History of Oak Grove Lutheran Church

Many of the early settlers were members of St. Paul's in Zelienople, organized in 1821. A group then established St. Peter's (Cron's) Church, organized in 1849, and Trinity United Evangelical Protestant (Wagner's) Church, organized in 1858. 
(R Goehring 2008)

Trinity United Evangelical Protestant (Wagner's Church)
Trinity United Evangelical Protestant (Wagner's) Church, organized in 1858, used this building as a worship center for fifty years. The congregation records were last updated in 1902. Seen here is the Wagner Church, circa 1900. The Wagner Church and cemetery were adjacent to the Oak Grove Cemetery on Klein Road (New Sewickley, PA). Congregation records were translated from German to English by Pastor Paul Miller Ruff and are available at the Baltzer Meyer Historical Society (Greensburg, PA). The original records are stored at Thiel College (Greenville, PA).

Oak Grove Lutheran Church
Oak Grove Lutheran Church is located five miles south of Zelienople in New Sewickley Township, Beaver County, on Harkins Mill Road off of Glen Eden Road. It is bordered on the west by the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Oak Grove Lutheran Church sits in a section of Beaver County that was settled as early as 1820 by hardy pioneer families, mostly of German descent. Among these was Jacob Goehring, a Christian man whose concern was that his children would be raised in a community that feared, loved, and trusted God above anything else. His concerns led other farmers to assist him in starting a church. Some of the names of these families from that early church still appear on Oak Grove's membership list, including the Bonzo, Deemer, Freshcorn, and Goehring families!

Bonzo's School House was made available to the burgeoning church for worship and community gatherings. The Rev. Gottleig Bassler walked or rode on horseback from Zelienople where he was pastor of English Lutheran Church, to conduct worship services for these devout Christians as early as 1867. The group included farmers who lived in the Brush Creek area and six years later they officially organized Oak Grove Church.

Until 1913, services were held from April through September because of condition of the roads made transportation difficult during the winter months. The first services in Bonzo's School House were located on what is now known as Brunner Road. After the Rev. Bassler's death in 1868, church records have some significant gaps. However, it is likely services were conducted by the Rev. W.O. Passavant and the Rev. M. L. Kunkleman. The first congregation, kindled by the Rev. Bassler, was kept alive by Sunday School Superintendent, Mr. John R. Bonzo.

On March 15, 1873, the Rev. M. L. Kunkleman organized the church and the first trustees chosen are listed as George Bonzo, Henry Bonzo, G. R. Bonzo, and Jacob Goehring. Twenty-four charter members completed the organization in January 1874.

Our Beginnings

A painting of what the first church building may have looked like in 1874.The first church building was 35 x 40 feet, and cost $1500.00. It was erected on a half acre lot, donated by Henry Bonzo in the same place where the present church stands. This first Oak Grove Lutheran Church building was dedicated August 16, 1874 by the Rev. M. L. Kunkelman. Church services were held every alternate Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

A constitution was adopted and signed by 52 members on May 11, 1879. The congregation was then admitted to membership in the Pittsburgh Synod General Council and made a part of the Zelienople Parish. By then services were under the direction of the Rev. J. A. Kribbs and changed to 10:30 a.m. The salary of the pastor at that time was set at $150.00 per year. In 1880, the Rev. V. B. Christy was called to preach on alternate Sunday's and visit the Sunday School as often as he could for a sum of $250.00, annually.

The church exterior was painted and the interior was redecorated in 1885. A half acre of land adjoining the Wagner Cemetery was purchased on October 16, 1886 from John and Caroline Freshcorn and Elias Goas for burial purposes. This land is two miles west of the church on Klein Road.

By this time, organist Jacob Panner and Sexton William Freshcorn were salaried employees. The number of communing members numbered 85. During the pastorate of the Rev. R. R. Durst, the congregation purchased additional ground adjacent to the church from Mr. Elmer Bonzo, creating a total church plot of a three-quarters acre.

During the course of the Rev. L. O. Benze's service, the number of communing active members reached 164. Extra chairs had to be added for Sunday services. In 1904, Mr. Jacob Dambach, Sr. gave the church $2,000.00. One thousand was dedicated to erect a church building and the other thousand was put into a trust fund used to care for Mr. Dambach's grave and the upkeep of the entire cemetery.

At a congregational meeting following the local Harvest Festival, September 10, 1905, there was discussion as to whether to enlarge the old church building and repair the roof, or build a new church building entirely. The congregation decided to build a new church altogether if it could be constructed for $4,100.00 or less.

The committee to investigate plans for the structure included G. A. Bonzo, L. H. Goehring, and C. A. Freshcorn. They reported on September 24, 1905 that it could be built for $3,907.00. Mr. Charles Zeigler moved that the new church building be erected. Secret ballots revealed 64 members in favor and 4 opposed. The motion was later made unanimous and the following committee was appointed: C. A. Freshcorn, L. H. Goehring, G. A. Bonzo, Ira Goehring, and the Rev. E. H. Daugherty.

The former church building was razed September 24, 1905 and the contract for the foundation of the new building was given to George Klein & Sons. They were assisted by men of the congregation.

On October 15, 1905 the cornerstone was laid in a formal ceremony. A message was delivered by the the Rev. F. A. Bowers from Grace Lutheran Church (Rochester, Penn.). Other pastors present were included Shanor, Kribbs, Smith, and J. G. Fischer. Items placed in the cornerstone included a copy of the Bible, a hymnal, Luther's Small Catechism, some scholarly works, and the names of church choir members, church council, and the building committee. Also laid were three coins, including a penny dated 1874, the year of the former church, and both a penny and twenty-five cent piece bearing the date of the new church (1905).

A contract to decorate the interior of the church was let to Fogel & Dambach. The architect was Mr. Miller, an employee of the Edward Dambach Lumber Company. This firm supplied the lumber, trimming, and other necessities to complete the building. The painting, frescoes, etc. were completed by Harry Freshcorn and George Steinacker.

The focal style of the building is Gothic, constructed with a drop floor and two rows of pews separated by a wide center aisle, flanked by aisles on each end. The building has a total seating capacity of 300. The windows are beautiful stained glass adorned with scriptural symbols. The altar, pulpit, and lectern are richly carved and finished with natural wood tones. The large bell in the tower was a gift from Mr. Jacob Dambach, Sr.

During the construction period the congregation worshiped again in the Bonzo School House where the church had been organized 32 years prior.

Oak Grove Lutheran Church, 1906

Confirmation Class of 1906:
Vernard A Kirschler
Mable M Leonberg
Matilda E. Steinacker
Gladys M. Leonberg
Amanda R. Buehler
Gertrude E Dambach

Rosa E Dambach
Albert J. Reiser
Rev. E. H. Daugherty

Just 130 days after the razing of the former church building, February 11, 1906 at 1:30 p.m., this beautiful house of worship was dedicated to the glory of God (Soli Deo Gloria) and worship of this congregation.

The service was led by Rev. E. H. Daugherty and he was assisted by President of the Pittsbugh synod, the Rev. W. J. Miller and the Rev. D. D. Greensburg. The Rev. C. Borchers, pastor of nearby Burry's Church, also offered congratulations and made remarks to the capacity crowd who attended. The Rev. Daugherty also thanked all who had performed a "work of faith and labor of love" by erecting this church building. Additional services were held at 8:00 p.m. when former Pastor L. O. Benze delivered a sermon on Hebrews 13:8:

"Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today, yes, and forever."

At the close of the services refreshments were provided. Truly, it was a day of rejoicing and gladness for the congregation and community. The church was dedicated debt free, valued at $5,600.00. At this time Oak Grove was separated from the Zelienople Parish and became its own worshiping body.

The first baby baptized in the new church was Naomi Louella, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Freshcorn, on February 17, 1906. The communing membership had reached 175 at the close of the Rev. Daugherty's pastorate in 1907.

During the Rev. J. J. Meyers' brief term as pastor, the minutes record a committee composed of John Reiser, John Reefer, G. A. Bonzo, and George Gaertner, who secured a horse and buggy for the pastor's use. The Ladies Aid Society presented a lap robe completing the outfit. Since the church was now self-sustaining the need for a parsonage was evident.

In May, 1908, ground for a parsonage was broken, then completed in October at the cost of $2500.00. It was built on a half acre lot purchased from Mrs. James Harkins, opposite from the church building. There were three rooms and a reception hall on the first floor, four rooms on the second floor, and a full basement and an attic. The Rev. Meyers, the first pastor to occupy the parsonage, resigned July 1, 1909.

He was succeeded by the Rev. F. W. Ash. On Easter Sunday 1910, 145 persons communed. This was the largest single communion in the history of the church at that time. The debt of the parsonage was cancelled on January 22, 1911 by Jacob Dambach, Sr. with a gift of $500.00. The constitution was amended to have a regularly elected delegate to Synod and Conference Conventions. The Rev. Ash was voted an increase in salary to $800.00 annually. The Ladies Aid was organized in 1913 and that same year the congregation purchased carpet for one Sunday School room.

Son of the Congregation: The Rev. Ira J. Goehring

Son of Jacob and Sarah Hohnadel Goehring, The Rev. Ira J. Goehring was born in New Sewickley Township. He attended Oak Grove Sunday School and Church where he was confirmed by the Rev. L. O. Benze and later elected Superintendent of the Sunday School. After study at Geneva College, he taught at Steele's School in New Sewickley Township.

The Rev. J. W. Ash, Pastor at Oak Grove (1909-1914) encouraged Goehring to enter the Chicago Theological Seminary (Maywood, Ill.) in the fall of 1910. He graduated in 1913 and was ordained by the Pittsburgh Synod. The Lutheran Church at Middle Lancaster called him to serve soon thereafter.

The Rev. Goehring served the congregation until 1925 when he was forced to resign because of severe hearing loss and ill health. During the years following he served as supply pastor for area churches and was often a guest preacher at Oak Grove. He stated that his aim was to preach the gospel in its truth, purity, and entirety, according to the doctrines of the Lutheran Church. Goehring deeply desired to lead men and women to know Christ as their Redeemer and Savior. The Rev. Ira J. Goehring died on March 21, 1964.

The Rev. Ash resigned October 15, 1914 and was succeeded by the The Rev. Frank Snyder, who was installed April 25, 1915. Pastor Snyder resigned August 16, 1916; there were one hundred fifty confirmed members at this time.

After a vacancy of ten months, the Rev. G. J. Diener was installed April 1, 1917 and served the congregation faithfully until July 4, 1920.

Supply Pastor, 1920-1923

During the next two years, eleven months, 
the pulpit was ably supplied by the 
Rev. C. W. White, Superintendent of the 
Orphan's Home and Farm at Zelienople and 
the Rev. Yesley of Greenville, Penn.

On January 7, 1923, the newly ordained Rev. A. G. Fischer was called to Oak Grove. He served his country faithfully in the World War I before entering the ministry. Catechetical instruction was changed from summer to wintertime and Confirmation Day moved from an autumn date to Palm Sunday.

Under the watch of Pastor Fischer, several pews were removed and a platform erected for performances of pageantry which Pastor Fischer and his wife directed. He was also a member of the choir and the men's quartet. In 1923, by action of the Pittsburgh Synod, Hope Lutheran Church merged with Oak Grove Church.

Pastor E. G. Hoffman 1941 - 1945
The Rev. E. G. Hoffman was extended an unanimous call to Oak Grove on Easter Sunday, April 13, 1941. He assumed his duties May 18, 1941 after completion of his seminary course requirements and ordination. Improvements to the parsonage during his tenure included a new well, electric pump, kitchen sink, and bathroom at a cost of $375.00.

Beautification of the church grounds was accomplished by church members, including a cross and two candleholders for the altar, made by Harry Miller and J. C. Deemer, which were consecrated for church use. The pulpit Bible, which was rebound by the Young People's Society, was rededicated. The first church bulletin was printed on March 7, 1943, sponsored by the pastor's family. Thereafter it was financed by members at a cost of fifty cents per week.

At a meeting of the council on May 9, 1943, it was decided to begin a drive for funds for redecoration and repair of the building interior. The goal was set at $1000.00, but due to World War II, material and labor shortages prevailed and the project was postponed until March 1944. A rededication service was held Sunday evening, May 7, 1944. The Rev. John Kindsvatter, President of the West Conference, was the guest speaker. New carpet in the sanctuary and linoleum in the vestibule completed the project.

The 70th anniversary celebration was held May 6-7, 1943. The Rev. H. Reed Shepfer, D.D. was guest speaker on Thursday and the Rev. E. H. Daugherty, former pastor of Oak Grove, delivered the message on Friday evening. The Rev. Ira Goehring and the Rev. Hoffman also assisted in the services. A service conducted by Pastor Hoffman in memory of Pvt. Howard K. Deemer was held on Sunday, October 22, 1944. Deemer was born September 7, 1914 and died, according to a telegram from the War Department, September 15, 1944. The name of Pvt. Deemer was memorialized by a gift from the congregation to the Home Mission Cause.

American and Service flags were placed in the chancel and an outdoor Honor Roll (made by Clyde Deemer) was erected on the church lawn in honor of the men who served in World War II.

Harold AlstadtE. Ray KinsburyJ. Ross Schewinsberg
Geroge AlstadtAlvin MartinLester Schewinsberg
Joseph BlackburnClayton TeetsHarold Stang
Edward BonzoRussell RapeLeslie Schuler
Paul BonzoBlain SchomburgDonald Zeigler
James BurrisLawrence SchomburgSamuel Zeigler
Clair DeemerHomer Schomburg
Howard DeemerRobert Schomburg

The Rev. Hoffman resigned on December 1, 1945, after serving five years.

The Rev. Frank Miller 1946 - 1951

Men of the church working on the rear addition of the church (circa 1948).The Rev. Frank Miller, former Army Chaplain, was called to serve at Oak Grove in 1946. At this time the first Vacation Bible School was held jointly with Burry's Church.

Recognizing the need for more Sunday school space, Pastor Miller worked with the men of the congregation to cement the floor and finish the walls of the church basement. Removable wooden partitions were also installed to create more classrooms. Under the direction of Pastor and Mrs. Miller, an accomplished musician, the Moller self-contained pipe organ we continue to use was purchased. A mimeograph machine was also purchased. Pastor Miller resigned in 1951 to accept a pastorate at Penn Evangelical Lutheran Church. He retired from ministry in Jeanette, Penn.

Pastor Louis Hetrick 1953 - 1955

The Rev. Louis Hetrick served Oak Grove Congregation as pastor from 1953-1955. Although records are few, he was an untiring worker with the Luther League and young people of the community. Pastor Hetrick taught Bible courses to elementary and junior high school students at Freedom during the school year. Material was donated for pulpit and altar covers by members of Pastor Hetrick's family. These were sewn by members of the Women's Missionary Society. Pastor Hetrick resigned in 1955 to accept a call in Philadelphia.

Pastor William Kuhre 1955 - 1958
The Rev. William Kuhre was called 1955 and installed after graduating from seminary in June. He and his wife and daughter moved into the old parsonage, but with the need for more Sunday School classrooms the new parsonage and tunnel was soon completed. The Kuhre's were the first family to occupy the new parsonage. The two-story brick and stone structure contains four rooms and a bath on each floor. There are two large bedrooms on the second floor with an attached study and garage with an unfinished basement. The tunnel, connecting the parsonage to the church, contains three Sunday school rooms. The old parsonage was sold to provide funds.

During Pastor Kuhre's tenure, George Keck began his studies for full time ministry. Also, by order of the Pittsburgh Synod, Hope Church was dropped from the title of Oak Grove Parish to become part of Middle Lancaster Parish. St. Mark's near Ellwood City was then linked with Oak Grove. Ground was purchased from Russell Bonzo on the east side of the church to provide additional parking space.

On December 1, 1958, Pastor Kuhre resigned to accept a call at Mount Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (Punxsutawney, Penn).

Son of the Congregation: The Rev. George Keck

The Rev. George Keck, son of Clarence and Mildred Wahl Keck, graduated from Thiel College and the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. In 1964 he was called to serve as Associate Pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (Greenville, Penn.). In 1966 he was called as Pastor until called as Assistant to the President of the Western Pennsylvania-West Virginia Synod of the Lutheran Church in America. His new role with the synod included responsibility for approximately 360 congregations from Erie to Beckley, West Virginia.

Pastor Keck and his wife Betty (nee Freshcorn) have three daughters: Deborah, Cynthia and Karin.

Pastor O J Warnath 1959 - 1965

On January 18, 1959, Oak Grove extended a call to the Rev. O. J. Warnath of St Paul's Lutheran Church (New Castle, Penn.). The Rev. Warnath accepted and began his ministry on April 5, 1959. He was installed May 3, 1959 by President of the Pittsburgh Synod, Dr. Himmelman. 

On September 14, 1959 the congregation received its own official seal. February 1960 saw the the men of the congregation begin construction of a church gallery and by Palm Sunday, April 10, the renovation of the church was complete. The church celebrated its 90th Anniversary on March 24, 1963.

Pastor Warnath delivered a sermon recalling the history of the church. His ministry was cut short by his untimely death on May 10, 1965. During Warnath's ministry his preaching and teaching saw many people added to the Kingdom of God. His well-kept records shows many activities and accomplishments of the church and Sunday school under his leadership.

The Rev. Wilbert T. Wilson 1965-1969

The Rev. Wilbert T. Wilson was called to become Pastor of Oak Grove and began ministry November 1, 1965 with a deep appreciation of rural life. Later on, a new Baldwin piano was dedicated to the Glory of God in memory of Pastor Warnath's ministry. The piano was purchased with donations from individuals and the finances of the church.

Improvements to the church included repainting the interior and exterior of the church and flood lights to illumine the altar. Chrismons decorated the church Christmas tree for the first time that year. The chrismons were made by members of the Luther League under the direction of Pastor Wilson. He also conducted a twelfth night service with the burning of the Christmas trees followed by devotions, recreation, and refreshments. The service became a tradition at Oak Grove. After three years of leadership Pastor Wilson suffered a stroke and was unable to continue his work. He resigned and spent the four remaining years of his life doing oil paintings. He called this work "preaching with the brush." The members of Oak Grove honored him for his faithfulness by bestowing upon him the title, "Pastor Emeritus."

Pastor Stanage Scott 1969 - 1972

The Rev. Stanage A. Scott began his ministry at Oak Grove February 1, 1969. Before his arrival the parsonage interior was repainted by members of the congregation. The young adult group began publishing a monthly church informational newsletter titled "The Nutshell."

A special church service and tureen dinner was held Sunday, February 1970, for the sixtieth wedding anniversary of Aaron and Beulah Zeigler. An altar to be used for outdoor services was constructed in the east corner of the church lot. The project was completed by the Luther League and members of the church council. Pastor Scott died May 6, 1972, while visiting his family in Ohio. In a letter to the congregation he wrote:

"Oak Grove lives on each year adding to the rich history of the congregation and the Christian Church on earth. We feel that our heritage is full and rich in the Lord and we can be proud of our place among the churches of the whole Christian church. We dare not, however, be complacent and self-righteous. Our heritage is too fine for us to sit down and expect to rest upon the laurels, and accomplishments of the past generations. What do we intend to do with our opportunities for Christian worship and service? What kind of witness for Christ are we here and now? Are we willing to dare to follow the calling, yes the urging of the Holy Spirit to really be faithful witnesses not just on Sundays, but each day of our lives."

Oak Grove's Men's Group

Oak Grove had an active Men's Group from 1950's to 1970's.  They  met regularly, played dartball, did maintainance projects at the church, had retreats and did service projects, one of which was helping to maintain the cemetery at Passavant Homes in Rochester.

Son of the Congregation: The Rev. James Mitchell

James Mitchell, Jr., son of James S. and Martha Reed Mitchell, Sr. of Unionville (Rochester, Penn.), was raised in Beaver County, Penn. Jim wrote, "Since 1961 my life seems to have been moving in one direction, to becoming a Lutheran minister. With the help of God and many friends at Oak Grove my goal will be realized in June 1973, when I graduate and become ordained. I received encouragement from Pastor Warnath and also the Men of the Brotherhood who helped me gain self-confidence by electing me president of the organization. Pastor Wilson, who through example showed me how to witness and encouraged me to go to work at Passavant Memoria Home in Rochester, which proved to be another step toward my entering the service of the Lord as a minister. My association with Pastor Fruth and letters from Pastor Scott were also a continual source of confidence to me assuring me that Oak Grove was behind me all the way."

The Rev. Mitchell attended County Waterloo Lutheran Seminary (Waterloo, Canada) and was ordained to the ministry on June 3, 1973. His career consisted of pastoring several Lutheran parishes and ministries in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Ontario, Canada. The Rev. Mitchell and his wife, Norma Jean (nee Newmont), have six children: James, Reed, Margaret, Douglas, Jane and Kevin. The Rev. Mitchell passed into enternal life on December 15, 2008.

Son of the Congregation - Harold William Goehring

Father Harold William (Bill) Goehring, son of Harold and Juanita Goehring, was baptized and confirmed at OGLC. Later he served as church organist at Oak Grove. After graduation from high school, Bill enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. In his off duty time, Bill played the organ at the Roman Catholic Cathedral and became very involved in the Roman Catholic Church. Bill was chosen to be the liturgist at the mass where Pope John Paul II presided. After his Air Force duty, he finished college and entered Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon and became a Roman Catholic Priest. Later he earned his Master's Degree in liturgical music at Notre Dame University.

Pastor Richard Roth 1972 -1976

On November 5, 1972, The Rev. Richard Roth was extended a unanimous call to become Pastor of Oak Grove. He began his duties in December and was installed February 11, 1973 by the Rev. Frank Zundel, District Dean. To welcome and become acquainted with Pastor Roth, the congregation held a covered dish dinner at the Big Knob Fire Hall at 6:30 p.m., November 4, 1972. Before Roth's arrival, the Young Adults Group cleaned and painted the interior of the parsonage. In 1973 the congregation celebrated her 100th anniversary and a celebratory time capsule was buried near the outdoor worship center - perhaps to be opened at a 200th anniversary celebration(!)? The first woman to be elected to leadership at Oak Grove was Ruth Freshcorn on January 13, 1974.

Pastor Mueller, who served as interim pastor, brought the congregation together and encouraged the committees to be active.


Pastor James Higgins 1977 - 1985                                  Rammy and Clyde

In anticipation of his ordination, Pastor Jim Higgins came to Oak Grove directly from seminary in January, 1977 and was ordained in June. He brought with him a sense of well-being and positive outlook. Clyde, Ramey, and other multimedia sermons were often used during Higgins' tenure. There were a large number of young children in the congregation and he ably connected with them. New ceiling fans and lights were installed and a secretary's office was built behind the organ. Aluminum siding was also installed on the outside of the church. Carl Ruckert and Brenda Zeigler refinished the Baptismal Font.

In June, 1982 a branch of the AAL was established. The Evangelism Committee started the BLT's (Breakfast and Lunch Time), which was a time for fellowship. The meetings were very well attended. Vicar Denise Brown was assigned her internship year with Oak Grove. She was a remarkable person and although she was hearing impaired she enjoyed a remarkable connection with the youth. Around this time the Oak Grove Orchestra was formed involving many of the high school and college students. The orchestra played on Christmas Eve and for the 4th of July parade in Zelienople. At the November 28, 1984 church council meeting, Pastor Higgins read his letter of resignation, effective January 31, 1985. He had accepted a call with the Chicora Area Lutheran Parish (Chicora, Penn.) Pastor Higgins served the Chicora parish for 25 years retiring on August 8, 2010.

Pastor Paul Gausmann 1985 - 1993

The Rev. Paul Gausmann was installed on June 23, 1985, beginning his First Call. For the first time in many years, the Gausmann's brought infants into the parsonage, William and Laura! In 1987, a new stairway was built in the back of the church and the men's restroom was remodeled. New carpeting was installed and the sanctuary was given a fresh coat of paint in 1989. 1991 brought the celebration of Sally Gausmann as she earned her Master of Divinity and became the first female member of Oak Grove to be ordained.

A second service was started by Pastor Gausmann, as baptized membership was over five hundred at this time. Cooperative plans for ministry to Lutherans in the Cranberry Township area was started. In April, 1993, Pastor Gausmann and Sally accepted a call to Faith Lutheran Church (Shell Rock, Iowa).

Oak Grove Orchestra - July 4, 1986

The Oak Grove Orchestra played at the July 4th parades in Zelienople and Christmas Eve services at the church. Vic Ketterer and his team of Belgium horses provided the transportation.

Son of the Congregation: The Rev. Brian O. Bennett

During Pastor Ed Robbins' ministry, Oak Grove sent Brian Bennett to the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (Columbia, SC) for theological study in the Fall, 1999. Brian is the son of Bill and Charen Bennett and had been a life-long member of Oak Grove. He was ordained at Oak Grove by Bishop Ralph Dunkin of the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod on October 25, 2003. He served St. Paul Lutheran Church, Morgantown, WV until December 2011 when he accepted a call as the chaplain at the Lutheran University Center in the University of Pittsburgh on January 1, 2012. He has three children.

Pastor Ed Robbins 1993 - 2003

The Rev. Ed Robbins came to Oak Grove as a supply pastor on the first Sunday in May, 1993. He served as the stated supply until late summer when he became Oak Grove's part-time Pastor. On the first Sunday in Advent, 1993, he was called as Pastor of Oak Grove Lutheran Church. Pastor Robbins continued in the tradition of Word and Sacrament ministry established by his predecessors in the faith and the congregation of Oak Grove. His leadership continued to support Gospel ministry and mission in this community. Early worship attendance averaged over 50.

Some notable events of his pastorate include the Men's Group meeting once a month on Saturday morning and the Men's Breakfast Fellowship. Fifth Sunday worship began at Passavant Retirement Community and a Pastor Robbins led monthly liturgy of Evening Prayer and the liturgy of Compline after each council meeting.

At the invitation of synod in the summer of 1994, the congregation participated in '12 Keys' training, encouraging the congregation to assess our mission and life together. Out of that invitation came an initiative to annually assess the missional direction of Oak Grove. The Mission Development Project Steering Committee helped the congregation identify specific missional plans for the following year. The results of the mission assessment project included the decision to refurbish the current church building, including the restoration of all stained glass windows by Renaissance Glassworks Inc., Canonsburg, PA, installation of new side walks, and painting the church interior.

Pastor Robbins helped the congregation to reach out to the world beyond our doors. Congregation members volunteered their time at the Jubilee Soup Kitchen, Global Links, Rochester Salvation Army, and the Beaver Valley Cooperative. The congregation has been very involved with her Prayer-Partner church, Trinity Lutheran Church (North Side, Pittsburgh). During our celebration this year (1998) the congregation developed a mission statement, produced a pictorial directory, and most importantly, continued to consider how the congregation will minister on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ in its 126th year and beyond. The congregation planned the building of a new educational wing and fellowship hall, complete with full architectural plans in place. Pastor Robbins resigned to accept a call at Trinity Lutheran Church (Glen Rock, Penn.) in November 2003.

Pastor Janice Altenberger 2004 - 2008

Pastor Janice Altenberger accepted a call from the Oak Grove Congregation in June, 2004 and was ordained in July. November 2005 brought the excitement of a ground breaking, which was held in anticipation of the erection of the education and fellowship building. Two of the oak trees were cut down were estimated to be over 300 years old! A new septic system was installed in preparation for the new building. The cost of building had escalated to an estimated sum of nearly one million dollars. The building committee wrestled with what to do with previous plans. As of February 2008, the building was put on hold with the drawings still mounted in the sanctuary as a sign of our future hopes for the congregation. Pastor Altenberger submitted her resignation as of June 1, 2008. She was called to the Our Savior Lutheran Church, North Huntington.

The tree shown was sawed into lumber. Some of it was used to make new doors for the church building which were dedicated on December 27, 2009. Some of the wood was also used to make a frame for the Justice window that was completed in April 2011.

Two oak trees were cut down to make way for the proposed addition. The trees were estimated to be approximately 300 years old! The larger tree had a branch that extended nearly 60 feet from the trunk.

The Rev. Gerald Huhn became the interim pastor as of July 1, 2008. Members and friends of the congregation raised funds to have some of the wood from the oak trees to made into front and side doors for the church. Pastor Huhn resigned as interim pastor on October 31st, 2008 and the Rev. William Henry from Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (New Brighton, Penn.) assisted Oak Grove in worship and council leadership until the arrival of the Rev. Natalie L. Gessert.

New Cross

New stainless steel cross on the roof of the church manufactured and installed by Mr. Jim Scheck in February, 2009.


New Doors, New Pastor

New front entrance and side doors, made from wood of oak trees grown on the land, welcome worshipers to the congregation at Oak Grove. The doors are made of the same design as the original doors installed on the church building 100 years ago. 
The front doors were given in honor of James Steinacker on his 90th birthday. The side door was given in memory of Bertha Leonberg. The doors were dedicated at services on December 27, 2009.

The Rev. Natalie L. Gessert 2009 - 2011

Pastor Natalie Gessert led the dedication of the doors on December 27, 2009.Pastor Natalie began her call at Oak Grove on September 1, 2009. She led her first service on September 6th and was ordained on September 11, 2009 in Fairfax, Virginia. Pastor Natalie was installed at Oak Grove Lutheran Church on November 1, 2009. The service was led by area Dean, the Rev. Margaret Suhr-Barkley and was attended by many synod pastors and church leaders, including newly retired Assistant to the Bishop, the Rev. Kirk Bish, the Rev. Michael Sourwine, the Rev. Dennis Roser, the Rev. Erin Boyer Smith, the Rev. Jill MacGregor, and the Rev. Blair Morgan of the SW Pennsylvania Synod.
In June of 2010 the congregation voted to replace the roof, replace the basement floor and add a drainage system under the floor.
On July 20, 2011, Pastor Natalie announced that she had accepted a call at Bethany Lutheran Church, Bethel Park, PA. Her last Sunday at OGLC would be August 28th and her resignation will be effective August 31, 2011.
Pastor Maren Alexis served as interm Pastor from September 2011 through July 23, 2012 while the congregation worked through the call process.

Organ Restoration

The Moller self-contained pipe organ was restored during October 2010. The restoration was funded by bequst from Norman and Helen Zeigler.

Scales / Justice Window

The stained glass window, seen on the left, had been stored in the attic of the church since @ 1960 when it was removed to make way for the balcony. It was located above the inside entrance doors when the building was erected. The congregation raised funds to have it framed with wood from the oak trees that grew on the congregation's property and placed on the balcony near the place it was originally. It once again adds to the beauty of the sanctuary. On Sunday February 3, 2013, the congregation officially recognized the installation of the Scale of Justice Window with a short service before worship.

Pastor Nathaneil Christman 2012- 2022

On Sunday, June 17, 2012 the congregation made the decision to call Pastoral Candidate, Nathaneil Christman, to be our new pastor. The members of the congregation cast an unanimous vote to call Nathaneil Christman as our next pastor. Nathaneil accepted the call. Nathaneil introduced us to his wife, Tricia, his son, Zachary and his baby daughter, Bethany. Nathaneil will be ordained in his home congregation which is located in the eastern part of the state of Washington. Bishop Kusserow officiated at his ordination. The ordination was in July and Pr. Nathaneil and his family began their ministry with his first worship service on July 29th. Pastor Christman was installed on September 16 as pastor of OGLC.
A new boiler was installed in the parsonage and new shed delivered to provide much needed storage space in December of 2012. In June of 2015, a new well was drilled by Eric Krut to furnish a supply of good water to the parsonage and church building. The congregation established a Community Garden at Oak Grove with 20 gardeners during the summer of 2015. Much of the produce raised was donated to area food banks.

Historic Oak Tree

In 2012 it became apparent that one of the stately large oak trees that stood in front of the church building for over 150 years was dying and needed to be removed due to safety concerns. In July 2013 a tree removal company and members of the congregation worked to remove the tree. It was a sad day for the congregation.

Pastor Nathaneil's farewell letter:
Words cannot do justice for the deep gratitude and love that I have for the people of Oak Grove and for the friends, neighbors, and colleagues I have known in Western PA. You have been my family for the past ten years. You have been family to my family for the past 10 years. You have opened your hearts to me and we have done some fantastic work together! You have shown me wonders I have never dreamed. The church is more powerful than I ever imagined. Capable of great good at a level I still don’t fully comprehend. A small group of faithful people, by the grace of God, can change the world. Of that I have no doubt. Keep the faith! Stay the course! Run the race that is before you! Show the care and love you have shown me to one another, and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. God is with you and God will not fail you.
My farewell Sunday is this Sunday, June 5th 9:00 AM - Pentecost Sunday (wear red if you can). There is a brunch after worship!
For those who can not make it, farewell my friend. I will miss you; I will see you again – Jesus has promised us such!
If you need to get ahold of me please let Katie Furbee (Church Secretary) know. She will be the point of contact from the church to me so that I can give my time and energy to the people of God in a new corner of the world. As I have loved you, now I must love them. I will miss you dearly. I thank you so much for everything!

Tom Applequist with some of the first produce from the Community Gardens at Oak Grove Lutheran Church.
In January 2015 the OGLC council voted to establish a community garden to grow organic food and provide a place where the surrounding community could garden. During the first year, over 1200 pounds of produce was donated to the Rochester Salvation Army food bank.  In 2017 3554 pounds of fresh produce was donated to the Salvation Army Food Bank from 51 plots.  $199.75 in donations for honey harvested from the bee hives.

The choir shown during the 100th anniversary of the founding of the congregation.
For most of the history of OGLC a choir provided leadership for the music and provided special music during the worship services. 

The last anthem sung by the choir was presented on Christmas Eve 2015.

Daughter of the congregation:  The Rev. Angela Smith graduated seminary from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2017.  She was called that same year serve as Pastor to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Monaca, and Trinity Lutheran, New Brighton.  She was ordained by Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the Southwestern PA Synod at California University on June 16, 2017.  She became a member of Oak Grove Lutheran Church after she married her husband Rick Smith in 2008. They have three children, Samantha, Rich, and Cody.

The Community Garden Covered Space
On August 6, 2017 The Community Garden Covered Space was dedicated with the following words:   ..."we are gathered to didicate it to the glory of our Amighty Creator, the Redeemer who saves us and the Holy Spirit who gathers us.  We ask our God to use it for the building up of our community in all ways.  From this day forward let it be a place of cover for relief from the heat of the sun, from the rain and for rest from our  labors, including our Community Gardeners.  Let it also be for the gathering of people for worship, fellowship, fun, feasting and to witness to God's presence in the beauty of the open spaces.  Peace be to this Community Garden Space and to all who come to enjoy the beauty of nature.

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Pastor Christman started establishing some bee hives to increase the yield in the garden.  In 2017 there were 4 hives along southern part of the church's property near the turnpike.  Members of the community at large, congregational members and his children Zackary and Bethany, help with the maintenance of the hives.

OGLC congregation has been clearing litter from Powell Road since 2009.  Every spring and fall members of the congregation meet on a Saturday morning to clear debris from the side of the road.   Usually they collect from 8 to 10 bags of garbage and recyclables from Glen Eden Road to Rochester Road.  Wetauna Cypher has lead this endeavor for many years.


On April 9, 2020 several OGLC men lead by Pastor Christman presented a ZOOM presentation of the Last Supper on Facebook because of social distancing due to the Coronavirus..

Click below to watch the enactment.


Words cannot do justice for the deep gratitude and love that I have for the people of Oak Grove and for the friends, neighbors, and colleagues I have known in Western PA. You have been my family for the past ten years. You have been family to my family for the past 10 years. You have opened your hearts to me and we have done some fantastic work together! You have shown me wonders I have never dreamed. The church is more powerful than I ever imagined. Capable of great good at a level I still don’t fully comprehend. A small group of faithful people, by the grace of God, can change the world. Of that I have no doubt. Keep the faith! Stay the course! Run the race that is before you! Show the care and love you have shown me to one another, and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. God is with you and God will not fail you.
My farewell Sunday is this Sunday, June 5th 9:00 AM - Pentecost Sunday (wear red if you can). There is a brunch after worship!
For those who can not make it, farewell my friend. I will miss you; I will see you again – Jesus has promised us such!
Pastor Nathaneil

Tricia Christman was ordained in a service on Sunday, May 29, 2022 lead by Kurt Kusserow, bishop of the SouthWestern PA Synod.

Nathaneil and Tricia accepted a call to a two point parish in Eastern Washington in Emanuel, Ritzville and St. John's , Sprague .