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Mount Calvary Lutheran Church was formed as a daughter congregation of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1955. Sunday school began in September, and the first service was in November, in leased space in Alta Vista Public School. The service was led by Pastor R.A. Ritz of St. Paul’s. Mrs. Doris Bacher played the piano. 76 people attended that service.

On December 1st Messrs. Arnold Hartwick, Jack Wickware and Walter Winges formed a committee to study where in the Alta Vista area was most suitable for a new church building. In the meantime, the mission was moved to Riverview Public School at Knox Crescent and Drake Avenue. Vicar Harlan Harnapp conducted most of the services. Sunday school enrolment was 34, and average church attendance was 38. Soon after, the site for the new church near the intersection of Russell and Smyth Road was purchased for $12,000. In March 1956, the inaugural meeting to organize the congregation was held in the home of Arnold and Jean Hartwick, and Mr. Walter Winges designed the first advertisement signs. They read, “To serve this entire community, this is the site of another Lutheran Church” and they were proudly posted facing Russell and Smyth Roads.

Founding a church is not just work. Sometimes the mission members would meet, especially if the pastor was not required to attend, at the Maple Leaf Hotel at the corner of St. Laurent and Montreal roads. These meetings were well attended (sometimes with uninvited visitors) and could boast of lively discussions.

Later that year the name of the church was chosen: “Mount Calvary Lutheran Church”. Messrs. Arnold Hartwick, Walter Winges, and Russell Lafleur drew up the first constitution, and together with Frank Kropp, they also made up the Building Committee.

A parsonage at the corner of Dauphin Road and Tweed Street was purchased for $15,000 in 1957, and in April of that year, the construction of the church began. Pastor Ritz came out to officiate at the sod turning.

Thirty-six Charter communicant members had left St. Paul’s Lutheran Church to form the core of the new congregation. Messrs. Arnold Hartwick, Fred Hildebrandt, Frank Kropp, Russell Lafleur, John MacKenzie and Walter Winges became the charter voting members. Walter Winges was the first chairman of the church council, Russell Lafleur, the secretary. Arnold Hartwick served as the first treasurer, and the deacons were Frank Kropp, Arnold Hartwick, and Walter Winges. The board of trustees was made up of John MacKenzie, Fred Hildebrandt, and Russell Lafleur. Mrs. Lily Kropp was appointed church historian, Mrs. Eileen Wickware the Sunday school superintendent, and Walter Winges took an additional role to become the Sunday school treasurer.

A letter from Rev. E.H. Polster accepting the first call to serve at Mt. Calvary arrived in time for a celebration at the corner-stone laying (which took place in a heavy rainstorm that turned the building site into a sea of mud). He, with his wife and daughter, arrived on July 18th, and Pastor Polster was installed by Pastor Ritz at St. Paul’s on July 21st. Pastor Polster’s first service was held outdoors, behind Riverview Public School, with the congregation sitting on car-seats, standing, or in their cars because the school caretaker could not be found to unlock the school!

On September 15th the first service could be held in the new church, even though there weren’t any pews yet. There was also neither windows nor heat! Sunday school enrolment had risen to 50 children and 8 teachers with one superintendent. There were 82 adults at the church service.

The first Holy Communion was served October 13th, and on the 27th the first baptism was of Thomas Klaus Geiger, son of Mr. and Mrs. Klaus W. Geiger, using a font that was a simple basin on a stack of tile boxes.

How much did it cost to run a church in 1958? The first budget was adopted in November: $9,270 was approved by the congregation. Sounds pretty reasonable? According to the Bank of Canada’s online inflation calculator, that equals $81,390 in 2018 dollars – still not that expensive.

November 24th, 1957, became Mount Calvary’s birthday when the church was dedicated at 11:00 a.m. with Rev. E.H. Polster officiating and Rev. H.H. Herdman, Executive Secretary of Missions for the Ontario District of the Missouri Synod, preaching. The children of the Sunday school (now 98 strong!) sang, and there were 227 worshippers present. 394 attended the afternoon service of thanksgiving with guest preacher and original sod-turner of Mt. Calvary, Pastor Ritz, who by now had moved to Kokomo, Indiana. Pastor Polster preached at the Vesper Service in the evening, and a further 185 attended this service.

By the end of the year, Sunday school enrolment reached 105, with 90 in regular attendance. By early the next year enrolment would climb to heights hardly imaginable today: 143 children. This was partly because Mount Calvary was the only church in the area offering Sunday school, and also drew children from a local Anglican and a United Church. Church attendance was 128. Of them, 35 regularly took Holy Communion.

During the Christmas holidays the pastor’s daughter, Virginia Polster, painted a mural of “Jesus with the children” on the Baptistry wall. (This painting was altered decades later to illustrate a more inclusive representation of humankind.) The following summer she painted the twelve murals (11 remain today) depicting symbols of the passion. A newspaper report written at the time states of the church, its design and decoration “Worshippers seeking the conventional in church architecture are in for a shock when they visit the new Mount Calvary Lutheran Church. Vivid shades of chartreuse, red, and yellow dance on the wall behind the altar in what the pastor, the Rev. E. H. Polster, describes as “Phoenix’s first attempt at modern art inside a church structure.” The design on the wall was painted in oil by Miss Virginia Polster, the pastor’s daughter. She interpreted “the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ” by use of ancient symbols in terms of modern expression, Mr. Polster says. How did the congregation react to the painting? “They didn’t like it,” Polster said. “But the people who objected seriously at first are the ones who are defending it now.”

In 1958 the congregation’s first choir was organized with 11 members and the organist Doris Bacher, and on April 12th, Melbourne Newnham and Nelda Harvey were the first couple to be married in Mount Calvary Church. The first funeral in Mount Calvary Lutheran Church occurred in July, and was of Penny Ann Goodman, sadly only three years old – she was a victim of leukaemia.

In May the first confirmands were admitted into membership: John Berger, Russell Jantzen, Pamela Gegear, Catherine Hartwick, John Lacasse, Wendy Lafleur, Sandra Rafuse, and Robert Schutte.

The next first for the congregation was the first picnic. It was held on June 28th with some 160 adults and children at Monroe’s Farm on Cyrville Road at Green’s Creek. It was all fun and games until a sudden shower dispersed the crowd at 5:00 p.m. To continue the fun for the youth, a Youth Group was organized in 1960.

On April 23rd, 1960, Pastor Polster preached his farewell sermon, after which he left to establish a mission in the Florida Keys. Sadly, he died not long after that, in the summer of 1963. Rev. E. Kanning took over in the interim, until Rev. Arthur Senn of Wausson, Ohio, accepted Mount Calvary’s call. He, his wife Olga, and their five children arrived on September 8th. A larger parsonage was purchased at 809 Hamlet since the house on Dauphin Road was too small for the Senn family.

On July 12th, 1964, Pastor Senn preached his farewell sermon, having accepted a call to Fredonia, Wisconsin. Col. H.A. Merklinger, Canadian Armed Services Chaplain and a member of Mount Calvary congregation, became the interim pastor until Rev. Jon Keekley (from Hyde Park, New York) moved into 809 Hamlet with wife Carol, and daughters, Grace and Patsy. He was officially installed by Chaplain Merklinger on July 4th, 1965.

Carol Keekley was very musical, and in the fall she organized a Cherub Choir for five to nine-year-olds, and accepted leadership of the Junior Choir and the Adult Choir. She also played the organ.

Early in October of 1965 was another important ‘first’ in the life of the congregation: the first edition of “The Mount Calvary Courier”, edited by Miss Wendy Lafleur, went to press. A very important first came soon after. Mount Calvary had, in 1963, asked that women be allowed to vote in church matters, but the Ontario district of the synod decided to hold strictly to synod’s view. In any case, in December 1965 women were admitted to voting membership in Mount Calvary. By the following year, the congregation had grown to 375 baptized members. Sunday school enrolment was a solid 110. The 1966 budget also increased to $16,412.60 (= $126.400 in 2018).

Under the Keekleys’ ministry, with Jon at the pulpit and Carol at the organ, Mount Calvary flourished and was home to a very active congregation. The building also served as a weekly meeting place for two packs of Brownies, and a teenage square-dance club. Church members would also regularly curl in the wintertime and play softball in the summer in a Lutheran church League. Picnics were held on Mt. Calvary’s large lawn, with games for all ages. The church’s congregation helped organise local sponsorships of Vietnamese refugees, and its church school wrote a blistering letter to a then-justice-of-the-peace condemning his racist remarks regarding the Muslim faith. Other area churches also used the building, as it was the first church building in the Elmvale Acres area of Ottawa. In 1967, Mount Calvary invited everyone to its tenth anniversary, to which Pastor Ritz, who had been instrumental in the founding of the church, returned as a guest speaker all the way from Florida.

In the late 1970s, the Canadian districts of the Missouri synod contemplated breaking off and forming their own synod. The Ontario district was the last to fully leave, and did so in 1980.

In 1982 Mount Calvary could celebrate its 25th anniversary, with a full choir accompanied by a new electronic organ. Several of the founding members were present, and Lil Kropp and Walter Winges were recognised for their many years of service to the church. In 1985 the mortgage was paid off, and original members Arnold and Jean Hartwick, Frank and Lil Kropp, Bertha Kropp, Russ and Marg Lafleur, and Walter and Loral Winges had the pleasure of burning the paperwork. The church building and lands were finally wholly owned by the congregation.

In June of 1990, after exactly 25 years of service, Pastor Jon Keekley and his wife Carol returned to the United States to be nearer to their children. Because of the separation of the Canadian Lutheran Church from its American parent, he also would have run into pension difficulties if he remained any longer. It was probably one of the most challenging times for the congregation, and many members decided not to return once Pastor Keekley left. In 1991 the congregation received with shock and great sadness the news that Jon had died of cancer.

In 1990 the church welcomed Pastor Edward Hackbusch, his wife Joyce, and their children James and Rebekah. Their older children Anne, Christian and Michael no longer lived at home, but the congregation got to know them through events at the church and in the congregation. They were also a very musical family, and Ed brought a lot of singing to the worship services, as did Joyce and Rebekah as alto voices in the choir, which was led by Mary-Ann Foley. Together, they led the congregation through truly Lutheran Liturgy in the style of Martin Luther, including many of the otherwise-forgotten aspects and festivals of the liturgical year. One could say he truly understood and loved the Liturgy. The combination of Mary-Ann Foley and Ed Hackbusch brought the Liturgy in Mount Calvary to a very high level that was appreciated by all, even if the service often included a 45-minute ‘homily’.

Pastor Ed enjoyed everything about his ministry at Mount Calvary, except perhaps council meetings. He had a great love of music and encouraged full participation by the choir, enlisting cantors to lead worship, singing carols in the downtown Byward Market, always celebrating the wonderful gift of voice. Much to the delight of the musicians in the congregation, he often introduced new and sometimes complex hymns. He believed in fully engaging the people of God which is perhaps why he emphasized responsive reading and singing so often. No one who experienced it can forget his booming voice greeting the congregation with “The Lord be with you!” and awaiting an equally joyous “And also with you!” If the response was weak, he had no qualms about repeating the greeting until the congregation matched his enthusiasm. He wouldn’t tolerate a quiet Alleluia, ever: “Christ is Risen! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!”

Of utmost importance to Ed was pastoral visiting. He would never forget those who were homebound or institutionalized, ensuring they felt included in God’s fellowship. He appreciated the cup of tea and goodies he would receive during these visits, and he and Joyce modelled this hospitality by initiating the time of fellowship after every Sunday worship, a tradition that continues to this day.

In 1990 Mount Calvary also returned to curling at the Cumberland rink, playing four times a year, and a new activity was taken up: backcountry camping in Algonquin Park. In the spring, Ed would lead a group of younger members into the park, and in the summer, after the peak biting fly season had passed, a second trip was organised that was attended by a mixed crowd of young and young-at-heart. The campers (called the Mount Calvary Voyageurs) survived all sorts of weather, from snow to gale-force winds and blistering sun (the latter condition was usually welcomed), and enjoyed being together in the wilderness. Ed could always spur on the younger group, even when paddling upwind into a snowstorm, with his cheerful ‘Are we having fun yet?’ and wide grin. For most of the group, this was a new form of camping — no lazing about! Break camp by 8 in the morning, everything is packed and in the canoes and the group is off to the first portage, come rain, shine, or even the occasional snow shower. The camaraderie of the adventures created a hard-core group of campers that, for days and weeks afterward, would share photographs, relive the experiences, and prepare for the next adventure.

Not content to camp only in the summer, but not ready for full outdoor winter camping, the congregation also made use of Lutherlyn, the children’s camp owned by the synod near Golden Lake, Ontario, for winter retreats. Skiing, snowshoeing and tobogganing down the hill made up most of the outdoor fun, and sitting around the woodstove and playing games the indoor entertainment. No television, no iPads, just lots of hot chocolate. Ah, the life!

Mount Calvary’s electronic organ started to show its age in the early 1990s, and the church was advised to replace it. In 1994, it just so happened that St. Mary’s Parish (Roman Catholic) of Ottawa had a beautiful pipe organ to give away. Installing it required some major renovations to the entry area and back part of the sanctuary, including the removal of some pews. The choir stall at the front of the church was then no longer used, and when a choir or cantor sang, it sang from the back.

In 1996, Ed went into retirement to his cottage in the hamlet of Maynooth, near Algonquin Park. He lived there for 11 years, passing away one year after Joyce. William Riekert served as interim pastor for a short while until Lynn Granke accepted Mount Calvary’s call. She could not stay long and moved on to allow her husband to shift careers, also still in 1996. Many in the congregation have fond memories of her short time at Mount Calvary and would have wished that she were able to stay longer.

William Riekert returned to guide the congregation through the next interim phase, which lasted until the appointment of Pastor Don Thomas in 1998. He came to ministry later in life, having been a teacher for most of his career. Unfortunately, he too left early, in 2001 to take up duties in Wellesley, Ontario, in the church where he had served during his training.

With William Riekert also retiring from serving as interim pastor, Silvia Solz-Sipolins came to lead the congregation until 2002, when Pastor Deborah (“Duffy”) Taylor moved with her many dogs and cats from the United States to Canada. She brought a new passion to Mount Calvary sermons, which were marked by a good balance of content and delivery. During her time at Mount Calvary, the congregation became increasingly involved in all aspects of worship leadership, experimenting with worship teams and other forms of lay participation in the service. While respecting the congregation’s traditions, she was able to guide it through three different worship books, including the current “Lutheran Book of Worship” (a.k.a. the Cranberry Book, after its colour).

Other changes brought in by Pastor Taylor included Jazz Vespers services that attracted attendees from the community at large as well as the greater Ottawa Lutheran constituency, and the “Blessing of the Animals”, a slightly chaotic service that was always a lot of fun.

Pastor Taylor was also very passionate about other areas of the church’s ministry, especially in outreach to the community around the congregation. At her urging (and with the significant efforts of long-time member Cyril Benson), the congregation created a public space for the use of the neighbourhood. A “Peace Pole” was installed in the garden as a continuous witness to prayers for peace. A later phase of this public space was devoted to a grass-and- brick labyrinth, thanks to the efforts and drive of Marianne Thornton, which is also freely available for use by the neighbourhood.

The “Wheels to Meals” senior’s luncheon and service was expanded during Pastor Taylor’s tenure, and she instituted an occasional “coffee witness” program, taking Christian hospitality onto the surrounding streets. Other areas she turned her passionate eye to included adult bible study, ancient Greek lessons, adult and junior confirmation (graduating a sizeable mixed class of students in her final year at our parish), foot washing, carolling at Christmas, and a book study club.

Even as her personal life grew more complicated, and despite the challenges of a long commute in ever-changing weather, her passion for ministry did not diminish. During her final three years at Mount Calvary, Pastor Taylor completed her Doctorate of Ministry. She also began to involve herself with the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and delivered a series of sermons to Mount Calvary based on her experiences in Israel and Palestine.

In 2015, after thirteen years of ministry to the congregation, Pastor Taylor accepted a call to Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Camrose, Alberta, where she is currently serving.

Pastor Stan Johnstone led the congregation through the next change, when Pastor JoAnne Lam came. She was a very “new” pastor and was ordained and installed on March 12th, 2016 in Mount Calvary.

In April, the congregation received the very generous donation of a beautiful grand piano. It was anonymously gifted by a member in honour of her family. The congregation was very grateful for the gift, and the piano is used weekly alongside the organ to provide beautiful music. A dedication concert was held on April 23rd with a wonderful collection of local and other talent.

In August of 2016, the labyrinth in the garden was finished, and with that so was the garden. Cyril Benson had the original vision for the garden, did the designing, applied for funding, and inspired the Garden’s completion, even as he ran into increasing personal physical difficulties. A long-time volunteer at the gardens of the Ottawa Experimental Farm, Cyril brought his horticultural expertise and passionate green thumb to Mount Calvary. The Friendship Garden is a wonderful reminder of his dedication to the congregation and his love of nature.

To further develop the community outreach and to provide more services to seniors, Heather Ladouceur started a foot care clinic, run by certified foot-care specialists, in the church hall. This is not a clinic to leave clients with shiny red toenails but rather to leave their feet clean and healthy. It has rapidly grown in popularity and attendance, requiring the hiring of more clinicians.

Mount Calvary, active as it is, and having enjoyed 140+ children in its church school and 300+ members in its heyday, could not escape the worldwide trend of diminishing church attendance, and the gradual dispersal of members and their children throughout the Ottawa area and beyond. In 2016 the congregation decided to enter into merger talks with Martin Luther Church, a Lutheran church offering predominantly German-language services in Ottawa. With the merger at the start of 2018, the church building changed its name from “Mount Calvary” to “Martin Luther”, but a plaque in the hall in the basement reminds everyone of its history.

Pastors at Mt. Calvary:

  • 1957 – 1960 E.H. Polster
  • 1960 – 1961 E. Kanning (interim)
  • 1961 – 1964 A. Senn
  • 1964 – 1965 Col. H. A. Merklinger (Interim)
  • 1965 – 1990 J. Keekley
  • 1990 – 1996 E. Hackbusch
  • 1996 – 1996 W. Riekert (Interim)
  • 1996 – 1996 L. Granke
  • 1997 – 1998 W. Riekert (Interim)
  • 1998 – 2001 D. Thomas
  • 2001 – 2002 S. Solz-Sipolins (Interim)
  • 2002 – 2015 D. Taylor
  • 2016 – 2017 J. Lam
  • 2018 – F. Demke
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