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St. Paul Lutheran

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If you are one of those who can never make your helpings of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy come out even, you will understand the plight of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport. Always, after finishing my beef, I have mashed potatoes left over and then take too large a helping of beef so that I need more mashed potatoes, and so on, until I grow beyond the end of my belt.

That's exactly what happened to St. Paul Lutheran. St. Paul began in 1878 when the Board of Home Missions of the Iowa Lutheran Synod sent the Reverend G.W. Diverly to Davenport as a mission pastor. He contacted 30 or so Lutheran families but was unable to raise the $4,000 needed to build a church. The following year his replacement, Reverend George Snyder, had more success. Snyder traveled through Indiana and Ohio, to New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland until he had the money.

Pastor Snyder returned to Davenport and built a modest chapel of his own design at 14th and Main Streets. Completed in 1882, it could boast the finest church window in the city. But no congregation. Only 10 families became charter members.

When the Reverend Henry Blanke arrived as pastor in 1891, he had to supplement his income by giving fire and brimstone sermons such as "Wild Oats and Other Crops" on the Chautauqua circuit. These were so popular that membership soon outgrew the small chapel, and a new building was needed. The larger St. Paul was dedicated in 1902, but soon proved too costly for the size of the congregation. The Reverend Blanke was fired, and replaced by Dr. John A. Miller, whom many compared to Billy Sunday. New members swelled the congregation beyond the church's capacity. This time Dr. Miller tried getting rid of the excess gravy, sending a hundred members across Davenport to a mission congregation. But by 1925, the beef exceeded the mashed potatoes again, until an entirely new location was needed for a much larger church.

In 1938, St. Paul introduced a new solution for the first time in the Midwest: multiple, duplicate services every Sunday much like dinner seatings on a cruise ship. But even second helpings have not solved the problem. If you have driven out Brady past St. Paul Lutheran over the years, you can see that it is still trying to figure out how to get the meat and mashed potatoes to come out even, meanwhile expanding way beyond the last loop in its belt.

Rock Island Lines is supported by grants from the Illinois Humanities Council, the Illinois Arts Council—a state agency—and by Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.