By Johnny Jackson
At 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25, St. Timothy Evangelical Lutheran Church will celebrate its 50th anniversary. For the small, simple congregation, the anniversary is no less than a milestone steeped in local history and changed as the face of the small church.
"In 1955, there was grave opposition to the founding of a Lutheran Church in the Forest Park area," said Victor Garaffa, church and witness committee member. "There are great similarities between Lutherans and Catholics, and at the time anti-Catholic feelings were intense. Physical threats were made against the new church and its members.
"At one point, as witnessed by the pastor's wife, an unknown individual fired a gunshot into the church home. Fifty years later, St. Timothy stands as the only Lutheran Church in the Forest Park-Lake City-Morrow area."
Elaine Hayes joined the church in 1969 when her son Joseph Hayes joined Boy Scout Troop 488 at the church. There, she said, he learned to become a leader. And today, he is a Chief Warrant Officer at Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, Fla.
"I think it's important for the community to know that the church has lasted this long," Hayes said. "For the church to continue to be viable after 50 years in a community where it is absolutely the minority, I think, is amazing.
"There are a lot of churches that don't reach a 50th anniversary. You see a lot of storefront churches beside beauty salons these days, but how many do you see last 50 years? It's an institution.
"Anyone who comes in our church, they are warmly welcomed," she said. "That church is the warmest, most inviting atmosphere that I've ever been in. Lutherans are very staid and stayed people. They're very strong in their religion and in their commitment."
Charlie Cartwright joined the church about 35 years.
"The wife (Kathy) and I were looking for a church after we were married and this church fulfilled our spiritual needs," he said. "I take a sense of belonging, continuity, and stability in my daily life from the church. It's certainly friendly and spirit filled, looking to serve the community.
Husband and wife Paul and Dotty Miller have been with the church since its inception. The two helped found the church with about eight other members in 1955, so long ago Paul Miller cannot recall how the Lutheran church members actually first met to form the lone church.
The church is located on Ashe Street in Forest Park and has been for the last 50 years, Miller said.
"My wife Dotty and I have been members for the past 50 years. We purchased a home. And we rebuilt the church (because) we wanted to be a part of the religious scene in Forest Park as far as the Lutheran religion goes. We're the only Lutheran Church in the Forest Park area. And we felt a need for the Lutheran religion to be brought forward to serve the people of the faith."
For Miller, the anniversary is another big moment in the life of the church, an important part of Forest Park.
"We're kind of a church sitting out here trying to teach about Jesus," he said. "We're loving, caring, and social folks. We are a Protestant religion and our doors are open to anybody. We are a community church."