About the United Church of Christ

Our History


Text and Photos taken from the 60th Anniversary Booklet, 1903

 

History of St. John’s Evangelical Church

 

"As early as 1836, a small band of German people held irregular religious meetings in a building which stood on the present site of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, on Hancock street, near Market. One Brandauer, who was not an ordained minister, but an educated layman, conducted these services, and after his removal from the city, a certain Dr. Fischer succeeded him in this evangelical work. An organization was not effected until toward the close of the year 1843, when the following men met for that purpose at the residence of Mr. Frederick Groszmann, 308 East Main Street: John Westermann, John Mallis, Frederick Groszmann, John Rubsch, Henry Rubsch, Valentine Weidenbach, Henry Graf, John Hermann and G. Henry Stockhoff. They chose Frederick Groszman for president, and John Westermann, for treasurer. Mr. Groszman also acted in the capacity of secretary. These men with two exemptions, were less than thirty years old. 

 

The first regular pastor was the Rev. Mr. Klein, who was called at an annual salary of $250. Under his administration a lot was purchased on Hancock Street, between Market and Jefferson. He remained with the church only one year, and conducted services in an old church of Fifth street near Walnut, where the first confirmants, two in number, were confirmed. His successor, in 1844, was the Rev. Mr. Fischer, during whose pastorate the little congregation worshipped in a vacant store-room on Second street, between Market and Jefferson. After the lapse of a year, he was succeeded by the Rev. Aug. Bargas. The congregation now felt warranted to begin the erection of a church on the lot purchased two years previous. This modest edifice was almost completed, when, in May, 1848, the Rev.Frederick Judt took charge of the affairs of the church. The building was so arranged that the basement served for school purposes, while the upper section was the church proper. It was dedicated September 10, 1848. He gave the church its name, German Evangelical St. John’s Church, drew up a constitution and by-laws, to which the following men subscribed their names as a board of trustees: John Westermann, president; Robert Ernst, secretary; Henry Bauer, treasurer; George Edinger, John Rubsch, John Appel, Henry Sievert, Henry Windhorst, William Kreil, Frederick Fabel and Louis Rehm. A parochial school was instituted, with Carol Grosz as teacher, and in the course of a few years showed and enrollment of 150. In 1856 the church united with the “Evangelical Church Society of the West,” the present, Evangelical Synod of North America.” At this time the custom known as the “collection of confirmants” was begun, the first collection of its kind being taken in 1855, when sixteen children gathered $16.25.

 

A parsonage was purchased opposite the church about 1855 which served for twenty-four years as a residence for the pastors of the congregation. Rev. Judt, who was a most faithful and consecrated minister, left St. John’s in July, 1856, but in later years returned to this city and served St. Peter’s Evangelical Church. The Rev. Carl Schaller became the next pastor. Six weeks after his arrival he took ill, and departed this life January 28, 1857. He therefore served the church only four months.

 

A period of activity and prosperity began with the accession of the Rev. Theodore Dresel, who assumed charge of the pastorate in June, 1857, a man of great energy and indomitable principles. Church and school at once experienced an unprecedented expansion. Both soon outgrew their quarters, and it became necessary to build a new church home. In 1861, the lot on Clay and Market streets, where A. G. Van Seggern conducted a lumber yard, was purchased from Richard C. Anderson for $8,000. On Easter Monday, April 2, 1866, the resolution was unanimously passed by the congregation to begin at once with the erection of a new and larger church. Its first cost was calculated as $60,000, but it largely exceeded that amount. Bradshaw and Bro. were the architects, and the building committee consisted of Messrs. Louis Rehm, M. Billing, Henry Stockhoff, John C. Meyer, Ph. Thomas, George Hill, Ph. Haag and Rev. Theo. Dresel. The cornerstone was laid June 24, 1866, and contains a Bible, a hymn book and samples of the paper money in use at the time. The dedication took place amid imposing ceremonies, October 20, 1867. The large organ, which should have been in place for the dedicatory exercises, met with a peculiar fate. It sank with the steamer Champion, on which it was being transported hither from St. Louis, and was replaced by a new instrument about one year later, at the builder’s expense.

 

Shortly after the completion of the new church, a period of turbulence and financial stringency began. But little money had been collected
preparatory to the building operations, and, although the members gave liberally, the building committee was compelled to borrow great sums, at a large rate of interest. Within two years a debt of nearly fifty thousand dollars had been contracted. These funds were obtained from every possible source, from banks, from individuals, within and without the congregation. To better control the financial situation, bonds were issued May 1, 1869, to the amount of $40,000, with Mr. J. H. Lindenberger, of the Merchant’s Bank as trustee. With the proceeds of the sale of these bonds, whose rate of interest was 9 per cent., and which were to be redeemable after ten years, most other loans were cancelled. In the succeeding five years the debt fluctuated, at one time reaching the sum of $64,000. To make matters more distressing, the treasurer of the church defaulted, which almost annihilated its credit. It was rumored that the church would go into the hands of the Catholics. It was threatened with lawsuits. Many forsook the sinking ship. Sleepless nights were passed in agony by the faithful. They personally obligated themselves for money loaned to the church. They sent in receipted bills for work which they had done and never had been paid. They gave and sacrificed until, verily, they felt it. It was not until in the late seventies that the lowering clouds were somewhat dispelled and better times smiled upon the struggling congregation.

 

In Jul, 1869, the city purchased the vacated old church on Hancock street for $5,000, transforming it into a hook-an-ladder station, for which purpose it is used to the present day. This money was immediately invested in the erection of the school-house in which we hold Sunday school    to-day, and which we use for so many practical purposes. This was a necessary step, since, by the sale of the old church that had been altered for school purposes, the school was crowded out of its quarters. The new domicile for the school children was dedicated late in November, 1869.

 

The Rev. Mr. Dresel resigned his pastorate May 21, 1875, and was succeeded by the Rev. John Brodmann in November of the same year. During his regime a division occurred in the church, which caused the establishment of a Lutheran church on Clay street, between Market and Jefferson. When he left St. John’s, in January, 1879, he organized the Christ Evangelical Church, on Garden street.

 

The Rev. C. J. Zimmerman began his activity as pastor of this church in May, 1879. The first bond issue having run its course of ten years, a new issue of $40,000 at 6 per cent. was placed upon the market in May, with Mr. A. Reutlinger, of the defunct German National Bank, as trustee. The elders of the church had great difficulty in placing them, and succeeded only after they had given security for the debt of the church with their own personal and real property. In June, 1880, the parsonage on Hancock street was sold for $1,400, and the present manse, between the church and school, erected. A sinking fund was begun and the figures on page 60 will tell the story of its efficacy. The church bells were purchased in 1885, the necessary funds being collected almost exclusively by members of the choir and the young people. About the same time, Mr. David Frantz, Sr., presented a tower clock, which only five years ago ceased its activity. Electric light was introduced in 1893.

 

The English movement in our church had its incipiency in the early nineties. First an English Sunday afternoon school was founded; then the
catechetical instructions were in part given in that language, an in February, 1893, the first English evening service was held. Four years later an unsuccessful experiment was made to introduce a weekly Sunday-morning service. The Rev. Daniel Bretz, still in fond remembrance with any of our people, was called in August, 1867, to inaugurate the movement. He conducted service in English in the upper school-room contemporaneously with the German service in the church auditorium. The time, however, was not yet ripe, and when, on February 6, 1898, the Rev. Mr. Zimmerman resigned, Mr. Bretz also ended his work abruptly in our midst.

 

In the congregational meeting of February 27, 1898, a unanimous call was extended to the present pastor, Rev. Theo. F. John, then stationed at New Albany, Indiana. He could not at once dissolve the connection with his parish, hence the Rev. O. W. Brenhaus took charge temporarily (during May) of the church. On June 5th, the pastor-elect was installed by his aged father. The leading events of his pastorate may be summarized as follows: On October 5, 1898, the artistic baptismal font of pure Carrara marble was presented in memory of Mrs. Therese Rehm, by her affectionate children. The magnificent Flinchback memorial window “Christ in Gethsemane” was dedicated Easter, 1899, the Korfhage memorial window, “Jesus blessing the children,” in October of the same year. Our young people placed their window, “Jesus among the Doctors,” in December, 1901, and Mrs. Cath. Woerner “The Resurrection,” in memory of her brother, Wm. F. Goebel, Easter, 1902. 

 

A memorable event was the ten thousand dollar collection, in 1899, to which the suggestion of one of our young brethren gave the impetus, to find one hundred people it the church who would give $100 each. The pastor took up the idea and found the encouragement everywhere. The societies, as well as the individual members, contributed most liberally, and when the collection after six months, was ended the goal was not only reached, but exceeded by several hundred dollars. Worthy, also, of mention is the revision and translation into English of the constitution and the by-laws of the church, in 1900. In the nature of improvements, we mention the renovation of the parsonage in 1898, the installation of a new heating plant in 1901, the bazaars of 1898 and 1901, the former netting $1,281, the latter $1,625 The latest innovation is the English morning service, which, since February 22nd of the present year, is held each last Sunday of the month, and is attended with most encouraging results.

 

Today, November 29, 1903, St. John’s Church is observing the sixtieth anniversary of its birth."

Select a photo for more information