In 1859, when St. John Lutheran Church was chartered, there was a Lutheran church built about every five miles.
“There were a lot of German Lutheran farmers in this part of Henry County,” said Dale Kern, church pastor.
“The distance between the churches constituted a good buggy ride from home. That’s why, as you drive around Henry County, you’ll find a Lutheran church about every five miles.”
St. John Lutheran Church, known affectionately as the “white frame country church by the side of the road,” celebrates 150 years as a congregation this year with two special services in 2009 and two in 2010.
“The church met from 1854-1859 in the Casper Schnitkey log home,” said Dorothy Hurst, church archivist.
“That’s about where Four County (Career Center) is now. August Knapp served as the first pastor when the church met as an informal congregation.”
“St. John is actually a daughter congregation of St. James, Burlington,” said Kern. “They were chartered in 1846, and we were started some 13 years later.”
In 1859, the congregation was chartered and A. Bergt served as the first called pastor.
“We have three churches on our grounds at the present time,” said Kern. “The original 1861 building, built on the Tilse family farm, is still here. In 1898 the white frame church was built.”
“The (1898) church is 90 feet tall at the top of the cross. That’s one of the highest points in the county, if not the highest.
“The sanctuary of that church was moved back 30 feet in 1957 for a re-routing of US 6. Actually, the front step of the building still sits on the right of way for US 6. We could move the church, but not the cemetery, so that’s why there’s a curve in the road right in front of our building.”
The congregation moved into their current sanctuary two years ago.
“We moved into the family center in 1998 and completed the rest of the building in 2007,” Kern said.
Since the beginning, 17 pastors have served the congregation.
Kern has been a pastor with St. John since 1975. Jennifer Grime was called as youth and family director in August 2009.
Also serving as pastor emeritus is Lanny Zup, who has been with the congregation for 10 years.
A pastor emeritus is a retired pastor who still serves the congregation where needed.
The congregation actively serves the community through its work with Lutheran Social Services, Filling Home of Mercy, and the Lutheran Home in Napoleon.
“Lutheran Social Services uses our facilities at least twice a month,” said Kern. “I think since we’re so close by for them, we tend to do more with them.”
Celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the church began June 28.
Paul Lohse, a pastor and son of the congregation, preached for the kickoff celebration. The church held an outdoor harvest festival in the fall and its annual Country Corner Crafts Bazaar.
Upcoming events are November 15, 2009; January 31 and March 21, 2010.
Special speakers will include David Buegler, vice president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod; Lee Genter, a pastor and son of the congregation and Paul Grime, also a son of the congregation.
“We wanted to try and include as many ‘sons of the congregation’ as we could,” said Kern.
As St. John looks to its future, Kern said, “I believe we’re going to continue to be a significant witness for Christ here on the corner of (US) 6 and (St. Rt.) 66.”