Delray Beach’s oldest church building was built in 1904, after Margaret Wuepper delivered an ultimatum to her husband, John.
The Wueppers were among a small group of German Lutherans who had come from Bay City, Mich., the year before to be some of Delray Beach’s earliest settlers.
“My grandmother told him, ‘I’m not going to stay in this godforsaken place unless you build a church,’ ” said Albert “Bob” Miller, the historian at Trinity Lutheran Church.
So John Wuepper chaired the building committee that constructed the wood-frame sanctuary that measures 22 feet wide, 50 feet long and 12 feet high. It was built on the southeast corner of Federal Highway and Northeast First Street. Developer Henry Flagler, who built the Florida East Coast Railroad, contributed $100 toward its $950 cost.
Lutherans played an important role in the early development of Delray Beach. Miller tells their history in his book, 100 Years of God’s Grace, which he wrote for Trinity Lutheran’s centennial in 2004.
Adolf Hofman, the first Lutheran in town, was a founder of the Bank of Delray, the first bank in town. Hofman had arrived in 1895 a few months after William Linton, the first settler. Hofman held Sunday devotional services in his home before the church was built.
Wuepper opened the town’s first general store. He brought an organ and a Christmas tree from Michigan for 38 Lutherans to celebrate Christmas in the Weupper home on Atlantic Avenue in 1903.
Delray had a population of 300 in 1911 when the Bank of Delray began promoting it in northern newspapers as the “City of Destiny.” The town grew to 1,400 two years later.
The Wueppers’ daughter Henrietta sang in Trinity Lutheran’s first choir and later married Al Miller, who organized a community band that played on Friday nights in the park.
The Hurricane of 1928 destroyed churches that the Baptists, Methodists and Episcopalians had built in 1903. The Lutheran church was blown off its foundation, but its members were able to replace it. “We were the only ones with a church that withstood the hurricane,” Miller said proudly.
The little church served as the growing congregation’s primary sanctuary for 65 years.
Trinity Lutheran attempted to raise $12,000 for a new Gothic-design church with a steeple in 1938, but was unsuccessful because of the Great Depression.
So buttresses were constructed to protect the original church from future hurricanes and beautiful stained glass windows were installed in 1940. Trinity Lutheran opened its day school in 1948.
The church building was moved in 1965 to Trinity Lutheran’s present location at 400 N. Swinton Ave., where a larger new sanctuary was built in front of it in 1965.
Miller, the grandson of John and Margaret Wuepper, was in charge of the move.
Affectionately known as “Mr. Trinity,” Miller served 50 years on the church council. Following the example of his grandparents, he often led the church and school building projects on Trinity Lutheran’s 8.7-acre campus.
“The congregation has a strong lay leadership, and a lot of that goes back to Bob,” former pastor Robert Klemm said. “Every time things would slow down, Bob would say we have to go forward. And we’d put up another building.”
Now, at age 90, Miller gives tours of the original church building that sits at center of the campus. It is still used for weddings, Bible classes and Sunday School.
As historian, he encourages today’s church members to work as hard for the Lord as Trinity’s pioneers did. “It’s been my life,” Miller said. “I do everything I can.”
The number of men in training for the Catholic priesthood at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary has increased significantly.
“I really believe that people are finding their spiritual selves again,” said the Rev. Tom Lafreniere, vocations director for the Diocese of Palm Beach.
Sixteen men were ordained on April 21 at the seminary west of Boynton Beach as deacons, the last step before becoming priests. “No one remembers a class that large,” Lafreniere said, noting that fewer than 10 have been typical classes in past years.
The number of U.S. priests fell from 59,000 in 1975 to 39,000 in the last decade. But now the number of seminary students is up across the country.
“Our current trend is more upward in the number of men called into the priesthood. It shows itself dramatically here,” he said.
A total of 80 men are in training at St. Vincent de Paul, the regional seminary for all seven dioceses in Florida.
Joseph “Joe” Dye, one of the south county’s most colorful former pastors, has died at age 83.
Dye served the Boynton Beach Congregational Church from 1984 to 1989. “He enjoyed the theater and put a lot of drama in his service,” church member June Finke recalled.
Most memorable was his Kirking of the Tartan, where Scottish bagpipers wearing kilts carried the Bible into church in an annual procession. He also led a clown ministry for church youth across Florida.
Dye was a community theater actor who went into the ministry at age 50 after his voice teacher suggested he join a church choir, his former wife, Sally Dye, said: “Dramatizing in church to make things clearer was his natural next step.”
Tim Pallesen writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and community events. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.