Our History

Our History

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.— Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

The first 70 years

In the early 1900's German Lutherans throughout eastern Wisconsin developed a need to establish English-speaking congregations. On Feb. 5, 1914, an organizational meeting was held in Appleton; 10 months later a new English-speaking congregation called its first pastor, Rev. Paul Nesper.

First English Lutheran Church adopted a constitution on May 13, 1916, and built its first building on the corner of Drew and North streets in 1917. Three years later the growing congregation added an annex.

On Oct. 20, 1920, Rev. Frank C. Reuter accepted the call to serve as pastor.

The congregation continued to grow rapidly, and leaders saw the need to build a larger house of worship. In the middle of the Great Depression, this faith-filled congregation took a giant leap of faith — and held a ground-breaking service on Aug. 11, 1931. Congregation members gathered in their new place of worship on the day of dedication, May 22, 1932, pleased to share this new worship facility with the whole community. It truly was a day of rejoicing. The focus for worship, then as now, was the Christ figure in stained-glass beyond the altar.

As the congregation continued to grow, more space was needed for Sunday School. The congregation approved a building program that resulted in the dedication of a new education building on May 24, 1959. The new facility provided space for one of the largest Sunday Schools in the State of Wisconsin. Many members volunteered their services during these years as teachers and helpers in an active education program.

Pastor Reuter served as pastor of First English for more than 40 years. Through the transition following that long and successful pastorate, the congregation continued to thrive and grow. On Aug. 27, 1961, Pastor Leonard Ziemer was installed as pastor. In 1970, Pastor Martin Bredow became the first visitation pastor.

In 1974, Pastor Willis Bloedow was installed as associate pastor with primary responsibilities for youth and education.

As pastoral changes were occurring, the physical structure of the sanctuary also was changing. Plans were approved for construction of a new pipe organ and expansion of the balcony to house it. The newly remodeled sanctuary was completed in 1978. The newly completed organ, built by Ron Wahl of Appleton and dedicated on June 3, 1979, inspired a series of recitals over the next several years.

In response to a changing society, in 1982 the Church Council voted to participate in a self-study that led to several important changes in congregational structure. The congregation voted to move into the council/committee form of governance, encouraging greater member involvement.

In 1983 Pastor Ziemer retired from the ministry, having provided 22 years of faithful pastoral care at First English. Pastor Chris Quello was installed on Nov. 20, 1983.

A new blueprint

Under the leadership of Pastor Quello and Pastor Bloedow, a planning document was prepared by congregational leaders in 1984 that has continued to serve as the basic blueprint for the mission and ministry of First English. As a result of recommendations in that planning document, a number of part-time staff positions were added, and building renovation was undertaken.


In 1985, the congregation adopted Growth Giving, a challenge to earmark for churchwide mission support an additional percentage every year of the income received by members. A trust fund also was created in 1985. The trust became another way in which members could designate gifts to support current and future ministry projects.

A “Share the Vision” task force was formed to accomplish a three-year renovation project. Completion of the renovation culminated in a day of rededication on Oct. 23, 1988. Along with the building renovation (1986 through 1988) came a healthy increase in overall member stewardship. An important ingredient of the Share the Vision Project was designating for mission support 15 percent of all funds raised. The goal was to have $75,000 on hand for the 75th congregation anniversary in 1991. On the day of the 75th anniversary, $75,000 was invested in the ELCA Mission Loan Program with a congregation commitment to add an additional $1,000 for each of the next 25 years.

With the sanctuary renovation completed, the decision was made to create a new entry that included a ramp and an elevator to make the worship/fellowship space and the education rooms accessible. This new entry, built at a cost of $450,000, was dedicated on Thanksgiving eve, 1992.

As the decade of the ’90s continued, the congregation recommitted itself to the challenge of Growth Giving. Embracing and rising to the challenge, the congregation saw its percentage designated for mission support move from 11 percent of income in 1985 to 24 percent in 1999.

Staff additions

Increased giving by members meant that, in addition to an increasing commitment to mission support, the congregation was able to increase staffing and programs. Within just a few short years: a new full-time Office Coordinator position was established; our growing music ministry was staffed with a number of gifted musicians; a Director of Music, Christian Education Coordinator, Youth Ministry Associate, North Site Building Administrator, Volunteer Coordinator, Communications Coordinator and Confirmation Coordinator positions were created.

Summer interns

In 1996, a long-time dream of Pastor Quello came true with the creation of a summer intern program, which creates opportunities for college-age students to return to First English and serve the church. Beginning with one summer position, the congregation has grown the program to sponsor as many as 29 interns at a time, including students from Bratislava, Slovakia. Through this program, summer has become a time of incredible activity and ministry for both the congregation and the community.

Older adult ministry

The congregation continues active ministry and outreach to its senior members. A 50+ group regularly meets with a variety of activities focused on this age group. Senior members are also active in several different Bible study groups. Special Friends and Communion Visitors make monthly visits to our homebound members.

One congregation worshipping at multiple sites

As the century wound down, First English, with the help of a generous gift from a member, began to embrace the concept of being one congregation worshipping at multiple sites. Additional staffing was essential in helping to realize this new dream, and First English was blessed both with Diaconal Minister Beth Barkau and, in August 1998, a third full-time pastor, Frank Conner. On Aug.16, 1998, worship services for the North Site began in the commons area of Appleton North High School. In the summer of 1999, a 10-acre lot at the corner of Ballard Road and Broadway Drive on Appleton’s north side was purchased and dedicated for the purpose of constructing a new facility for worship, learning, and fellowship. This ambitious project came to fulfillment on July 22, 2001,with an award-winning building that has enhanced the life of the congregation in its mission and ministry.

While the development of the North Site offered many new opportunities, the congregation felt more could be done with its location at the corner of Drew Street and North Street. Beginning with a groundbreaking celebration in August  2002, the areas of the building dedicated to learning and fellowship were significantly renovated and expanded, and rededicated on Sept. 7, 2003. At the heart of this project was a new vision to create the Arthur Krempin School of Music & Art, to provide opportunities for exploring the visual and auditory arts. The Arthur Krempin School of Music & Art was dedicated with an inaugural recital on Dec. 21, 2003.

A planned transition

With the retirement of two long-term pastors, First English entered a period of transition, moving forward in great faith that God would continue to build on the foundation He created. In September 2003 we wished a fond farewell to Pastor Will Bloedow, celebrating his 29 years of ministry among us. In June 2004 we said goodbye to Pastor Chris Quello after 21 years of faithful service. Beth Barkau and Pastor Frank Conner also moved on, seeking to serve the Lord in new ways.

God continued to provide for the people of First English with the call of three new pastors. Vicki Fink was installed on Dec. 7, 2003, providing leadership in the transition as interim pastor through Aug. 31, 2006. The congregation called and ordained one of our own on Dec. 14, 2003, installing David Lyle as associate pastor. The congregation installed Rev. Paul N. Svingen as interim lead pastor on July 10, 2004. Pastor Svingen served until July 2005, bringing to First English much experience in transitional congregations.

Shifting to a discipleship model of ministry In response to significant change in our pastoral leadership, the congregation participated in a self study. The results of the study recommended that First English move toward a discipleship model of ministry, where lay people conduct many of the responsibilities formerly fulfilled by pastors. To accomplish this, the Church Council together with Ministry Teams, consisting of five to nine members, direct the discipleship model. Ministry Teams provide leadership in all areas of ministry, including Congregational Growth, Congregational Life, Family and Youth, Learning, Outreach & Social Ministry, Worship and Support.

When a Ministry Team identifies a specific goal or project, a task force is created. Member participation is encouraged for these short-term, focused task forces, which are vital to the ministry of First English. A number of task forces currently are active with guidance from the Ministry Teams.

Church leadership has been making a deliberate effort to move the focus of our congregation from inward to outward. Caring for ourselves is important, but it is not our primary calling. Central to our mission as Christians is the concept of discipleship – we should be reaching out and ministering to the community and the world as a whole. Our summer interns and Seraphim Choir have organized efforts to buy mosquito nets for families in western Africa, youth and ministry teams have sponsored food drives for local pantries, confirmation students donated socks to the Fox Valley Emergency Shelter, and many volunteers worked through the night and brought food as FELC hosted the Fox Valley Warming Shelter. We’ve helped organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society, Rebuilding Together Fox Valley, Lutheran Social Services, Lutheran World Relief, and many more. People in our community are also helped by Echoes (our Christian thrift store) and through quilts and prayer shawls made by our members. We’ve expanded our efforts to feed the hungry globally through Feed My Starving Children as well as locally.

We have been blessed with gifted members, beautiful facilities and many programs for our members and our community. We are looking forward to expanding these gifts further outside our doors as we embrace the discipleship model.

Pastor provides leadership toward discipleship

A new lead pastor, L. George Detweiler, was called to serve the congregation at First English and installed on May 7, 2006. He brought experience in large congregations and transitional ministries, and shared the vision of First English as one congregation worshiping in multiple sites. Pastor Detweiler served the congregation until April 2009.

In between the arrival and departure of Pastor Detweiler, two other pastors were called to FELC as associate pastors. Pastor Mike Dismer was called as a half-time pastor and served until October 2010. Pastor Mary Bauer was called as a full-time Pastor of Discipleship in September 2008 and continues to serve FELC.

A new senior pastor, Jeff Tengesdal, was called to serve FELC beginning in November 2010 with his installation on February 21, 2011. 

Bryan Schmidt was called to serve FELC as Associate Pastor of Youth and Family Ministry, beginning in August 2012 with his installation on September 18, 2012, and served through 2016.

Who we are

As a congregation we are proud of our heritage and grateful for all those who have preceded us in service to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the center and foundation of all that we do. One way we honor our past is by being good stewards of the buildings in our care. In 2016 an extensive restoration of our historic Drew Street entrance which will help keep this building sound for the next 100 years. At the same time we look toward the future – having faith that God will work to spread his message of love and forgiveness through those who gather at both sites.  To this end we are a congregation committed to our mission statement: “Love Jesus. Live your call."

100th Anniversary Celebration