Trinity Lutheran Church History

The history of Trinity Lutheran Church began at an organization meeting on January 7, 1952, at a humble Girl Scout cabin on Preston Court in Fort Pierce, under the guidance of Reverend Louis Gerbhardt of Vero Beach. A constitution was drafted and adopted in March 1952. Pastor Gerbhardt continued to conduct services for Trinity until July 1953.

By yearend 1952, Trinity set goals to purchase property, to call a candidate for Pastor, to apply for membership to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), and to send a delegate to the District (FL-GA District of the LCMS) meeting. These goals became a reality with the purchase of the property on Thirteenth Street near Virginia Avenue from the city of Fort Pierce for the purpose of building a Parish Hall of worship, for Sunday School and for meetings.

The Parish Hall was erected in 1953. A new organ was installed. The first building was designed by architect Dave Robinson, and then built by Ray Lein, whose brother was a member of Trinity. On April 16, 1953, the Parish Hall was dedicated, and services moved to this location from the Girl Scout cabin.

Reverend Ted Westermann was ordained and installed as first Pastor on July 19, 1953. When Pastor Westermann accepted a call to a new mission in Marietta, Georgia in January, 1955, Reverend Arlo Krueger, who was on sick leave in Florida, served during the vacancy. He was called to be Trinity’s second Pastor and was installed on April 17, 1955. A parsonage was purchased on Havana Avenue in Fort Pierce.

Unfortunately, illness forced Pastor Krueger to resign in March 1956. Reverend Van Speckelsen from the FL-GA District served as vacancy pastor. Reverend Chester Thalacker of Detroit, Michigan was called on July 29, 1956, to become the third Pastor of Trinity; his installation was on November 11, 1956. Because this Pastor purchased his own home, the parsonage was sold. In 1957, the office and Pastor’s study were added to the Parish Hall.

The new sixties decade prompted Trinity to escalate its fund-raising campaign, to engage Vero Beach Terry & Stebbins architects to draft plans for a new building in March 1960. The congregation purchased an additional 3 acres of property for $9,000. By June, the city of Fort Pierce deeded the land purchase to Trinity and the building plans were approved. The land acquisition gave Trinity a frontage increase to 600 feet and a depth of 350 feet.

The firm of Misik & Lester Construction, with part-owner Steve Misik, a founding member of Trinity, was contracted to build the church for $58,500. On October 30, 1960, a groundbreaking ceremony was held. Bob Terry, a local architect with his offices on Sunrise Blvd, who designed numerous A-frame style churches and was known for the acoustic qualities of his designs, was engaged as the architect for the new church. The new church, chancel, furniture, and pews were dedicated on May 28, 1961. The total final cost of the building and furnishings was $69,000. Air conditioning was added a few years later and a Roger’s organ, at cost of $6,000, was installed in 1965.

After twelve years as Pastor to Trinity, Reverend Thalacker retired from the ministry on June 23, 1968. Reverend Carl Rieck was called as the 4th Pastor of Trinity; his installation was in March 1969.

The seventies brought a change to the church, a status change from its “mission” to a fully self-supporting congregation was celebrated on January 1, 1972. A six-room education building was added to the original Parish Hall and the kitchen and original Parish Hall were renovated at a cost of $25,000; with a dedication on October 26, 1975. The new study and office were completed in May 1976, at a cost of $10,000.

The eighties and inflation made changes more costly to Trinity. In 1982, the congregation purchased a new pipe organ for $62,545, a Wicks-10 rank custom-built pipe organ. This organ was purchased after a generous donation by Ann Dalton, following the passing of her husband Harry. This organ was acoustically designed for Trinity’s sanctuary, and consists of two manual keyboard with 670 pipes. The organ made its debut in its dedication service on June 19, 1985. An additional gift made possible the purchase of chimes, at a cost of $3339. Interesting to note is that there was originally a sky light behind the organ. When the morning sun shone through, the rays would light up the altar. The sky light was covered though to protect the new pipe organ from the heat and light. A gazebo and prayer garden were added on the church property also in 1985.

Before the Narthex, small kitchen and lavatories were added to the sanctuary building, the church property was covered in more than 100 pine trees. The church was colloquially known as the Church in the Pines. The contractor, site engineering and construction for the Narthex addition was Mark Brandel.

Our Trinity youth attended the LCMS National Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C., for the first time in 1986. (The first LCMS National Youth Gathering was held in 1980, and they occur every 3rd year.)

During the 1990s, church goals include major property repair and replacement. In October 1991, a roofing committee initiated roof replacement with a campaign of sales of Shingle Bundles through contributions from members and friends. Other property goals during the 1990s were electrical, plumbing, painting, and landscaping, etc.

After more than 25 years at Trinity, Pastor Rieck retired in 1991. Rev Dr W.H. Winkler served as Trinity’s interim for several years. Pastor Ron Engel was called to serve, and he was installed at Trinity on May 1, 1994.

Trinity’s first Oktoberfest was held on October 22, 1994 and became a community favorite over the next few years. A second worship service was added on January 15, 1995 and continued until the time of the 2020 pandemic.

In January 1998, the congregation installed our first female President of the Leadership Council. This election caused considerable controversy, even though many congregational open forums were held leading up to the change. We received guidance from our Elders, from our Treasure Coast Circuit and from our FL-GA District in regard to that change. In the years since, we have had several other women serve in this capacity.

On May 2, 1998, Fort Pierce City Planner Ramon Trias led the congregation in a day-long charrette to develop a Master Site Plan for Trinity’s future property development. The City of Fort Pierce approve the MSP in June 1999. On November 21, 1999, the congregation voted to embark on a $250,000 project to improve our facilities and build a more effective entrance/meeting place and improve parking and drainage.

In the mid-1990s Trinity started the Wednesday Together fellowship, with evening small-group Bible study and food. These evening gatherings continued until 2004. Weekly Holy Communion celebration in both services began in June 2000, and that weekly celebration continues today in our single Sunday worship service.

Groundbreaking for the new entry hall, our current Narthex, was held on September 24, 2000. The stained-glass window was created and installed by Stuart Stained Glass; it is 243 square feet, 26 feet wide and 11.5 feet high at the center point. The entry hall and our beautiful stained glass window were dedication on November 18, 2001.

Trinity’s 50th Anniversary celebration was held on March 10, 2002, with Rev. Dr. Ted Westerman, our first pastor, as our guest speaker.

Early in September 2004, hurricane Frances made landfall at Sewall’s Point, just south of Fort Pierce. Unbelievably soon afterwards, on September 26, hurricane Jeanne made landfall within 2 miles of where Frances had come ashore 3 weeks earlier. As did so many other properties, the church property sustained significant damage from these back-to-back storms. Water submerged the parking lots, glass shards stuck in the pews. During the calm of the eye of the storm, church members made their ways to the property to watch and mop and pray. The roof of the Fellowship Hall, thus all the inside too, was destroyed.

Damages to our properties totaled $84,500 and it was well over 2 years before the roof and everything was fully operational again. During the rebuild period, the church office was relocated to the new church entry hall. The Fellowship Hall rebuild included reconfiguring the classrooms, enlarging the kitchen, moving the office to the other side of the building and bringing the building up to current building code standards.

The new rebuilt Fellowship Hall with all its improvements was dedicated on December 3, 2006, with FL[1]GA District President Gerhard Michael as our guest speaker.

Doug Kalleson, FL-GA District office, came to Trinity on October 20, 2007 to lead us in a Goal Planning event. On May 4, 2008, we held a dedication ceremony for our new altar. On September 14, 2008, Trinity reached a notable goal of mortgage payoff, ten years earlier than the maturity date. With this payoff accomplished, Trinity Voters set new goals to concentrate on Human Care Ministry, strengthen our Evangelism Ministry, our Senior Ministry, our Music Ministry, and other outreach opportunities. Trinity also had goals for facilities enhancement.

In August 2009, Trinity completed a two-and-a-half-year study on the feasibility of establishing an Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC). Several more studies and many more meetings took place with Open Arms Institute. The congregation voted to move ahead with an ECDC mission, final approval on June 28, 2010. By August of that year, Trinity embarked on a 3-year capital campaign to fund the ECDC.

Loretta (Arensen) Gibbons was installed as Open Arms Childcare Development Center director on June 12, 2011, the Open Arms building dedication was held in August 2011. The school doors were opened that same month with 3 children. By school year 2, Open Arms had already started its waiting lists, and those waiting lists continue today. In August 2018, Open Arms expanded by adding a Kindergarten class.

Our school has been featured in many local area newspaper articles through the years. Open Arms of Fort Pierce won the Mayor’s Golden Hammer Award, which recognizes the efforts of Fort Pierce residents and business owners who have significantly improved their homes or businesses through new construction or rehabilitation efforts. Open Arms was the recipient of the 2014 and 2015 Reader’s Choice Award. In 2018 our Director, Loretta Gibbons, was voted as Best Director of St Lucie County by the Early Learning Coalition. In 2020 and in 2021 Open Arms was named as “Best in Fort Pierce” in the category of Early Childhood and Daycare centers. We received a Business Excellence trophy in 2021 for winning the “Best of” award for two consecutive years.

Pastor Ron Engel retired from the ministry on November 20, 2011. Pastor Larry Schaefer served as interim pastor for approximately a year. Pastor Craig Bode accepted a call to serve Trinity as minister in November 2012. On January 27, 2013, Trinity members gathered at the Pelican Yacht Club along the Fort Pierce inlet to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our church. Former pastors and FL-GA District officials were in attendance at that lovely event.

In 2017 the outreach program LifeTree Café, led by dedicated Trinity members, began on Tuesday nights and continued for several years. The Prayer Ministry was begun also that year by Pastor and Mary Bode and continues to meet each Wednesday morning for prayer, meditation and fellowship.

In February 2019, Trinity membership voted to consolidate various children’s and parents’ programs under one staff position, the Family Ministry Coordinator. This change demonstrated Trinity’s formalizing the commitment of these ministries into our mission in the community. Christie Garst serves in this position as of March 2019.

Due in large part to a generous gift in 2016 from the estate of long-time Trinity member, Dorothy Rozler, a new electronic church sign, which can be controlled via tablet/iPhone, was approved by the voters and installed in Spring, 2019. This new sign gives us the ability to be much more flexible and timely in our community messaging.

The COVID-19 pandemic had its effects on Trinity also, though we never missed a service. Immediately, as the nation and the world shut down on approximately March 15, 2020, Trinity quickly pulled together online worship experiences. A small group with iPhone cameras and internet access pulled our services together and got them online right away. We were ready with services every week, and shortly thereafter, the Wednesday Lenten services, until we cautiously reopened our buildings for worship on June 14, 2020.

Our excellent services were noted to the extent that the FL-GA District provided us a particular camera to help us continue and improve our streaming services. Since those early pandemic days, Trinity has upgraded our camera equipment, purchased a SLING system for building all the parts of the media input into our single stream and continue to live stream our worship service every week. We have heard about these online services from our winter members who worship from a distance during the summers and also from a number of people who are not members at all. We backed into this ministry due to necessity and it continues to be successful as the world came through the pandemic. Pastor Bode served Trinity for 8.5 years, retiring with 41 years of service in ministry on May 30, 2021.

Trinity members, Pastor Ron Engel and Pastor Robert Wolpert served as our interim Pastors during the 2021 summer and fall. Pastor Richard Cox was installed as Trinity’s next minister on November 6, 2021.

Trinity Lutheran Church has been blessed with many dedicated members through the years. Perseverance by a few members gathering at a Girl Scout cabin in 1952 led to a jewel of a church, standing majestically nestled in the comfort of elegant trees so many years later with memories etched within its walls. The members of Trinity remain committed to Preaching the Gospel, Bible Study & Christian Education, Fellowship, and Outreach Opportunities through the years. We have had active members and groups who have served at TLC – Trinity Planning Councils, Elders, Leadership Team, Trinity Choirs, Mary Martha Guild, Youth Groups, Prayer Ministry and Bible Study groups, Family Meals, Oktoberfests, Community Auctions, and participation in the community: fairs, Fort Pierce Friday Fest, Crop Walks, Sarah’s Kitchen, Mustard Seed Ministries and others.