RUGBY – The Lutheran Church in Tunbridge, five miles west of Rugby, was grayed out by the weather, its steeple on the verge of collapsing, when a group of volunteers organized to save it. On May 28, the Tunbridge Lutheran Church Preservation Society will host an open house to celebrate the completion of repairs to Phase I of the building.
“The first priority was to secure the exterior of the building,” said Terry Jelsing, president of the preservation society. “We hired contractors to replace the beaten shingles with a metal roof, repair and replace the rotting siding, paint the exterior and rebuild the steeple. We were sensitive to the historical character of the building. Based on our resources and maintenance considerations, we have translated this aesthetic through modern materials.
With the exception of the main entrance – where the ceiling and floor had to be replaced – the interior of the church was in fairly good condition, Jelsing said. The last religious services were held there in 1988, when the congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary.
The restored structure is actually the second church to occupy the cemetery. In 1906, Jelsing’s great-grandfather, Afin Jelsing, donated three acres of land to the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tunbridge for a church and cemetery. The original church was struck by lightning in 1911 and burned down. The current structure was built in 1914.
Several members of the Preservation Society’s Board of Directors share ancestral ties to the church. Phase I repairs were funded largely by contributions from Horace’s Jason Bednarz. Bednarz, also Afin’s great-grandson, is the son of the late Joyce (Jelsing) Krukenberg, formerly of Rugby, who grew up in the church and brought his young family to attend services there.
“We have formed the preservation society to preserve the church and keep it as a historic monument,” Bednarz said. “We don’t want people to think it’s a small club. It is for everyone’s use. The restored church is available for rent for cultural events, family reunions, concerts. and meetings. Last year it was used for a wedding and a funeral.
The Open House on May 28 will be the first public event hosted by the Tunbridge Lutheran Church Preservation Society. Burgers, hot dogs and drinks will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A brief program is scheduled at 1 p.m. The guest speaker will be Shane Engeland, Executive Director of the Geographical Center Historical Society and the Prairie Village Museum, Rugby. The church will remain open for visits throughout the afternoon.
The church’s religious roots will be celebrated with a worship service at 10 a.m. on the 28th. Hosted by Dale and Marilyn Niewoehner, the public service will be followed by the unveiling of the Dwight Jelsing Memorial Bell, donated to the preservation society by Mary Jelsing in honor of her husband.
The preservation society will continue its restoration efforts with funds donated to the 501(c)3 nonprofit. Terry Jelsing said Phase II restoration projects include installing railings on the steps of the church, protecting the stained glass windows, securing the foundations and creating interpretive panels to tell the story of the history of the Tunbridge Lutheran Church.
For more information and photos, find Tunbridge Lutheran Church Preservation Society on Facebook.