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Fortieth Anniversary Historical Vignettes

vignette (vin-yet’), n. 1. short literary essay; sketch

vignettist (vin-yet’ist), n. a maker of vignettes, painter, photographer, or writer

Vignette #1 — Dateline: Eau Claire, Wisconsin


It is well known that the CLC became involved in the mission effort in Nigeria largely through the intervention of Mr. Oscar Erpenstein, who with his wife was a charter member of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in the west-bay area south of San Francisco. It may not be quite as well known how the Erpensteins initially came into contact with our CLC. Here is the story.

The story began with my being called to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church at Hecla, South Dakota in November of 1961. Because the only other Lutheran church in that town was a congregation of the American Lutheran Church, I began subscribing to the ALC periodical, the “Lutheran Standard,” to acquaint myself with doctrinal trends in that church body.

The December 4, 1962 issue of the “Lutheran Standard” contained an article that defended the theory of evolution. Among other things, the writer said: “The principle of evolution is now as well established as atomic theory; it is as well documented and verified as any scientific principle known.” While I knew that the ALC had been going downhill in matters of scriptural doctrine, I was nevertheless shocked at this bold statement. So I began reading the letters to the editor in subsequent issues to see how members of the ALC would respond.

In the February 12, 1963 issue I noticed the following letter to the editor:

    Re the letters on evolution (Jan. 15): many questions are answered in The 
    New Geology and The Phantom of Organic Evolution by G. M. Price, and The 
    Flood by Rehwinkel. Also I shall be most happy to correspond with anyone on 
    this subject, as I have studied it for over 45 years.

    O. M. Erpenstein
    Millbrae, Calif.

The comments of this person, and also his offer to correspond with others on the question of creation vs. evolution, attracted my interest; and I responded immediately. The post office in Millbrae was actually able to locate the Erpenstein home even without a street address. (There were no zip codes in those days.)

Mr. Erpenstein replied with a letter dated February 16, in which he expressed his frustration with the liberalism of the ALC and his desire to learn more about the CLC, which I had alluded to in my letter. This led to my response of March 11, which included several publications of our church body, including the CLC Directory. He sent me another letter on March 24, in which he said that he desired to visit a CLC service–but regretted that it would be a bit hard for him and his wife to make it from Millbrae to the CLC church in Phoenix on a Sunday morning! (The Directory did not yet list the exploratory work being done by the CLC in Los Angeles.)

In my reply of April 2, I brought to Mr. Erpenstein’s attention the name of Dr. Rodney Neubert, a member of the CLC who was then living with his family in the San Francisco area. (I had come to know Rodney as a fellow student at Immanuel Lutheran School in Mankato during the 1940s.) I also informed Dr. Neubert about the Erpensteins. From what I understand, the two families soon communicated with each other. And not long after that Pastor Winfred Schaller of Los Angeles conducted a worship service in the Erpenstein home. This was the beginning of the CLC’s involvement in the San Francisco area.

In a letter to me dated September 15, 1965, Mr. Erpenstein commented about the remarkable way in which God had brought him and his wife into contact with the CLC. While they both have now been called home by the Lord, the Christian friendship that we shared together is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life!


From the Editor: see note in Announcements section