The 1850s brought many German immigrants to Brown County – many of them Lutheran. Many of these families settled on farms in the Wrightstown area, which was called Bridgeport at the time.
Church services were needed to help enrich the spiritual lives of the settlers, and travelling Lutheran pastors were soon holding services and taking care of scattered Lutherans as best they could.
The early days
Rev. E.G. Reim of Green Bay served Lutherans in Wrightstown and De Pere. In 1869, he organized St. John’s Congregation of De Pere, and the church was born. Baptisms, marriages, communions and burials were recorded from that time forward.
Meanwhile, in Wrightstown, local Lutherans were taking things a step further. The first constitution of the Evangelich-Lutherischen St. Johannes Gemeinde was prepared and signed. Soon afterward, construction of a new church began, and the Wrightstown congregation sent its first call to Rev. H.L. Haack.
First regular services
In 1870, Rev. Haack began conducting regular services in De Pere – first in the old Lawtontown public school building and later in a frame church on North Sixth Street. A new church was needed to accommodate increasing membership and was built in 1872.
Rev. Haack served the congregation until 1873. Other early pastors included Rev. Friedrich Schuh (1873-1875), Rev. Karl Huebner (1875-1876) and Rev. Rheinhold Pieper.
Making it official
Under the leadership of Rev. Pieper of Wrightstown, the congregation was officially organized. On April 4, 1877 the church was incorporated, its first church vestry (council) was formed, a constitution was created and the name St. John Lutheran Church was adopted.
Members of the first church council who signed the constitution included:
- Christian Grimmer,
- George Ehrmann,
- John Reiff,
- Carl Donner,
- William Palitzke, and
- Gottfried Falevsky.
From 1878 to 1884, St. John was served by pastors from Green Bay and Wrightstown.
In 1882, the congregation left the Wisconsin Synod and joined the Ohio Synod due to the Predestination Controversy.
In 1884, the first resident pastor, Rev. H. Bock, was called, and a parsonage was purchased for $550.
A new building
St. John soon outgrew its facilities and purchased the First Baptist Church – a brick veneered building with a spire (tower) – on the corner of Third and Grant Streets.
The purchase price of the nearly new building was half the original cost. It was dedicated as a Lutheran church on Sept. 27, 1891.
A new parsonage on Third Street was purchased in 1896, and two years later a church bell was hung in the tower.
In 1909, the church was moved back from the corner, and a basement was added to provide room for a social hall, kitchen and furnace. Art glass windows were also installed about this time.
Since its inception, worship services at St. John were conducted only in German. That changed in 1916 when English began to be used, along with German. That same year, a new parsonage was built on Third Street at a cost of $3,739.
Under the leadership of Rev. I. Wegner, who served the congregation for 30 years, extensive improvements were made to the church in 1929. The remodeled building was rededicated on Oct. 20.
On Sunday, March 13, 1932, at 8 a.m., a spark from the church’s chimney turned to flames on the church roof. Within an hour, the church was destroyed.
Insurance only covered about half the church’s value. Only the organ, piano, bell and altar fixtures were salvageable.
With the help of neighboring congregations, the church was rebuilt at a cost of approximately $7,000 and rededicated on Nov. 13, 1932. The mortgage was burned 12 years later on Oct. 29, 1944, erasing all the church’s debts.
During the next two decades, the congregation continued to grow. The building, which had been adequate for many years, was becoming very crowded.
To handle the congestion, St. John began hosting two worship services each Sunday, but this didn’t solve the crowding issue for the educational and social programs, which were handicapped because of the lack of space. A number of plans for enlarging the church were considered but never adopted.
The hope of providing better facilities for the church and its members continued to be considered in the late 1950s. As conversations about expansion took place, a state building inspector did a study of the building in 1958 and strongly advised against enlarging the building.
This advice turned the conversation from expansion to the possibility of building a new church at a different location to provide more space for educational and social activities.
Building a larger facility
Under the campaign, “These are our children… The Church of Tomorrow,” the congregation voted in 1960 to build a new church on a larger piece of land. A financial campaign was conducted, and $58,000 was pledged for the building effort.
The congregation found three acres of land at the corner of Third (now Lost Dauphin Road) and Scheuring Streets and voted to purchase the land in the fall of 1961.
In 1962, the congregation engaged Robert W. Surplice as the architect for the new sanctuary, fellowship hall and educational facility, and plans were under way for the present day St. John Lutheran Church.
The entire congregation took part in a groundbreaking service on April 7, 1963, which was Palm Sunday. The next day, excavation for the new building began.
Final services in the old church were held on March 15, 1964. A week later, on Palm Sunday, March 22, the congregation dedicated the new church, which cost $215,000. The cornerstone of the new building included a time capsule, which was carried over from the church’s 1909 construction project.
The new facility served the congregation well until handicap accessibility was needed. The congregation agreed upon an addition and broke ground on July 1, 1997.
The new addition included a ground floor fellowship hall (G.R.E.A.T. room), elevator with access to all four levels, handicap accessible bathrooms and a parenting room. It was dedicated on June 7, 1998 and serves us to present day.
- Travelling missionaries (1869 – 1884)
- Rev. H. Bock (1884 – 1893)
- Rev. Paul Alamshah (1893 – 1896)
- Rev. August Vackrodt (1896 – 1904)
- Rev. Fred Klein (1904 – 1911)
- Rev. Theodore Pagels (1911 – 1919)
- Rev. William Hope (1919 -1923)
- Rev. J. Prange (1923 - 1926)
- Rev. I Wegner (1926 – 1956)
- Rev. Henry J. Kurtz (1957 – 1967)
- Rev. LeRoy Remmers (1967 - 1975)
- Rev. Chester C. Nerenhausen (1975 – 1991)
- Rev. Kathleen Fjelstul – Associate Pastor (1986 – 1988)
- Rev. James Ahlquist – Associate Pastor (1988 – 1991), Senior Pastor (1991 - 1994)
- Rev. Barry Hoerz – Associate Pastor (1992 – 1993)
- Rev. LeRoy Remmers (1994 – 2000)
- Rev. Donald R. Staude – Interim Pastor (2000)
- Rev. Steven M. Apfel (2001 – 2007)
- Rev. Arnold Stilwell, retired – Interim Pastor (2007 – 2008)
- Rev. Andrea Cain (2008 – 2014)
- Rev. Brian Cain (2008 – 2014)
- Rev. John Czarnota, Interim Pastor (2015-present)