Map your route for the Reformation Crawl


Saturdays in July are a great time for getting away and taking a little road trip to a nearby community. Lutheran churches throughout northwestern Ohio are hoping you’ll consider them as a spot to visit and learn some history.

Twenty-two locations will hold open houses or presentations for the Reformation Crawl.

All will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 29, and again Oct. 21.

Organizer Jeannine Grimm said the sites will offer “glimpses of being Lutheran, past, present and future.” She said it’s sort of like a pub crawl, “except it’s a congregation crawl.”

The event marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses, protesting the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences, on the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. It’s generally marked as the start of the Protestant Reformation.

The churches are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest of the Lutheran denominations. There are 161 ELCA congregations in northwestern Ohio. The synod is divided into seven conferences, and each was asked to take a look at congregations and see what they had that was “especially Lutheran” that they could share with the public. There are three or four sites in each of the three conferences.

Churches will host open houses for the four-hour periods, and some will also welcome special speakers.

Grimm has already planned her own July 29 itinerary. She will start at the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey. The Catholic church has a reliquary in its basement which has connections to Luther’s day and time, she said.

Grimm will then drive to Emanuel Lutheran Church in Marion for a talk about creating art, especially fabric art, for use in worship today. She will then go to Findlay where the

Rev. Daniel Beaudoin, bishop of the Northwestern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will speak in the narthex of St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church.

Stops along the route

The Rev. Steve Edmiston, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jenera, is hoping people come to visit his church and learn about its history as a “shipwreck congregation.”

A group of immigrants left Germany for the United States 186 years ago. The crossing was uneventful “until they hit a storm,” which turned into a Nor’easter, Edmiston said. The travelers lost their mast and rudder and were grounded on a sandbar.

“They thought they were sinking,” Edmiston said.

Then a teenage girl, as the water was coming in faster than they could bail it out, spoke of Jesus calming the storm, and started singing a hymn. Everyone started singing with her.

And the winds began to go down. When morning broke, they were two miles off the coast of Virginia.

The immigrants later settled in Ohio. In addition to Edmiston’s congregation, three other churches in Jenera, Arlington and Dola are attended by these descendants. Each year, they celebrate the anniversary, Sept. 17, which happens to be a Sunday this year.

Edmiston and his congregation will tell their church’s story at the Reformation Crawl. On display will be a replica of the ship and other artifacts. The minister said he was gratified that the organizers wanted them to be a part of the crawl, as not too many congregations have that kind of foundation story.

“When we talk about surviving the storms in life, we really know what we’re talking about,” he said.

Edmiston doesn’t know how many people to expect — “We’re not in the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from here.” — but anyone who wants to show up is welcome.

Over in Hamler, the Rev. Keith Hunsinger is pastor at Hope Lutheran Church. Hunsinger will present on Lutheran immigration patterns in the area and will offer a tour of the historic cemetery.

He said the towns of Deshler, Hamler and Holgate were built after communities already existed there. People had settled in the area and churches were built, but they weren’t formally organized into towns until after the railroad was built.

Hunsinger said in the 1990 census, Henry County, Ohio, was “the most Lutheran county” east of the Mississippi River. Run a 10-mile-long string from Hope Lutheran Church’s steeple and “You’d hit 14 other Lutheran churches,” he added.

His congregation shares the cemetery with another Lutheran church in Hamler. It dates back to the earliest days of the parish.

There, people are buried in order of death. So, if a husband and wife die 10 years apart, they are buried in separate locations, as all the people who’ve died in between have been buried between them. Before Hunsinger’s arrival at the congregation, only two individuals had requested being cremated and their ashes buried on their deceased spouse’s plot, but in the three years he has been there, he has done so five times.

Burying in order of death was the way it was done in Germany, except for the royalty, Hunsinger explained.

Back on the western edge of the cemetery is a children’s route. Before World War II, infant mortality was much higher worldwide than it is now. So there is a line of small gravestones.

Visitors can see gravestones written in German and in English. The shift to English started before World War I but became more complete in the 1920s. And Hunsinger said you can see the styles change. At one time, “obelisks were the thing,” but today it’s almost all rectangular stones, he said.

Hunsinger said his church has never tried anything like the crawl before. He, too, isn’t sure how many to expect but noted that, by coincidence, it’s the same weekend as the Hamler Summer Fest.

He hopes people who decide to come to the area for the festival stop by the church before that “and check in and see what we’re doing.”

For those who want to get the experience of a congregation crawl that truly mimics a pub crawl, there’s Black Cloister Brewing Co. in Toledo, owned by the Rev. Tom Schaeffer.

He has been a Lutheran pastor since 1989. “But I’ve also always been into beer,” he said.

He used to write a column about beer, and had been a beer judge. Schaeffer learned to home brew, and founded the local home brew club in the Toledo area. Members of his congregation suggested he open a brewery, and Black Cloister opened in March 2015.

Schaeffer has used his perspective as a pastor to guide his business. The brewery’s motto is “Brew good, do good.” They encourage staff to volunteer, and a portion of the proceeds of the sales of some beers go to local or national charities.

“That was just really important to us,” Schaeffer said.

In addition to working full time at the brewery, Schaeffer pastors two churches in Toledo.

The name of the brewery comes from a monastery where Luther trained as a monk, in Wittenberg, Germany. After he was excommunicated, he married a former nun, Katherine von Bora, and they were given the Black Cloister as a wedding gift. They moved into it and Katie, a brewer, made beer for not only her family, but much of the city.

Hanging on the walls of the Toledo brewery are three prints sent from the original Black Cloister in Wittenberg. Anyone who comes to the Reformation Crawl will get to hear about the history, tour the brewery and taste some of the beers.

Schaeffer said he was “really tickled” to be asked to be a part of the celebration, as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is “a big deal.”

Make your own road trip

Grimm said people are free to “make up their own road trip.”

She said a pastor outside Rockford, Ohio, will talk about what it will look like if several small rural congregations need to join together. So she will be standing in a 175-year-old building, talking about the future of the church.

And a pastor in Cridersville, whose father was a Lutheran bishop in Africa, will talk about growing up there as a Lutheran.

An organist in Toledo will demonstrate Lutheran chorale music from 500 years ago.

A downloadable list of art connected to the Reformation will allow people to go on self-guided tours at the Toledo Museum of Art.

Grimm, who lives outside Bowling Green, leads worship on Sundays for other pastors who need a substitute, known as “pulpit supply” ministry. So she was already familiar with many of the congregations, but said she learned a lot while organizing this event.

Grimm said the crawl will allow Lutherans to look closely at their history, how the past brought them to where they are today, and the possibilities for continuing God’s work into the future.

All events are free and open to the public, and most congregations will offer cold beverages, Grimm said. “And maybe some cookies … Lutherans love coffee and cookies.”

Galion, Sandusky, Fremont and Port Clinton are among the other communities with churches included on the tour.

A full listing and a map can be found online at

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
Twitter: @swarthurs


About the Author