A Look Back with Grateful Hearts
"We have heard with our ears, 0 God, our fathers have told us, what work Thou didst in their days, in times of old." (Ps 44)
"Unser Anfang geschehe im Namen Gottes des Vaters, Gottes des Sohnes, Gottes des Heiligen Geistes." (Our Beginning Be in the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.)
With these simple, but prayerful and blessings-beseeching words, spoken on April 22, 1849, our fathers founded and organized St John Lutheran Church, Chester, Illinois.
Already in the fall of 1848 a few Lutherans occasionally were gathered, under the leadership of a Lutheran book-agent, for prayer meetings. (At the time, about 30 Lutheran men, women and children were reported living in Chester and community.) In these prayer meetings the Lord's Prayer was explained to the small group. Shortly after this a Methodist missionary by the name of Boeshenz, who was very active in mission work in Southern Illinois, (and whose mission activities in this part of the state were reported in Der Lutheraner of January 12, 1849) came to Chester from time to time and preached to the group. The content of his sermons, as reported by a then well-known citizen, in many respects “did not seem quite right,” but since no one knew much of the Lutheran Doctrine nor of the Reformation, and they were acquainted only with the name of the Reformer, Dr. Martin Luther, they could not defend themselves against false doctrines, neither could they point with any definiteness to any false teachings because of their meager knowledge of the Truth. But his sermons did awaken a hunger for the true Word of God.
1. Pastor C. H. Siegmund Buttermann, 1849.
In the fall of the year 1848, a young resident of Chester, Mr. Frederick Allmeyer (Grandfather of Mrs. Nellie Crisler of our congregation), reported to have been but 19 years of age and a fruit dealer, made a business trip to St. Louis, and on this occasion heard Dr C. F. W. Walther, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, St. Louis, preach. Greatly inspired and filled with a holy zeal, he returned to Chester and told his associates and Lutheran friends that he had met that great theologian of the Lutheran Church, Dr. C. F. W. Walther, and had heard him preach. He had heard altogether different things and teachings than they had heard thus far from their Methodist missionary. This report inspired and enthused his fellow Christians. They immediately resolved to send a committee of two to St. Louis to make an appeal to Dr. Walther to aid the Lutherans in Chester in securing a pastor.
In the spring of the year 1849, Dr. Walther was happy to send them the candidate, C. H. Siegmund Buttermann, who had completed his colloquy. He had previously been educated for the ministry in Germany and had come to America. Candidate Buttermann was a young man of 29 whom Dr. Walther had learned to love and respect while in St. Louis as a student of theology.
Pastor Buttermann immediately proceeded to organize the congregation. The first minutes, dated April 22, 1849, record the organization as follows: “The following constitution was this date accepted and St. John Congregation of Chester, Ill., organized herewith.” This constitution was essentially that of Trinity Congregation, St. Louis, accepted in 1843, and with but a few minor changes, served St. John Congregation for over a century.
Immediately under this constitution the following 16 signatures of the charter members appear: Jobst H. Allmeyer (brother of Frederick), Fredrich Gericke, H. Goehrs, Louis Dettmer, Heinrich Runge, Friedrich William Allmeyer, Fredrich Brinkman, Jurgen Dettmer, H. Bode, Heinrich Schrader, Chr. F. Wegner, C. H. Allmeyer, Christoph Wiebusch, Heinrich Roeder, Heinrich Kipp and Jacob Pick. Soon after this meeting, according to a recorded note, the following names were added: Chr. Hirte, H. Kaufmann and Zacharias Jostmann.
The organizational meeting was held in the home of Henry Goehrs, which was on High Street just west of the present 'Scout House' (the old parsonage and near the future site of the first church). Worship services and meetings were held there for some time. The pastor also lived there and taught school in his study. On May 13, 1849, Pastor Buttermann was duly inducted into office as pastor of the congregation, upon order of the president of Synod by Pastor Loeber, assisted by Pastor Gruber.
One must wonder whether these men ever expected their efforts to culminate in the large congregation that has remained faithful to their ideals and serves God in many ways to this day.
Pastor Buttermann was very active and diligent in his service of the Lord and his congregation in Chester, and the joy of his flock was great. Although his teachings were bitterly attacked by the aforementioned Circuit Rider Missionary, this did not discourage him, but caused him to be all the more faithful and sincere. He defended his teachings clearly and definitely from God's Word, as is to be seen in the printed editorials he wrote for Der Lutheraner of May and June 1849.
However the great joy of this little flock was soon turned to bitter sorrow when their beloved pastor became the victim of cholera, then raging in our land. After a very short illness of only seven hours, he fell asleep in Jesus, his beloved Savior, whom he was permitted to serve but two months in the Chester congregation. He was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery, near the Lt. Governor Bond monument. On the simple tombstone is found the inscription: "Here rests in Jesus, Siegmund Buttermann, first Evangelical Lutheran pastor in Chester; born September 13, 1819, in Werferlinger, Prussia, died July 12, 1849. Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Ps 90,1"
2. Pastor Michael Eirich, 1849 - 1866
After a vacancy of not quite two months, the congregation again turned to Dr. Walther in St. Louis for advice and aid. He recommended to them another candidate of theology, Michael Eirich, who had just graduated from the practical theological seminary at Fort Wayne, Indiana. Pastor Eirich was ordained and installed in Chester, September 10, 1849, by Pastor Lehmann, assisted by Pastor Strasen.
For a while Rev. Eirich occupied the same quarters in the Goehrs home that his predecessor had used. The building of a new frame church, 36 feet long, 24 feet wide, and 13 feet high, which had been decided on already on Trinity Sunday June 3, 1849 (in the last meeting Pastor Buttermann attended) was not completed until late in the fall (on the site of our old parsonage, the current Scout House). Mr. Goehrs and Mr. Wiebusch were appointed trustees and building committee, and on June 18th, actual building was to be begun. Mr. Kipp had offered to furnish all the lumber for the building. No record is available of the date of dedication of this first church.
Rev. Eirich taught school in the basement of this modest structure, while in the upper room church services were held. Eight years later, in 1857, a 20 foot addition was added to the church.
Besides preaching in Chester Rev. Eirich also served a flock at Bremen and another at Wine Hill. His school at Chester had a reputation of being the best in town, and it attracted pupils not only from Lutheran families, but from other homes as well.
Although money was scarce in those days, the congregation was self-supporting from the beginning. The members could not promise their pastor a fixed salary but only agreed to give him what they could collect. He agreed to this and never suffered want. In 1854 the first parsonage was built. It was frequently enlarged after that. After 1920 it also served as a meeting place for the Ladies Aid for a while. In 1858 Pastor Eirich’s salary was increased to $300 per year.
Rev. Eirich was relieved of his work in the school in 1856 when Mr. F. Schachemeyer of St. Louis was called to take charge of the school which he did until 1863. That year he was called to Logansport, Indiana. Under his able management the enrollment rose to 110 pupils. Mr. Schachemeyer’s successor was Mr. H. W. Hoppe, who was installed in September 1863. On June 2, 1865, the congregation resolved to call a second teacher, Mr. Dietrich Meibohm. Because of the increased enrollment on July 2, 1865 it was unanimously decided to build a brick school next to the church in order to relieve the overcrowded condition. It was to be a 36 x 24 x 12 building, at a cost of $1,150. It was completed in November of the same year.
On June 24, 1863, not long before President Lincoln made his Gettysburg Address, a group of St. John's Lutheran women met in the home of Mrs. Henry C. Eggers to organize "St. Johannes Frauen Verein,” the forerunner of our Ladies' Aid.
In January, 1866, Rev. Eirich accepted a call in 1866 to New Minden, Illinois, after 16 ½ years of faithful service in Chester, during which time, by the grace of God, the congregation became ever more firmly grounded in the Word of God and was privileged to experience a large external growth as well. Having served the congregation in New Minden for more than 37 years, Rev. Eirich retired. He died in August 1910 and was buried in New Minden, having attained the age of 84 years, 2 months, and 28 days.
3. Pastor Martin Stephan, 1866 - 1875
In February 1866, Rev. Martin Stephan, of Wolcottsville, New York, was called to Chester and began his ministry here in the beginning of May of the same year. The Rev. Doermann, of Bremen, inducted him into office early in May. Rev. Stephan was born in 1823 in Dresden, Germany, where his father was a minister. In 1838 he came to America to attend the first Lutheran College in Perry County, Missouri, as a theological student, but after three years, in 1841, he returned to Germany to study architecture in Dresden. He returned again to America and continued his theological training in St. Louis, graduating in April 1853. He served several congregations in Wisconsin, he accepted a call as assistant pastor to Dr. Sihler in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he also taught English and drawing at our college in Fort Wayne. He was called to Wolcottsville, New York, then to Chester.
In 1866, Teacher Hoppe was released to a call to teach in Milwaukee. Thus our school was left in charge of but one teacher, Mr. Meibohm, who left in August, 1867, for St. Charles, Missouri. In January 1868, Teacher Fehlhaber was called, but was dismissed from office in June of the same year. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to secure an experienced teacher, the congregation finally decided to call a graduate from our teachers' seminary at Addison, near Chicago. Mr. J. W. Hild was assigned to Chester in May 1869. It does not appear from the minutes how the school was temporarily supplied with a teacher before Teacher Hild took charge. He was given an assistant in April 1871, when Teacher Bewie, who had resigned because of ill health and was living in Chester, agreed to teach the lower grades three hours every morning. This he did until the end of September 1871, when he had to be relieved due to increased physical weakness. In April 1873, the congregation resolved to call a second permanent teacher, Mr. C. Waschilewsky, a graduate of our Normal School who had received the greater part of his education in Germany.
On Ascension Day, 1875, Rev. Stephan preached his farewell sermon, having accepted a call to a congregation in Bremer Township, Warren County, Iowa, where he died on June 16, 1884, at the age of 60 years, 5 months, and 23 days. He had faithfully served that congregation for nearly nine years.
Rev. Stephan was a diligent, self-denying pastor, true to his sacred trust. He was appreciated most by those who knew him best. Originally trained as an architect, he often served congregations by designing their churches for them, and he was engaged in such a labor of love when he died.
While the congregation in Chester was busy trying to secure a successor to Rev. Stephan, Teacher Hild received a call to Aurora, Illinois, and in a meeting on July 4, 1875 he was released “with the best recommendations” and a vote of thanks for his faithful six-year service. During the vacancy Teacher Waschilewsky also received a call, which he returned.
4. Pastor J. A. F. W. Mueller, 1875 - 1900
Finally, after several calls had been returned, on September 19, 1875, the Rev. J. A. F. W. Mueller of Johnsburg, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, was called and accepted. He was inducted into office on the second Sunday in Advent, 1875, by Rev. J. F. Koestering, of Altenburg, Missouri, assisted by Pastor Pennekamp, of Bremen, and Pastor Liebe, of Wine Hill. The congregation requested that Pastor Koestering’s sermon on Matthew 13:47-49, delivered at this installation, be printed. A copy is preserved in our archives.
The 25 years of Rev. Mueller's ministry were a time of peaceful spiritual upbuilding and of external expansion. When Teacher Waschilewsky's school had reached an enrollment of 80 pupils, a second teacher, Mr. Lohmeier, of Bremen, was called and he served the congregation for a little over six years.
On New Year's Day, 1878, it was unanimously resolved to build a new church on the same side of the street as the school. In order to avoid a burdensome debt, the building was erected by installments, proceeding about as far as the funds on hand permitted. In October 1878, the cornerstone was laid. The Rev. W. Achenbach and the Rev. C. G. Kleppisch preached the sermons. In 1879 the structure was roofed, and on November 2, 1880, the building was dedicated. Pastors Leppisch, Demetrio, and Frank were the preachers in the dedicatory services. The building site opposite the old church had a cost of $600, the church itself $11,586.80. There was a cash balance of $49.05 in the church treasury besides some unpaid pledges. The church was built of brick, 44 X 76 feet including the chancel, and seated about 550 persons. The steeple had a height of 120 feet.
While the building of the church was progressing, Teacher Waschilewsky was given a peaceful dismissal on July 14, 1878. The next month Teacher George Allmeyer, of Buffalo, New York, a son of F. Allmeyer, was called. He served the congregation until early in 1883 when ill health compelled him to resign. He died May 9, 1883, and was buried two days later, mourned and lamented not only by his loved ones, but by the entire congregation and by his fellow citizens who respected him for his many sterling qualities.
Teacher Allmeyer's successor in office was Mr. J. F. Herman Zastrow, a graduate from our Teachers' Seminary at Addison, who was installed in the summer of 1883. He was active in the service of the congregation although he had received many calls to other fields. With the exception of one year's vacation on account of illness, Teacher Zastrow served this congregation faithfully and efficiently from August 1883 to 1925 (a remarkable 41 years of teaching!). His silver jubilee was celebrated in the summer of 1908.
In the beginning of August 1883, Teacher Lohmeier was dismissed with thanks "for his faithful service." But it soon became apparent that the school needed two teachers, and consequently, Mr. Herman Lanemann, a member of the congregation with public school teaching experience, was employed as assistant. He served until July 1890. He was succeeded in that year by Mr. Paul Arndt, a graduate from our Teachers' Seminary.
A new pipe organ, built by the Jackson Organ Co. of Chester, was installed about July of 1887. On September 3, 1893, it was resolved to build a 15 foot addition to the brick school at a cost of $721.38.
In June 1891, the congregation felt the need of having their own burial ground. A committee of F. Allmeyer, C. Wegener, and L. H. Gilster was appointed to study the matter. Acting on the recommendation of this committee, a three acre plot was purchased from Charles Eberhardt for $300. This property is located just north of the present site of the Chester Greenhouse. On September 6, 1891, F. Bueckman, C. Weinrich and H. Buenger were added to this cemetery committee. On September 20, 1891, the City of Chester informed this committee of a regulation passed in 1887, limiting the location of cemetery land to one mile from the city limits. The old committee was replaced by a newly elected committee on December 6, 1891. This new committee consisted of Henry Herschbach, Sr., Sig. Brinkman, H. Bode, William Brinkman, and C. Weinrich. The congregation granted this committee permission to purchase the present cemetery plot from Mrs. Mary Stumpe for $433. On January 29, 1892, the Eberhardt property was sold at public auction to H. Kipp for $330. On July 22, 1892, the congregation set aside a lot for the free burial of pastors and teachers.
Recently an old brown sheet of paper was found in a closet listing some sentences from the first constitution of our choir. The constitution was dated January 11, 1894. The sentences stated as follows:
The name of this choir is Concordia. The threefold purpose of the choir is: 1. To beautify the worship service 2. To appreciate good music 3. To promote fellowship. Only members of St. John church are eligible for membership. The choir may enroll honorary members who are interested in the well-being of the choir. A monthly fee of 5 cents is to be paid by the members. This does not entitle them to own the music. If a member quits he is required to return all music to the director.
The following officers are to be elected annually: 1. President 2. Vice President 3. Secretary 4. Treasurer
5. Director 6. Librarian.
Every member is required to give an excuse for missing practice.
Sickness by the member or the members of his family are good excuses.
If a member misses practice for one month, he terminates his membership.
Any member of the choir found in dance halls or the theater automatically terminates his membership.
During practice, especially when practicing with one voice, all members should remain quiet so as not to disturb the practice.
Smoking will only be permitted during the free period.
The first president of the choir was William Herbst; the first director was Mr Zastrow; the first instructor was Mr. Arndt; the first treasurer was Rudolph Welge.
Preserved in our archives is a sermon, in German, based on 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and delivered by Pastor Mueller at the 14th convention of the Illinois District, 1894.
On the third Sunday after Easter, 1897, the Golden Jubilee of the congregation was celebrated. Prof. George Mezger, of St. Louis, and Pastors Dorn and Stephan preached the anniversary sermons. In November of the same year the Golden Jubilee of Pastor Mueller's ordination was celebrated by the congregation. His friend, Prof. George Stoeckhardt of St. Louis, preached the sermon. Congratulations from many quarters were received, including the mayor and city council of Chester.
Three years after this celebration, December 26, 1900, at 11 p.m., Rev. Mueller died suddenly of heart failure, at the age of 75 years, 1 month, and 27 days. He was buried on the Sunday after Christmas, December 30, in the congregation's own cemetery which he had been instrumental in founding in 1892. The Rev. F. Brust, of Horse Prairie, Illinois, preached the funeral sermon from Luke 2:29-32 (“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace . . . “).
Rev. Mueller was born in the town of Planena in Saxony, Germany, which country he left with his parents when he was a boy. The family had joined the immigrant company of Lutherans who settled in Perry County, Missouri, and at St. Louis, in 1839. Rev. Mueller attended our first College and Seminary at Perry County, and left it as its first graduate in theology in the fall of 1847, the year of the founding of our Synod. From Manchester, St. Louis County, his first charge, he went to Chicago, then to Pittsburgh, and from there to Johnsburg, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where he was called to Chester. Rev. Mueller was a man of sound learning, firm convictions, commanding eloquence, and amiable character. His popularity was not due to false leniency, but because his people respected him for his God-given qualities of mind and heart and for his faithful labors among them. He was, indeed, their spiritual father. God’s blessings continued to rest upon the congregation in a special manner during his ministry. Besides his work in Chester and at Ste. Genenvieve, and Jonesboro, Illinois, he served Synod in a literary capacity and as Vice-President of the Illinois District.
5. Pastor C. Strasen, 1901 - 1908
The successor of Rev. Mueller was Rev. Charles Strasen, of Wine Hill, Illinois, who was Rev. Mueller's nephew, his sister’s son. He was unanimously called and was installed by Rev. George Link, his father-in-law, on the fifth Sunday in Lent, 1901.
Shortly after his installation the congregation decided to improve the interior of its church by having the walls and ceiling decorated. This was done at an expense of $835. Two years later Mother Allmeyer (Anna, Nellie Crisler's grandmother) presented the congregation with two new large bells for the tower. Hitherto it had contained but one small bell. Nellie's father told her "When you hear the bells you'll know your Grandma's calling you to church."
Owing to the missionary activities of Rev. Strasen, it became necessary to introduce English services in 1901. Rev. Strasen also began a mission at the Southern Illinois Penitentiary at Menard, near Chester, where he soon gained the confidence and esteem, not only of the inmates, but of the prison authorities as well. His work is still remembered there, and the mission begun by him has been continued since.
For more than seven years God continued to bless this ministry, after which time He caused Rev. Strasen to accept a call as superintendent of the Lutheran Home-Finding Society of Michigan.
In April 1902, owing to the growth of the school, Miss Dora Zastrow, daughter of Teacher Zastrow, was employed to teach the beginners' class. She continued in that capacity for nearly six years.
In September 1903, Teacher Arndt accepted a call to Steeleville, and was succeeded in October 1903, by Teacher Lehmann who had to be released in September 1904, due to a pulmonary infection. Rev. Strasen taught during the interim while various unsuccessful attempts were being made to secure another teacher. Finally, January 8, 1905, Teacher Otto Schroeter, of Farrar, Perry County, Missouri, was called. In him the congregation secured a faithful and skillful teacher and a fine musician who soon had the respect and love of pupils and parents. On March 22, 1908, Teacher K. Hoffmann of Seward, Nebraska, was called, but in January 24, 1909, he was released to accept another call, much to the regret of his pupils and of the congregation. Miss Zastrow was again employed to teach the beginners' class.
6. Pastor W. H. Behrens, 1909 - 1924
After a number of unsuccessful calls had been sent, Pastor W. H. Behrens of Portland, Oregon was called in January 1909. He was installed April 25, 1909 by Rev. J. Nickel of Wine Hill, assisted by Pastors Erdmann, Hartenberger, Wilk and Haertling. Pastor Behrens was born December 6, 1870 in St. Louis Missouri. He graduated from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in 1893. After a period of pastoral and missionary work in Salt Lake City, Utah, he was called to Tacomah, doing missionary work from that location in practically the entire state of Washington. Pastor Behrens then served a congregation in Portland for a number of years and was elected president of the Oregon and Washington District. He set aside that office to answer the call to Chester.
On September 2, 1910, Mr. Martin H. Grefe, a candidate from our Teachers’ Seminary at Addison, was installed as teacher of the first two grades, succeeding Miss Dora Zastrow. Teacher Grefe stayed with us 55 years, until his retirement in 1965, though he too, received repeated calls from other fields. He at all times gave the congregation faithful and diligent service.
On November 19, 1912, the congregation felt obliged to give Teacher Schroeter a peaceful dismissal to the congregation at Staunton, after many previous calls from other quarters had been returned by him. He left with the good will and best wishes of the entire congregation. Teacher Grefe became his successor and Miss Dora Zastrow again took charge of the lowest grades until a teacher was once more called to succeed her.
Candidate Arthur Buescher from our Teachers' Seminary at Addison entered upon his duties at the beginning of the school year 1913 -14. He served the congregation faithfully and well for three years in the two lowest grades.
Owing to the fact that the old frame school of the congregation was greatly in need of repairs, the basement being no longer suitable for school purposes, and also because there was no confirmation classroom nor a hall for assembly purposes, the congregation resolved to build a new school. A plan was finally adopted, and building operations were begun April 15, 1913. The cornerstone was laid July 6, 1913. Rev. F. Wenger, of Frohna, Missouri, preached a German sermon and Rev. J. Nickel, of Wine Hill, an English sermon. The building was completed in May, 1914, and dedicated on the 10th of that month. Prof. F. Streckfuss, of Springfield, preached a German sermon in the morning, Rev. F. Melzer, of Steeleville, preached another German sermon in the afternoon, and Prof. Theo. Graebner, of St. Louis, preached an English sermon in the evening. The school was a substantial brick structure with three classrooms on the lower floor and a confirmation classroom and a hall, seating 300, on the upper floor. The building site, diagonally across from the old school, was 140 X 240 feet and cost $11,800. The building itself was erected at a cost of $14,486.95 on the location of our present school.
Because of the violent prejudice against the German language after our country's entry into the World War I (1914), German was entirely eliminated from the school and eventually from church services. To have failed to do this at that critical time might have led to a serious and dangerous situation. After the close of the war the congregation decided to reinstate German in the school only as an optional language study and to confine it to the teaching of reading and writing at the end of the school day in grades 3 - 8. This change and the consequent confirmation of catechumens only in English obliged the congregation to introduce more English services, so that the number of them equaled that of the German services, one service in each language being conducted every Sunday. Gradually in the course of years, only one German service per month was conducted, and finally entirely eliminated.
In July 1916 Teacher Buescher accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Congregation at Portland, Oregon and was released. After repeated failures to secure a successor the congregation employed Miss Esther Gilster for three successive years and was well pleased with her services. Then Miss Ernestine Richter, another girl from the congregation, taught the first and second grades faithfully for two years.
During the school year 1921 - 22 when Teacher Zastrow was given a year's leave of absence on account of ill health, a student from Seward, Nebraska, Mr. William Ahlemeyer, taught grades 3 - 5, while Teacher Grefe took Mr. Zastrow's class and Miss Lydia Wiebusch had charge of Grades 1 and 2. When Mr. Zastrow returned, he was given the middle grades at his own request, and Teacher Grefe was retained in charge of the three highest grades, while Mr. Ahlemeyer taught the two lowest grades. In the school year of 1923 - 24, Miss Wiebusch was again teaching the lowest grades and doing good work there, while Teachers Grefe and Zastrow continued their work in Grades 6 - 8 and 3 - 5, respectively. Miss Wiebusch would continue teaching until 1947, 25 years. The total enrollment at the close of 1923 was 140, about the figure which had prevailed for the past few years.
On Sunday, August 11, 1918, the congregation observed Pastor Behrens’ 25th anniversary of ordination. The Rev. E. Koch of Wine Hill and Rev. J. H. Hartenberger of Red Bud were the guest speakers. After a banquet in the school basement, prepared by the Ladies’ Aid, the rest of the day was spent in fellowship.