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History of St. John's

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Prior to 1821, what is now the Grand Haven area was inhabited by Native Indians who found the hunting and fishing in the vast wilderness at the mouth of the river to their liking. They began selling their excess furs to the occasional traders who passed through in the early 1800s. In 1821, Rix Robinson set up the first permanent trading post on the banks of the river. In 1834, Rev. William M. Ferry established the first settlement in Grand Haven.

Rev. William Achenbach began to preach to the Lutherans living in the Grand Haven area on May 21, 1863. Pastor Achenbach, at that time, was resident pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids and came to Grand Haven at the request of the local Lutherans. It is probable that those early services were held in a home. Pastor Achenbach was succeeded later in 1863 as Immanuel's pastor by Rev. J.L. Daib. Pastor Daib continued to serve the Grand Haven area through 1864, holding services here every eight weeks. It was through Pastor Daib's efforts that steps were taken to formally organize a Grand Haven Lutheran congregation.

A constitution was drawn up and was finally accepted on Oct. 1, 1865. With this action, St. John's Lutheran Church of Grand Haven became affiliated with the Missouri Synod. The congregation had extended a call to Pastor Daib in late 1863, but the constitution and affiliation made it possible for his installation on Jan. 10, 1866. That service was held in the courthouse in Grand Haven.

On April 8, 1866, 27 charter members signed the constitution. The delay between acceptance and signing was due to the busy schedule of Pastor Daib and because he had not had time to properly enter the constitution in the record book. It was at that same meeting that the first officers of the congregation were elected: John Behm, William Baehre Jr., Fred Stelling, H.C. Bare, M. Viebrock, John Zietlow and Charles T. Pagelson. The first entries in the record book were in English. They were soon entered in German instead and kept in that language until the 1920s.

At the April 8, 1866, meeting it was resolved to gather funds to erect a church. A lot was purchased near the edge of town on the corner of Sixth and Franklin streets. The first St. John's Lutheran Church building was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1867, with two services: the morning in German with Rev. Schmidt from Chester, and an afternoon service in English conducted by Rev. Walter of Wyandotte. Church members from Crockery Creek and Spring Lake were unable to attend because of ice on the Grand River.

In 1868, the members of the local Episcopal Church asked if they could rent the St. John's Lutheran building to hold their services. St. John's voters allowed them to use the church at no charge. The first confirmation service in Grand Haven was held in 1869. By 1870, Pastor Daib, who continued as Immanuel's pastor and served as the non-resident pastor at St. John's, felt the Grand Haven congregation could support its own resident pastor. He urged the congregation to build a parsonage, which was built that summer on a lot just north of the church.

Pastor Kaehler's ministry was cut short when he became ill in October and resigned a short time later because of his health. A call was then extended in November to Rev. F. Spindler, who accepted and was installed in February 1871. St. John's first organ was purchased for $185 in 1872. A day school was started in 1875, probably in the parsonage. It was not very successful and was dropped a short time later. Pastor Spindler preached his farewell sermon on March 26, 1880. He was replaced by Rev. W. Burmeister, who was installed August 22, 1880. Pastor Burmeister revived the day school in 1881.

In 1882, a German Evangelical Church was organized in Grand Haven. Many members of St. John's left to join the new church, stating that they disagreed with some of the Missouri Synod practices. A large number later returned to St. John's. A basement was added to St. John's in 1883. The dedication of a new altar and pulpit took place on Easter Sunday 1885. Pastor Burmeister accepted a call to Christ Church in St. Louis, Mo., in November 1890. He was replaced at St. John's by Rev. E. Brueggemann, who was installed on January 26, 1891.

Pastor Brueggemann left in September 1893 due to failing health. He was replaced by Rev. M. Toewe, who was installed on December 10, 1893. A new church tower with bells were dedicated on October 6, 1895. Electric lights were installed in the church in 1898. The Christian day school was not held during Pastor Toewe's stay, and Grand Haven Public School Board began to rent the church basement for classes in 1901. Pastor Huth from one of St. John's "daughter" congregations in Blendon served as vacancy pastor when Pastor Toewe left in April 1904.

Rev. A. Schultz was called and installed in January 1905. It was under Pastor Schultz that the first regular English services were held, twice a month on Sunday evenings. Pastor Schultz was replaced in 1910 by Rev. J. Hoeness, who served until his death in 1925. Rev. A.O. Meyer became St. John's pastor in April 1926. The congregation purchased a new parsonage at 1015 Franklin St. in 1929, and English services were first held every Sunday, along with the traditional German services. In the late 1930s, German services were only held every other week.

Pastor Meyer left in late 1940 to organize a Detroit area congregation. He was replaced at St. John's by Rev. Victor Felten. It was during Pastor Felten's stay that a school began to be discussed again. The present church and school property on Taylor Avenue was purchased in 1946 for $4,300. Mr. R.W. Scheer accepted the call to become the day school teacher. He was installed as principal and minister of sacred music on August 18, 1946.

After more than 40 years without one, the St. John's Lutheran Day School was in operation again beginning September 4, 1946. Classes were held in the church basement with 38 students, kindergarten through fifth-grade. Mr. Scheer and Pastor Felten were the teachers. A sixth-grade was added in 1947. A second teacher, Mr. Robert Merkling, was added in the fall of 1948. Groundbreaking for a new school on the Taylor Avenue property took place on September 26, 1948. The cornerstone was laid into place on October 9, 1949.

Pastor Felten preached his farewell sermon on November 27, 1949, after accepting a call to Pueblo, Colo. He was replaced at St. John's by Rev. Robert E. Brege, who was installed on March 12, 1950. The St. John's congregation decided in 1950 to hold worship services in the new school building and sell the old church building. On June 25, 1950, St. John's Lutheran Church and Parish School were dedicated to the service and glory of God. Classes were held in the new school for the first time that same September.

Pastor Brege preached his farewell sermon on June 5, 1955, after accepting a call to Concordia Lutheran Church in Springfield, IL. The Rev. Edward Hilst was installed as St. John's pastor on August 7, 1955. In the mid-1950s, the congregation pledged over $100,000 to the building fund, payable over a three-year period, with plans for a new church next to the school. In October 1955, the plans and drawings for the new church were presented to the congregation for approval. The mortgage on the school building was ceremoniously burned in August 1956.

On January 9, 1957, Pastor Hilst was suddenly called home by the Lord. A call was extended to Rev. Cecil A. Klages, who was serving the Monkton-Logan Parish in Mitchell, Ontario, Canada, at the time. He accepted and was installed at St. John's on May 17, 1957. The groundbreaking for the new church took place on April 13, 1958, and the cornerstone was laid July 21, 1958. It was dedicated on June 7, 1959. Pastor Klages served at St. John's until retiring in 1987.

Pastor Dieter Haupt was installed on September 15, 1983 after serving his pastoral internship under Pastor Klages. On July 2, 1995, Pastor Phillip Baerwolf was installed as associate pastor. Pastor Baerwolf accepted a call to Immanuel Lutheran Church in East Dundee, Illinois on December 10, 2006. On July 8, 2007 Pastor Phillip DeVries was installed as associate pastor. Pastor DeVries accepted a call on November 8, 2009 to The Lutheran Church of the Messiah in Saginaw, MI. Pastor Dieter Haupt is the current pastor at St. John's.