Dec. 4 , 2006
By Ivan Raconteur
When St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie was established by German immigrants in 1871, the services were conducted in German.
Saturday, Dec. 23 will mark a special day for the church, because for the first time in decades, a service will be conducted entirely in German.
The special holiday service, titled “Stille Nacht,” German for “Silent Night,” will also be something of a homecoming for Rev. Randell E. Tonn of Glencoe.
“It will be very exciting for me to go back to St. Peter’s and to bring the service in German,” Tonn said.
His wife, Gladys (Kuenzel) also has local ties, as she is a native of New Germany.
Tonn is a Lester Prairie native, and was active in the ministry in the parish at one time.
He was also a member of the last confirmation class to be confirmed in German at the church.
That was in 1944. The church stopped conducting services in German in the mid-1970s, according to Rev. Gerald Schwanke.
The Stille Nacht service will begin at 10:30 a.m., and will be broadcast live on KDUZ radio.
Prior to the service, Chuck Thiel will provide traditional Christmas music beginning at 9:45 a.m.
Tonn will conduct the worship service, and Dr. Robert Kolb will deliver the sermon.
Kolb, a Minnesota native, is missions professor of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo.
“Dr. Kolb is a world-class reformation scholar,” Tonn said.
He added that Kolb spends half of each year teaching at Concordia, and spends the rest of the year traveling in Europe, teaching and giving seminars. He has written nine books and published numerous professional papers.
“He is a good friend, and we have collaborated on reformation research,” Tonn commented.
Tonn has been coordinating German language services at area churches since 1998, but this is the first time it has been done in Lester Prairie.
Previous locations have included St. John’s Lutheran in Plato, First Lutheran in Glencoe, and Peace Lutheran in Hutchinson.
Schwanke said the response to the idea of a German service at St. Peter’s has been very good, and people have stepped up and done what was necessary to prepare for the event.
“I am very pleased with the response we have received,” Schwanke commented.
Carrying on a tradition may be part of the event’s appeal.
“We try very hard to use old familiar German Christmas carols during the service, the songs that the people of McLeod County learned as youngsters,” Tonn said.
He added that he has seen a positive response to the German services, and attendance in previous years has been as high as 350.
The events can be an emotional time for those who grew up with services conducted in German, according to Tonn.
He said people have come to him and said, “don’t let it die,” and he made it clear that he doesn’t intend to let that happen.
“I am very committed to keeping that tradition alive,” Tonn said.