History of the Church
HAPPY BIRTHDAY ST. JOHN’S!!!!! 1839-2019
180 years old and still going strong. Only a few institutions in this country can make that claim. Yes St. John’s was founded at Christmastide so we celebrate not only the greatest event in history but our own humble beginnings.
Our Church history confirms that it isn’t the first structure a log cabin that burned, the brick replacement building, the 1903 Sanctuary or the 2004 addition that makes St. John’s a church. Through seven wars, four depressions and numerous cultural changes, St. John’s has survived solely on God’s providence. Who made it happen? Thousands of those who preceded us and yes those of us active today. The Holy Spirit has given our members the faith, perseverance and fortitude to overcome many trials.
A brief summary of our history and some facts:
1837 The Bark Hertha arrives in Baltimore with German settlers destined for Hardin County.
1838 Rev. Frederich Wilhelm Furmann, a circuit riding Pastor from Springfield comes once per month to preach at homes of the Evangelical German settlers. 1839 Rev. Furmann preaches the Christmas and inaugural services of St. John’s.
1840 The old log courthouse is secured for services and remained until destroyed by fire in early 1851. The Congregation then purchased our current location for $50 and constructed a brick Church using bricks, timber and labor primarily from members.
1865 A bell was purchased for the Church and hauled by oxcart from Springfield.
1872/1873 The Congregation went through two votes to disband, 63 members voted to continue and St. John’s continued.
1877/78 A major renovation of the Church brought the steeple up to a height of 100 feet and greatly increased size of the sanctuary including gas lights for evening services. The cornerstone from this rededication is in our skylight room along with a stained glass window. It was termed the “handsomest structure in the City”
1891 Sunday evening services in English begin twice per month.
1894 The Congregation formally becomes part of the Evangelical Synod of North America. Prior it was served by both Evangelical and Reformed Pastors.
1895 Church membership doubles to 410 since 1890.
1902/1903 In response to the increase in membership the brick church is razed and the current Sanctuary con- structed.
1914 Rev. Henry Katterjohn accepts a position as Professor at Eden Seminary. “To him, St. John’s owes more than it ever could repay.” Membership now exceeded 600 and the cost of the new church was almost entirely paid off.
1915 German services reduced to once per month and then eliminated when the US entered WW I. 21 St. John’s members served in this war.
1934 Our Church becomes St. John’s Evangelical & Reformed on the merger of those denominations
1927-1951 Rev. Herbert E. Pfister our longest serving Pastor led the Congregation through the Great Depression and WW II. A light in the Sanctuary was dedicated posthumously to his memory in 1972. Our Church became noted for its outreach to those in need and the community. 105 members of St. John’s served in the War.
1951 St. Peter’s Church in Goshen Township formally merged with St. John’s Prior to this time the churches shared the Minister.
1957 St. John’s becomes St. John’s United Church of Christ on the merger of the Evangelical & Reformed denomination with the Congregational Church.
1968 Rev. Erwin R. Koch began another very successful long Pastorate at St. John’s. Many major improvements were made to the facilities but more importantly the membership was revitalized with clubs forming and church school enrollment emphasized. Church membership topped 700 and church school enrollment hit 250. We were blessed that God called this great man to St. John’s.
1990 Rev. Scott Johnson begins his 20+ year Pastorate. The first 10 years were marked by exciting growth in membership and outreach activities. The Audio Visual Committee was established, a new organ was purchased with significant help from the Rogers Family. Air conditioning was installed, hand bells purchased and a long range plan resurrected and developed. The church continued to support missions and in 1999 began a Contemporary Worship Service.
2001 St. John’s became a Faithful and Welcoming church within the United Church of Christ denomination. 2004 Our Church Addition is completed, more than doubling our facility. In our normal manner we have used this space to become host to many outreach programs to those in need.
2015 Rev. Randall Forester assumes the Pastorate of St. John’s continuing the proud tradition of the 29 prior shepherds who have guided our Congregation. We are blessed by his calling and the service of his family.
2017 Reflecting our emphasis on outreach (evangelism) and the theological position of 2001, the Congregation voted to return to our original name – St. John’s Evangelical Church.
As you celebrate the birth of our Savior, think about all of the blessings God has given us through this old Church of ours. We are brothers and sisters of a family whose service humbles us. Together we advance the message of Jesus Christ. Let’s pray that at the 200 year celebration we also are those counted to have been good and faithful servants.
Jerry Pfister, Historian