History

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ST JOHNS EV. LUTHERAN CHURCH
Lake Elmo, Minnesota

The author of this history does not claim originality or authenticity in every detail. He has relied on material written in past anniversary booklets. This is not a complete history of St Johns congregation. Such a history would take years of research and writing. The history of St Johns is a history of God working in, with, and through a countless number of men, women and children who by God's grace loved their Savior and their church. They have passed on much of this history as they remembered it or heard it from their forefathers.

Our gracious Lord has richly blessed “Old St Johns” over its 150 year plus history. Yet it has not been without problems. The congregation has faced financial hardships, problems obtaining and retaining pastors, dissension among the members, and struggles to continue to proclaim God's Word in truth and purity.
The history of St Johns goes back to the early 1850's when a number of Lutheran families who had emigrated from the vicinity of Baden, Germany settled in the area of our present church. Minnesota was still a territory and Alexander Ramsey was the territorial governor. Other families followed in the next few years but there was no Lutheran church in the entire area. These Lutherans were a flock of sheep without a human shepherd in this new territory.

In the summer of 1855, Pastor Wilhelm Wier of St. Paul heard of these Lutheran settlers near Stillwater. He set out on horseback and arrived in the area on August 17th. From an entry he made in his diary: "A.D. 1855, on the 19th day of August, being the 11th Sunday after Trinity, I preached the first Lutheran sermon in Washington County in the house of Albert Boese who had the best house suited for this purpose."

Soon after this service, the congregation organized and called Pastor Wier to serve as the first pastor. The exact date of the organization cannot be determined, but it probably took place the end of August or the first part of September, 1855. The first trustees of the congregation were Albert Boese, Jacob Lange, and Louis Fischer. The congregation bought two acres of land, located about three miles southwest of Stillwater, from George Kern. Pastor Wier preached to this congregation for almost a year. And then something happened that caused a division in the congregation.

In the fall of 1858, Pastor Adam Blumer was put in charge of the young congregation. Worship services were conducted in the home of George Schindler. Efforts were made to construct a church building on the acquired land. Pastor Blumer gathered funds and the building began in 1858. The church members were very poor, so they hewed most of the timbers for the church themselves during the winter months. There was not enough money to complete the building and the church remained unfinished for some time. Pastor Blumer moved away in 1860.

The congregation soon reunited and took up the task of finishing the church building. Pastor Wier was called back to the congregation and the building was completed and dedicated on Pentecost Sunday, 1861.

This original church building is still standing and forms the center portion of our present Parish Hall. At some point the kitchen was added to one end of the building. In 1956 the entire building was moved farther to the west and placed on a new foundation with a basement. That same year an addition, including a new entrance and stairway, was added to the other end. The building was used for Sunday school, meetings and social gatherings of the congregation. In the 1990's the Parish Hall was allowed to go into a state of disuse and disrepair. The congregation had no suitable place to meet for fellowship and activities. In 2003 members of the congregation undertook the project of completely renovating the building including new heating and air conditioning, and today the original church building still stands as a monument to the love and dedication of St Johns members and to the grace of our God. The upstairs once again serves as a meeting, education, social area and the downstairs is home to St Johns Little Hands Preschool.

Troublesome times came to the small congregation as doctrinal differences almost tore the church apart and endangered its existence. Pastor Wier insisted that members must submit to private confession. The majority of the members were accustomed to the common confession as generally practiced in the Lutheran church. On July 8, 1862 a stormy meeting took place. Two pastors had come to the support of Pastor Wier but the majority of the members stood firm. They acknowledged that private confession may be used by individual members as a comfort and blessing for their souls. But private confession would not become obligatory in this Lutheran church. Pastor Wier withdrew from the congregation together with a number of members.

St Johns, after enduring many storms, still exists as a congregation whose aim and purpose is to strengthen the members through Word and sacrament that they in turn may share their lives and faith in the Lord Jesus with others.

In 1892, the congregation built a new church. It measured 22 by 44 feet and was built at a cost of $2,200. Dedication of the new church took place on September 25, 1892. Pastors Siegrist and Abbetmeyer preached the dedicatory sermons. "Old St Johns" is known to thousands of people who pass by on Highway 5. It's slender steeple, rising 85 feet into the air with a cross at the peak, is still one of the landmarks of the community drawing people to the Savior, Jesus Christ. "Old St Johns" continues to be the subject of many photographers and artists.
The building has been kept in good repair and a number of improvements have been added over the years. The heating system has been changed from the old wood and coal fired furnace, which more than toasted those sitting close to the vent, to a hot air, oil burning furnace and finally to a gas furnace. Air conditioning was added in 2003. The art glass windows were installed many years ago. Acoustical tile was put on the ceiling in 1961 and in 1964, the church was paneled with oak paneling. The lower wainscoting is original as are the window frames. The old "Kilgen" hand-pumper organ was replaced in 1950 with a Wicks two-manual pipe organ at a cost of $4,600. This organ was rebuilt and expanded in 2008.

In 1996 the oak paneling was removed from the chancel area and the front of the balcony. The original wood of the balcony was polished and restored to its original form. The tin wall covering in the chancel was patched and painted to restore it to its previous appearance. Renovation of the narthex took place during 1999. New carpet was installed on the stairway, the hardwood floor was refinished, a storage closet was built in one corner and new front doors and woodwork were installed.

The congregation built an addition to the church in 2000. This addition includes a church office, handicap entrances to the church, rest rooms, a meeting room, and storage rooms in the basement. The addition was dedicated in June of 2000. A new sign in the front of the church was added in 2005.

The parsonage, located immediately to the south of the church was built in 1898. It has been remodeled several times over the years. In 2000, the congregation removed the one car attached garage and moved a large detached garage onto the property. Central air conditioning was added in 2001.

German was the language used in the church services in the early years for most of the members had come from Germany. German services were gradually replaced with English. At first German and English were alternated each week. Then German was used once a month and on festival occasions. Finally, in the 1940's the German services were eliminated completely. Only a few could understand the language and there were very few pastors available who could speak the language fluently. Also in the 1940's, individual cups replaced the common cup in communion distribution.

The congregation had been organized for 100 years before it was legally incorporated. The Articles of Incorporation were adopted on January 9, 1956. The congregation maintained a cemetery throughout its history. Perpetual care was established at the same meeting at which the church was incorporated.

St Johns has entered into an agreement with Salem Lutheran Church and School in Stillwater, and children from St Johns are able to attend Salem School with tuition assistance from our congregation. St Johns is also a member of the Twin City Lutheran High School Association and teens from our congregation are able to attend St Croix Lutheran High School with tuition assistance from our congregation. St Johns is also a member of the Camp Croix Association.

In the year 2005 the congregation celebrated 150 years of God's grace with the fervent prayer that God would continue to shower his grace on their congregation and preserve it for countless years into the future to his glory and the eternal salvation of many souls.

There have been many changes at "Old St Johns" since 1855; changes in members and pastors, in buildings, in languages, in hymnals, in orders of worship, in Bible translations, in decorations. These changes, and many others, were made to make worship more meaningful and to bring glory to our gracious Lord. However, over the years, one thing has not changed - the everlasting gospel of peace and salvation through our Savior, Jesus Christ. We pray that this never changes among us.

Soli Deo Gloria - To God alone be the glory.
 
PASTORS WHO HAVE SERVED ST JOHN’S
Wilhelm Wier1855 - 1856
Adam Blumer
1858 - 1862
Wilhelm Wier1860 - 1862
Friedrich Hoffmann1863 - 1869
Jacob Siegrist1870 - 1873
Friedrich Seifert1873 - 1895
Robert Heidmann1895 - 1902
Gustave Haase
1903 - 1916
Paul Bast1917 - 1922
William Franzmann1922- 1940
Erich Penk1941 - 1966
Herbert Filter1966 - 1968
Edward Zacharias1969 - 1973
Andrew Backus1974 - 1980
Herald Bittorf
1980 - 1985
Richard Schwerin1985 - 1995
David Malchow1995 - 2002
David Ponath2002 -

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