On Dec. 17, First St. John Lutheran Church, Seaman Street, Toledo, hosted the Toledo Symphony Orchestra for a gala holiday concert held as part of the church’s 150th anniversary celebration.
The church was decorated in holiday finery for the sold-out concert, which was conducted by Jeffrey Pollock, has been planned in celebration of the church’s 150th anniversary. The church will be decked out for the gala performance, which will include a wide range of Christmas songs, including “Adeste Fidelis,” “Song of the Bells,” and a Christmas singalong.
A storied history
The history of St. John’s dates back to the late 1850s when the Rev. Johannes Doerfler, pastor of Salem Lutheran Church on Huron Street in Toledo, began mission work among the few scattered Lutherans settled in Oregon Township.
|The Toledo Symphony Orchestra plays at First St. John's Lutheran
Church. (Photo courtesy of Terry Breymaier)
Not a single road existed east of the Maumee River beyond Front and Main streets, so Pastor Doerfler followed trails through woods and marshes. Services first were held in a log cabin on the corner of Consaul and Otter Creek roads and subsequently, in a barn at Jerusalem and Coy owned by Frederick Clausing.
During that time, Pastor Doerfler conceived the idea to establish an Orphans Home on the east side of Toledo – a mission that became a reality when he founded the Orphans Home Society on Aug. 6, 1860 on 10 acres purchased for $350 on Seaman Street.
A year later, the pastor proposed the First St. John Lutheran Church. The congregation was organized with eight charter members, including John Frederick Clausing, John F. W. Bitter, John Christoph Ackerman, Leonard Schmidt, Frederick Koehne, John Dietrich Koehne, Henry Koehne and Henry Tiedjen. The members built a 21 by 31-foot church just east of the Orphans Home on Seaman Street.
At the time, Abraham Lincoln had just been elected to the presidency in 1860 and the Civil War had just started in April 1861.
In 1862, the Rev. Carl Beckel became the first pastor of the tight-knit flock. Under his leadership, the congregation was incorporated and grew. A renovation to the building in 1868 was a temporary solution, but by 1876, the church had grown so much that a new 40 by 60-foot church was built for $3,500. A balcony was added in 1885.
The German language predominated among Lutheran settlers in the area, and it was also the official language of the congregation. English Sunday School and services were introduced in 1910. The German language was dropped entirely from the Sunday School in 1919 and then from the church services in 1934.
From the beginning, the church vigorously pursued religious instruction for the young. The pastor served as the teacher of a parochial school run by the church, however when the work of the growing congregation mounted and it became imperative to have assistance, Christian Lohmann, then teacher of the Orphans’ Home school, took charge of St. John’s school (1991-1905).
Other historical highlights:
• The Altenheim, German for “home for the aged” was built just west of the church and dedicated Oct. 21, 1906. Known today as the Lutheran Homes Society, it has over 10 agencies housed on the campus surrounding First St. John.
• By early 1928, the second church was 60 years old and was again becoming too small. Construction began in 1928. The cornerstone was laid June 10. On Nov. 24, the new church was consecrated and it continues to serve its members today.
• The church organ cost approximately $84,000 to build ¬ – an amazing achievement for its members who were about to face the Great Depression (1929) and World War II (1939).
• By 1960, facilities to teach Sunday School had become inadequate. The Old Folks Home Society had allowed the church to use the abandoned Old Folks Home next door to teach Sunday School to over 700 children, but it was deemed unsafe. Construction of the Educational Building was approved and it was built at a cost of $85,000. In 1975, members started a preschool in the building, which continues today.