
In 1996, the church’s first web site was created and maintained by Bill Veenendaal. The mortgage on the church was paid off and a debt retirement ceremony was held. Mark Weibe was hired to perform accountant functions. More efficient lights were installed in the parking lot a gift from Lois and Herb Niebuhr. On September 10, the first meeting of the Men’s Group was held, In the Fall, a new dynamic Confirmation program was started. The classes are broken into small groups which are lead by parents. Sixth graders were included in the Confirmation Program, making it a three-year commitment. St. Martin’s also contracted for their first-ever Yellow Pages display ad.
In 1997, Potter Lawson was contracted to study existing space, develop design alternatives and preliminary drawings and cost estimates for a new addition to the Church and Sunday School. A new air-conditioning system was installed in the church.
In 1998, The James Company was hired to work with us on a Building Fund Drive to expand the church and Sunday School. The goal was to raise $400,000—pledges came in at $504,706! The estimated budget for the addition was $1.3 million. The Drive was co-chaired by Mark Larson and Lois Weiland. The Building Committee was chaired by Rick Weiland. Building was begun and for a short time we were able to remain in the church. During the time of construction, when we were unable to hold services at the Church, services were held at Glacier Creek Middle School. Christmas Eve, 1999, was our first service back “at home.” Much work still needed to be completed, but it was wonderful to be in our new facility.
The Dedication of the new addition was held on May 21, 2000 with a luncheon and open house for the community in the afternoon. On August 30, 2000, J.A.M.(Jesus and Me) After School Program opened its doors. Men DeGarmo was hired to be in charge of the program.
In 2001, Pastor Rod and Denise built their own home and the parsonage was sold to Gunderson Funeral Home. The church parking lot and kitchen were completed and the Alpha Conference was introduced and was a huge success. Rita Shimnoik was hired as Administrative Assistant for the church. The Stewardship committee organized a team which began the annual Faith Promise financial stewardship campaign. The kitchen addition was almost done by the end of the year.
In 2002, Men DeGarmo was named Pastoral Assistant. Inspiritus is a new worship service which is held on the 4th Tuesday of the month. Praise-type songs are used and talking about one’s faith is the emphasis of this ministry. A Befriender’s Ministry was also started.
In 2004, Pastor Rod Hank departed from St. Martin's and we welcomed Interim Pastor Brad Polmann. Also, in 2004 we joined MOM (Middleton Outreach Ministry), an organization that has a food pantry, clothing closet and gives financial support to people in need.
In August, 2005, Pastor Peter Jonas was called, staring on Aug 21st. His family included his wife Kari and children Maura, Liam and Brendan. The men’s group started St. Marty’s Cafe breakfast from 8-9 am every second Saturday of the month.
Our first intern was Nicole Espe (November 06-April 07). She introduced Centering Prayer and we are still meeting every second Tuesday of the month. The youth raised money to go to the "National Youth Gathering" by putting cows in people’s yards.
In 2007 Pastor Peter and the council switched our "committee" structure to "teams." We had our first church picnic in July. We started having Potluck Fellowship after the 10:30 service to connect with each other. Members of the congregation planned a trip to Biloxi to help the victims form Hurricane Katrina. Our second Intern was Katie Bollenbach (Sept 07-Sept 08). Virginia Diebold brought back the A.M.E.N. night (Adult Members Event Night). She plans Mystery Dinners that are interactive and a lot of fun. A senior’s group also started called the "Friends of St. Martin’s." They take day tours around the area during the week and enjoy a meal together. We had our first "foot washing" Maundy Thursday evening service. We thought we were in the presence of angels that night.
In September 2008 we said good-bye to Pastor Peter and Intern Katie. Pastor Timothy Dean took over as Interim Pastor after Pastor Peter left. We hired a Youth Director (Tim Knipfer) with an anonymous gift of money from a congregation member. The youth helped out flood victims in Baraboo, WI in June. Sunday School children sent care packages to the troops overseas for Valentine’s Day. JAM children made Easter baskets and sent them to "The American Family Children’s Hospital."
On August 23, 2009 Pastor Rick Lund started as the new permanent Pastor at St. Martin's. His family includes his wife Katherine and sons Trygve and Peter. Pastor Rick's installation was held on September 13 following the Rally Day activities.
On December 22, 2010, J.A.M.(Jesus and Me) After School Program closed its doors after seeing a dramatic decrease in students due to the downturn in the economy.
During his time with St. Martin's Pastor Rick started many programs in efforts to strengthen our community connections. Two of the programs that were very well recived were TGIF Night Out and The Empty Room. TGIF Night Out offered free quality childcare at the church on the last Friday of each month. This gave parents in the community time to have a well deserved evening out, or just quiet time at home. Children would play games/activities, have snack and enjoy a movie on the big screen in the sanctuary. The Empty Room provided a support network for parents experiencing transition when their beloved child(ren) move out of the family home. Pastor Rick believed there is value in learning how to grow through this transition with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Pastor Rick was also wonderful at reaching out to members, members extended family and friends and people in the community who were homebound, hospitalized or recovering. Many people looked very forward to his regular visits.
In January 2014, Pastor Rick accepted a Call and Pastor Rich Collier was named Interim Pastor. Pastor Rich offered very meaningful and insightful sermons that were enjoyed by our members.
On September 2nd, 2014, Pastor Kirsten Curtis started as full-time pastor of St. Martin's Lutheran Church. Her family includes husband Alan, sons Reggie, Timmy, Teddy and daughter Amanada. Pastor Kirsten's installation was held on November 9th, 2014, with Bishop Mary Froiland presiding. In the spring of 2017 the roof was re-shingled, reparing damage from a hail storm the previous year. In late Aug. 2017 The 'Little Red School Preschool' started a pre and after-school program, using the Fellowship Hall in the lower level. In Oct. of 2017 the lower ('back') parking lot was dug-up, repaved and re-painted, making access to the lower level much 'smoother'! Pastor Kirsten accpeted a Call in Nov. 2017.
In December, 2017, Pastor Jeffrey Tomberlin was named Interim Pastor and began his service at St. Martin’s on January 2, 2018. Pastor Jeff and his wife, Lisa, have 3 grown children and 6 grandchildren. Pastor Jeff is a graduate of U-W Madison with a B.S. in Agriculture. At the U.W. he was a member of the Badger 1978 Big Ten Championship Cross Country Team. Following graduation, he became a partner at Blue-Ridge Top Registered Holsteins (between Spring Green and Dodgeville) with his parents. He went on to work for East Central Select Sires as a Member Service Representative while living in Hillsboro. Answering God’s call to ministry he began his studies and graduated from Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, IA. He completed his chaplaincy training in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, CA. He served his Pastoral Internship at St. John’s –Prairie Hill in rural Brenham, TX. Following ordination Pastor Jeff has served as pastor at: Grace Lutheran in Petersburg, WV; Emanuel Lutheran in Brandon, WI.; First English Lutheran and Spirit of Hope in Oshkosh, and McFarland Lutheran in McFarland. Pastor Jeff went on to study at Luther Seminary to become a nationally certified Intentional Interim Pastor. He has served as an Interim Pastor at: Trinity Lutheran in Madison; Grace Lutheran in Darlington; St. Peter’s in Loganville, WI; Faith Lutheran in Walworth; Faith Lutheran in Janesville, and most recently at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Beloit. In January, 2019, Pastor Tomberlin went on medical leave.
In January, 2019, Pastors Paulette and Dennis Creswell took over on an extended pulpit supply basis. Retired clergy, the Creswell’s moved to Madison from Wausau, where they had lived the last 19 years. They both grew up on dairy farms near Mosinee, both graduated from Augsburg College, Minneapolis, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul. In October they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and are parents of a daughter and two sons, have a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and grandkids ages 16 and 13. Their daughter lives in The Netherlands, one son in Madison, the other in Sweden. (Yes, travel has become a part of their lives in ways they never dreamt it would!) The Creswell’s have served in several different ministry settings in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including 11 years as a team at Pilgrim Lutheran, Wausau. Dennis earned his PhD in Church History and has been the director of the East Central Synod Lay School in Wausau, teaching a variety of Church History classes as well as the Worship classes. Paulette has also taught in the Lay School--the Faith & Spirituality classes. Both are teachers in the Diakonia program of our South Central Synod of Wisconsin. As they pray for the congregation they ask you remember them in your prayers as well!