This far by Faith
Conversations were held about the need for a Lutheran presence in the developing town of Port Clinton and as a result, the congregation of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized on September 28, 1875. Property was soon purchased at the corner of West Second Street and Jackson for $450.00 on March 12, 1876 and the first frame church building was completed in 1878.
In April of 1878, the congregation was incorporated as an organized Lutheran congregation and The Reverend John C. Lilje was called as St. John’s first pastor. Pastor Lilje served here for eight years, receiving a salary of $300.00 per year. Pastor Lilje resigned on May 1, 1886 to accept a new call in Salem Township.
On June 20, 1886, The Reverend Theodore Koehler was installed as pastor. A two-story parsonage was built adjoining the church soon after the arrival of Pastor Koehler.
St. John’s next pastor was The Reverend A.Oscar Gallenkamp who served from 1895 to 1898. During this period controversies erupted over pastor selection procedures and membership in Social Orders. As a result a number of members severed their connection with St. John’s and formed Peace Lutheran Church in 1895.
Continuing growth during the leadership of Pastor Gallenkamp made the first structure inadequate. When it became apparent that adding to the structure was not feasible, plans were made to erect a new church building. The small church was sold and moved to the corner of West Third and Harrison, and served as the West End Grocery. In 1999 it was converted to handicapped-accessible apartments.
In July of 1897 plans were drawn for a Gothic brick structure to be built with a full basement and steeple. A pipe organ was also included in the worship space. The new house of worship was dedicated on February 27, 1898. The cornerstone was inscribed in German, 1897 Deutsche Evangelische St. John Kirche.
Later that year, Pastor Gallenkamp accepted a new call and The Reverend S. K. Strauss was called to serve at St. John’s. Much hard work was expended in seeking to reduce the debt from the building of the new church structure.
Then an unforeseen development took place within the life of the congregation. The New York Central Railroad found it necessary to change it’s line and widen it’s tracks. This brought the tracks in such close proximity to the church property line that an offer was made to purchase the building. After months of discussion and deliberation about assuming a new, larger debt, the congregation voted to accept the railroad’s offer of $23,000. The altar was of black walnut and the church and Sunday School furniture was hand carved from oak. The former church building is now used by Heinemann Distributing Company.
A property was purchased at the corner of East Second and Adams St for $5,000.00. A building committee was chosen and work soon began on the construction of the sanctuary still in use. The dedication took place on September 26, 1915. A two-story frame building was purchased for a parsonage on Adams Street. The total cost of construction was over $50,000 with an indebtedness of just $16,000.
In May 1918 Pastor Strauss accepted a call to Wheeling, West Virginia, concluding 20 years as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church.
The Reverend F. Lambertus was installed as pastor in October 1918. The following year, 1919, the congregation voted to hold all worship services in English. A larger parsonage was needed and a home at 218 Washington was purchased. Extra space in the parsonage was utilized by the St. John Lutheran Church Sunday School, as in 1925 over 225 students were enrolled. The first church secretary, Miss Elma Miller was hired in May of 1923.
In September of 1925 a Golden Jubilee was celebrated as the congregation observed it’s 50th Anniversary. Former Pastors Koehler and Strauss were present for the festivities. Records indicate that in those 50 years the congregation had experienced significant growth. There had been until that time in history 895 funerals, 1675 baptisms and 900 youth confirmed their faith. Five years later, in 1930, the congregation was debt free.
The twelve year pastorate of Pastor Lambertus came to a conclusion in 1930. In the fall of that year, The Reverend W.A Siefkes became the pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, he would serve here for 13 years. During his leadership, the membership grew to 1350 baptized members, and Sunday School enrollment was at a staggering figure of 500! Because of this period of growth, St. John’s first Associate Pastor was called, The Reverend Harold Jahr. His stay was brief and he was succeeded by The Reverend W. Lehman of Fremont, Ohio.
A disastrous fire occurred in the parsonage. Following an extensive repairing and remodeling project, the need for living quarters for the assistants and the need for a church office became urgent. A home at the corner of Washington and East Second was purchased. In May of 1934, the Siefkes family moved into the parsonage and the second floor was remodeled to serve as a parish house.
In 1938, 250 pastors and delegates of the Michigan District of the American Lutheran Church met in convention at St. John Lutheran Church. Delegates were housed in the homes of members. The Lutheran Standard featured a story about St. John Lutheran Church in February of 1939. The congregational membership stood at 1,100 sustaining members, a confirmed membership of 1,400, and 400 students enrolled in Sunday School.
As WWII broke out, Pastor Siefkes was called by the Service Commission of the National Lutheran Council to serve as pastor of the Lutheran Service Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Church Council was reluctant to grant his release, but they were unwilling to stand in the way of his Call and his desire to be in service to the men of the armed forces. 114 young men and women from St. John Lutheran Church also answered the nation’s call to service. By the end of the war, 192 members had served.
On August 1, 1943, The Reverend Theodore J. Pretzlaff was installed as pastor. A significant moment during these war years was the ordination of the first son of St. John’s, Quentin Battiste, was ordained on June 2, 1946 as a Lutheran pastor. By 1944 the baptized membership stood at 1,989, with 1,137 confirmed members. In 1946 Pastor Pretzlaff left St. John’s to accept a call to Salem Lutheran Church in Detroit, Michigan.
With the war now over, Chaplain John F. Braun returned to his parish at Venice, Ohio having served Trinity Lutheran Church for 15 years before the war, where he served as Chaplain of the U.S. Armed Forces in the European theatre. He became pastor of St. John Lutheran Church on October 20, 1946, taking residence in the Washington St. parsonage with his wife Dorothy and son, John.
A number of vicars, later known as interns, were called to assist with the pastoral duties at St. John’s. All of them were assigned through Capital University Seminary in Columbus. Among these were : J. Edward Schmidt, Richard Poock, Paul Klopfer, Jack Dennis, Richard Bauer, Rollin Reiss, Robert Yoemans, Jay Radar, Lewis Glick, Paul Long and David Moke.
1950 brought the 75th Diamond Jubilee. Four services in September celebrated this milestone. Former pastors returned to share in the joy of this occasion.
Significant growth in the Sunday School program brought a need for additional classrooms, and a portable building was erected. It later was sold to the Union Sunday School at Catawba Island and became known as the Union Chapel.
In 1952 the rebuilt pipe organ was dedicated as the Siefkes Memorial Organ in memory of Pastor Siefkes who had passed away in 1951.
Crowded conditions in the growing congregation made it imperative that additional rooms and church offices be built. Membership stood at 1,803 baptized members and 1,229 confirmed members, with an astounding Sunday School enrollment of 707! A Parish Hall seemed to be the solution to the overcrowded conditions. A building committee was formed and the ground breaking took place on Sunday, December 21, 1952. The completed educational building was dedicated on May 9, 1954.
In 1957 the Michigan District Convention of the American Lutheran Church was held once again at St. John Lutheran Church. Also in 1957, the second of St. John’s “sons,” Richard Lafer was ordained. It was also in 1957 that the Church Council determined to call a second pastor to the pastoral staff. A call was extended to a recent seminary graduate, The Reverend Harry S. Holzapfel, who was installed on June 16, 1957.
The life of the congregation was moved to deep sorrow in September of 1958 with the untimely death of Dorothy Braun, wife of Pastor Braun. In deep appreciation for her untiring efforts on behalf of the congregation, a memorial fund was established. Because of her deep love for music, automatic chimes were installed in her memory.
In 1960 Pastor Braun was a delegate to the Constituting Convention of The American Lutheran Church held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At that time the membership of St. John Lutheran Church stood at 2,080 baptized, 1,453 confirmed and with a Sunday School enrollment of 731. Sunday worship services were first broadcast on WRWR-FM in October of 1961. The Bethel Bible study series was also started in 1961, with Pastor Holzapfel providing leadership.
In 1962 upon the death of Ms. Pearl Wahlers, her home was given to St. John Lutheran Church to be used as a parsonage for a minimum of twenty years. After extensive remodeling, the parsonage was dedicated in 1963 and Pastor Holzapfel and his family moved in. On June 6, 1963 Pastor Braun was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree from Capital University. The parsonage at 129 Washington Street was sold.
On Sunday, September 26, 1965 the 50th Anniversary of the Dedication of St. John Lutheran Church was celebrated, along with the 90th Anniversary of the founding of the congregation. Pastors Pretzlaff, Lafer and Battiste returned to St. John’s during the celebration in September and October.
Again in 1966, St. John Lutheran Church was honored to host the Michigan District Convention of The American Lutheran Church. Over 460 delegates attended. 1966 was also a great year of celebration for Dr. Braun as the congregation observed his Twentieth Anniversary in Port Clinton, and his 40th Year of Ordination as a Lutheran pastor.
It was also in 1966 that the Mission Board of The American Lutheran Church approved the establishment of a mission congregation on Catawba Island. Ground was broken in August for what would become Resurrection Lutheran Church. Approximately 99 members were transferred to Resurrection from St. John Lutheran Church.
The first woman to serve on Church Council was Florence Rastall who began her duties as Secretary in 1967. Later that same year, aware of the forthcoming retirement of Dr. Braun, a call was issued to The Reverend Richard Buchsteiner, a graduate of Wartburg Seminary. Pastor Buchsteiner was installed on August 6, 1967. On Sunday, August 27, Dr. Braun, after serving St. John Lutheran Church for 21 years, gave his final sermon, entitled, “The Time for My Departure.” His retirement was effective on September 1, 1967. One year later, Dr. Braun was called from this life. A scholarship Fund was started in his memory at Capital University.
Many benevolent and service projects were initiated in 1968 including: The LIFE Project, a $15,000 loan to Resurrection Lutheran Church, a gift to St. Luke’s School of Nursing, and permission for Head Start to use space in the Parish Hall.
The radio ministry began on a regular basis in December 1970 over WRWR-FM.
On June 18, 1972 the third of St. John’s sons, Raymond Vance was ordained. He accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Church in Hemet, California.
In May 1974 $5,000 received from the estate of Mr. and Mrs. John Lorentzen was placed in the New Organ Fund, along with an anonymous donation of $1,500.00 On December 8, 1974 a special congregational meeting approved the purchase of a new pipe organ from M.P. Moller Company for $52,000.00 This replaced the organ that had served such 1913.
The Centennial Anniversary was celebrated in 1975 under the theme The Past Remembered, The Present Enriched, The Future Challenged.
In January of 1975 Pastor Buchsteiner received and accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Church in Bryan, Ohio. His final sermon was delivered on February 1, 1975 which had been declared Buchsteiner Day in Port Clinton. A Call Committee was formed and a call was issued to Charles Campbell, assuming his duties here at St. John Lutheran Church following his ordination at Zoar Lutheran Church, Perrysburg.
The building was used by many groups during these years including: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Head Start, Golden Agers, Health Clinics etc. Sporting activities included basketball, volleyball, roller skating and square dancing.
In 1975 the baptized membership stood at 1,974, with 471 enrolled in Sunday School.
On June 8, 1977 John Meachen was ordained into the Lutheran ministry.
In 1978 the congregation approved a new constitution which brought several significant changes: women could serve on Church Council in other positions besides secretary and treasurer; 18 year olds could vote and serve on Church Council, the annual meeting was moved to September from January, the Church Council is composed of elected boards each having direct responsibility for an area of ministry, and term limits were put in place. Other activities from 1978 included an annual stewardship campaign, recognition dinner for choir members, the installation of a new roof and the ordination of the fourth son of the congregation, William Twynham, and the purchase of The Lutheran Book of Worship.
A Matching Fund was established for students who attend Capital University in Columbus in 1979. The Parish Hall roof was repaired and additional hymnal racks were made and installed. The congregation was saddened by the death of Bonnie Braun in April. Bonnie was the wife of long-time Pastor Braun. The interior of the sanctuary was painted. Sixteen pew candelabras were purchased by the ALCW.
On January 27, 1980 Pastor Campbell resigned to further his education. A Call Committee was formed to select a new Associate Pastor.
Also in 1980 VBS was held jointly with Peace Lutheran, new offering envelopes were utilized. A new worship schedule was established for the summer with worship and Sunday School running concurrently at 9:30 am.
A call was extended to The Reverent Robert A. Schefter to become Associate Pastor here at St. John Lutheran Church. Pastor Schefter was installed on September 7, 1980.
On Wednesday, December 14, 1980 a fire started in the church basement. Fire spread through the old pipe organ chamber. Because of the prompt response of the Port Clinton Fire Department, the fire did not reach the attic. Due to extensive smoke damage, worship services were held in the Parish Hall.
In 1981 the basketball goals were removed from the Parish Hall because there was not adequate supervision.
Pastor Holzapfel and his wife Val were presented with a trip to Japan and China from the congregation for their 25th Wedding Anniversary. Pastor Patricia Shaffer-Gottschalk , the first daughter of St. John Lutheran Church was ordained on July 26, 1981. A fire alarm system was installed in the kitchen, along with an exhaust system. New blue paraments for Advent were made by Nancy Harris.
In 1982 Bethel Bible classes were held to train teachers for this overview of the Bible course. Pastor Holzapfel was honored for his 25 years of ordained ministry. Joint VBS was held with Peace Lutheran once again. The age for youth to participate in Confirmation was changed from 7th and 8th Grade to 6th and 7th Grade.
In 1983 the Parish Hall floor was refinished. The Men’s Glee Club from Capital University performed at the worship services. A film series was held in conjunction with Trinity United Methodist Church. After 16 years of faithful service Howard and Grace Ohm retired as custodians.
Four persons completed training for the Bethel Bible Series in 1984. The congregation loaned $35,000 through the Mission Investment Fund to All Saints Lutheran Church in Hartland, Michigan, where Pastor Patricia Shaffer-Gottschalk was serving as Mission Development pastor. Bus trips were taken to several locations. Pew cushions were purchased. After 30 years as church office secretary, Dorothy Ostling retired. Pastor Buchsteiner preached at worship. Jean Solem was hired to serve as church office secretary.
In 1985 St. John entered the technological age as a computer and printer were purchased for the church office. After 44 years as choir director, director of music and organist Luetta Brindley resigned. She had also served as Sunday School teacher and women’s Bible study leader. Blair Miller assumed the position of choir director, director of music and organist with the assistance of Erna Coppeler and Gwen Battiste. On November 17, 1985 Richard Budd was ordained. And on April 13, 1986 Pastor Robert Schefter resigned to take a call in Maryland.
In November of 1986 the congregation called The Reverend Karl Kessler to serve as Associate Pastor. He was installed on November 30, 1986.
Capital improvements in 1986 included painting the parsonage, new circulation pumps, exhaust fans in restrooms, new lights in stairways and Parish Hall, hot water heater in the sacristy, new carpet in entry ways of Parish Hall.
In 1987 St. John Lutheran Church voted to approve the merger of The American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in American and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. And then on January 1, 1988 The Evangelical Lutheran Church was officially formed, with offices in Chicago, Illinois. St. John became a member of the Northwestern Ohio Synod, whose headquarters is in Findlay.
In November of 1988 Pastor Eugene Loehrke was called as Visitation Pastor. 1988 also saw the renovation of the organ, a new roof on the belfry, paving of parking lot and alley, air conditioning for the lounge and protective coverings over the stained glass windows.
At the Congregational Meeting in 1988, the Endowment and the Special Needs Funds were established.
Hand bells were purchased on 1989 and the first worship participation of the Hand Bell Choir was on Easter Sunday in 1990, under the direction of Lisa Rider. The congregation entered into a Mission Partnership with The Old South End Ministry in Toledo.
In July 1991 the Elevator Fund had $80,000 in pledges towards a cost estimate of $140,000 and works was begun to provide accessibility to all portions of our building complex. The elevator was dedicated in June 1992.
Some staff changes also occurred in 1992 as Blair Miller resigned as Director of Music/Organist to enter Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Mrs. Ruth Hahn became Choir Director and Judy Moore started at church organist.
Also in 1992 the Chapel was redecorated, the Memorial Trust Fund purchased new choir robes, donated toward the restroom project at Lutheran Memorial Camp and a new sound system was purchased.
A wheelchair lift was installed in March 1993 in the Narthex.
After 36 faithful years of service to St. John Lutheran Church and the Port Clinton community, The Reverend Harry S. Holzapfel retired in September, 1993. After preaching his final sermon, a farewell dinner was held for members of the community at the Elks Lodge. The Mayor of Port Clinton proclaimed it Harry S. Holzapfel Day.
A Call Committee was soon formed. Pastor Karl Kessler resigned on June 30, 1994 to enter into Interim Ministry in the Northwestern Ohio Synod. A dinner was held for Pastor Kessler at the Elk’s Lodge.
In 1994 a new Constitution went into effect. Significant changes were that the total number of members of Church Council would be reduced by 5, each board would have two voting members and additional non-voting members, church council members would be appointed at large and appointed to specific boards, and the calling of a pastor was further defined.
A call was issued to The Reverend David Schellhase of Toledo who accepted the call, but later resigned for personal reasons.
On February 5, 1995 The Reverend Newell S. Nelsen was installed as pastor at St. John Lutheran Church. At the March 1995 meeting of the Church Council Pastor Harry Holzapfel was designated as Pastor Emeritus.
At a special congregational meeting held on July 30, 1995, members voted to enter into a major refurbishment project. Items included were: ceiling and wall repair and painting, organ repair, removal of front choir box, replace floor coverings, refinish pews, replace boilers, upgrade electrical system and repair stained glass windows. The grand total of the project was $325,000. Services were held in the Parish Hall from the end of November until Easter of 1996.
Mrs. Judy Moore resigned as Organist and Mr. Henry Kihlken was hired to be her replacement.
Pastor Richard Sutter joined the staff as Visitation Pastor in March of 1996, after having served as Senior Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Sandusky. On July 20, 1996 Blair Miller was ordained as a Lutheran pastor.
Pastor Nelsen and youth from St. John Lutheran Church attended the 1997 National ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Mr. Henry Kihlken gave an organ recital in April 1997 for the Rededication of the Organ.
Pastor Newell Nelsen received and accepted a call to Glenwood Lutheran Church in Toledo in August 1998.
Dorothy Wall was installed as the first woman President of St. John Lutheran Church in September of 1998. The Endowment Fund sent $5,000 for relief assistance to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in December 1998.
The Northwestern Ohio Synod recommended that St. John Lutheran Church have an Interim Pastor for up to two years. Pastor Alan Schwochow began duties as Interim Pastor on December 13, 1998.
Pastor Festo Ngowo of our companion congregation, Nkuhunu, in Dodoma, Tanzania preached at St. John Lutheran Church on April 11, 1999.
During the year of 2000, St. John Lutheran Church celebrated it’s 125th Anniversary under the theme, “Remembering Our Heritage, Welcoming Our Future.” Four former pastors returned to preach, as well as seven sons and daughters of the congregation. Northwestern Ohio Synod Bishop Marcus A Lohrmann was a special guest on the anniversary Sunday, and an anniversary dinner was held at The Elk’s Club. Quilt squares were made by member families and numerous wall hangings were created.
Also, in the year 2000, a Mission Statement was developed and approved that will guide St. John Lutheran Church into the future. In October of 2001, Pastor Alan Schwochow completed his duties as Interim Pastor, and Pastor Karl Kessler returned to St. John Lutheran Church for a six month interim.
On May 1, The Reverend James N. Lehman arrived in Port Clinton to begin serving at St. John Lutheran Church. Pastor Lehman was installed on May 19, 2002.
This on-line history was adapted from a longer written history complied from previous histories of St. John Lutheran Church. Those who have worked on keeping the history include: Patsy Coyle, Blanche Rofkar, Dorothy Ostling, Jean Solem, Betty Christiansen, Grace Ohm, Lucille Smith and Ruth Weisenauer.