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St. John: 150 years for the Church at the Crossroads

St. John: 150 years for the Church at the Crossroads
This model of the first St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charles City shows how the building looked when it was built in 1872 on the site of the current church. Submitted photo
St. John: 150 years for the Church at the Crossroads
This reconstructed picture shows the 1893 St. John Church. Submitted photo
St. John: 150 years for the Church at the Crossroads
This retouched photo shows the 1924 “Caselmann Memorial” church. Since it was built, additions have included the parish hall, kitchen, Sunday school, office areas and the narthex and annex attached to the original sanctuary. Submitted photo
To The Press

St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church is celebrating its sesquicentennial, 150 years as a congregation.

A group of German Lutherans who had been worshiping in homes, school houses and an occasional store front, extended a call to a Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Christian Wilke, in February of 1872.

Later that year, in September, a resolution was passed to buy three lots and build a church at what is now the corner of Gilbert and Main Street in Charles City, the crossroads of two bustling roads.

St. John: 150 years for the Church at the Crossroads
St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charles City is celebrating its 150th anniversary, with special events scheduled throughout the year. Submitted photo

That small white church, finished and dedicated in 1873, was the first of three St. John churches that would stand in that spot, according to information supplied by Janet Petefish, a member of the 150th Anniversary Committee.

“The language spoken in the church was German and that remained in effect until the 1930s,” she said.

It took 10 years to pay off the debt that was incurred to build that first building, but at the 10th anniversary the congregation’s thank offering liquidated its debt and had enough to purchase its first organ and other church furnishings and ornaments.

In 1879, the Rev. E.H. Caselmann was called to be the new pastor. Under his guidance a school was built and more lots were purchased for future expansion.

In early 1893 it was decided to build a new church, which was built in the shape of a cross and dedicated in September 1893.

Petefish said the church history notes that a German brass band was on hand for the dedication, as well as several Lutheran pastors who took part in the celebration.

“The number of people present that day overwhelmed the church sanctuary, with some members having to stand and to spill over to the outside of the building,” Petefish said. “The offering that day paid off all debt for the church.”

Pastor Caselmann lead the congregation through 38 years and several renovations. When he died in 1918, he left his estate to the congregation to build the current church that would stand in its present location.

A few problems caused the congregation to delay building until 1924. Parts of the previous church were dismantled and sold to complete the cost of the church building which was known as the Caselmann Memorial, Petefish said.

“There is currently a plaque in the back of the sanctuary commemorating Caselmann’s dedication and contribution to St. John,” she said.

“Many wonderful pastors have been at the helm of St. John and have led the congregation through more celebrations and some hardship, such as when the tornado hit the town and in later years when some devastating floods caused our parish hall to feed hundreds of people in service to the community,” Petefish said.

Additions to the building over the years include the Parish Hall, kitchen, Sunday school, office areas and the Narthex and Annex attached to the original sanctuary of the church, which have enhanced and modernized the church’s ministry and its outreach.

The current pastor at St. John, the Rev. Russ Leeper, has spearheaded the most recent improvements to the church by bringing it into the current digital age with sound, video and live-streaming video of the church service on YouTube. This is an addition to the audio over KCHA radio and the local access channel that have been going on for many years.

“St. John is excited to celebrate this wonderful heritage and invites the community to worship with us and attend any or all of the special events that will be coming in 2022,” Petefish said.

One of the first things the community will note when driving by the church are the banners that will be displayed all year at the corners of the church property.

The first planned event is a display of historical documents and pictures on Jan. 9th to kick off the anniversary year.

A special event on Jan. 23 will be a presentation by a Luther College octet from the Nordic Choir. They will sing a series of songs during the 9 a.m. service.

Later in the year, a Wartburg musical group will perform and in late spring a gospel group will be leading the service. An old-fashioned Easter Sunday is planned along with other monthly mini-celebrations.

The culmination of the year will take place in October with a large celebration, dinner and Bountiful Harvest and Heritage Craft Fair.

“St. John looks forward to sharing our yearlong celebration with the community. The events will be advertised and our church is open to any and all that wish to attend,” Petefish said.

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