St. John's Story
For 147 years we have sought to be faithful and visible witness in our community for Jesus Christ.
The story of St. John’s Church begins in the year 1868. In the fall of this year, after meeting in homes for awhile, a number of families of German descent called on Rev. Gilles, at that time Pastor of the Evangelical Church at Elmore, Ohio, and induced him to preach to them in the Methodist Church, which was available only on Sunday afternoons. After a few meetings thus held in the above named church, the people of Genoa realized, that in order to establish a congregation, and in order to satisfy the spiritual want of the people, it was necessary to organize and lay plans whereby a suitable place could be acquired, and a pastor could be called, enabling him to devote his entire time to the people of this locality. The organization was soon affected. J. H. H. Uthoff, H. Haeobeler, Sartmann, H. Schneider, Ed. Schneider, Wm. Forester, M. Engelhart, Fred Hoch, Herman Schulze, Wm. Coleman, J. Henry Dreier, F. Kasting, Jacob Busch, H. Dreier, Justus Braun, Fred Camper, and a few others, whose names we are unable to give as there is nothing mentioned in the chronicles of the first meetings.
Rev. Staebler, also from Elmore, served the newly organized Evangelical Protestant St. John’s Church in 1870. One of the oldest documents at hand shows that this organization was duly registered with the Ottawa County Recorder on January 31, 1871 as “The German United Evangelical Protestant St. John’s Church of Genoa, Ohio”, signed by Henry Schneider, secretary and Henry Haebbeler, Henry Gernhardt, and J. H. H. Uthoff as trustees. Services were held in both German and English until the 1940’s.
Through the kindness and generosity of Henry Haebbeler this newly organized church body came into the possession of their first site. This gentleman donated two lots on Superior and Second Streets. In the fall of the next year, 1871, the church building was erected, and stood for almost 90 years as an invitation to people to come and worship.
A building committee was elected and funds were collected so that in the fall of 1871 the newly erected church house could be dedicated to the triune God, under the newly called Pastor of the church, Rev. G. Boerner. Those who especially deserve to be mentioned in this connection are, J. H. H. Uthoff, Schneider and H. Haebbeler. The cost of the new building was approximately $7,000.00, of which over $3,500.00 had been given by the members and friends of the church. The new building was of adequate size, seating about 400, with a school room on the first floor; part of the first floor was arranged to serve as the Pastor’s residence. Although the membership was small these men stood together and through their earnest endeavors soon rid the church of its debt.
The following Pastors have served the Church in the past 90 years, aside from the two mentioned:
Rev. Wm. Boerner from 1870-1873. Under the leadership of this man St. John’s grew and gained influence in the community. Rev. Gebauer served the church next only for nine months.
Rev. Andres was the next called to the pastorate of this parish, and his untiring labors in behalf of St. John’s have been crowned with success, so that in his later years his successors could harvest what had been diligently sown under him. He served from 1874-1879.
Next in order came Rev. Theo. Munzert. He began his work in 1879 and resigned in 1883. Under his pastorate the congregation added a new addition to the rear of the church. The congregation was spiritually and financially strengthened under the leadership of this able man.
Rev. C. F. Fleck was called in 1883 and was the successful and well beloved pastor from 1883 until 1891. This earnest and spiritual leader guided the ship of this Congregation, as an experienced pilot, past many hidden rocks into a peaceful harbor. His work abides.
Rev. Burkhardt was the next in order. He served from 1891 to 1894. Rev. K. Mueller served the next two years from 1894-1896. Rev. K. Brunn became pastor in 1896 and severed his connection with St. John’s Church in 1903.
As St. John’s Evangelical Church (as it would soon be called) entered the 20th century, many changes and innovations came to pass. Many improvements were made during these years.
Rev. Paul Lehman began his time with the church in 1903. What promised to be a successful pastorate soon vanished like a dream, for it was ended when this good shepherd was suddenly, in 1904, called by the Master to feed the flock in the kingdom in Heaven. This left his family to grow into the life of the community.
In 1904 Rev. Winger took up the work in this congregation. For over eight years he faithfully and unreservedly gave his time and talents to the welfare and the growth of St. John’s Church. Under his guidance the modernly equipped parsonage was erected upon a lot previously acquired across from the church at Sixth and Superior Streets. The aggregate cost of this house and lot was $3,000. This stands today as a noble reward for the efforts of the church, and much to the comfort of the pastor. Under his regime a new heating system was installed I the church and Sunday School room, much to the comfort of the worshipers, and a new church bell placed in the tower, which has since called the members from far and near together Sunday after Sunday for devotion.
Rev. F. H. Mittendorf was called in 1913. A number of improvements were made during the nine years of his pastorate as the congregation grew beyond 300 communicant members. The interior of the church was renovated in 1913 and electric lights were placed in the sanctuary and basement rooms as well as in the parsonage in 1914. In 1915 the heating system was remodeled, followed by an extensive renovation program which included a new organ, pews, altar, pulpit, platform and hot air furnace which was added to the parsonage in 1917. In 1918 St. John’s celebrated its 50th anniversary as an organization during which time the records show there had been 1160 baptisms, 760 confirmed, 507 deaths, and 267 marriages. At that time there were 378 communicant members, showing a property valuation of about $30,000. The Sunday School had an enrollment of 189 pupils about 25 years after its organization. Three organizations, The Ladies Aid Society, Willing Workers, and Brotherhood, were active in the support of the church. Thus, St. John’s Evangelical Church, organized largely by people of German ancestry became the largest church in the community and an important factor in the life of the surrounding area, its members being composed of farmers, businessmen, and workers from all walks of life. The early part of the 20th century also saw a gradual change from the German language to the English, and thus the congregation gradually became a part of the “American” way of life.
Rev. Mittendorf continued his pastorate until 1922 when Rev. Paul David was called to what proved to be the longest span of service in the history of the church to that date, a period of 30 years. Improvements during this period of time consisted of the following: Addition of rest rooms, remodeling of kitchen, installation of chimes, gas furnace and minor improvements. A moving picture projector and other items of equipment were purchased to further the work of the Sunday School, the Church and the various organizations.
For a brief look at his span of service let us read directly from Rev. David’s own message to the church he served so long and faithfully.
“I came to Genoa, Ohio in September 1922 from Bookfield, Wisconsin. My pastorate represented a period of a little more than 30 years. The services at the time were conducted in two languages, German and English. It was a period of transition until the final change was made to a one language service. Many of the deeper experiences of a long pastorate cannot be expressed in a report.
There are joys and sorrows, gains and losses that could be recorded. But the deeper spiritual growth of individuals while it does appear in Godly character and Christian conduct nevertheless is largely hidden from view.
It has been a privilege to serve at St. John’s and the grace of God has certainly been active in its membership. Last year in July I completed 50 years in the ministry. That also is evidence of the grace of God and is not due to the merits and work of a human being. Many changes have taken place in the life of the congregation. Older folks as well as young people and children have passed on to eternity, but new generations take the place of the departed. Each child represents a new miracle and is a new creation of God.
Statistics: There were few less than 800 baptisms; 442 confirmations; 373 marriages and about 700 funerals. Who can tell al the important factors involved in these lives. God holds the key and He will explain the mysteries involved and reveal all the significant factors.
May St. John’s Church continue to grow in Godliness and in numbers; may its members exert a real Christian influence both at home and abroad and thus make a profound and abiding influence to the religious life of this community.
As to the future plans concerning a new location and a new church, may the Lord prosper the work of your hands.”
Rev. Paul O. David
The above period of 30 years saw the church grow to a membership of 500 and the Sunday School to about 300 when Rev. David decided in 1952 to retire from full time service in the ministry at the age of 72. The congregation showing their appreciation of his efforts, bestowed upon him the honor of being the first Pastor Emeritus of St. John’s Church, a position he continued to hold, choosing to serve and live out his life in the community which proved to be “home” for himself and his family until his death in November 1959.
While Rev. David was available and conducted church services for a 6 month period following his resignation, it was left to the officers and active members to carry on the work of the church and Sunday School until August of 1953. Instead of allowing things to drift, renewed efforts were made to further the work and growth of the church. In addition to arranging worship services, the interior of the parsonage was remodeled, the organ rebuilt, the choir loft enlarged, the sanctuary redecorated, and extra space was built for choir robes and music. New office equipment and supplies were purchased and a monthly church paper was started to keep pace with the demands of a growing church. It was evident however that the original building now over 80 years old, would soon be inadequate to fulfill the needs of a growing Sunday School (now over 350 pupils) and it was realized by many that a building program of some kind would soon be necessary.
More new members were added and efforts were made to enlarge the present building fund (then about $15,000.00) and it was in this atmosphere of hope and expectancy that Rev. Robert Nienkamp came from Oskaloosa, Iowa to take over the pastorate in August of 1953. At the outset, Rev. Nienkamp lent himself to the encouragement of a new church building program and placed greater emphasis on evangelism, stewardship, and other activities, looking toward a larger and more active congregation. Under his leadership the membership grew to more than 700 by the end of 1955.
In the meantime (November 1954) a fund raising drive was inaugurated and by the end of 1957, 3 years later, approximately $100,000 had been added to the building fund. The decision to build a new structure was strengthened by the generosity of a civic minded citizen of the community, Henry Bergman, who donated the present building site on Washington Street north of Packer Creek between 11th and 12th Streets a tract of approximately 5 acres in size. A building committee was appointed by the President of the congregation, Roger Hesselbart, in 1954, and the firm of Olson and Powers of Fremont was hired to draw up plans for the new building. The slogan for this project was “Forward in Faith”.
In 1957 the church joined a brand new denomination, the United Church of Christ. The United Church of Christ at large was forged by German immigrants who came to America in both the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1937 the German Reformed Church merged with the Evangelical Church to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church of America. Twenty years later in 1957 the “E & R” united with the Congregational Churches (a result of a previous merger), whose members trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower. Perhaps the greatest change of all, not yet fully realized was the change from the “Apostles’ Creed” used by the majority of Christians for about 1500 years, to a new “Statement of Faith” instituted shortly after the merger in 1957 after years of study.
After much searching, and discussion by the building committee and various members of the congregation a plan was officially accepted by the congregation in 1957 and a ground breaking ceremony was held at the site on May 18, 1958.
Among those participating in this ceremony were the oldest member, Wm. E. Blausey, who turned the first shovel of ground from his seat in a wheel chair, Eldo Bergman, the son of Henry Bergman, deceased and Robert Powers from the firm Olson and Powers who drew up the plans for the building, as well as Rev. Nienkamp, President Roger Hesselbart, Chairman of the Building Committee Warren Hesselbart, Church School Superintendent Luther Rust, and other members of the Building Committee listed below. Both the Senior and Junior Choirs were a part of the impressive program which included the use of loud speakers and cameras to record in pictures the beginning of an event which will affect the lives of many persons for years to come.
A contract was subsequently granted to the Johnson Lumber Company of Wiliston to erect the assembly hall, the educational unit, offices, and utility rooms, etc. for the sum of $221,000.00 Since funds were not immediately available to finance the Church Sanctuary this project would have to be undertaken at a later date, with regular services to be held in the assembly hall in the meantime. The old building was to be sold if possible to another group or organization.
Construction on the new building began on July 17, 1958 and the laying of the cornerstone and the observance of the churches 90th anniversary simultaneously took place on this day of our Lord August 24, 1958 thus ushering in a new era in the lives of the members of the new St. John’s United Church of Christ, (formerly Evangelical and Reformed and St. John’s Evangelical Church) of Genoa, Ohio.
The following statistics should be of particular interest at this time:
Membership of Church: 776
Membership of Church School: 454
We here have had to look at the past. Now we turn our thoughts to the present and the future and pray that God will bless our efforts and those who follow in our footsteps knowing full well that Jesus Christ is the spiritual cornerstone of our church. Credit for the progress of His church and His Kingdom goes not only to our Pastors, but to the many active and faithful members both past and present as they were influenced by God’s Holy Spirit to carry on. If their names are hidden in the annals of time and obscured by events in Church history they may take comfort in the words of the Master, “Whoever shall lose his life for my sake shall save it.” May the future members of St. John’s continue in the work of advancing the Kingdom and that all may someday hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.”
The congregation was once more saddened by the death of a minister in service, and Rev. Nienkamp was not privileged to see the fulfillment of a dream of a new church. A common meeting room across from the church kitchen was dedicated in memory of Rev. Nienkamp and the vision he had for the future of the work of the Lord through the members and ministries of St. John’s church in Genoa.
In September 1959, Rev. Paul Rohrbaugh (then president of the Northwest Ohio Synod) came to Genoa from Upper Sandusky, and under his able guidance the entire building was completed in 1962. In 1965 a new parsonage was built at 1111 West Street. The total cost of sanctuary, chapel, bell tower and educational unit including a new parsonage completed in 1965 on a lot donated by Earl Camper at West and 12th Streets amounted to approximately $500,000. For a period of three years (1964-1967), St. John’s had as Assistant Pastor Rev. Robert Carlson, who then left to fill a pastorate at Wellington, Ohio. It was with regret, also, that the congregation learned late in 1967 that Rev. Rohrbaugh had accepted a call to Richmond Heights, Ohio. In the interim period, the pulpit was filled by Rev. Theodore Klaudt, former pastor of First United Church of Christ in Toledo.
In 1968, the Centennial year for Genoa as well as St. John’s Church, Rev. Paul E. Deppen was called to be pastor. St. John’s Nurturing Center was established as a daycare and preschool ministry of the church in 1973. In 1974, the church called an associate pastor, Rev. Robert M. Waidmann. During the years of these two pastors, the organ in the sanctuary has been rebuilt and enlarged by Organ Architect Julian Bulley from Dayton, Ohio, five young people have entered full-time Christian ministry: the Rev. Harold Steindam (1975), Rev. Dennis Moritz (1976), Rev. Thomas Norwalk (1979), Ms. Kris (Wilkins) Greene (1979), and Ms. Denise (Chambers) Clough (1981).
The mortgage for the new church building was burned in February 1975, and two sizeable estates were bequeathed to the church. Clarence Kruse shared an estate of approximately $100,000 for Home and Foreign Mission, and Alta T. Moyer bequeathed $588,000 for the care of the elderly in the Genoa community. The Kruse Estate was shared in projects entirely beyond the local congregation, and an Elderlife Community for the well-elderly was built on 19+ acres purchased in 1982 adjacent to the church. The first phase of this community was built in 1986 and contained fourteen apartments. To date the Elderlife Community has grown to three buildings and 40 apartments.
The membership at St. John’s grew to over 1000 members in the 1970’s. The church building, built in 1961, is one of two church buildings in the United Church of Christ which has “The Statement of Faith” of the Church in church window symbols. The stained glass windows that grace the chapel and sanctuary were created by artist Russel S. Heizer from Westerville, Ohio. The windows are made of “faceted glass” bound with epoxy resin. The twelve windows in the sanctuary depict the UCC statement of faith. Windows in the chapel depict the “I Am” statements of Jesus found in the Gospel of John and in Revelation.
After nearly 20 years of service, Rev. Paul Deppen resigned the pastorate. In early 1988 Rev. Robert Waidmann, the associate pastor, assumed the duties of senior pastor. Rev. Mark Katrick served as associate pastor from 1989 to 1993. Denise Clough served as Christian Education Director from 1993 to 1996. Devin Erickson served as youth director from 200 to 2001. Rev. Don Corbin served as interim minister from 2001 to 2002.
In December of 2002, Steven J. Simpson was called as senior pastor and served until July 2008. During this time many updates were made to the technology systems of the church by adding a projection system in the sanctuary, updated sound system, computers for the offices and the integration of a website and web-database system for church records. Also during this time Ryan Shields began serving as youth director. Through his service, the youth program at St. John’s has been revitalized and is actively serving and growing in many ways.
Rev. Winfield Strout was called as interim minister from 2008 thru July 17, 2011. Rev. Thomas Steensma served as interim minister from July 18, 2011 thru December 31, 2011. At that time, Rev. Dr. Don J. Giesmann was called to be the senior pastor. Ryan Shields received lay licensure in 2013 and currently serves St. John’s as youth pastor and licensed lay minister. Most recent projects of the church have been the purchase of a new hybrid digital-pipe organ console and repair of the many pipes in the three pipe loft stories and the replacement of the heating and cooling boiler-chiller system.
Today, we continue to honor our past while building the future as we move forward in faith!
~contributors to the above article:
Historian, Ray E. Nickelsen (1988) and other history documents of the church.