It was a little, old room in a big, new city — cramped, sure, but spacious enough to accommodate the three families who gathered inside every Sunday.
“There were vending machines when you came in the door, and I remember thinking, ‘This is a strange place to have church,’” remembers Laura Dilworth, whose family relocated from Mitchell across the state to Lincoln in 1962.
Dilworth’s father founded Lincoln Berean Church the same year in the green room of the YMCA at 11th and M streets, in a lot that now sits vacant.
Fifty years later, a thriving community of worshippers that counts its membership in the thousands gathered at Seacrest Field and celebrated its golden anniversary in Curt Lehman’s memory.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling to think that we started with three families,” said Claudine Lehman, 83, the widow of the late founder. “I came down the street with my kids today and said ‘Oh, my goodness.’”
The celebration emphasized community service through a special food donation drive.
There was fun, too: bounce castles, kiddie trains, clowns, balloons and complimentary meals — hot dogs, pulled pork, chips and cookies — provided by The Venue.
Thousands of church and community members arrived with food donations in hand in an attempt to raise a pre-established goal of 50,000 pounds of food, the highest single-time donation the Food Bank of Lincoln ever has received.
“It was important for us to say: ‘Let’s take this moment and use it for serving others,'" said Mark Kremer, event coordinator with the church.
Exact numbers hadn’t been tallied by late evening, but Food Bank driver Laura Robinson was almost certain those who attended had accomplished an unprecedented feat.
“It’s an astronomical amount," she said. "The people are really going to appreciate it.”
By 7 p.m., four 26-foot tall truckloads were packed. Plenty of food, but manpower was lacking.
Robinson said it was a good problem to have.
For 17-year-old Mitch Hohlen, the event highlighted exactly what he believes the church is about — a tenet Claudine Lehman said was one of her husband's principles.
“To come together as a community,” Hohlen said. “It’s the best.”
Claudine said the celebration reflected the church’s mission from its founding — people first. Not buildings, but communities.
The spirit of her husband, who died nine years ago, was evident throughout.
“It’s humbling,” she said. “He would be so thrilled with it, I’m sure.”