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A collage of photos from Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel's ministry over the years View Photo Gallery

Our History

Read about our history in the timeline below or check out the video series A Century of WELS Campus Ministry in Madison, WI. This 5-part series is narrated by Pastor Chris Royce (Chapel vicar 2018-19) and based on his Seminary thesis on WELS Campus Ministry.

1920-1964: Calvary Lutheran Chapel

Since 1920 the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) has been serving students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Word and sacraments. From 1920 to 1964 a successful joint campus ministry at Calvary Lutheran Chapel was conducted with the then-existing Synodical Conference.

Calvary Lutheran Chapel on State and Lake Streets in Madison, WI

1966: A Move to Gilman Street

In 1964 the WELS began an independent campus ministry near State and Gilman Streets. Our first campus pastor was Richard Balge who served during the riot years of 1964-1971 and who oversaw the construction of our 1966 Chapel-Student Center at 220 West Gilman Street. Dr. Wayne Schmidt, an accomplished musician, pastored the Chapel from 1971-1975. Paul Kelm, who became a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, ministered to students from 1976-1979. Kelm was followed by Thomas Trapp, who came in October, 1979 and served as campus pastor until June of 2017 when he retired. Pastor Bill Limmer also served Chapel’s ministry from 2012 to 2016 before accepting a call from Victory of the Lamb in Franklin, WI. Jon Bilitz is the current campus pastor and was installed on June 18, 2017.

College students from 1987 enjoy a picnic outside the Chapel-Student Center on 220 West Gilman Street (building constructed in 1966)

1982: International Ministry Blessings

In 1982 we began a summer International Vacation Bible School that gave us the opportunity to share Jesus in our “backyard” with over 100 children and parents from around the world. Our international ministry has grown into a seven-days-a-week ministry.

Late 1980s and 90s: Ministry Growth

In the late 1980s and 1990s there were several part and full time pastors who faithfully and skillfully served the Chapel. Then in 1994 Judith Metzger was called as our first full-time Student Outreach Coordinator. In 1996 Pastor John Chworowsky began serving as our first full-time International Outreach Coordinator. God used their ministries to set the stage for an increase in activity in our home and world mission work on campus.

Pastor Thomas Trapp leads a song at Chapel’s 1991 International Vacation Bible School

1990s through 2006: Expanding Our Reach

In the 1990s bold planning began to expand and ensure the impact of this world-wide ministry. And God, who is “able to do more than we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3), blessed our planning and prayers with a new Chapel-Student Center dedicated on February 26, 2006. Our God of grace touched the hearts of our members, alumni, parents and friends to make this possible.

Our Chapel-Student Center was completed in 2006, replacing the smaller 1966 structure. Madison college students and internationals use the facility 7 days a week.

2006 to present: The Story Continues…

Our attendance, outreach to the neighborhood, and student involvement have greatly increased over the years. The Lord has used our dedicated staff, members, volunteers and supporters, along with our community-building facility, to bring about these ministry blessings.

Life has changed at UW-Madison since 1920. Back then enrollment was 7,000; today over 43,000 students walk the campus. Now a world-class university, UW-Madison has the most alumni serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Things have changed since 1920, but one thing has not changed. In the midst of all this lofty human wisdom stands God’s wisdom—“the foolishness of the cross” as Paul calls it in 1 Corinthians 1. Christ-crucified for the sins of the world is the power of God and the wisdom of God and the way to peace with God. It continues to be the unchanging message of Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel.