ELMWOOD – St. John’s Lutheran Church, Elmwood, celebrated its 135th anniversary in August.
Located on Dirstein St. S., St. John’s is the larger partner congregation of Elmwood-Brant Lutheran Parish, along with St. Peter’s.
A booklet commemorating the 100th anniversary of St. John’s noted the first German settlers arrived in what would become Waterloo, Perth, Huron, Brant, Bruce and Grey counties from 1830 to 1850. Described as “often a flock without a shepherd,” in the early days, because of the shortage of clergy, it wasn’t until the 1860s that parishes began to be established.
On Aug. 24, 1884, 11 men, meeting in the home of Christian Forler, decided to build a church. The first church was constructed in 1885. Before it was completed, they paid to use the Anglican church. On June 3, 1886, they met to organize a congregation. The first council meeting was held Sept. 5, 1886, presided over by Rev. John Wurster, who was in charge of the parishes at Hespler and Shantz Station.
Pastors Langholz and Walbaum travelled by horse and buggy from Auburn, 50 miles away, to hold services every third Sunday, with lay readers filling in on the other Sundays. A pastor from Walkerton served for a short time. Later on, a local pastor came to serve Elmwood; in later years, he also served Wiarton.
In 1897, Elmwood and Brant were combined as a parish. The decision was made to build a new church and the cornerstone was laid on June 25, 1905; the new church was dedicated on Jan. 14, 1906. Cost of the church was $3,300. Sheds were later built west and south of the church for the horses.
One of the highlights of the early 1900s took place in 1914, when the Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Canada was hosted by the parish, with many guests billeted in local homes.
The 1920s were marked by steady change, with the church being redecorated and a wing added. A new cemetery was dedicated on Oct. 21, 1923. Prior to this, church members were buried in the Old Pioneer Cemetery. The decision was made to hold the service in English every second Sunday.
The congregation built a new parsonage for Rev. H. F. Howald and family in 1928. But the Great Depression was fast approaching. During depression years, Rev. Howald often gave back a portion of his salary to assist the congregation.
The prewar years were busy ones for the parish, with many activities and church functions – Luther League events, garden parties, weddings and more.
When war broke out, Pastor Howald, his two children and seven other young people of the congregation enlisted.
When the Vestrymen’s Convention was held on Nov. 19, 1950, 110 guests were billeted in homes of congregation members.
The beginning of the 1950s brought prosperity to the area. A new floor covering was purchased, and a Hallman electric organ was purchased and dedicated to those who served in wartime. An amplifier and speakers were purchased and installed. Also purchased were organ chimes.
By the time of the church’s 70th anniversary, the church had new flush toilets, beautiful cathedral lights and a projection screen. The Sunday School grew so large that rooms at the nearby Elmwood Public School were used. The first Vacation Bible School saw 76 students attend, with 12 teachers.
The 1960s were again marked by growth and change, with all active adult members, including women, becoming eligible to vote. In 1963, the four Lutheran groups merged to become the Lutheran Church of America. Plans were made to build an addition on the church – the dedication ceremony took place Sept. 29, 1968.
And the church continued to grow and change with the times, with members of the congregation donating many needed items as well as participating in the work of the church.
The 100th anniversary was a celebration that included a special congregational service and anniversary dinner – and a renewed zeal to accept the challenges and opportunities of the church’s next century.
Congregation members dressed for the occasion in clothing that wouldn’t have looked out of place in those first services.
Things didn’t always go well; the first parsonage, beside the church, was badly damaged by fire in June 1977. A new parsonage was built on the same site. However, the congregation thrived, thanks to hard work and dedication.
Additions and renovations have been made as needed, including a new entrance, wheelchair access, new washrooms, meeting room and work on the roof.
As St. John’s celebrates its 135th anniversary, it continues to thrive and serve the Elmwood area community well under the leadership of Rev. Hannes Aasa.
Annette Kelsey and Karen Procnow continue to serve as organists, as they have for literally decades.
During the pandemic, Rev. Aasa has reached out to the church community, both in Elmwood and further afield, by having services online - from horse and buggy to space age communications technology in 135 years – but still St. John’s.
– With files from Leanne Griggs
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times