St. John’s Lutheran Church celebrates 75th year
Diamond anniversary: ‘Christ is Our Cornerstone’
NEW ULM — St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church on 7th South and Washington has a cornerstone with the year 1948.
This is the founding date of the church, which is celebrating its 75 anniversary this year with a series of special services to honor the milestone. The theme of the anniversary themes is, appropriately, “Christ is Our Cornerstone.”
Though 1948 is considered the founding date for St. John’s, the origins of the church date back to the fall of 1947 with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
St. John’s is considered a daughter congregation of St. Paul’s because the church was born from the larger church. In Sept. 1947, St. Paul’s voters passed a motion in favor of founding another congregation of the Wisconsin Synod in New Ulm. In addition to passing this motion, St. Paul’s was willing to set aside the basement auditorium of St. Paul’s Lutheran School for the new church’s Sunday services. At the time, the Lutheran School was located at the corner of 3rd North and N. State.
Once the vote passed, it was up to St. Paul’s to find people interested in joining the new church. A city-wide canvass was initiated to find people interested in joining. Professors from Dr. Martin Luther College (DMLC) and students from the college went house to house to gauge interest. The results were positive and on Dec. 1947 a call was made to the Minnesota District Mission Board to establish the new congregation.
DMLC Professor Martin Albrecht was called to serve as a temporary pastor until a full-time pastor could be found.
Jan. 4, 1948, is the official founding date for St. John’s when the first organizational meetings were held. The church’s constitution was approved on Jan. 7. In the early months, St. John’s had roughly 88 members in its congregation.
In that first year, St. John’s was eager to build a church of their own. Several properties were considered in the early days. There was even talk of building on the other side of the Minnesota River from New Ulm. However, there were concerns about flooding cutting off access.
Ultimately two lots on the corner of Washington and Seventh South were purchased from William Stelljes for $5,500. Groundbreaking was on May 19, 1948.
St. John’s congregation decided to pay for the church as they could afford it, to avoid carrying high debt. Instead of constructing the entire building at once, they would start with the foundation and operate as a basement church. Worship services would be conducted in the basement.
By the time, the foundation was placed the church had 200 members, but the final building plan was designed to seat 500 members. St. John’s congregation would exceed 500 within 10 years.
For 18 years, worship was conducted in structure foundation. In 1966, St. John’s began construction on the superstructure to be placed on the old foundation. The sanctuary was moved into the new superstructure. The dedication ceremony was held on Dec. 11, 1966.
The congregation would continue to slowly but steadily grow over the next few decades. By 1993, St. John’s was faced with the challenge of serving the spiritual needs of 1,000 members. At this time, it was recommended the church call a second pastor. In March 1994, it was voted to call Pastor Jeffrey Bovee, who was installed as St. John’s first associate pastor. Bovee continues to serve as St. John’s Pastor 29 years later.
In addition to adding a pastor, the physical church needed to expand. Adjacent residential properties were purchased to add worship space, offices, classrooms, library space and off-street parking. The addition of extra property did not solve all space issues. In the late ’90s, St. John’s needed further addition.
There was talk of selling the building and building a new church near North Highland in the direction of the MLC soccer fields. There was also a vacant lot behind Perkins.
Ultimately the search for a new location led the congregation to appreciate the current site in South Washington. The voter’s assembly decided to stop looking elsewhere and make the current site work. Eventually, another house on S. Washington became available. In 2004, the church broke ground on a new addition. In 2005, the office wing on Washington Street was completed. It included a covered walkway that graces the front of the offices with gothic arches to match the lines of the existing building and give an old-world touch.
Renovations and remodels continue up through the present.
The 75th Anniversary Celebration of St. John’s officially began on May 6 with a concert performed by the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Chorus.
Sunday, Aug 6 at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. St. John’s will host Diamond Anniversary Services that will include a commissioned concertato composed by John Behnke on the hymn “Lord Jesus Christ, the Church’s Head.”
St. John’s Choir will debut the piece at St. John’s on Aug. 6 but will be made available for groups across Christendom.
Sunday, Sept. 10 an organ recital will be held at 3 p.m. performed by current organists.
The final event will be held Sunday, Oct. 15 at 10:30 a.m. MLC Choir will come to share a portion of their fall concert.