By Judy Wakefield
---- — It was 1962 and Andover was like the rest of the country — saddened by the death of Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe, wondering if a guy named Johnny Carson would last as “The Tonight Show” host and watching as President John F. Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Closer to home, the buzz was all about a new building in town. Residents wondered if that popular orange-roofed restaurant of the time — Howard Johnson’s — was coming to Andover.
There was a brand new one-story building going up on South Main Street (Route 28) and its roof tiles were an orangey color.
It wasn’t Howard Johnson’s after all. Rather, it was a new church being built.
After two temporary locations in town, the fold-up altar-on- wheels was no more as Faith Lutheran Church was about to become a permanent resident at 360 South Main St., just south of Phillips Academy.
The church had grown humbly, starting in 1962 with just 73 charter members meeting for worship service in the basement assembly room at Pike School in Andover. The following year, the congregation was officially formed.
”We had temporary space at Phillips and Pike School and the altar was rolled out and then put away until the next Sunday. Finally, we were breaking ground for a permanent home ... it was exciting,” Church Council President Kathy Faulk of Andover said.
Fifty years later, that little white church has grown tremendously, both in membership and physical space. The church now boasts a nursery, a choir room, office space and a new kitchen and a congregation topping 850 members. It is considered the largest Lutheran church in New England.
This Saturday night, about 300 of those members are expected to attend a sold-out 50th anniversary party at Hillview Country Club in North Reading.
Part two of the celebration will be the church’s Day of Service on Saturday, Oct. 5.
”Serving God by serving others” is the theme as church members will volunteer their services around town on a variety of projects.
The ABC House (A Better Chance) on Main Street is being spruced up, overgrown AVIS trails will be trimmed, Neighbors in Need food pantry groceries will be sorted at the Dundee Park warehouse and Ironstone Farm will get windows washed and fences repaired.
Pastor Jon Heydenreich, who celebrates 20 years at the church this year, said his exploding congregation numbers are most likely tied to the growing spiritual needs of today’s church-goers.
”In my time here, I have tried to focus on our relationship with the sacred, with God. I think most folks have a sense there is more to life. And, Jesus provides direction as to how to live — have a love for God, love for others and love for yourself,” Heydenreich said. “So, that is what we try to do as best we can.” He said worship is relevant to daily life and his church offers numerous outreach programs that help others, something that his congregation enjoys. Plus, children get a lot of attention at Faith Lutheran and members like that, too.
Heydenreich uses a frog puppet each week to share the gospel with kids. Preaching on a child’s level has been very well received, he said.
“The kids love it, their parents love it .... We have so many families here and the puppet is a big hit,” church member Alan Thoday of Andover said.
Heydenreich prays that they’ll continue to love it for another 50 years — at least.
“One of the most significant things we do is to try to provide a joyous place for children,” he said. “Hopefully, when they grow up, their memories of Faith Lutheran will bring a smile to their faces. That is a good thing.”
At the pulpit
Pastor Hartland H. Gifford, 1962 to 1977
Pastor Dennis P. Kohl, 1977 to 1988
Pastor Richard E. Lindgren, 1989 to 1992
Pastor Jonathan Heydenreich, 1993 to today. His wife, Pastor Marsha Heydenreich, has been the associate pastor since 2000.