History of Hope

  • 1957 - Hope was started as a mission church
  • December 9, 1957 - 73 people signed the charter becoming Charter Members of Hope
  • December 1958 - Land (current site) was purchased to build the church
  • September 5, 1965 - First services in new building
  • February 1962 - Built parsonage
  • September 1971 - Started a Daycare
  • 1976 - Built addition to the church (today's worship area)
  • Fall 1980 - Hope's Food Pantry began
  • New Pipe Organ
  • New Worship seating
  • September 1998 - Communion rail kneelers
  • 2001 - GIFT Program initiated for 3 years
  • 2001 - Hope becomes a "COOL Church" with air conditioning installation
  • 2001 - New lighting fixtures installed in the sanctuary

Narrative of Hope's History

Hope was started by a request to the ULCA from the Lutheran community in Wilmington, Delaware. The ULCA was the forerunner of the ELCA and the LCA.  Starting a mission in this manner was unusual.  Before this time, the Board of American Missions of the ULCA would say where a mission should be started.  The Lutheran community of Wilmington believed that a church was needed to be developed in New Castle because the area was developing rather quickly.  All the groundwork and research was completed before the ULCA was petitioned.

At a meeting in June 1957, 18 adults expressed an interest in starting a new church in the New Castle area. By the end of June, that number had increased to 50 adults.  On September 15, 1957 the first services were held in the old Shrine building on RT 13 (near Hares Corner). That building is no longer in existence.  The initial attendance was 138. Then on October 20, 1957, the congregation voted to name the new mission church “Hope”.  There were several names in competition, but the name “Hope” edged the others in close voting.  A petition requesting permission from the Board of American Missions of the ULCA to organize as an official congregation was presented to the prospective members on December 9, 1957.  Seventy-three (73) members signed the charter that day.  The charter remained open for a period of time to allow others to sing and also allow them to come into the new church as charter members.

During the winter of 1957-58, the Shrine building had serious heating problems.  When there was no heat on Sunday, members of Hope would stand out on US 13 and signal our worshippers to the Toman’s Restaurant.  Toman’s Restaurant was a short distance away and this building providing a warm place to worship on the cold days without heat.  Emilie Toman was a member of Hope and she offered her restaurant as an alternative place of worship on those cold winter Sundays.

On February 15, 1958, the first congregational meeting was held.  This first meeting was held in the basement of the Wilmington Manor Methodist Church on RT 13. This is where the first constitution of the Hope congregation was adopted.  The first members of the church council were also elected at this meeting.  Beginning with this first council, both men and women have represented the congregation on council. While this first congregational meeting was in progress, a major snowstorm developed (almost a blizzard).  No one at the meeting was aware of the storm until the meeting was over.  Many of the members’ cars were vandalized during the meeting.  In addition to the snowstorm, vandals had removed the gas caps from most of the members’ cars and thrown them away. 

Also during the first congregational meeting, the congregation received the keys to the USAF Base Chapel to hold our services.  With members bringing chairs and other furniture, the first service was held there on Ash Wednesday, February 19th.  The members had to bring their own furniture because the Air Force had removed the pews and many parts of the heating system.  With the help of Harry Adams, the heating system was repaired before the first service.  This chapel was used for worship services until the first unit of the present Hope Church was completed.  The last service held at the chapel was on August 29, 1965.  Shortly after this, the Air Force demolished the building.  All the buildings occupied by the Hope congregation prior to our current buildings have been demolished.

Reverend Howard W. Werdemoyer

On March 30, 1958, Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church had its official organization with the charter closing with 89 adult members.  Reverend Howard W. Werdemoyer was called to the first Pastor.  In April 1958, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church donated silverware (still in use today) that has become quite a conversation piece at church dinners because many of the pieces still bear the engraving “St. Luke’s”.  In May 1958, Pastor Werdemoyer and Albert H. Seidle were representatives to the Ministerium of Pennsylvania (Synod) convention and Hope officially became members of the Ministerium and ULCA in May 1958.  The Ministerium of Pennsylvania was from Philadelphia.  This also included areas south of Philadelphia (including Delaware).  At that time, there were no Lutheran churches south of the C&D Canal.  During 1958, Hope recorded many firsts:  First confirmation, Vacation Church School and the organization of the Luther League (men’s and women’s groups).

In 1958, we began searching for a location for our church site.  We had several areas in mind.  An advisor from the Board of American Missions (ULCA) inspected all of the sites we were interested in and told us “they wouldn’t fly”.  None were on a main road with potential housing developments in the near vicinity.  The development of Coventry had just been started and we drove by the advisor.  He stated, “This is a main artery to the city.  It’s a good place.  Buy.”  We also investigated and discovered they were also building a shopping center near by.  Then on December 28, 1958, our congregation approved the purchase of several acres of land for the church site.  We made an offer of $20,000 for four (4) acres.  We were lucky enough to have been dealing with some generous Lutherans who asked if we would like five (5) acres for the same price of the four (4).  We quickly accepted their offer. 

In May 1959, the fist organ for our church was purchased and on August 16, 1959, the first parsonage, a ranch-style home, was purchased on RT 273 just west of Appleby Road.

The year 1960 saw the first building fund campaign to raise $10,000.  Ken Smith and others built the model of the proposed building along with a study model showing full use of the site.  The model showed a unit on each end of the first unit and showed where the Nave would be located.  In a report by Pastor Werdemoyer to Church Council he stated that the building fund was a disappointment and that the congregation was lukewarm, unappreciative, without enthusiasm and in need of professional help to succeed in a fundraising campaign.  Pastor Werdemoyer resigned on September 30, 1960.

Reverend Park W. Huntington

On October 1, 1960, Reverend Park W. Huntington was accepted the offer as Vice Pastor.  He had been retired St. Stephen’s Lutheran church and also had been a chaplain of the Delaware National Guard (and was on active duty with them during WWII).  Pastor Huntington became ill and Reverend Theodore F. Fenke became the Vice Pastor during his illness.  Pastor Huntington returned on May 7, 19561 and served until July 31, 1961.

Reverend Frederic B. Geehr

On August 1, 1961, the Reverend Frederic B. Geehr became Hope’s second Pastor and served until October 31, 1967.  Under Pastor Geehr’s leadership several exciting things happened.  These included the following:

  • A larger parsonage was bought about one block from the current church site.  It included home office facilities.  We had no church office at that time.  The old parsonage (RT 273) was sold.  The new personage was occupied on February 17, 1962.
  • The “new” hymnal (Red, SBH) was introduced and first used on march 7, 1962.
  • A professional capital funds drive was undertaken May 16 – June 15, 1962 by the Lutheran Layman Movement.
  • On November 10, 1963 a special congregational meeting approved the ultimate building plan and authorized the drafting of preliminary drawings for Unit 1.  Groundbreaking took place on November 5, 1964.  The cornerstone was laid on May 30, 1965.  The first service was held on September 5th and the dedication occurred on September 19, 1965.  The mortgage on the current church site had been burned on September 25, 1964.
  • The altar rail, pulpit, lectern and altar were built by John Ludwig and finished by Frank Kramer (both members of Hope), for Hope’s first building.  The altar railing is the only one of these that is currently not in use.
  • Easter Sunrise Service was held at the church site inside the steel framework of Unit 1 on April 18, 1965.  On April 10, 1966, our first Easter Breakfast was held.
  • The Sunday evening youth program was started in September 1966.
  • Weekday kindergarten started with 10 children on September 6, 1967 with Jean Heubst (a member of Hope’s congregation) in charge.
  • Pastor Geehr resigned on October 31, 1967.  Hope learned a lesson from his tenure.  The Pastor must not do everything.  No one even knew how to make the church bulletin at the time of his departure.  Hope did not have a Church Secretary at that time.  There was some volunteer work being performed.  That is the way that Pastor Geehr wanted it.  Pastor Geehr came to Hope from a congregation in Pennsylvania where the Pastor was usually also the President of the congregation.  He believed he should also be the President of the congregation here.  The only problem was that Delaware law does not allow the Pastor to be the President of the congregation.

Reverend Donald L. Turley

Following Pastor Geehr’s departure, Reverend David Blackwelder became Vice Pastor of the congregation from November 1, 1967 thru February 1968.  Then on February 9, 1968, Reverend Donald L. Turley became the third Pastor of Hope.  He served until July 31, 1974.  During his leadership, the following occurred:
  • The parking lot loan was paid off in September 1970.  The parking lot used to be stone.  A loan for approximately $12,000 was obtained to have it paved.
  • The Day Care Center opened on September 13, 1971.  Martha Shipe and Elaine Beck (both members of Hope) were in charge and had eight children enrolled.
  • In December 1971, Hope’s Blood Bank Group formed.
  • In the spring of 1972, the Shepherding Program was initiated.  It was been functioning off and on since that time.
  • The parsonage second mortgage was burned in April 1972.
  • In January 1972, the Pro Deo Scout program was started is is currently still in action.
  • A new organ was purchased in September 1973.  Hope’s second organ.

Reverend James Shelton

Following Pastor Turley’s departure, the Reverend Jack Little served as Vice Pastor from August 1, 1974 thru November 24, 1974.  On November 25, 1974, Reverend James Shelton became the fourth Pastor of Hope.  He served until July 10, 1978.  During his leadership, the following occurred:

  • April 13, 1975 saw the kickoff of Hope’s second professional capital fund drive, chaired by Albert Siedle.  This was for the construction of the Nave and Fellowship Hall portion of the church.  The goal that was realized was $85,000.
  • The new Nave and Fellowship Hall construction started on February 29, 1976.  The first service held in the new Nave was in December 1976 (even though it was not completed at that time).  The new Nave was not completed at that time because we had to vacate the original Nave so the work could be started on renovation to the existing classrooms and offices.  The dedication was held on February 6, 1977.
  • During this time, Pastor Shelton pressed the idea of a church bazaar to increase fellowship.  When Hope had become a Mission Congregation, it was agreed that we would not have any fundraisers.  This was the teaching and policy of the ULCA church at that time.  The founding congregation took this very seriously.  When Pastor Shelton arrived at Hope, our congregation was not receiving any support money from the ULCA.  The church bazaar practice lasted several years, but then it developed into a competition between the organizations of the church to see who could raise the most funds.  Dissention arose between members and committees (current and past).  The fellowship spirit that the church bazaar originally created, began to disappear and rift began to appear between the members of the congregation.  The church bazaar and other fundraisers were stopped.
  • During the final year with Pastor Shelton the climate of Hope began to deteriorate.  The conflict between members of Hope became very strong and the Synod was forced to intervene.  A request was made to have the existing Church Council resign and have a new one elected.  But by that time the trust level among church members was very low. Numerous dialog forums were held, but the congregation and pastor continued to experience the lines of division among the congregation and a resolution could not be found. Pastor Shelton resigned on July 10, 1978.

Reverend Jack Little

Once again, Pastor Jack Little stepped in and became Vice Pastor of Hope.  He served from July 10, 1978 thru September 30, 1979.  His leadership did much to extinguish the rift and lack of trust of among the congregation members.  During his leadership, the following occurred:
  • Pastor Little and others did much to heal and counsel the members of the congregation and prepare them for a new pastor.  He worked especially hard in preparing Hope for the possibility of a woman pastor.
  • On April 8, 1979, Hope unveiled and dedicated a beautiful mural “The Last Supper” painted by Richard Grabher and framed by William Beck (both longtime members of Hope).

Reverend Jane O’Hara Shields 

On September 30, 1979, Pastor Little stepped down and on October 1, 1979, Pastor Jane O’Hara Shields became the fifth pastor of Hope.  She was Hope’s first women pastor and began a strong and long tenure at Hope.  During her leadership at Hope, the following occurred:
  • In September 1981, a very successful program called “Word and Witness” was begun.  Over five years, 20% of the adult members committed themselves to the study of the scripture.
  • A successful campaign to raise $50,000 to reduce the mortgage on the church building began in March 1983.
  • As part of Hope’s 25th anniversary celebration, the play “Jesus Christ Superstar” was performed at Hope from March 18 – 20, 1983.  Over 900 people saw the play.
  • A special congregation meeting was held on May 8, 1983 to approve an intern program to start September 1, 1983.  Severn interns have participated in this program and have gone on to have successful careers in ministry and have become pastors with their own congregations.  The seven interns that have gone through the program are:
    Larry Mort 9/83 – 5/85
    Tim Craven 9/85 – 8/86
    Susan Lutner 9/86 – 8/87
    Mark Russell 9/87 – 8/88
    Mike McQuaid 9/88 – 8/89
    Zack Harris III 9/89 – 8/90
    Ben Ehrets 9/90 – 8/91
  • The new hymnal (green, LBW) replaced the older hymnal (red) in October 1979.  The congregation started to become familiar with this hymnal before Pastor Shields arrived.
  • The food pantry was started at Hope during the fall of 1980.
  • June 25, 1983, Cathy Ludwig become Hope’s first ordained minister at a special service at Hope.
  • A new roof was installed on the original wing of the church during the summer of 1983.  Members of Hope installed the new roof.

Reverend John Mohan

Reverend Richard Miller

Reverend Wes Hamlin

Reverend Ruby Narucki

Reverend Daniel Swanson

Reverend Melosh

Reverend Amy Jensen

In August 2020, the members of Hope virtually welcomed Pastor Amy Jenson as the next pastor ho Hope Lutheran Church.