Our Story is really His Story...
It is an account of God’s grace and faithfulness in and through His people at Our Savior’s.
In 1929, God began stirring the hearts of men and women in the Mission Society of St. Paul and St. Matthew Lutheran churches in Albany. They noted significant growth in the western suburb of Colonie, including a large number of young families. The Mission Society hired two Concordia Seminary students to canvass the Colonie area in the summer of 1929. On November 3, 1929, nine people attended the first worship service of Our Savior’s Lutheran mission held at the old Fuller Road Fire Hall. The Rev Paul Prokopy, pastor of St. Paul in Albany, served this mission station in Colonie.
On August 24, 1930, the Rev. Ernest Heuer became the first resident pastor for Our Savior’s. In January, 1931, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church became self-governing. Later in July of that same year, the fledgling congregation purchased a lot on the corner of Central and Van Buren Ave in Colonie. During those early formative years, the congregation worshipped in a store building on Fuller Road across from the Fuller Road Fire Hall.
The Lord prospered His people, and in 1934, the congregation began the construction of a white frame church on Van Buren Ave. The new church was dedicated in September, 1935, by a congregation consisting of sixty-five communicants and one hundred children in the Sunday School. A Sunday School bus route was begun the following year, and the Sunday School became the primary source of growth and community outreach for Our Savior’s.
In 1938, the Rev. Martin Duchow was installed as the second pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. He served the congregation faithfully for six years. During that time, the congregation purchased a parsonage at 5 Van Buren Ave in August, 1941. Incorporation papers were signed in May, 1941; and in July, 1941, the congregation became self-supporting – no longer receiving subsidy from the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. During this time, Our Savior’s also established the first Lutheran Women’s Missionary League chapter in the area.
When Pastor Duchow left Our Savior’s in 1944 to serve a Lutheran church in Connecticut, the Rev Walter Litke became the next pastor at Our Savior’s. Under Pastor Litke’s leadership, Our Savior’s experienced tremendous growth both numerically and spiritually.
In February, 1946, a second Sunday morning worship service was added to accommodate the growing congregation. A Vacation Bible School program was initiated in the summer of 1947. The interest in Christian education for children sparked discussions with area Lutheran churches about establishing a central Lutheran elementary school in the Albany area. In 1949, Our Savior’s had 250 communicants and 214 children enrolled in Sunday School.
The blessings of our Lord could no longer be contained in the white church, so in 1952, a new facility, the “brick building” was constructed on Van Buren Ave next to the church. In the 25th Anniversary Booklet (in 1955) it was reported that the Sunday School enrollment had grown to 475 and the church membership was 375 communicants. Robert Holtz, a graduate of Concordia Teachers College, Seward, Nebraska, was called as a Director of Christian education to minister to the growing number of children and youth at Our Savior’s.
A second floor was added to the brick building in 1956, and under the direction of Bob Holtz, Our Savior’s Lutheran School was establshed in September, 1956. Twenty- six first and second graders enrolled in the first class at Our Savior’s Lutheran School.
Since the church was outgrowing its facilities on Van Buren Ave, the congregation purchased a wooded ten acre plot across Central Avenue at the end of Mountain View Ave, Colonie, in August, 1958. The purchase price for this plot was $15,000. The congregation broke ground for a new sanctuary on November 13, 1960. Many members volunteered countless hours in the construction of the new church, and in 1961 the church was completed at the cost of $180,000. The present parsonage was built next to the church in 1966.
In 1975, the congregation completed the first phase of a new Education Center next to the church on Mountain View Ave. That enabled the school to begin a nursery program and hold both nursery and kindergarten in the new facility. Two years later, the second phase of the Education Center was dedicated, enabling the entire school, nursery-sixth grade, to be housed in the new facilities connected to the church on Mountain View Ave.
Under the leadership of Thomas Roemke, principal of the school since 1967, Our Savior’s Lutheran School became the first school in the Atlantic District to receive National Lutheran School Accreditation in 1989. The accreditation was renewed seven years later in 1996 and again in 2003. Our Savior’s also received accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Elementary Schools in 2003. Our Savior’s Lutheran School celebrated its 40th anniversary year in 1996 with a total enrollment of 229 students, including 83 nursery students.
Under Pastor Litke’s thirty-five years of leadership at Our Savior’s, the congregation experienced dramatic spiritual growth through a strong ministry of the Word and Sacrament. Many Bible classes and home Bible study groups were developed. Holy Communion was celebrated at every Sunday morning worship service. In the late sixties, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church became actively involved in the charismatic renewal. Our Savior’s worked closely with charismatic Christians from other denominations and hosted regional Holy Spirit Conferences at the church and even at the Empire State Convention Center for seven or eight consecutive years beginning in 1978. Hundreds of people attended to hear nationally known Renewal in Missouri pastors speak and to pursue their own spiritual growth. Again the church experienced significant growth as it attracted many seeking this charismatic expression in worship and in teaching.
Pastor Litke retired from full time active ministry in 1979, and in September, 1980, the Rev. James Roberson was installed as senior pastor at Our Savior’s. Drawing on his experience as an evangelist on the foreign mission field, Pastor Roberson challenged Our Savior’s to look beyond the local community and become more actively involved in foreign missions. Under his leadership many members participated in short term mission trips. Pastor Roberson also encouraged the formation of the IAM School of Missions led by Peter Whitehouse, the development of Lutheran Renewal Outreach and the establishment of New Hope Support Group Ministry directed by Joe Ricci. Pastor Roberson’s three part emphasis on corporate intercession, radical evangelism and sacrificial giving provided direction and impetus through the eighties.
During his first year at Our Savior’s, Pastor Roberson raised up a ministry of home fellowship groups. The goal was to have every member of the church participating in one of the Home Fellowship Groups, each group being run by a lay “Servant Shepherd.” At the peak of this ministry, 24 groups were in operation encompassing an estimated 80-90% of the congregation. By the mid 90’s only a handful of the groups remained. Repeated efforts since then to revive this ministry style have failed. A strong Promise Keepers group filled that void for many men during the next 15 years, and a number of short-term small groups have come and gone during that time.
Our Savior’s added several pastoral assistants in the eighties: Bruce Belgiano served as worship leader and directed a large youth worship ministry team called Chosen Generation, James Anderson coordinated Fellowship Groups and ministered to youth and young adults. The Rev. John Seltzer was added to the pastoral staff in the late eighties to support Servant Shepherds and to establish a Stephens Ministry at Our Savior’s.
Our Savior’s experienced some painful losses in the late eighties and early nineties. Bruce Belgiano’s untimely death led to the demise of Chosen Generation and the disillusionment of many youth who had been connected to Our Savior’s. James Anderson resigned from Our Savior’s to establish another church called Living Lord in the Capital Region. Many young couples left Our Savior’s Lutheran Church to join this new church. Pastor John Seltzer left Our Savior’s to serve an ELCA congregation in Cobleskill. Some of these changes within the church and other changes within the community led to a decline in church and Sunday School attendance as Our Savior’s entered the decade of the nineties.
Sometime after the last Holy Spirit Conference in the mid eighties, other conferences were held at Our Savior’s. Jim Czebiniak and the Worship Team coordinated a succession of Worship Conferences that drew many people from the surrounding area. In addition, Joe Ricci and his New Hope Support Group helpers put on a series of annual seminars on topics such as “Changes that Heal”, “Kids Who Carry Our Pain” , “ Lies We Believe” and others, employing speakers who were associate with the Minirth-Meier Clinic in Dallas.
Pastor Roberson retired in October, 1996, after serving Our Savior’s for sixteen years. In July, 1997, the Rev. Kenn Cobb from Messiah Lutheran Church, Fitchburg, MA, accepted the call to serve Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. He was installed at Our Savior’s in September, 1997. Loving pastoral care, strong Biblical teaching and preaching and a renewed commitment to prayer characterized Pastor Cobb’s ministry at Our Savior’s.
Looking toward developing a more effective and expanded ministry to children and youth, Our Savior’s launched a Capital Stewardship Campaign in June, 2002, to generate support for a major building expansion program. Nearly $1.2 million was pledged for this three year campaign, and construction began in 2004. With much volunteer labor from both the church and school, the major portion of the 37000 square foot addition was completed in fall, 2006. The school was able to occupy the offices, cafeteria and computer lab during the 2006-2007 school year and then utilize the new gymnasium (Community Life Center), library and additional classrooms in the 2007-08 year. The additional facilities enabled Our Savior’s Lutheran School to realize a long time dream of expanding to include a seventh grade in 2007-08 and an eighth grade in 2008-09.
Our Savior’s Lutheran School celebrated its 50th anniversary year in 2006-07, and the following year long-time principal Tom Roemke retired after serving Our Savior’s for forty years. Miss Cheryl Pangburn served as interim principal of Our Savior’s Lutheran School for the 2008-09 school year, a year marked by Our Savior’s first eighth grade graduating class. Cheryl retired in July, 2009, and Our Savior’s called Don Gillingham to become the new principal of Our Savior’s School. Having served as Executive Director of Walther High School in the Chicago area, Mr.Gillingham brought marketing skills to the position of principal and was able to broaden the base of support in making meaningful connections with area churches.
The Rev. Paul Koehn from Buffalo, NY was called to join the pastoral staff at Our Savior’s in the summer of 2003. Pastor Koehn’s initial responsibilities focused on outreach and youth. He has also been instrumental in initiating a third worship service on Sunday mornings, held at 9:30 in the cafeteria. This has drawn new people into a worshipping fellowship. Under Pastor Koehn’s leadership, Our Savior’s has offered a worship service and fellowship time for senior citizens on the first Wednesday morning of each month.
The completion of the new facilities, including Our Savior’s Community Life Center, has provided numerous opportunities for outreach to the community and other churches. Over the past several years, Our Savior’s has hosted teaching simulcasts, concerts and conferences along with basketball and other recreational opportunities, A variety of summer camps for children and youth are also offered at Our Savior’s, providing additional connections with the community. Two other churches, Hearts Ablaze and Call to Pray are currently using Our Savior’s facilities to hold their worship services and Bible classes.
Pastor Cobb resigned from the ministry in December, 2009, creating some uncertainties about the future direction of Our Savior’s. The church engaged in a self-study and consultation under the direction of Transforming Churches Network in October, 2010 and this led to a clarification of Our Savior’s mission to reach children, youth and families with the love of Jesus.
Jon Belschwinder was called to serve as youth pastor, and he has established Thrive Youth – a ministry to middle school and high school youth. Jon has also coordinated Vacation Bible School which served over 200 children in the summer of 2018.
Don Gillingham, principal of Our Savior’s School, accepted a call to head a Lutheran High School Association in Rockford, Illinois; and John March, former teacher at Our Savior’s, was called to serve as principal of Our Savior’s beginning in the 2011-12 school year. Under John’s capable and compassionate leadership, Our Savior’s School developed a comprehensive Middle School program, expanded its extra- curricular offerings and added a preschool program for three year olds. When Mr. March accepted another call to serve as principal of St. John Lutheran School, Indianapolis, IN, beginning with the 2018-19 school year; Our Savior’s called John Richardson from Erie, PA to serve as principal of Our Savior’s School Mr. Richardson comes with new insight and vision based on more than thirty years of experience leading Christian schools.
After sixteen years of faithful service at Our Savior’s, Pastor Paul Koehn accepted a call to a church in Albion, Michigan at left Our Savior’s for his new church in June, 2019. Currently Our Savior’s is seeking the Lord’s guidance in calling a new pastor.
Changes in personnel and procedures are inevitable as needs, challenges and opportunities change. However, one thing is constant: God is faithful and His love is unending. The theme for the 90th Anniversary for Our Savior’s (November 3, 2019) is Our Savior: Then, Now, Forever. We face the future with confidence, know that our Savior goes before us and with us. May His kingdom come and His will be done in and through His people at Our Savior’s.