Greendale’s St. Stephen Church – An Iconic Beginning!

Week #35: The picture of the parishioners outside the Tri City State Bank building is an iconic symbol of St. Stephen the Martyr Lutheran Church, Greendale’s youngest church.

History records and explains past events, while folklore preserves what people widely remember.

History and Folklore!

St. Stephen The Martyr Lutheran Church – 6101 S. 51st St., Greendale WI 53129

When I first visited St. Stephen the Martyr Lutheran Church to work on this story, I saw this large picture of the congregation outside the Tri City State Bank building. My immediate reaction was that this was an iconic picture. As I learned more about the church’s beginnings and its history, my fascination with the picture increased. I wondered if anyone had ever put names to all the faces, and where all of the children are today. We’ll probably never know, but that’s the fun and fascination of history, the mystery behind it all.

The other thing I noticed that day when I walked through the front doors of St. Stephen was the openness of the building. There is a large lobby with a fireplace on the far wall and a sitting area around it. To the left is the Sanctuary where the worship services are held. To the right is a large community room with a kitchen. And down the hall past the fireplace are school and meeting rooms. The administrative offices are right off the lobby entrance. It is designed to be a friendly and inviting layout.

I was there to meet with the Pastor, Reverend Gail Brodersen-Heins and a Charter Member of the congregation Dick Rutzen. Not to my surprise they told me that St. Stephen’s is commonly referred to as the ‘friendly’ congregation by new members and visitors alike. Both the Pastor and Dick said the congregation has always been warm hearted, generous, and family oriented. They strive to make everyone welcome, so you always feel at home. That was the impression I got when I saw first entered the lobby, and then saw the picture of the early members. Here is a group of individuals and families who have taken come together in faith to build a new future, a new community.

Getting Started

In July of 1964, the Lutheran Church of America Board of Missions called Rev. Joseph Lewandowski to organize a new congregation. Among other things, he did a door-to-door canvas of the area around the southeast portion of Greendale. The communities of Oak Creek, Greenfield, Milwaukee, Franklin and Greendale have common boundaries with one or more in this area. The first service for the new congregation was held on Sept. 20, 1964, at the Tri City State Bank near the corner of 27th Street and College Avenue. Other milestones followed:

  • April 1965 — St. Stephen the Martyr Lutheran Church organized as a congregation with 71 adults and 63 children on Palm Sunday.
  • July 1965 — Three acre site near corner of 51st Street and College Avenue acquired.
  • Nov 1966 — Groundbreaking for new church building.
  • Sep 1967 — First Service in the new building.
  • Oct 1967 — Dedication of St. Stephen the Martyr Church. 

In 1973, St. Stephen became a self-supporting parish, no longer subsidized by the Lutheran Church of America. St. Stephen is now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). In 1990 Pastor Lewandowski wrote:

“A 25th Anniversary! One quarter century since Dr. Harold Lenz, President of Carthage College at the time, declared St. Stephen the Martyr Lutheran Church officially organized. The history of the congregation is a tapestry of varied colors, fabrics and textures; a synthesizer chorus of songs, themes, and tunes.”

Fellowship, Service, Christian Education, and Worship

St. Stephen’s is rich in fellowship, service and opportunities for Christian education. And they have fun along the way. On the first Friday of every month there is a pot luck supper for parishioners and visitors, especially for those who might be alone most of the week. It’s a fun evening highlighted by the telling of jokes. Of course they are ‘church’ jokes. Here are a few of them:

  • Don’t let worry kill you…let the church help.
  • Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
  • The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind and they may be seen in the church basement Friday.

Other opportunities for fellowship include Sunday coffee hour, Rally Day at the end of Summer, Brewers and Bucks games, golf outings, picnics. I would also include in here the kids and adult choirs, and the handbell choir. Hand in hand with fellowship comes service to the wider community. The parishioners of St. Stephen believe strongly that they are part of the larger world. Their outreach extends beyond Greendale, and beyond this continent.

  • Support three food pantries with cash and food throughout the year.
  • Volunteer for Salvation Army bell ringing.
  • Mission partnership with the Diocese of Meru in Northern Tanzania.
  • Three way partnership with Unity Lutheran Church in Bay View, and Faith/Sante Fe Lutheran Church in Milwaukee serving those in need (soup suppers, bible school transportation).
  • Over 100 handmade quilts made for Lutheran World Relief in 2012. In total this relief organization distributed a half million quilts in 2012 around the world. These quilts are life saving for those without sufficient clothes or shelter.
  • Children raise funds to purchase animals for families in rural Haiti. In 2012 kids provided these animals: heifer, water buffalo, sheep, pig, llama, geese, ducks, chickens, and bees. 

Of course the foundation for all of these activities comes from the emphasis on Christian education and worship. Pastor Gail told me told me that St. Stephen’s focus on worship is its most important mission. She explained that by worshipping regularly one gets the strength and hope that makes everything else possible. There are Saturday and Sunday services, Adult and 20/40 Bible Study groups, Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, and other worship opportunities.

As you can imagine with such an active congregation, there are too many members to mention who serve on committees, volunteer, sing in the choir and much more. Each one is important to St. Stephen’s. However, I would like to mention one person because I think she fills a position most organizations, groups and churches should consider. Her name is Char Guiliani and her official title is ‘Family Ministry’. Her real title should be ‘Making sure members are recognized, happy, involved and working smoothly with others. Try putting that on a business card. People have a variety of reasons for joining a church, and a variety of interests. She help members find the opportunities and resources they are looking for, and facilitates communication between the various groups and committees. Very Cool!

People, Past & Present!

St. Stephen has had only three pastors. The first, Rev. Joseph M. Lewandowski, served for 30 years. He gathered the initial congregation together, and one of the doors he knocked on was that of Dick and Nancy Rutzen. They moved to Greendale in February of 1964 and were looking for a new church. Dick could not remember exactly how the conversation went, but they joined with the other families and became charter members when St. Stephen’s was officially organized. Dick and Nancy have two children, Lynda and Robert who also grew up in the church community.  

I asked Dick what he remembered of Pastor Lewandowski. He mostly remembers he was an organizer. It was no problem getting the new parishioners to volunteer, but it was important to keep everyone working toward the same goal. He said the Pastor had opportunities to leave to go to a bigger church, but he always turned them down. He did not want to leave St. Stephen's.

Dick served on the church council for more than 15 years, and for years there was talk of adding on to the original building. He would talk with Pastor Joseph about it periodically, but the Pastor did not think the timing was right. The church budget was always tight and had to be watched. Finally, one day Dick asked again, and to his surprise the response was “Let’s do it.” So a building committee was formed with Dick heading it up.

The new building project almost got off the ground when Pastor Joseph decided to retire after 30 years of service to St. Stephen’s. The Synod decided St. Stephen’s should have an interim minister for one year before selecting a new Pastor, so the building project was put on hold. In 1995 Rev. Charles Brummond accepted the call to become the new Pastor. Dick approached Pastor Brummond right away and the building project was re-started. Committees were formed, getting all the parishioners involved. Construction started in June of 1998 and was completed quickly, by November of 1998.

A few years later in 2000, Pastor Brummond became Pastor of the Norway Lutheran Church. That provided St. Stephen’s the opportunity to call their third and current Pastor, the Reverend Gail Brodersen-Heins in 2001. Pastor Gail has continued to expand on the rich diversity, vitality, fellowship, and outreach of the congregation, while always keeping the focus on worship.

In 2015 Greendale’s ‘baby’ church will be 50. On behalf of your neighbors in Greendale, we wish you “Happy 50th Anniversary St. Stephen The Martyr Lutheran Church (in advance)”.

But did you know?

"For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs”. That’s another one of those ‘church’ jokes. I included it here because when the new parish met in the Tri City State Bank building, of course there was no real nursery. Instead, the Laundromat served as the nursery during services. That must have been pretty interesting for non-parishioners there to wash and dry their clothes…….

It was mentioned how fast the new St. Stephen building project was completed, from June to November of 1998. I found out that one reason it went quickly was because the worship services were completely moved out. Greendale Community Church (see Week#36) opened its doors to St. Stephen’s and worship services were held there during the months of construction. I’m not surprised.

Finally, St. Stephen is building a Prayer Garden behind their church. It will be a place for quiet reflection, renewal, healing, and prayer. When completed it will be a wonderful, convenient, beautiful area for use by the entire community.

Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:

Week #36 Answer - St. Stephen the Martyr Lutheran Church, located on 51st Street near the corner of College Avenue, was dedicated in 1967.

Week #35 Question – Greendale is a planned community. Space was allocated for churches, businesses, government, police, fire, public works, housing, walking paths, parks, green space etc. But there were some things not planned for. Can you think of some?

* Week #35 contributors: St. Stephen the Martyr - Rev. Gail Brodersen-Heins (Pastor), Office Administrator Lynda Shadd, Parishioners Dick Rutzen and Sally Chadwick.

Byron February 28, 2013 at 01:38 PM
How about two affairs/divorces with church members by the same pastor and the splitting of the membership?


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