HISTORY OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH OF SAINT AMBROSE
PENNSVILLE, NEW JERSEY
The Lutheran Church of St. Ambrose was developed and established by The Reverend Thomas Edge as a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod from September 1960 through November 1961, culminating with Charter Member Sunday. The church building was erected and consecrated and the pipe organ was dedicated in 1964. Pastor Edge accepted a call to Reformation Lutheran Church in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1967.
The Reverend Paul Wildgrube was installed as pastor in 1967. During his tenure the congregation grew and became self-supporting. The congregation sold the church parsonage to him in 1973. During the 1976 Bicentennial year, Pastor Wildgrube greeted the Swedish Crown Prince and Saint Ambrose held a joint worship service with St. George’s Episcopal Church. Pastor Wildgrube accepted a call to Zion Lutheran Church, Schenectady, NY leaving Saint Ambrose later that same year.
The Reverend Michael Hiller was installed in 1977. His pastorate was marked by his creativity in both worship and teaching. Many of the innovations he made during his pastorate live on to this present time. In 1978 the congregation left the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and affiliated itself with the American Lutheran Church. Pastor Hiller left Saint Ambrose in November 1981 and now resides in California and has been ordained as a minister in the Episcopal Church.
On June 27, 1982, The Reverend John Ploeger was installed as our fourth pastor. In September 1983 the church mortgage was burned during the morning service. In July 1984 the present parsonage was purchased, but Pastor Ploeger never moved in, instead he moved on a month later to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Reverend Daniel Congleton has served St. Ambrose from 1985 to the present time. During his tenure the church building has been renovated – adding a new roof over the parish hall and adding a church kitchen, the heaters were replaced and the parish hall was air-conditioned, the pipe organ was reconditioned with new contacts and electronic circuitry, the church was hooked up to the township sewer system, the sanctuary and parish hall were both renovated, the sanctuary roof was re-shingled, the church exterior received a face-lift, both outside church signs were refurbished, and the church spire and its cradle at the peak of the church were inspected, lowered, and restored. The church became debt free during this time, as well. In 1987 the congregation joined the newly formed Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and revised our constitution according to the model ELCA constitution for congregations, and developed a mission statement. Under the new constitution Ministry Teams were created to do the work of the church in all phases of the church’s ministry. In 2000 a Lay Eucharistic Ministry was approved, as was a constitutional change lowering the age for First Communion. A couple more milestones were reached when in 2007 the Lutheran Book of Worship was replaced with 130 copies of the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship book and in 2008 the first woman was elected at the Annual Congregational Meeting as the President of the Congregation. St. Ambrose conducts an annual Vacation Bible School with St. George’s Episcopal Church and St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Parish, reaching out to over 100 children and their families each summer.
Pastor Congleton has stressed and uplifted the congregation’s mission support, not only in churchwide ministries like the ELCA Malaria Initiative and the ELCA Water Project, the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and the ELCA Disaster Response, but also in local missions, such as the South Jersey Food Bank, the Oasis Kitchen, and Meals-on-Wheels, Salem County Habitat for Humanity, St. Ambrose Knitters, Heart and Hand Quilters, Cornerstone Women’s Resource Center, Literacy Volunteers, Interfaith Caregivers just to name a few. We pray for and look forward to many more years of ministry in Salem County.