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In 1921, Rev. Paul Woldt of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansing, MI began working with the Lutheran students at Michigan State University, then known as MI Agricultural College. In 1931, Rev. Philip Schroeder took over for Rev. Woldt and served for eight years.Since Christ Lutheran Church was built in Lansing and was closer to MSU than Trinity Lutheran, Christ Lutheran assumed the campus ministry during 1939 and 1940. Following in his father’s footsteps, Rev. Enno Woldt served as part time pastor. Their home became a virtual second home to students.
In 1942, Rev. Woldt helped form Alpha Omicron Chapter of Gamma Delta, an international association of Lutheran college and university students. On Sunday evenings, an evening meal was provided, followed by a discussion period, and closed with a vespers service. The Sunday Supper is still a tradition today at Martin Luther Chapel. Two of the first three Gamma Delta presidents attended Concordia Seminary to study for the ministry. The sending and support of students in ministry is another tradition still held today at Martin Luther Chapel.
Due to a growing student population, the need for a student center and chapel materialized. The students, pastors, synod officials, and the local student center committee representing the English District of the Missouri Synod conducted the search for a suitable location. On August 1, 1954, the English District Mission Board purchased the property at 444 Abbot Road, East Lansing. This house, formerly All Saints Episcopal Church, and later served as a parsonage, became the first and long awaited Martin Luther Chapel and Student Center. During the summer of 1954, three large groups of students spent three weekends cleaning, fixing, and painting the house. On October 3, 1954, Martin Luther Chapel and Student Center was formally dedicated with the Rev. Scheips, student pastor at the University of Michigan, as the guest speaker. Vicar William Woldt, son of Rev. Enno Woldt, the student pastor from Christ Lutheran at this time, was chosen to assist his father in parish and student work. He and his wife moved into the apartment in the house in the fall of 1954 and remained for one year. The first eight male students to act as caretakers also moved into their quarters on the third floor in the fall of 1954. On May 9, 1954, a Student Center Guild was organized to keep the center’s furnishings in order and repair.
On August 1, 1955, Martin Luther Chapel and House received the first full time student pastor in its history, Dr. Gerhart Mundinger. Having received his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, he then completed his studies for the full time ministry at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. On March 4, 1956, at the Installation Banquet, the chapel students honored Rev. Enno Woldt for having served for sixteen years as the student pastor, for helping to establish a Gamma Delta Chapter, and for his instrumental leadership in purchasing the new facility. Dr. Mundinger was ordained as the full time pastor June 3, 1956. Dr. Mundinger also served as a lecturer in the university religion department.
On December 10, 1956, a chapel assembly was officially formed by the English District of the Missouri Synod. Students carried out the ministry on the Michigan State University campus. Student officers were elected and assumed responsibility for the various activities normally associated with a local congregation of the Lutheran Church. Pastor Mundinger left in July of 1958 to serve as student pastor in Fort Wayne, IN.
Rev. Donald Ortner, an assistant to the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Pontiac, served as interim pastor in 1958-59. Rev. and Mrs. Ortner had been members of the chapel the previous year. It was felt the vacancy would last six or seven weeks. Mrs. Ortner served as organist and their son, Stephen, was the altar boy. Pastor Henry Gross, a retired pastor assisting at Christ Church, and Pastor David Metzger, a retired Wisconsin synod pastor from Lansing, usually preached when Pastor Ortner carried out his duties at Grace Church in Pontiac.
Pastor Ortner always conducted the Sunday night Vespers to allow himself contact with the students. Rev. and Mrs. Ortner lived in Holt and in addition to his chapel duties, Pastor Ortner taught a full load at Rodney B. Wilson High School in St. Johns and also carried a class load while working toward his doctorate degree. Had it not been for his wife as well as many active members, the students living at the house, and the active Gamma Delta members, the work of the chapel would have been impossible.
The group was student centered, student governed and student run. There was uncertainty during this year as to the ongoing funding of the ministry. It was evident that newer facilities were needed and pastors who were called in succession noted this problem in their refusal to accept a call to this ministry.
In the fall of 1959, the students received their second full time pastor, the Rev. William Britton, who had previously served as student pastor at Kansas University. In the summer of 1960 the English District of the Lutheran Church voted to provide the MSU students with a better facility. Thus began the exciting time of planning and then, construction of a new facility to replace the house on Abbot Road, the Martin Luther Chapel and Student Center.
The house that had served as Martin Luther Chapel and Student Center was razed, and on the same piece of land, a church was built. The cornerstone was placed in October, 1963. One year later, the dedication service for the completed building took place. The shingles of this stave church, which is mostly roof at a very steep incline, were all cut and placed by the hands of one man with only two tools. All the bricks were hand made. During the time of construction, the Michigan State University chapel was used for worship services.
Rev. Theodore Bundenthal served as Pastor from 1961-1967. During his time there, the new building was constructed and dedicated. Rev. David Kruse began his ministry in 1968. He continued to expand the ministry primarily by involving the community in a larger role in the ministry. In the late 1970’s, he replaced the “big green school bus,” which had been used to transport students, with a van.
In 1980, Rev. David Dressel accepted the call from Martin Luther Chapel and continues as pastor today. In May of 2010, the English District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity in recognition of his service to the English District in many roles and his exemplary pastoral work in national and local campus ministry.
The ministry has grown by leaps and bounds and continues as a vital ministry to college students as well as community residents. Since Pastor Dave has been at Martin Luther Chapel, a mission congregation in Haslett, St. Luke Lutheran, has been established. The Steinway piano was rebuilt, the boiler received an overhaul, and a new van was purchased in 1997 to replace the one purchased in the 70’s. The building itself has gone through two major renovations. The first was in 1990 when an apartment was added for the Chapel Manager’s residence, and the second was completed and dedicated in September, 2002. This was a major renovation that expanded the existing narthex, added a childcare room, new kitchen, new office space, and an elevator.