St. John History
ST. JOHN LUTHERAN CHURCH, ELCA RICHMOND, INDIANA
Richmond was a young village with little more than 2,500 inhabitants when St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized on the First Sunday in Advent, 1844. St. John was the first Lutheran congregation in Richmond. It owes its existence to the simple faith of a group of German immigrants who arrived here, mostly from Osnabruck in the province of Hanover, in the early 1830’s. They came to America to find freedom from depressing economic conditions in their native land. This small band of Lutheran Christians was dismayed that Richmond had no church of their faith. They gathered first in the home of John Peterson. They had their Bibles, prayer books, hymnals, and other religious literature brought from the “old country.” An itinerant minister served as their pastor.
The first pastor, Rev. J. C. Schulze, was called in 1844, and they began to hold services in an old public school across the street from the Peterson home. The congregation was officially organized on the First Sunday in Advent, December 1, 1844. Pastor Schulze had previously served the Lutheran congregation at East Germantown (Pershing), Indiana, and had provided pastoral service to the Lutherans of Richmond before being called to be pastor here.
The first church, a small brick building on the west side of South Fourth Street, was built in 1846. A black- draped store box served as an altar. Primitive pews were constructed from logs and boards.
The second pastor was called on February 27, 1849. During the ministry of Pastor Theiss a second floor was added to the little church for use as a sanctuary. He conducted a school on the first floor. A tower and bell were added to the top floor. The dreaded cholera epidemic struck while Rev. Theiss was pastor and 24 members died in six weeks. In 1852 a group of members left St. John to form St. Paul’s congregation.
During the Civil War in 1862 St. John called its fourth pastor, Rev. Gottfried Loewenstein. He introduced a more liturgical service and made other changes. It was remembered that he had a harmonious ministry here, and it was during his tenure that St. John and St. Paul together organized a Lutheran cemetery. It was also during this time that discussion about building a new church began. That didn’t happen during Pastor Loewenstein’s ministry here, but instead the first pipe organ was bought at a cost of $1,104 and the parsonage was expanded. While Pastor Loewenstein was at St. John, George Maier took charge of the school and directed it for over 30 years. Teacher Maier was also instrumental in the establishment of Wernle Home.
Wernle Home was founded in 1879 as an orphanage for Lutheran children, but now serves as a church-sponsored home for emotionally disturbed children. St. John congregation provided $4,100 of the $7,100 needed to buy the land and buildings which first housed the Wernle children. The property, then abandoned, had once been used as a Quaker school and later as a “water cure” institution. It is an unusual coincidence that Rev. Nicklas, later to serve as president of Wernle’s board, a position St. John pastors held for many years, was the sixth child to enter the institution as a young orphan. There were annual “Orphans’ Feasts” held at Wernle, a picnic-like event which attracted many people from a wide area of Indiana and Ohio, many of them former Wernle children. There were railroad excursions to help bring them in.
The German language continued to be used throughout the 19th century, but the need for services in English became more evident in the early 1890’s. Trinity Lutheran Church was organized for that purpose, and members from St. John who wanted to worship in English went to Trinity. There were no regular English services at St. John until 1903 when Sunday evening services began to be conducted alternately in German and English. In 1915 evening services during the Lenten season were exclusively in English. Beginning in September of 1915, the congregation approved an English service at 8:30 a.m., but the 10:30 service would continue to be in German. In 1931 the congregation voted to conduct German services only on alternate Sundays, and finally voted to discontinue German services in 1943.
During the pastorate of Rev. Henry Wickemeyer, the congregation increasingly felt a need for a new church, but because of legal concerns about the location of the new church, the project was delayed. Under the leadership of Pastor A. J. Feeger a new pipe organ was purchased and dedicated in January 1896. A new parsonage was built on the lot at South Seventh and C Streets that had originally been purchased with the intention to build a new church there. Later under Pastor Feeger’s leadership our present church building was constructed. Two locations were considered and the location at South Seventh and E Street was chosen. The land and property on it were purchased for $5,000. The congregation voted on February 3, 1907, to proceed with building a new church. Pledges were made over a three year period. Total cost of the new church, completely furnished, has been estimated at around $40,000 (not including the cost of the lot.) The cornerstone was laid on September 1, 1907, with sermons in both English and German. The new church was dedicated on November 28, 1908. The dedication of the new church was the beginning of a week of celebration. Members of the church, some with tears streaming down their cheeks, marched from the old church to the new singing a hymn. Pastor Feeger unlocked the door in the name of the triune God as another hymn was sung, and while the children sang, members thronged into the new church. The beautiful cathedral stained glass windows were furnished by the Von Gerichten Art Glass Company of Columbus, Ohio.
Rev. A. L. Nicklas, seventh pastor of St. John, came from Ann Arbor, Michigan, on April 22, 1917. A problem that needed to be dealt with immediately on his arrival was the worsening condition of the old parochial school which still met on the ground floor of the former church building on South Fourth Street. What ultimately became the present Parish Hall site, just south of the sanctuary, was bought on September 21, 1921, for $3,000. The new addition (school and Parish House) was dedicated on October 29, 1922. The old church building on South Fourth Street had been sold the previous year. The school was finally closed in 1934.
Music has always been an important part of the life of our congregation. In 1941 the choir loft was remodeled and the organ console was moved to its present position. St. John’s Senior Choir was honored on May 6, 1951, by being chosen as one of the top nine church choirs in Indiana, and as such participated in a statewide festival at Indiana University. On March 30, 1952, the congregation’s newly-built organ was dedicated. In 1991 at a cost of nearly $90,000, a new three-manual console was installed and ten ranks were added to the organ, bringing the number to 38 ranks and 2,427 pipes.
For many years the Sunday morning worship service at St. John has been broadcast live on WKBV (1490) at 10:30 a.m. As far as we know, we are the only church in this area with a live broadcast of Sunday worship. In recent years we have also made a video recording of our service to be broadcast on a local television station a week later. This is one of the ways we reach out to our community with the good news of Jesus.
St. John has been a faithful witness to the gospel in this community for many years. We pray that God will guide and bless our congregation and open new doors for us to share his love and the good news of Jesus.
PASTORS AT ST. JOHN
1844 – 1848 John C. Schulze
1849 – 1856 J. G. Theiss
1856 – 1862 Carl Schadow
1862 – 1867 Gottfried Loewenstein
1878 – 1894 Henry Wickemeyer
1895 – 1916 A. J. Feeger
1917 – 1934 A. L. Nicklas
1934 – 1943 Oscar R. Smith
1944 – 1962 C. M. Hollensen
1962 – 1976 Eugene N. Langholz
1976 – 1983 Vernon D. Bigalk
1990 – 1995 Newell Nelsen
1996 – 2003 John Place
Interim – Herb Berry
2006 – 2011 Laura Altman
Interim – James Culver, Jr.