The gathering of Jesus followers we currently refer to as the Church had humble beginnings. The first meeting place of Christ Memorial Lutheran Church was the basement of a home in Madison, Wisconsin! Today we're getting back to our roots: the Church is responding to God's illumination of our mission field, and we're meeting in the neighborhoods right where we live, desperately dependent on Christ's provision for our mission to connect people to life in Jesus. What follows is a brief look at how God has used His people and His timing to reveal the vision we find ourselves pursuing today: changing the spiritual landscape of greater Madison, one relationship at a time.
In May 1952, Pastor Ralph Weinhold, of Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, received a call from the South Wisconsin District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod to establish a church in the Crawford Heights subdivision of Madison. Pastor Weinhold was ordained in Missouri in September 1952, and arrived in Madison shortly thereafter and began canvassing the neighborhood and visiting prospective members. After settling into their own home, Pastor Weinhold and his family held worship services at a temporary chapel in the basement of their home on Helene Parkway in Madison – the typical attendance was around 15 people. A Sunday school, with four initial attendees, commenced in December 1952, and construction of a chapel and parsonage began in February 1953. This small, dedicated community of believers was formally organized as Christ Memorial Evangelical Lutheran Church (CMLC) in March 1953, when 19 individuals signed the Charter. On June 7 of the same year, CMLC held its first adult confirmation, and at this service Mrs. Adele Waterbury (a founding and current member!) served as organist for the first time. CMLC hosted its first Vacation Bible School in August 1953, with an average daily attendance of 29 children. In a span of less than two years, one called servant of Christ travelled to Wisconsin, reached out to his neighbors, and by God's grace and the support of his family launched a movement of Jesus followers that in early 1954 rejoiced in its first baptisms and a Sunday school enrollment of 25 children.
After Pastor Weinhold left CMLC to pursue a calling in Christian teaching, several dedicated spiritual leaders served the congregation. Following Pastor Otto Hoffman (1956-58) and Pastor Victor Kauffeld (1959-1963), Pastor Carl Hillmer arrived in 1963. For 35 years Pastor Hillmer served in measureless ways among a growing community of faithful, and during his tenure the church experienced many significant changes, including two relocations to new facilities (Axel Avenue in 1957 and Raritan Road in 1976). One of the most noteworthy developments during this period was the 1967 establishment of Christ Memorial Lutheran Preschool, one of the first Christian preschools in the nation. The preschool thrived under the passionate leadership of founding director Fern Pfitzer, who was a pioneer in the field of early childhood education and cultivated a love for Jesus among little ones for over 50 years.
From a 1954 congregational vote to join the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod's "Building for Christ" effort (to raise funds for new ministries), a campaign in which every member participated, to highly attended Vacation Bible Schools, to a prospering preschool, CMLC's early years were characterized by excitement and engagement in reaching people for Christ. In 1973 the church's Constitution was amended to include women as voting members, the congregation commemorated its 25th anniversary in 1978, and the current church building on Raritan Road in Fitchburg was dedicated in 1976 and renovated to include a new sanctuary and lower level in 1996. In its first 50 years, CMLC celebrated over 400 marriages, 650 confirmations, and almost 800 adult and infant baptisms!
In 1998 the congregation bid a tearful farewell to Pastor Hillmer and welcomed Pastor Jeff Meyer and his family to CMLC. As our current Lead Missionary, Pastor Jeff walks alongside his brothers and sisters in Christ, partnering with them in their shared mission to connect people to life in Jesus.
Realizing God's Vision for the Church.
For our congregation, the 21st century has been characterized by some significant shifts. In 2002 the first lifeGroups began meeting and policy-based governance was implemented, and in the following years we began to move toward family-led faith development, following our desire to support the Christian home, in all its myriad forms, as adults nurture the spiritual growth of their children. In 2004, a church plant that took root among a core group of CMLC attendees launched publicly as Community of Life in Oregon, Wisconsin; Community of Life became an independent congregation in August 2005. In December 2005 CMLC's staff, working with Jim Randall from Auxano, developed a clear Vision Frame. A key element of our Vision frame is the strategy of Connecting Lifestyles, which expresses our purpose to connect others to life in Jesus by sharing the love of God and the message of Jesus Christ.
As the Vision Frame became central to the strategic and operational life of CMLC, we experienced compelling growth. By 2006 there were 19 lifeGroups meeting in neighborhoods throughout the Madison area, and in 2007 several staff and congregation members began to learn about Coaching as a way to walk alongside others. In 2008 the "One Church, Regional Impact" qualitative vision statement was adopted, in which CMLC's members dedicated themselves to seeing a multi-location church emerge to transform the spiritual landscape of greater Madison. In 2009 God blessed us through two exciting developments: a core group of CMLC attendees began to hold regional impact gatherings in Verona, Wisconsin, and the congregation voted to adopt the name the Church to reflect our missional mandate (connecing people to life in Jesus) the Fitchburg site became the Church at Christ Memorial, and the the Church in East Madison, has been holding regional impact gatherings since 2011 under the direction of Pastor Matt Wipperman. We are prayerfully considering where God is next leading us to develop a site, and are confident that the first sixty years of our church's history were only a taste of the pure joy He has in store for us as we strive to glorify and serve His name.
We invite you to become a part of the Church's history of connecting people to life in Jesus!
Founding member, Adele Waterbury, at the organ.
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