Milwaukee's northwest side was expanding in the 1950s. The South Wisconsin District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod canvassed the area near Timmerman Field and discovered the influx of families to average better than 200% Lutheran. A group of 26 Lutheran families interested in establishing a congregation was gathered. Land was purchased on 107th Street, in the block north of Hampton Avenue, and plans were made to provide a worship facility. On June 9, 1957, 100 people attended the dedication service for the building. The name, Berea, was chosen for the congregation, inspired by Acts 17:10-11, which recounts when St. Paul preached and taught in the Greek village of Berea. There the new believers eagerly searched the Scriptures to be sure that what the apostle told them about Christ was God's truth. Our Berea Congregation seeks to maintain that heritage.
The initial mission work and pastoral leadership that launched Berea was provided by The Rev. Bernard Raabe. Pastor Raabe was the mission executive of the South Wisconsin District. He did much of the literal foot work to canvass and organize Berea.
A divine call was extended on March 30, 1958, to Pastor Donald Wesener of Holstein, Nebraska, to serve as Berea's first called pastor. Pastor Wesener accepted the call and began his duties in July of that year.
Berea's membership grew quickly as many young families with small children moved into the area. Recognizing the value of Christian education, Berea joined the Northwest Lutheran School Association. The Association was begun under the leadership of Emmaus Congregation, and included Beautiful Savior and Covenant congregations. Berea also joined the Lutheran High School Association.
The Rev. Marvin Gruett was installed as Berea's second pastor on October 14, 1962.
Berea's membership continued to expand rapidly. Soon, it became clear that a larger building was needed. Planning began in March of 1963. Ground was broken in September of 1964, and the dedication of a new facility was celebrated on October 10, 1965.
The Rev. Bernard Gumz became Berea's third pastor in October of 1970.
As the building boom slowed in Milwaukee, Berea's neighborhood matured. Communicant membership at Berea plateaued in the early 1970's, reaching a peak of 1023 baptized souls, of whom 680 were communicant members. Debt retirement moved to the center of the congregation's attention, and concerted efforts were made to eliminate the debt.
The Rev. Larry Hauser was installed as Berea's fourth pastor in February of 1982.
Berea made the change to Lutheran Worship in 1982. The age composition of the congregation began to mature leaving only about one third the number of children at Berea in the decade of the eighties that were present in the sixties and early seventies. Christian education continued to be the center of Berea's ministry, and that emphasis has kept a good age balance in the congregation's membership.
The building that was new in 1965 came to require attention to delayed maintenance and to significant repair by 1985. Berea's response was RENEW + REJOICE + RENOVATE, a fund-raising program to address these projects and to retire Berea's portion of the mortgage debt remaining at Northwest Lutheran School. Both goals were accomplished.
Replacement of Berea's aging pipe organ (a patchwork of several old instruments) was Berea's next major effort. An organ committee began work in 1990. In consultation with Mr. Scott Riedel, a study was conducted to determine Berea's musical and acoustical needs. The H.L. Schlicker Company of Buffalo, New York, was contracted to provide a 2 manual, 7 rank, 38 stop pipe organ. The instrument was installed in the summer of 1994 and dedicated on October 23 of that year.
Berea celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1997. Under the theme, "I Love to Tell the Story," the congregation found renewed enthusiasm for its mission and witness. Now, just three years away from its Golden Anniversary, Berea is casting its eyes to the future.
Berea began when the neighborhood was being built. Now that neighborhood is maturing. Numerous apartment dwellings have joined the blocks of residential homes and a richer diversity of races is becoming evident. Ways are being sought to reach out to serve the needs of the community and to provide spiritual ministry to a broader spectrum of people. Our immediate challenge is to maintain the quality of our current ministry while we open up new avenues of witness to the broader community. The future is exciting, and we are confident in the guidance of the Lord for all that shall be.