Erie County (PA) Genealogy

City of Erie - St John's Lutheran Church History - Chapter 2

Contributed by Bill Klauk


The information below has been scanned and edited from a book titled "...History of... St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church ---at--- Erie, Pa. A.D. 1808 -- A.D. 1908 --- In remembrance of its Centennial August 16--21st, 1908" by the pastor Rev. Gustave A. Benze, A. M.

The scanning, editing, and any digital photography is being done by Bill Klauk; however, Bill Klauk has no association with this church, or with this religion, so he would not be able to answer any questions concerning this work.

Click here to return to Table of Contents. Chapter 2 is presented below.


CHAPTER II.

Building Up Of the Congregation, A. D. 1835 to A. D. 1859.

We now reach an important epoch in our congregational history. If in the early beginnings the Pennsylvania Germans formed the chief factor in its founding, another element, the European Germans now appear on the scene and gradually gain the ascendency, so that our congregation presents the unusual sight of a congregation becoming more German, instead of becoming more English in its later history, as is usually the case in our country. Such was the effect on our congregation of this immigration which came in growing numbers from all parts of Germany up to about 1885.

The little flock in Erie (then Eagle Village, later the borough of South Erie), which had met for years in private homes, and school houses, and had been served by travelling missionaries who made their headquarters at Meadville, had so grown that they could think of procuring a church edifice. The congregation was reorganized Jan. 1st, 1835, by the adoption of a new constitution. This was signed by 100 male members, which fact again goes to prove that the original congregation had not become extinct, but had grown comparatively strong. At this time, too, probably the name St. John's was adopted. A call was extended to the Rev. Karl Friedrich Stohlmann who was then a young candidate and had just come over from the old country. Dr. Stohlmann, as he was later known, after his removal from Erie became one of the leaders of the New York Ministerium, and was looked upon as a pillar of Lutheranism in the city of New York.

During his blessed ministry in Erie the congregation began to grow rapidly and to develop along the different lines of congregational life. Who can tell, if not the history of Erie Lutheranism had been differently written, if he could have remained as pastor of St. John's. Through his efforts the congregation obtained possession of the five acres of ground, comprising a whole city block, on which the present church is located. It was deeded to the congregation by Conrad Brown, Sr.

That a missionary fire was already glowing at that early period of the congregation's history, is proven by .the fact shown by the communion records, that Dr. Stohlmann administered communion in Crawford County, probably at a place now called Drake's Mills (one of the former charges of the present pastor of St. John's); also at Walnut Creek, probably the present Kearsarge.

Rev. Dr. C. F. Stohlmann (Click on picture for larger image)

In Erie he administered communion to 132 persons on Whitsunday, 1838. Rev. Dr. Stohlmann continued to work with signal success in our midst until 1838, when he accepted the call to St. Matthew's, New York, and thus to a larger field of usefulness and influence in the church. His removal is only hinted at in a line or two in the church record and yet these speak volumes: "Today, Oct. 28th, 1838, our estimable teacher, C. F. E Stohlmann, preached his farewell sermon."

Rev. Michael Kuchler, who was one of the pioneer missionaries of western Pennsylvania became the successor to Dr. Stohlmann, and showed true missionary spirit in his work at Erie, organizing congregations at Girard, Fairview and Millcreek. He died at Greenville, Pa., at an advanced age. Father Kuchler in his communion records never failed to mention expressly that the members of the church council communed. Probably the first Lutheran Synod, that ever met in Erie, convened in St. John's during his pastorate. If recorded correctly, it was a meeting of the Joint Synod of Ohio, 15th Sunday after Trinity, 1843. Rev. Kuchler also bears the distinction of having organized the first Sunday School of St. John's, which has continued since then uninterruptedly, and is probably one of the oldest Sunday schools in the city. But the congregation was so poor that he had to appeal for funds to the general public in a letter which is still extant, to obtain funds for buying the necessary Sunday school supplies. But the most noteworthy achievement of Rev. Kuchler's pastorate was the erection of the first church building, costing a few thousand dollars; and yet what joy it must have been to the congregation, when it could call a church its own. The subscription lists, containing amounts as high as $70.00, show a sacrificing spirit on the part of the congregation. The fathers must have built solidly, as the building is still standing, though no longer used for church purposes, but as a part of the Streuber tannery plant. It was solemnly dedicated August 8th, 1842. Rev. Kuchler performed the act of dedication, assisted by Rev. H. Guenther, pastor of St. John's Lutheran church, Buffalo, and Rev. Rathbun, pastor of the church of the Holy Apostles, Saegertown, Pa. The largest number communing at one time on record during Rev. Kuchler's pastorate is 155. Rev. Kuchler served St. John's until 1845. He preached his farewell sermon November 17th, 1845.

Rev Friedrich Philipp Feysel, from Einbeck, Hannover, (as he records himself), followed Rev. Kuchler. If Rev. Kuchler was a typical Pennsylvania-German pastor of the old school, Rev. Feysel seems to be a cultured European German pastor. Not much is on record in regard to his Erie pastorate. A brief note in the church records (in his own handwriting) records that after passing a creditable examination he was ordained by the East Pennsylvania Synod in session at Orwigsburg, Pa., "to the Lutheran Gospel Ministry", June 10th, 1846. Accordingly he was not yet ordained when he came to Erie. To judge from the number of ministerial acts performed by Rev. Feysel, the congregation must have continued to grow under his administration. The church choir, as well as the use of an organ are mentioned for the first time during this pastorate. Rev. Feysel preached his farewell sermon August 13th, 1848.

Rev. C. G. Stuebgen, from Wheeling, W. Virginia, then a member of the Joint Synod of Ohio, succeeded Rev. Feysel. His first ministerial act at Erie was performed August 19th, 1848. During the pastorate of Rev. Stuebgen the membership was increased considerably, probably due to growing German immigration to Erie. Rev. Stuebgen records that from 280 to 300 persons communed at one time and the largest confirmation class numbered 19. The first conference of the Joint Synod of Ohio met in St. John's during this pastorate. A new organ, costing $300.00 was consecrated Whitsunday, May 27th, 1849, by Rev. Stuebgen. The first secession occurred during this pastorate, as 20 members left St. John's to organize the United Evangelical St. Paul's Church. The congregation (St. John's) was incorporated May 6th, 1850. Rev. Stuebgen performed his last ministerial act July 17th, 1853.

Rev. F. W. Weiskotten, father of the well-known Lutheran. pastors of that name, of whom one, Rev. S. Weiskotten, Brooklyn, N. Y., is still living, became the successor of Rev. Stuebgen. He began his pastorate August 21, 1853, but as contentions had arisen in the congregation, his pastorate was only of brief duration. During his pastorate a parochial school house was built, but sold during the following year. The congregation, however, reserved the right to rent a room for school purposes in said building.

The congregation decided also Dec. 3rd, 1853, to build a parsonage, but after having taken the initial steps looking towards its building, decided to defer its erection. Rev. Weiskotten determined his pastorate at Erie in August 1854.

Rev. C. A. Brockmann now assumed the pastorate of St. John's, beginning his labor at Erie Jan. 7th, 1855. He was a member of the Lutheran Maryland Synod; but on accepting the call to Erie united with our Pittsburgh Synod. At his reception into Synod a letter from the congregation was presented, in which they write, that "they had suffered much as all independent congregation from unscrupulous men; but now expected better things under the new pastorate."

Rev. Brockman could report at his reception into Synod that the congregation (erroneously called St. James) numbered 465 communicants and 150 Sunday school pupils. He records 98 baptisms for one year which indicates a large increase of membership. The cemetery of the congregation was dedicated June 3rd, 1859 by Rev. Brockman after it had been considerably enlarged. Rev. Brockman relinquished the work at Erie June 29th, 1859. This completes the first half century of the history of St. John's Church. In this half century the congregation grew under many difficulties from a small flock into a large, well-organized congregation.

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Change History: October 25, 2002. Original page posted, Chapter 2 only,

 


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