On May 13, 1951 (Pentecost), eighty adult Christians met at Roosevelt Junior High School and decided to call themselves Pilgrims and organize a new Lutheran congregation to serve northwest Decatur. Worship and Bible Study classes were arranged to be held in the Roosevelt auditorium. A meeting was called on June 3, and George Beiderwieden, Jr. was called to be Pilgrim’s first pastor. He accepted the call and was installed on July 8, 1951.
On April 9, 1954, a two acre plot at 2155 N. Oakland Avenue was voted as the site for the new church and on January 9, 1955, Pilgrim decided to build a church and educational facilities at a cost of $150,000. Over the years, there have been numerous expansions and renovations. The largest expansion took place shortly after Pilgrims 20th Anniversary in the fall of 1971 where the sanctuary was expanded to seat 630 persons and a gymnasium/all-purpose room were built.
Over her 66 years, Pilgrim has had only three senior pastors:
Rev. George Beiderwieden, Jr.
Rev. William K. Abbott
Rev. Brock Abbott
Past Pastors, Vicars, and Directors of Christian Education are listed below.
Currently, Rev. Brock Abbott and Rev. Bill Abbott serve as Pastors, Kay Tolly is the Director of Christian Education and Youth, Patti Newlin is the Office Manager, Judy Tish is a part-time secretary, and Cinard Lee is the Custodian.
On October 19th, 2004 at a special voters meeting, the congregation of Pilgrim Lutheran Church formally assembled and voted to withdraw its membership from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Pilgrim continues to worship and teach according to the Confessional Lutheran Standards as found in the Book of Concord of 1530.
Leaving the LCMS was not an easy decision. Since its founding 1951, Pilgrim has been a member of the Synod and thankfully remembers its history as an unquestioned leader among confessional, traditional Lutherans in its faithful adherence to the Holy Scripture and Confessions. However, over the past several decades, the Missouri Synod has slowly, but surely, undergone many significant changes that put it at odds with not only its traditional confessional teaching, but with the Holy Scriptures. Realizing the serious differences between the beliefs and constitution of Pilgrim Lutheran and the direction of the LCMS, the congregation overwhelmingly chose to take a stand and separate.
At a Voters Meeting held Tuesday, May 24, 2005 the voters of Pilgrim Lutheran Church unanimously approved the formation of and participation in THE UNITED LUTHERAN MISSION ASSOCIATION (ULMA). The ULMA began a joint pursuit with Redeemer Lutheran Church of St. Claire Shores, Michigan. Key to the Association’s goals are the avoidance of money consuming bureaucracy and pastors leaving their pulpits for full time synodical positions. The Association is adamant that congregations maintain their independence and that laity provide the leadership and guidance for ULMA. The United Lutheran Mission Association is committed to using mission contributions to effectively and efficiently support Lutheran mission work. Mission contributions are pooled and bureaucratic waste is eliminated. Over 95% of our donations make it directly to the mission field.
As Pilgrim looked to its own future and the future of the association, it realized the need for training pastors and missionaries.
At the direction of the voters of Pilgrim, Walther Theological Seminary (WTS) was organized as a not for profit corporation in 2010. On August, 7, 2012, the Illinois Board of Higher Education granted to Walther Theological Seminary the Certificate of Approval and Authorization to operate in the Prairie Region of the State of Illinois, and on June 4, 2013 degree granting authority. While WTS is its own entity, it is “owned and operated” by Pilgrim. WTS admitted its first student for the Master of Divinity degree program in 2014. It would be impossible for Pilgrim to support the Seminary without the help of the member and mission congregations of the United Lutheran Mission Association. With Pilgrim, those congregations are:
Redeemer Lutheran Church, St. Clair Shores, Michigan
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Forsyth, Illinois
Agnus Dei Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Christ the Rock Lutheran Church, Carlsbad, California
Past Pastors, Vicars, and Directors of Christian Education:
Rev. Alan Braun, Assistant Pastor
Rev. Melvin Newman, Assistant Pastor
Rev. Jan Munch, Assistant Pastor
Rev. Robert Heckmann, Assistant Pastor
James Albers, 1961
Tom Spahn, 1963
Alan Braun, 1966
Don Moorman, 1967
Jan Munch, 1975
John Hoyer, 1988
Lawrence Dye, 1986
Maynard Toensing, 1990
Charles Varsogea, 1993
Larry R. Sipe, Jr., 1994
Directors of Christian Education: