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St. John Lutheran celebrates 150 years

By Heather Graves

DE PERE – In the last 150 years, St. John Lutheran Church has grown and changed before many parishioner’s eyes – but what has always remained the same is its dedication to providing a home to everyone seeking a community of worship, even from its humble beginnings one and a half centuries ago.

Mike Istwan, chairperson of the 150 Year Anniversary Committee, said that St. John is a special place because it offers members the “whole package – a pastor that addresses her work with an engaging, thought-provoking and spiritual fulfilling enthusiasm; a friendly, welcoming congregation generating a feeling of belonging; spiritual growth opportunities; and numerous service opportunities in the local community.”

The parish has spent the last several months celebrating this momentous accomplishment.

The 150-year anniversary celebration kicked off in January and wraps up Sept. 8 with the parish’s annual picnic.

St. John’s first services were held by Rev. H.L. Haack in an old public school building and later in a frame church on North Sixth Street.

To accommodate the growing congregation, a new church was built in 1872.

In April 1877, the church was incorporated, its first church council was formed, a constitution was created and the name St. John Lutheran Church was adopted.

From 1878 to 1884, St. John was served by pastors from Green Bay and Wrightstown. Rev. H. Bock became the church’s first resident pastor in 1884.

The growing congregation soon outgrew its facilities.

The former First Baptist Church on the corner of Third and Grant streets was purchased and officially dedicated as a Lutheran church in September 1891. Two years later, a bell was hung in the church tower.

Improvements to the church were made in 1929 to accommodate continued growth.

But Istwan said no 150-year-old story is without tragedy.

“Just three years after the completion of the improvements, a fire all but destroyed the church in less then an hour,” Istwan said. “But this history doesn’t end in flames. With the help of neighbors and friends, the church was rebuilt and dedicated in just three months.”

In 1964, the growing congregation prompted a new St. John church to be built in at 1700 Lost Dauphin Road.

In 1997, Istwan said the church underwent extensive additions to accommodate a wide variety of activities and worship.

It is the parish’s history that was the focus of the seven-month anniversary celebration – including periodic historical skits prior to services and presentations of historical timelines and photos.

“We felt it important to be mindful of those who impacted our more recent history and so, periodically we recognized, our present long-term, active members – year spans 1950-59, 60-69, 70-79,” Istwan said. “The last group, 1980-92 will be recognized at the picnic.”

A church photo directory – including each member/family dedicated to the 150th anniversary will be distributed at the picnic.

“From a small group of 60 inquisitive Lutherans, St. John now has well over 600 members who have an impact on the lives of people locally and in distant areas,” Istwan said. “We look forward to 150 more years of this impactful growth.”

For more information about the 150th anniversary celebration or St. John Lutheran Church, visit the parish’s website at stjohndepere.org.

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