In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a museum team is actively working to unveil a museum-quality heritage room just off of Peeler Hall. The Museum Team is led by Dr. Gary Freeze, history professor at Catawaba College, and Gretchen Witt, history specialist at the library. The team also includes Pastor Rhodes Woolly, Linda Safrit, co-leader of our Archives team, Kaye Brown Hirst, retired executive director of Rowan Museum and Aaron Kepley, current Executive Director of the Rowna Museum.
“The idea of the museum is to have an exhibit that is simple and to the point, which briefly illustrates the history of the congregation — and the growth of the Lutheran Church in our area,” Gretchen says.
“We’ll highlight the important time frames, people and objects that are important to the congregation’s history.”
“The idea is not to tell the whole story—that’s done beautifully in the church history book—but to put our congregation’s heritage into the form of what some historians would call ‘a useable past,’” Gary notes.
The museum will have both permanent and rotating exhibits, Gary says. The permanent exhibit is based on each of St. John’s sanctuaries.
“I’m suggesting the concept of a consistent sense of sanctuary with the interlocking context of the ever changing historical environment of Salisbury,” Gary says. “An example: the first sanctuary dated to 1767, when Salisbury was just starting to develop its culture. Hence, the facility was to be shared with Episcopalians and Presbyterians, the other original denominations in the area. That environment would change a generation later, when all three groups would be strong enough and numerous enough to go their separate ways. New sanctuaries would be built in the 1820s, and the process would repeat itself, almost for each generation, for the next century. Thus, the current expansion is itself a continuation of the historical continuum of our congregation.”
Because of space limitations, the committee will carefully consider what are the “perpetual markers” of our congregation’s heritage. Among the most valued items in the archives are the Victorian era panel of Christ with the little children, the first eagle’s lectern, which was used in the first part of the 20th century, and a communion set that was used in the early 1800s. Gary is also on the lookout for a loan of a German Bible used by an early pastor.
In addition, Gary says, the committee is considering how to rotate many of the faith journey stories that are part of the congregation’s heritage. There will likely be displays on past pastors, prominent lay people through time, and the roles some of our members have played in the development of the local community, from the founding of the town to the Civil War to the establishment of Cheerwine and Food Lion. Most likely, the rotating and/or interactive sections will include occasional interpretations of regional Lutheran history.
“Our plan is to use some of our archived items to illustrate the specific focus of the information,” Gretchen says. “We also plan to highlight special people of the congregation in a temporary exhibit space. For instance, we might have a six-month exhibit on the life and times of Martha Agner as historian of St. John’s and her books. We may have an exhibit on the influence of Pastor P.D. Brown or the importance of the Boy Scout ministry.”
“Our prayer is to produce a storyline that will aid us in furthering our new missions in the new century, as Salisbury once again morphs into a new community. That situation has been both our heritage and our harbinger since the very beginning,” Gary says.