Grace Lutheran Church will celebrate its centennial on Sunday, October 27, 2019. The church is hoping that Carl Swanson will be able to attend. He was baptized in the original church at 4th and State in Hamilton and has been a member of the congregation since then, according to centennial chairman Catherine Tye. She is expecting other longtime member families to attend as well. She, along with Pastor Vern Sandersfeld, said that all are welcome to come and celebrate at Grace Lutheran.
Early records of Grace Lutheran Church in Hamilton show that the Reverend Paul Kretzchmar of Missoula came to Hamilton to the Methodist Church Building to bring the ministry to the area. He was called away and Rev. Gustav Mertz took his place. The Bitterroot Valley’s population was fluctuating at the time and after a few years, the outreach ministry of the Missoula church was dropped in 1905 but Rev. Mertz came back five years later and held services in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hamilton for a few years until the Apple Boom bust.
Meanwhile, in Stevensville, several families from the Fort Wayne, Indiana, area moved to the area and set up the Concordia Lutheran Church. Rev. C.A. Behnke moved here from New York and began to minister to both the Stevensville and Hamilton churches.
On January 15, 1916, the Montana Conference advised the Hamilton congregation to purchase the property at the corner of Fourth and State in Hamilton from the Baptist Church. When Margaret Daly heard there was a new church going to be built on the corner next to her new hospital, she requested it be a white church building.
In 1919, Pastor Mertz came back to Grace Lutheran Church, which now had its own building, a simple white church, and the congregation began to grow. On November 9, 1919, the congregation was organized and named Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church Unaltered Augsburg Confession.
In the early years, there were anywhere from 10 to 20 households in the church. During the Depression, many came from the Dakotas to work and farm sugar beets. The congregation grew and after World War II, they outgrew the small church.
In 1956, Grace Lutheran sold the building which was moved out by Skalkaho, and built a new building. It was all built by the members of the congregation. By the late ’50’s and early ’60’s, there were over 90 children in Sunday school and over 140 in church. The church was outgrowing its facility.
In the late 1970’s, Grace Lutheran moved to its present location at 275 Hattie Lane on the east side of Hamilton. Since building the original building, they have added on to where they have a complete kitchen, gymnasium, and a child care center for infants and children up to four years of age. Over the years, Grace Lutheran has helped the congregations in Stevensville and Salmon grow and develop.
According to Pastor Sandersfeld, the current pastor of the church, Grace Lutheran is very involved in serving the community. From disaster relief throughout the United States to quilts, they are focused on helping the needy.
Although the church has had 16 pastors throughout the years, there is one that stands out because of his length of service. Reverend Richard E. Kiessling served Grace Lutheran from 1967 until 1998. He and his son, Reverend Mark Kiessling, will give the sermon on Sunday morning to celebrate the centennial of Grace Lutheran at 10:30 a.m. There will be a luncheon following this service.
In the afternoon, Pastor Terry Forke will be giving a sermon at the afternoon Reformation service. This will be at 4 p.m. An Octoberfest dinner with all the trimmings will ve served after the service, followed by music and fellowship.