History of Saint Johns Lutheran Church
St. John’s Lutheran Church began as German Lutheran immigrants from Ostfriesland settled in the Danforth, IL area. The first Lutheran services were held during 1870 in the small schoolhouse (which later became a residence) on the east side of the railroad tracks. As the number of Lutherans increased, they decided to organize a congregation and build a church. On December 5, 1874, St. John’s Lutheran Church was organized with 31 men signing the first constitution. They immediately began plans for a house of worship on land that was donated by the Danforth family (the Danforth brothers had acquired much land from the railroad).
On October 10, 1875, the 36 by 50 foot church, costing $1700, was dedicated by the congregation. At the same time, Reverend W. Thoele was installed as the first minister and served the congregation for four years. Soon after, the parsonage was completed. Several other ministers served over the next few years until Pastor H. Staehling came to St. John’s in 1886 and served the congregation for 43 years. During that time, he also conducted services in Gilman, LaHogue, Ashkum, and the Wilson Mills Settlement located 10 miles northwest of Danforth (which later became Zion Lutheran Church in Ashkum). Most of these trips were made on horseback. Under Pastor Staehling’s leadership, the Ladies’ Aid and Luther League were formed, and the congregation grew so much that the sanctuary was enlarged twice.
Pastor C. F. Hafermann was called to serve St. John’s in 1929. Services were still conducted regularly in the German language, but gradually changed to English. The Men’s Brotherhood was begun under his leadership. During his tenure, a building fund for a new church was established in 1936, but before construction plans were in place, Pastor Hafermann was called to a parish in Chicago after serving 19 years in Danforth.
In 1948, Pastor Carl E. Boebel was called to serve St. John’s. During his tenure, the building fund increased until such time that construction could be considered. Excavation for the current Wisconsin Lannon Stone structure was begun in May, 1951. The last service in the old church was held on June 1, 1952; services in the new sanctuary were held the following week. A few years later, a new parsonage was also built. Under Pastor Boebel’s leadership, the Junior Mission Band was begun for grade school children; it was later called Junior Lutherans. After 16 years of faithful service, Pastor Boebel accepted a call to a parish in Indiana.
In 1964, Pastor R. S. Kolberg accepted the call to serve St. John’s. During his 14-year tenure, a committee was formed to discuss the vision of building a Lutheran nursing home in the area. In 1970, nine congregations formed the Lutheran Home for the Aged Development Corporation. In 1974, Prairieview Lutheran Home in Danforth, the result of much planning by this corporation, opened its doors to the first residents. It has now grown to include Luther Place (independent and assisted living), Faith Place (Alzheimer unit), and Prairie Haven duplex in Buckley. This not-for-profit corporation has grown to include 28 Lutheran congregations working together to provide a Christian environment in all these facilities.
Several ministers have served St. John’s since 1979, when Pastor Edward Gabel took over the reins for four years, followed by Pastor Raymond Barclay for 12 years. Pastor James Gerth began his 13-year service to the congregation in 1995, followed by four interim pastors. In 2011, after the congregation voted to join the new North American Lutheran Church synod, Pastor Gary Burkhalter accepted the call to serve. In 2014, the congregation celebrated 140 years of ministry, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The celebration included a one-man drama, Celebrate the Child - A Christmas Story, presented by Pastor Jonathon Swenson of the Paraphrase Theatre. Interim Pastor Dennis Meyer began serving the congregation in 2015, until the end of December 2016. Pastor Duane Marburger began serving the congregation in January 2017.
Architecture and Building
The current church building is designed in the Gothic style, and is located on a large plot of ground donated to the church by the Danforth family around 1874. The first frame church was torn down after construction of the current building was completed. The exterior on all sides is of Wisconsin Lannon Stone, laid up in random coursed ashlar. All windows are of leaded Cathedral glass set in Bedford stone trim. A massive tower joins the church to the Parish Hall wing. The tower houses the old bell and the stairs to the second story of the Parish Hall.
Sons and Daughters of the Congregation
Throughout the history of the church, St. John’s has had four sons and two daughters of the congregation enter into the ministry. They include Pastor Elmer Henrichs, Pastor John Paul Dexter, Pastor Eldor Windhorn, Pastor Harold Borchers, Diaconal minister Karen Gerth, and Pastor Christine Schoon. Two women of St. John’s have entered the ministry by way of marriage. They are Joan Henrichs Schluep and Diane Wilken Fox. In addition, Katie Campbell served with Athletes in Action for a number of years, but is now moving on to a new area of service.
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"Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil." C. S. Lewis
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