St. John United Church of Christ
History of the Church
St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Naperville was founded by a small group of German worshippers in 1857. Two brothers, Adolph and Herman Hammerschmidt, came to this country in 1848 and settled in Naperville. Naperville had a German-speaking Protestant church but the brothers attended English language services until the time that Adolph married Adeline Von Oven, who missed her German church. At the urging of his wife he organized a small group of German Lutherans who held services whenever a visiting German preacher came to Naperville. Then in 1857 Henry Horstmann, a cousin of Adeline Von Oven, returned to his native city of Elberfeld and became acquainted with a student of the Barmen mission house. This student, Herman Liesmann, agreed to take up the ministry among the German settlers in Naperville and upon his arrival, began preaching in a classroom of the recently established Naper Academy for the rental fee of $50 a year. By 1858 the congregation had raised the sum of $600 and was able to purchase a church building from the Evangelicals. Pastor Liesmann and the parishioners worked together to build a parsonage.
Pastor Liesmann served the church until 1860 and then moved to Harrisburg, PA. He was succeeded as pastor by Helydor Quehl, who stayed with the church until 1862. Pastor Quehl played the harmonium as well as preached excellent sermons. Pastor Quehl’s successor was Reverend E. H. Buhre who divided his time between the Naperville church and a church in Downer’s Grove. After two years he resigned from his pastorship in Naperville to devote himself full time to the church in Downer’s Grove. After a vacancy of one year, the Reverend William Binner became the pastor, and served both St. John and a church in Oswego, preaching on alternate Sundays at each church. In 1869 Rev. Binner announced that he was leaving Illinois to try and revive a declining church in Indiana at the request of the Synod president, but before he left he helped provide his successor, a young Mr. Kern. Unfortunately, Mr. Kern’s inexperience led to many mistakes on his part and after a year he was transferred to a church in Wisconsin.
The next pastor to serve the congregation was Rev. J. Lotka a German theologian. He was an earnest and able preacher, but after only six months he left to become a Professor of Theology at Faribault, MN and the Synod sent Rev. Schoeppel to serve as pastor. During Rev. Schoeppel’s ministry the church was remodeled due to the generosity of a benefactor in Basel, who offered the church $1000 for the remodeling. The next pastor to serve the church was a young Swiss named Reinhard Wobus, who stayed for two years before leaving to become an instructor in the theological seminary at Marthasville, MO.
In 1876 the next Pastor, H. S. Teutschel arrived, but only remained one year and was succeeded in 1878 by Rev. H. Heubschmann who was born in Germany and educated in Hamburg. In 1881 Rev. Heubschmann left and Rev. Hagemann came from Amboy, IL to serve the church. During his stay he gave catechetical instructions every other week and left a lasting impression on the congregation. When Rev. Hagemann left in 1883 he recommended his friend P. Dipple be appointed as pastor and Mr. Dipple stayed until Rev. F. D. Illg became pastor in 1884. Rev. Illg was a former missionary in Africa and was in great demand as a speaker. He served until 1890 when Rev. M. Otto, a native of Switzerland took over the pastorate of the church. In 1894, Rev. Otto was succeeded by another Swiss, H. Stolzenbach. Rev. Stolzenbach had served for three years as a missionary in China where he translated the Gospel of Matthew into Chinese. He immigrated to the United States and was received into the German Evangelical Synod. He served the church for two years and was succeeded by Rev. P. Klar in 1896. Rev. Klar broke away from the German Evangelical Synod in 1898 and started a German Congregational church in Naperville. R. Rosenfelt, served as interim pastor during 1898 and then Rev. L. Von Rague took over as pastor. During his pastorate the church prospered with both morning and evening services and active church societies. During this time the parsonage was improved and benches were bought for the church for $265.00.
In 1902 Rev. Von Rague resigned and T. Merback, a native of Germany, became pastor. During his time of service the 50th anniversary of the church was celebrated, in 1907, and the organ was dedicated. Rev. Merback served the church until 1910 and was succeeded by Rev. Mueller, who served until 1912. After Rev. Mueller left, a young man from Sandwich, IL, Rev. John Moeller, assumed the duties of pastor and served until 1914. He was then succeeded by Rev. F. Klingeberger.
During the pastorate of Rev. Klingeberger the stained glass windows were installed and the baptismal font was donated.
Rev. Klingeberger served the church until 1922, when Rev. C. Freitag became pastor. Rev. Freitag was a natural born pianist and directed many religious plays. During his pastorate English services were instituted on a once a month basis. In 1926 Rev. Freitag was succeeded by Rev. Paul Breuckner. It was during his time of service that the Elmhurst hymnals were purchased and German and English services were held alternately. Rev. Breuckner celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination while serving St. John’s church (1887-1937).
In 1934 the church merged with the Reformed Church of the United States and became St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1937 Rev. G. Kutz became pastor. During his tenure the school house was sold and the church building was moved on to a new foundation and remodeled. Rev. M. Zielinski took over as pastor in 1942 and during his pastorate the parsonage was remodeled, new hymnals were purchased, and an outside bulletin board was installed. When Rev. Zielinski accepted a call elsewhere, Rev. M.C. Hoefer became pastor. During his pastorate German services were held only once a month and eventually were discontinued altogether. Rev. Hoefer retired in 1947 and Rev. Harold Ott replaced him as pastor. Rev. Ott served until 1950 when he was replaced by Rev. Henry Voss, a graduate of Mission House Seminary in Plymouth, Wisconsin. Rev. Voss instituted catechism instructions as part of the Sunday School lesson.
In 1957 the Evangelical and Reformed churches and the Congregational Christian churches merged to become the United Church of Christ. Also in that year the church celebrated its Centennial Celebration. As part of the celebration they remodeled the nave and basement and painted the exterior of the church. Also during that year the property adjoining the church property was purchased with an eye to future church expansion.
Rev. Edward Heine became pastor in 1958 and served until 1964. In 1965 Rev. John Fielding accepted the pastorate and served the church until 1968 when he left to accept a position in LaGrange. During his time at the church a decision was made by the congregation to relocate the church to a more spacious area. Church school facilities were considered inadequate and it was felt that the church was located too close to the sister church, First Congregational. A five-acre tract on the northeast corner of Hobson Road and Olesen Drive that included a house to be used as a parsonage was purchased in 1968.
In June of 1968 Rev. Robert Stout became pastor and he and his family moved into the new parsonage in 1970. The old church building was sold, along with the parsonage and parish house and the last service at that location was held on June 6, 1971. Ground for the new building was broken the same day. The old church building was moved to Naper Settlement, where it now serves as the “Meeting House.” While the new church was being built, the congregation met in the chapel of the Evangelical Theological Seminary on School Street.
The cornerstone of the new building was laid on April 30, 1972 and a number of items were sealed into the stone. The children of the congregation were given the honor of resealing the stone as a sign of the congregation’s hopes for the future of the church.
Although the architecture of the new church is very different from the little white church that originally housed the congregation, one thing at least remained the same. The bell in the new bell tower is the same bell that served the congregation during all the years in the old building. On Pentecost Sunday, May 21, 1972, the first service was held in the new building and both Communion and Confirmation were celebrated that day.
In 1976 Rev. Stout left the church and Rev. Paul Rawley accepted the call to the pastorate, which he filled until 1990, becoming the longest-serving pastor to date.
In 1980 the corner property, including the parsonage, was sold to raise funds to build the first Sunday School addition to the church. A paved parking lot was added in 1982 and new hymnals were given to the church and dedicated at the 125th anniversary service in October.
Also during that time a new communion table and new pulpit were dedicated, and new altar linens and frontal were given to the church. A Yamaha piano was donated and the 7 by 12 foot banner that hangs on the sanctuary wall was designed and made by members of the congregation.
1983 ceiling fans and new pews were installed. In 1985 a gift of offering plates was made. In 1987 a new sound system was installed. In 1989 air conditioning was added. Also, in 1989 approval was given by the congregation to build an addition, and ground-breaking for the 6,000 square foot addition took place in June of 1990. Five classrooms and the Parish Life Center, with kitchen, were added to the existing structure.
In January 1991, Rev. David Plant became pastor and served until January of 1994. During his pastorate the church celebrated its 135th anniversary in 1992. The triangular stained glass window above the main entrance doors was an anniversary gift and was installed in 1993.
Rev. Robert McWilliams accepted the call to St. John Church and assumed the pastorate in April 1994. As a tribute to the German heritage of St. John it was decided to add a monthly German language service after the English language service and a German pastor was found to lead the worship.
Increased membership and many visitors made the congregation see the need to increase the size of the church parlor, and in May of 1998 the membership voted to build an addition onto the rear of the parlor. After many frustrating delays the parlor addition was completed and the dedication service was held on February 25, 2001. The enlarged parlor is a wonderful place to meet for coffee and goodies after the service on Sunday morning, and is used for cabinet meetings, soup luncheons for seniors, the Palm Sunday cakewalk and many other functions.
Early in 2002, Pastor Bob McWilliams announced that he would be retiring from full time ministry in August of that year, and the search began for a new pastor. In the interim period between pastors, Rev. Paul Rawley who served the church from 1977 to 1990 agreed to return and lead the church until the new pastor was found.
In October 2002 the church celebrated its 145th anniversary by the addition of a Memorial Prayer Garden on the grounds in the rear of the church building. This garden features paths, flowers and the statue of an angel in the center.
At a specially called congregational meeting on December 8, 2002, the Pulpit Committee presented Rev. Michael Daly to the church for a confirming vote and he was installed as pastor on March 16, 2003. In November of 2003 he announced his engagement to Rev. Susan Richards, an ordained UCC minister serving a church in St. Charles, IL. They were married May 15, 2004 and the congregation held a reception celebrating the event and welcoming “Suzy” into their midst on May 2.2nd. In August of that year a new service, “The Blessing of the Animals” was begun and is continued annually.
Also in August of 2004 a new opportunity for growth was presented to the church and the congregation voted to call Rev. Matthew Mimlitz to St. John as associate pastor focusing on youth ministry, mission, and membership. This was the first time in the history of the church that there had been an associate pastor and this was a leap of faith for the congregation. Pastor Matt was installed January 9, 2005 and he and his family have been a wonderful addition to St. John Church.
On May 12, 2005 Pastors Mike and Suzy welcomed a daughter Chloe Elizabeth into their family, where she joined older brothers Brendan, and Connor Daly. The women of the church held a baby shower for Chloe and her mother on June 26th and everyone took turns holding the beautiful little girl.
Also in June of 2005 the new organ, purchased with a gift from a long-time member family, was dedicated, and continues to provide a wonderful accompaniment to the choir at Sunday worship.
May 2006 marked the eleventh anniversary of the German language service at the church as this ministry continues to serve the German speaking people of the area.
During our 150th year, from October 2006 to October 2007, St. John U.C.C. has celebrated with a kickoff party at our former church building at the Naper Settlement, invited former pastors back to our pulpit, sold wood carving remembrances of our current church building, assembled a quilt with squares from all the church member families, published a cookbook, held an all church picnic and a dinner dance at the Cress Creek Country Club.
We remember our heritage with pride, and look to the future with confidence in God’s continued blessings for our congregation.