Evangelical Lutheran St. Peter’s Congregation Vryheid
The St. Peter’s Congregation Vryheid was constituted, because many synodical members of the FELSISA (Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa) moved into the Vryheid area during the seventies of the 20th century. At first synodical members were ministered to by various Pastors, namely Rev. Günter Scharlach, Missionary Dr. Wilhelm Weber and Rev. Werner Köhne. The congregation was officially constituted as a synodical subsidiary (branch congregation) at a congregational meeting on 25. September 1978. On the 22nd October 1978 Pastor Siegfried Köhne was installed as Pastor for the Parish of Vryheid, Newcastle and Panbult.
In the beginning divine services were held in the Roman Catholic Church in Landdrost Street. By means of a gift and a loan from the Kirchdorf congregation, the St. Peter’s congregation was able to buy the land on which the church and hall now stand. In 1983 only the entrance hall to the present day church was built and used as church building. In 1984 the construction of the present day church was started and in the next year it was completed and consecrated. Pastor Siegfried Köhne served this congregation until 1985, when he accepted a call from Shelly Beach Congregation.
On the 2nd Sunday of Advent in 1985 Pastor Johannes Schulz was installed as Pastor of St. Peter’s. He lived with his wife Ruth in the parsonage in Newcastle. Ruth often accompanied him during his visitations. On the festive days of Easter and Christmas Pastor Schulz held services in all three congregations (Newcastle being almost 120 km to the east and Panbult being almost 150 Km to the northwest from Vryheid). Sometimes guest preachers were also on hand to help out. Pastor Johannes Schulz was called home in his sleep on Easter Sunday 4th April 1988.
Before the next pastor was installed it was mainly Rev. Günter Scharlach from neighbouring Lüneburg who served the congregation.
Pastor Marc Haessig, a native of Alsace in what is now France, became the next pastor of St. Peter’s. Herewith some shortened quotations from the report by Pastor Haessig:
“On the first Sunday of February 1989 (Sunday Estomihi, last Sunday before Lent) I was allowed to celebrate in Vryheid the first divine service on South African soil. What struck me immediately and clearly was the singing in four tones. When listening to the first chords of the first verse of the first song in the divine service in St. Peter’s Church I was – sitting on the first bench next to President Günter Scharlach -, deeply moved by this heartfelt song of praise. I didn’t know something like that from Europe.
During my time in Vryheid and Newcastle bell towers were built in both congregations, both were provided with a bell each. Since the parish of St. Peter in Vryheid had a regular grow in numbers in the early nineties (in almost every newsletter one or more new church members could be announced), the move of the Pastor and his family from Newcastle to Vryheid was on hand. Fortunately, the St. Peter’s congregation was able to acquire the neighbouring house next to the church building as a parsonage. This parsonage was then enlarged by an annex to include a study room. In 1992 the time had come: the move from Newcastle to the Vryheid parsonage became a reality.”
Pastor Haessig ended his ministry in FELSISA in March 1994 and Pastor Günther Hohls became his successor.
Pastor Günther Hohls together with his wife Hanna and their three sons moved into the parsonage in Vryheid on the 3rd July 1994. He ministered to the parishes of Vryheid and Newcastle. He led and organised Bible Studies, confirmation classes, visitations, evangelistic endeavours, congregational get-togethers and more. On Sundays either a preaching or a communion service was held in both congregations.
In the year 2000 the congregation expressed the wish to build a hall, because the possibilities for congregational functions were very limited. In order to collect the necessary funds, the congregation was granted the right by the church leadership to collect money in the synod for the hall building project. The choir rehearsed a repertoire of several songs and then travelled through the synod and sang in various congregations during the church service. Generous donations enabled the congregation to start building. Initially, a steel framework with the roof was erected and then the foundations were poured. The neighbouring congregation of Lüneburg lent a helping hand.
A collection of “building bricks” (Bausteinsammlung) in Synod was also approved by the church leadership to raise funds for the hall construction. As the necessary funds came in, the construction was continued piece by piece.
On the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Reminiscere, March 3, 2002 the foundation stone was laid by Pastor Günther Hohls under the leading verse from Hebrews 13,8. We thank our Lord for His grace that He has enabled us to complete this project. Pastor Hohls served the congregation for 13 years, retired and moved to Pretoria.
After finishing his studies and vicariate Pastor Michael Ahlers was installed in April 2008 as pastor of the parishes of Vryheid and Newcastle. During the time of him and his wife Carmen in Vryheid their two oldest children were born.
In addition to the normal church life, a columbarium (Urnenwand) was planned and built with the assistance of church members during this time. The columbarium was inaugurated on Eternity Sunday 2009.
As another major construction project a new fencing around the property was built in 2010/2011 with the help of church members.
The social-diaconal project “Tabita” was also launched. It consisted of a support group for families with children with spiritual disabilities.
Pastor Michael Ahlers accepted a call and moved with his family to Kirchdorf congregation after about three and a half years.
After Pastor Michael Ahlers moved to Kirchdorf, Pastor Werner Köhne took over the responsibilities for the congregation for about 3 months.
Pastor Rüdiger Gevers was installed as the next Pastor of St. Peter’s congregation on Sunday Jubilate 29 April 2012. For the next three years he served both Vryheid and Newcastle parishes.
In April 2015 the parish of Vryheid and Newcastle was dissolved and Pastor Gevers was again called to serve as Pastor of St. Peter’s.
With the help of a donation from Kirchdorf, the congregation was able to purchase a larger electrical organ in 2012. A few years later we were offered a pipe organ from a Lutheran Church in Durban via the LKM missionary organisation, which was put into use in 2018. This organ was bought with the help of donations from certain congregations and also private persons. A few music concerts by the SDG (Soli Deo Gloria) group were also held in various congregations for this project.
In 2013, a major renovation of the church building was carried out with the help of a loan from the Synodical Support Fund. In recent years, the congregation has also carried out some fundraisers to support the congregational budget.
The congregation would at present like to continue to celebrate their church services in the German language. In addition, every third Sunday of the month the sermon and also the readings are held in English or Afrikaans. It remains a challenge to do justice to one’s own cultural heritage and at the same time to the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ in our multi-cultural society.
On the grounds and in the house where the first kitchen and tea room of the congregation were set up, there is now a children’s day care centre (creche). Every day during the school term over one hundred children are cared for and are also spiritually looked after by the staff. However, this children’s day-care centre functions independently and is not an organ of the congregation.
The St. Peter’s congregation is understood by its members as a spiritual family, a spiritual body, with Christ as the head of this body. In this spiritual family, in this body of Christ everyone is important and we depend on one another. Surely one could mention various names that have served St. Peter’s with love and dedication for many years. But these persons come and go and new ones take their place. That is why we say instead: “May God bless you for your love and devotion”
Besides the normal church services, which include Confession, Word and Sacrament, Bible studies and home visits are offered. The choir practices and sings whenever possible. Confirmation classes are held during the week and on Sunday there is a catechetical session at the beginning of the church service. The current Pastor also helps with the spiritual care of the elderly through regular sacramental services at the Care Centre in the neighbouring town, Paulpietersburg.
Finances remain a challenge. By the grace of God, the congregation has thus far managed to remain financially independent. Besides the normal thank offering, our budget is also covered by regular fundraisers, help from the overall synod and donations from outside.
May the Lord continue to bless us abundantly so that we may continue to receive His grace and mercy in our divine services. May we find admonishment and comfort in the preaching of His Word and may continue to receive His grace through the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. May we continue to worship and praise His Holy name here in St. Peter’s Vryheid.
It is after all not we who build the church, nor were it our fathers and mothers. Christ himself does this through His means of grace, through confession and absolution, through the preaching of His Word and the distribution of His sacraments. In this sense we trust the Lord of the harvest to continue to add to His Church those who are being saved (Acts 2:47).
Stay with us, Lord, and keep us true; Preserve our faith our whole life through –
Your Word alone our heart’s defense, The Church’s glorious confidence. (LSB 585,6)
Whoever wishes to donate to the Evangelical Lutheran St. Peter’s Congregation Vryheid, may do so under the following banking details:
- Name: St. Petrusgemeinde Vryheid
- Bank: ABSA Vryheid
- Cheque Account: 1320 142 136
- Reference: Name of person making donation or simply: Donation St Peters