Herman, the church's caretaker for more than two decades, was putting the food that was collected to serve more than 1,000 people regularly over the years in boxes to donate to the Union City-based charity PERC, because the pantry was shutting down, as was the rest of the Guttenberg church that has graced Jackson Street since 1934 and served the community for 101 years.
Declining numbers in the church's congregation caused the church's council to decide to permanently shut the doors and begin the process of selling the church to a group of Hispanic Seventh Day Adventists.
"It's very sad, having the church close," Herman said. "The last day we had services, half the parishioners were crying. We just didn't want to give the food from the pantry to anyone, so we've been looking for a worthy charity. It's so emotional."
While the rest of the congregation has moved on to find other Lutheran churches in the area for services, Herman's job is not completed. He will remain working in the church until December, when the new owners take over.
"I haven't made my mind up where I'm going to go," Herman said. "There's a church in West New York [St. John's] and another in Ridgefield. Most of our constituency had already moved out of town and we just weren't getting new members."
Herman added, "I remember when I first started coming here, when we had beautiful grounds. But everyone knows that churches are starving in the area. It was only a matter of time."
Stan Dudak has been the president of the St. Peter and Paul council for the last decade, but he's been a member of the congregation since he was 5 years old.
Historically, the congregation was comprised of Slovakian immigrants, but it began to embrace people of all ethnic backgrounds after World War II.
According to Dudak, St. Peter and Paul Lutheran held its services at one time in an old bar and restaurant that stood across Boulevard East from where the Galaxy luxury condominium complex now stands.
Dudak said that after a while the services moved to Anna L. Klein School before the current church was built in 1934.
St. Peter and Paul celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, but by the time of the centennial, Dudak already knew that the church was in decline.
"At one time during the '50s and '60s, we had perhaps 150 attend services regularly and about 100 to 150 kids in the Sunday school," Dudak said. "We would hold services in both English and Slovak. But eventually, the younger families moved away to the suburbs and were not coming back. Attendance started to decline and a good portion of the congregation was getting sufficiently older."
When the numbers of attendees declined to about 35, Dudak knew that the end was coming near.
"After several attempts of trying to boost attendance, five years ago, we started to do several surveys, to see if we could sustain," Dudak said. "It was my objective to keep us going, but you could see the handwriting on the wall. There were times I would be pleased if we had 20 in attendance."
After a special meeting in April, the church's council proposed a special resolution that the church would close, but that the constituency would remain active in the community.
They also wanted to insure that the church would remain a house of worship and achieved that with the pending sale to the Seventh Day Adventists.
The church council also made sure that the sale of the church would not have any effect on the Head Start program that has used the St. Peter and Paul classrooms for more than 12 years.
"We just signed a lease that will enable the Head Start program to remain there for another five years," Dudak said. "So nothing will change by the sale."
Dudak said that the church will donate the proceeds of the sale to worthy charities. Already, some $7,000 had been given to help the Klein School marching band.
"Fortunately, we're in the position financially to help other groups in the community," Dudak said. "We'll be making other gifts to the community in the coming months."
Dudak said that there were many tears on the day of the final services at the church. "There was a moment of sadness, but I wanted to spend the time thinking of all the good we did," Dudak said. "I was thankful for the impact our people made. I think it was better described like an Irish wake. Not all wakes are sad. It was a celebration of 101 years and a celebration of thanks. We had 101 years of blessings."
Added Dudak, "We always had that closeness and that still remains. We're going to remain active in the community. The church may be gone, but we're not gone. We've been able to go through generations and touch so many lives. It's hard to say that we won't be around for a while."