GENESEO — St. John’s Lutheran Church is marking its 150th anniversary, and the church in rural Geneseo has been a force in the community since it was founded in 1869. Its beginnings can even be traced before that date when services were held in the Edford Township Center school house.
Through the years, St. John’s worshipers have faced numerous trials and tribulations but have withstood the struggles and storms to remain at the same site.
The anniversary celebration will continue throughout the year with the first event at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 23, when the Rev. Mark Miller, president of the Central Illinois District – Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, will be the keynote speaker. An old-fashioned ice cream social will be held after the service.
The congregation will also install its new pastor, the Rev. Timothy Nerud, at 3 p.m. services on Sunday, June 9. St. John’s has been without a pastor since October, when the Rev. Chris Bushre, pastor at St. John’s for 10 years, accepted a call to serve a church in Waukesha, Wis.
Terri Hock, office manager at St. John’s and co-chairman of the anniversary committee, shared history records of the church that include the devastation when the entire building was destroyed by fire in 2009. The congregation voted unanimously to rebuild and did so with help from Laborers for Christ and more than 11,000 hours of volunteer help from church members.
The new one-story building, constructed at an approximate cost of $1.5 million, was dedicated on June 3, 2012.
“By the grace of God, the building cost was completely covered by insurance money and a capital stewardship campaign, which brought in over $800,000,” Hock said.
Even though the new building is only one story, as opposed to the former building being three floors, the square footage of the new church is 4,000 more than the former church. A large wooden cross that graced the altar area of the original church was salvaged in the fire and is on the front wall of the altar area in the current building. A stained glass window, also part of the former church, has been installed at the west entrance.
Hock traced the beginning of St. John’s to the early 1860s, when services were held at Hickory Grove School in Edford Township at two- and three-week intervals. Services were in German, as that was the language of the people in the congregation.
On Jan. 24, 1869, the church officially organized as St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, under the direction of the Rev. F. Horn. A meeting was held on Jan. 15, 1872, to discuss building a church, and members pledged $542 toward the effort. A small parcel of land was donated and a 30-by-60-foot building was constructed at an estimated cost of $2,000. The congregation purchased an additional 4 acres of land at a cost of $25 per acre, and the church home was dedicated on Sept. 16, 1872.
A parsonage was built on the property in 1875 at a cost of $300.32 and a 16-by-24 addition was added to the church in 1886. The building debt was paid in full in January of 1889.
On Jan. 8, 1888, the congregation approved a resolution to join the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
The second addition of 16 feet by 24 feet was added to the church in 1895, and the parsonage was updated in 1907. An additional 5 acres of land was purchased for the church property.
In 1893 it was decided to offer services in the English language “as often as deemed needed,” Hock said.
A basement was added and the exterior and interior of the church were remodeled in 1925. The renovation included adding art glass. Work was completed in December of 1925 at a cost of approximately $12,000.
The congregation voted in 1957 to add a new sanctuary to the existing building at a cost of $145,000. The new addition was dedicated on June 12, 1960, and in August of 1969, a one-story brick parsonage was constructed next to the church.
In the 150-year history of St. John’s, there have been 12 previous pastors.
Hock has been a member of St. John’s since childhood and she said: “Throughout the years this congregation has worked to maintain God’s word be taught in all truth and purity and His sacraments brought to all. St. John’s continues to work diligently in serving the members of this church, the community, and the world.”
“The founding fathers of St. John’s understood the importance of proclaiming God’s Word to their families, friends, neighbors, community and the world,” she said. “This Gospel message has been the reason for St. John’s existence throughout these 150 years and will continue to be until the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”