Through different locations, disappearing priests and arson, the congregation of St. Paul's Lutheran Church has held true to its church and its missions. The church is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
"The Olberts, Albrechts and Patcheks are old-, old-time families who are still represented," said Anne Erickson, who has been a member for "only" 52 years. Church records show all three families donating money, bells, land and time for generation after generation.
The history of Lutheranism in Southwest Colorado began in 1884, when the Rev. L. W. Dornseif from St. John's Lutheran Church in Denver traveled by rail, horseback and foot to preach daily during each three- to four-day visit.
In 1887, the small band of Lutherans became a congregation that held worship services at an older Baptist church. It was the fourth organized Lutheran church in the Western District, which covered all of Colorado.
In the early years, the congregation called one pastor after another, with none staying long. The dubious honor of the shortest stay was the Rev. A.F. Imm, who left after only three months with no reason given in church records.
Church member John Goeglein, assisted by one "non-Lutheran" carpenter, erected St. Paul's first church in 1890, on lots located on East Fourth Avenue. In 1895, St. Paul's helped establish a sister church, Zion Lutheran Church in Dix, located in Thompson Park, 15 miles west of Durango.
After 70 years in the church on East Fourth Avenue, the congregation moved to its new home on Junction Street, across from Miller Junior High School. That was the scene of St. Paul's darkest hour on Oct. 8, 1971.
"Millie Endorf called and said, 'Anne, our church is burning,'" Erickson said. "My husband and son got in the car and came in to see if they could help, but it was too late."
Two boys, who had intended to burn down Miller and had been thwarted by the return of the school's basketball team, went across the street and burned the church instead. Damage was estimated at $100,000.
"We were so worried about those boys going to the reformatory," Erickson said.
In the end, it's the fundamental human connections to the church and God that are its essence.
"My husband's family with the church goes back to his great-grandfather John Goeglein," member Karen Patchek said about her husband, Wally. "My maternal family, the Albrechts, only goes back to the 1920s. They were all traditional German Lutheran families."