Our History -- Serving Christ since 1843
Prior to the arrival of German immigrants in the late 1830’s, the Mascoutah area was sparsely settled by Americans who migrated here beginning about 1810 from eastern states as well as Kentucky and Tennessee. Religious services were occasional, conducted by laypersons, missionary priests, and circuit riders in settlers’ homes, some sent by churches in the east. Small English-speaking congregations were established including a Baptist Church with a building south of what became Mascoutah in 1839 (first platted as Mechanicsburg by J.L. Kraft in 1837). There were forests, prairies, bogs, and ponds.
The arrival of earliest German immigrant-settlers probably included Siegmund Spiess, a well-educated ordained pastor and teacher from Wuerttemberg, who conducted worship. He already officiated at a wedding on July 31, 1840 and a funeral on October 11, 1840. He also conducted worship at Fayetteville and Darmstadt.
In 1843, these German Evangelical Protestants formed the Evangelische Protestantische St. Johannes Kirche (the Evangelical Protestant St. John Church). They came from the united Evangelical (Lutheran-Reformed) Church but were often referred to as German Lutherans. Among the first known members were Charles Alt, Philip Benz, Christoff Benz, Lorenz Leibrock, Philip Graesser, Nicolaus Dilg, B. Espenschied, Jacob Renth, Adam Scharth, Adam Renth, A & G Emig, Jacob Andres, Fred Matzenbach, Johann Blum, Conrad Sauter, Charles Klingel, Friedrich Dietz, and H. Wortmann.
Frederick Hilgard, who developed a section of Mascoutah, had donated a site in 1841 to the city for civic, religious and educational purposes. Union Hall, a one-storey frame building, was built with private funds just west of today’s city hall. It become the busy locale for many activities and for various congregations, including St. John and the German Methodist (now Bethel) congregations. Siegmund Spiess also established and taught school there.
Serving the human needs of the community has been a hallmark of St. John since its early days. In 1847, a separate German School Association (Schulverein) was established, joined with the church in 1848 and built a brick building where the current Mascoutah city hall now stands. A bell and organ were added. But this building was razed in 1938, but had already been sold to the city when St. John relocated in 1863 to its present site at First and Church Streets. With Illinois finally requiring public education in 1855, education was no longer the responsibility of St. John and the school closed by 1860.
The large number of immigrants after 1848 brought rapid growth to the congregation and it desired to relocate to a quieter location away from the flour and grist mills at Railway and Mill (Main) Streets. The 1863 brick church was 40 x 60 with two inside galleries. A tall steeple was added in 1891. With its Kilgen organ and other furnishings, the entire building cost $6100 ($1500 owing at the time of dedication). Pastor R. Krull of New Memphis and Pastor Spiess delivered dedicatory sermons. Pastor Spiess, in ill health, retired in 1865 and died in 1877, being buried in Mascoutah City Cemetery.
Pastor Friedrich Herold was called in 1865 from Camden, NJ. He and some members, preferring to be more distinctly and strictly Lutheran, withdrew in 1868 to form Mascoutah’s Zion Lutheran Church.
Already in 1869 a Ladies Aid Society (Frauenverein) was formed at St. John.
Pastors Friedrich Altmueller (1869-1872) and F. Gottfried Gerber (1872-1876) served as pastors but the congregation was unaffiliated. After 1876, St. John was served by pastors of the Deutsche Evangelischer Kirchverein des Westens -- The German Evangelical Church Association of the West (founded in 1840 at Gravois Settlement Mehlville, St, Louis County), later the mostly still German Evangelical Synod of North America, St. John did not join the Evangelical Synod of North America until 1890. These pastors included Anton Reusch (1877-1884); Edward Klietsch (1884-1888); Paul Branke (1888-1890); William Wiese (1890--he passed away suddenly); Fr. Hempelmann (1890-1892); Herman Walz (1892-1897); Herman Krull (1897-1911); Wm. Schlinkman (1911-1916); Bernhard Heithaus (1916-1921); Daniel Moritz (1921-1928).
By 1891 a tall steeple had been added and electrical lights were installed in 1893.
The May 27, 1896 tornado severely damaged the town and the church, and saw the death of several church members. The church was rebuilt. In 1911 a house moved to the rear to become a parish hall and a new parsonage was built in 1912 for $4400 and the old one sold for $1500. The 1912 parsonage, renovated several times, was sold and moved to West Patterson Street in 2001.
The Everfaithful Sunday School Class (merged with the Women's Guild in 1945 as the Everfaithful Guild) was formed in 1922.
After 6 years of planning, the cornerstone for the current church sanctuary was laid October 22, 1923 and the church dedicated October 20, 1923. The church cornerstone reads Ev. Prot. St. John's Church and Ev. Prot. St. Johannes Kirche. Total cost included $50,000 for the building and $15,000 for the organ, funishings, pulpit, pews, etc.
World Wars I and II helped lead St. John to transition from being a German-speaking congregation to one using both English and German to one using only English.
During the pastorate of The Rev. Arlie Hoelscher (1928-1950, the longest serving pastor at St. John) in 1938 the Evangelical Synod and the Reformed Church, both with German roots, merged as the Evangelical and Reformed Church and St. John was known as St. John E&R Church.
The Fireside group was formed in 1946 as a "young couples club!"
Pastor Theodore Wimmler was the pastor from 1951-1959. Increased membership and Sunday School enrollment led to the 1954 addition of a 3 level building that includes our present offices and gathering area with dedication on April 24, 1955.
In 1957 at a time of ecumenical hope, the Evangelical and Reformed Church (with its German roots, liturgy, and catechisms) merged with the Congregational Christian Churches (roots in English separatism and then New England Puritanism with an emphasis on congregational autonomy and freedom of thought) to form the United Church of Christ in 1957 and St. John became St. John United Church of Christ. In a covenantal relationship with strong congregational authority and resulting diversity, local UCC churches such as St. John determine their priorities and mission.
Construction of our two-level Educational Wing to the east of the 1954 adition began in 1968 and was dedicated on February 1, 1970. During that time, a preschool was begun for the community which later evolved to a latchkey program that concluded its service in 2007.
Pastors John Riggs (1959-1972), Charles Sheffield (1972-1985), Bill Causer (1985-1995), Jack Spratte (1996-2003), and Hugh Fitz (2004-2022) have served as pastors, sometimes assisted by student pastors, assistant pastors, associate pastors, and lay associates. Several St. John members received seminary training an have been ordained to serve in pastoral ministry including Henry Lippert, Roy Griebel, and Richard Mann.
To provide accessibility to those with physical disabilities, the elevator addition was completed in 1983 on the congregation's 140th anniversary.
St. John's current sanctuary was extensively renovated in 1933, 1963, 1972, 1980, 1992-93 and 2007-2009. Over the years additional adjacent properties have been purchased for buildings, parking, and green space. Other areas of the church building have been updated, repaired, and renovated during the last years. In 2006, a new lighted sign on First Street replaced earlier signs. In 2009, the twenty-year old boiler was replaced and the Fellowship Hall renovated with a new sound system, computer access, and art glass framed windows. The Memorial Garden landscaping project (2008) and expansion for handicap parking (north side, 2009 and 2013 and 2017) as well as airconditioning projects throughout the building are intended to assist the church's mission and ministry. The Memorial Library was renovated in 2017. The Fellowship Hall was completely renovated with new sound and visual technology, and art glass windows in 2015.
St. John reflects its Evangelical doctrinal and liturgical heritage, its commitment to the Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection as the heart of its proclamation, and the resulting concern to meet human need.
From its beginning, music has been a significant and integral part of St. John’s ministry and worship life today with its Chancel Choir, Jubilee Ringers (Handbells), St. John Band, Gospelettes, Heavenly Handchimes, and other groups providing a variety of Christian music.
As at its founding, St. John, in its mission, seeks to address the sometimes difficult realities of community and world. It made the transition from German to English, supported foreign mission workers, established a Ladies Aid (1869), Sunday School, peaking in the 1970’s, organized various fellowship and service organizations, was part of the establishment of Memorial Hospital in Belleville (1958), supported and housed the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasia, helped establish the local Food Pantry and later led the renovation of its current building, spearheaded an all-church Habitat for Humanity house build in Mascoutah, provides dinners delivered at Thanksgiving, established a Local Benevolent Fund, has sent missionaries and been part of mission trips to Honduras, Ecuador, Kenya, El Salvador, Lesotho, etc. and provided disaster relief to the Gulf Coast, Joplin, Harrisburg, the Philippines, and elsewhere.
Some interesting notes:
The Women’s Bible Class raised funds for the beautiful Good Shepherd window that is above our altar in the sanctuary.
The same Ladies Aid helped raise funds for the construction of the Protestant (Memorial) Hospital in Belleville in 1957-58.
Memorial Library was established in 1971
A two service Sunday morning schedule was begun in 1969
Handbell Choirs were begun with 61 bells cast by Whitechapel Bell Foundry of London, England.
The first Mascoutah ecumenical service was a community Thanksgiving Service held at St. John in 1972 including all local churches
The Saturday Nighters, a "younger adults" fellowship / service group was formed in 1973
Distribution of the video of Sunday worship began in 1974 and this ministry continues today
The church's historical committee's "OldThings Fair" led to the formation of the Mascoutah Historical Society in 1976
Air conditioning in the Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall was added in 1977
In 1982 the Edna Richter Memorial art glass window was dedicated over the west entrance of the 1954 education building. It was designed and fabricated by the late Meryl Schroeder. Another window was designed by Meryl and the late Elfred Worms to be installed in 1984 at the elevator's outside entrance.
The National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasia was formed by Mary Kaye Richter and its first offices were in St. John's building.
The church purchased its first computer in 1986 together with a new phone system
The organ was augmented with a 61 pipe Principal rank in 1986 so that the Moller organ now is a 9 rank instrument
There has been an ecumenical Vacation Bible School at St. John dating back to the 1970's that includes Holy Childhood, St. Martin of Tours Lutheran, St. John and often Bethel United Methodist churches.
St. John Brass was formed in 1989 by a number of young musicians and continues to provide special music
A Schulmerich carillon provides bell music to the neighborhood (dedicated September 20, 1982)
St. John has sponsored Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops beginning in 1929
The lighted outdoor sign on First Street replaced earlier signs in 2006
St. John has had a website since 2005
St. John headed a community project to build 2 Habitat for Humanity homes in Mascoutah in 2009 and 2012
St. John observed its 175th anniversary in 2018 with year long special events
Landscaping for the church property has been upgraded several times, most recently in 2021 and 2021.
St. John now numbers about 720 adult members.