St. John's History

In the beginning....

During the Spring of 1881, seven Lutheran families living in the Bennington township area, asked Pastor Paul Bredow, who was serving as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church (Maxfield Township, Bremer County), to assist them and be their pastor to begin another Lutheran congregation for their area. Pastor Bredow consented to serve as pastor for both congregations. Thus the first worship service was held at the Center School House located one mile north of the present Bennington congregation’s property. Worship services were held every two weeks on Sunday afternoon beginning the First Sunday after Trinity in 1881. The Maxfield congregation had been organized 25 years earlier in 1856. The first charter families in the Bennington congregation were those of Johan Koertt, Christ Manning, Friedrich Schmidt, Christian Dos, H. Widdel, Johann Fink and Johannes Appel. The home of H. Widdel was used as a place of instruction during the fall and winter months. Pastor Bredow served faithfully for 13 years. 

In 1893 the congregation decided to build a church building with a 50 foot steeple. Four acres of land were purchased from Jim Allen for $140.00 and the building was constructed and Pastor Bredow and the congregation dedicated the building on the 16th Sunday after Trinity of that same year. In the afternoon of that day, the Rev. Paul Bartels of Waverly, Iowa, preached. The parsonage was bought from H. Byvank for $400.00. It is on that same site that the present church building stands. Two weeks after the dedication, with the exception of the parsonage, the building cost was paid. 

In 1894 the congregation called its first resident pastor, the Reverend Friederick Schedtler who came from Kansas and was installed on May 24th of 1894. (There is a longer history of Pastor Schedtler’s ministry at St. John’s and other places in the 125th anniversary history.) Under his leadership a school house costing almost $200.00 was built in August of 1895. A barn and cellar were also built. Each family was asked to donate five trees to the church property. The Sunday School was established on April 27, 1895. Sunday classes were taught in addition to the Christian day school which was held regularly. A new church organ was purchased in 1896, for $98.00 plus $3.50 for freight. The well was also drilled that year at a cost of $115.50. 

After 3 ½ years, Pastor Schedtler accepted a call to serve Buck Creek Lutheran Church. Because his salary was $40.00 in arrears, he donated the amount so that the congregation could defray the cost of moving a new pastor. 

When Pastor Siegfried Siefkes arrived on February 10, 1989, he found 19 families which soon became 30 families. The church bell, weighing 875 pounds was purchased for $226.00 in 1900. In the Spring of 1902, Pastor Siefkes resigned and preached his farewell sermon on Easter Sunday. 

The third pastor for the congregation was the Rev. Paul Bredow, the organizer of the congregation who came out of retirement in Waverly to serve the congregation beginning on May 4, 1902. Under his direction, the congregation observed its 25th anniversary on July 1, 1906 . After several years of teaching school 5 days a week, Pastor Bredow found the work too great a strain on his health and he retired again to Waverly on August 10th of 1908, after serving the congregation during two different periods for a total of more than 19 years. 

During the ministry of the Reverend Heinrich Adix, who came to St. John’s in November of 1908, a 12 foot by 18 foot annex was added to the school house in 1910. The next year the inside of the church was covered with ornamental steel, the chancel and sacristy were built onto the church, a basement was added and the furnace was installed. Pastor Adix served for 4 years and 9 months before accepting a call to serve the Buck Creek congregation. 

The Ladies Aid organization was started by Pastor Johann Burkhardt on November 8, 1914. He had begun his work at Bennington August 13, 1913 and served until 1919. 

Reverend E.G. Voss served the congregation from October 26, 1919 (Reformation Sunday), until July 1, 1921. 

Pastor Christian Mack served as pastor from July 31, 1921. The congregation size at that time was 15 families. 

On February 1, 1924, Pastor E.R. Melchert was called and arrived on April 1st and served for 3 years until February 13, 1927. 

*The middle years.... 

 Under the leadership of Reverent Cornelius Fischer who came July 17, 1927, English was added to the traditional German worship service and the services were evenly divided between the two languages. It was decided that all religious instruction would be in English instead of German. This change of language represented a significant shift of direction in mission for many congregations of different ethnic origins, many of whose members had come as immigrants to this country. The church and school house were rededicated on July 19th of 1931, at St John’s 50th anniversary celebration. When Pastor Fischer left on September 1, 1936 the congregation numbered 34 families.

During the ministry of the Reverend Albert Gess, the use use of the German language was discontinued in 1937. He served only 8 months from September of 1936 until May 27, 1937. 

Pastor Arnold Sommer, who prior to that time was serving the congregation at Moville, Iowa, served from May 27, 1937, until March 18th, 1940. 

Under the leadership of the Reverend Leon Gehret, an English constitution was adopted and the congregation was reincorporated in March of 1941. He served until December 26th, 1943. 

Pastor Alfred E. Haefner, Professor of Greek at Wartburg College, served as interim pastor for the congregation for six years from December 30, 1943, until February 6, 1949. 

During the ministry of Rev. William Burrack, which began on February 20th, 1949, and who served both St. John’s Maxfield, and St. John’s, Bennington, many improvements were made to the church building. In 1951, the inside of the sanctuary was redecorated. In 1952, a new altar cross, candelabra and missal stand were added. In 1954, a new Hammond electric organ was purchased. In 1956, a new parish hall was dedicated at the celebration of the 75th anniversary on Sunday, September 16, 1956. Pastor Burrack served the congregation for18 years and 7 months up to the time of his retirement. At that time there were 45 families in the congregation. 

With Pastor Burrack’s retirement, the congregation felt they wanted to have their own full-time pastor and so called the Reverend Paul G. Bauman. On December 1, 1968, he and his family moved into the newly built split foyer parsonage in Dunkerton which had been built at a cost of $23,000.00. He served until February of 1971, when he accepted a call to Calvary Lutheran, Brookfield, Wisconsin. 

That same year, Pastor Erwin B. Schemmel, who had been serving Richfield Township of rural Sumner, Iowa, and the Stapleton congregation of rural Wacoma, Iowa, came and was installed on May 31st of 1971.  

The 90th anniversary of the congregation was celebrated on October 3, 1971, with Rev. William Burrack preaching the morning anniversary sermon. The Rev. Herman Siefkes of Waverly, Iowa, the son of one of Bennington’s former pastors, Siegfried Siefkes, preached in the afternoon. At that time there were 70 families consisting of 253 baptized and 189 confirmed members. Early in June of 1973, a remodeling and enlargement of the church was started. The ornamental steel was removed from the sanctuary. A 30 foot by 28 foot addition was built to the south side of the existing church building. A full basement was added with 3 new furnaces and air conditioning. A new entrance was added and the sanctuary and basement were carpeted. In 1976 the old parsonage, which had been used as a house for the caretakers of the church burned down.

Pastor Schemmel ended his ministry on November 26, 1973. Pastor Bruce Ulstead was installed on March 17th, 1974. The remodeled facilities were dedicated and the people re-dedicated on September 8th of that same year. On February 21st, 1977, Pastor Ulstead and family left for Fort Dodge where he assumed responsibilities at St. Olaf Lutheran Church. 

Pastor Myron Albertson was installed on October 9, 1977, and served until 1986. In 1978, an office and conference room were added to the south side of the parish hall and the Lutheran Book of Worship was purchased for use by the congregation. New pews were installed in 1979, and the steeple was covered with metal. The constitution was revised in 1981, to include communion for the 5th grade students and above. In 1981, the congregation’s centennial was observed and the size of the congregation as of January of that year was 91 families, 295 baptized and 232 confirmed members. In 1983, the Fellowship Hall was enlarged adding on a beautiful and efficient kitchen which was put to good use serving dinners, receptions, etc. Two new restrooms were included in this addition. Landscaping was also done during that period beautifying the outside of the building and stained glass windows installed in the sanctuary. 

*Since the congregation’s centennial....

Since the time of the congregation’s centennial in 1981 and after Pastor Albertson’s ministry ended in 1986, the congregation has been served by the following pastors. 

Calvin Fick 1986 – 1990 

Michael Harnois 1990 – 1992 

A. Glenn Sinclair 1992 – 1996 

A. Dean Williams 1996 – 2003 

William Thalacker 2003 -

Since March of 2003, the congregation has been and is presently served by Pastor Bill Thalacker.      

The last 25 year period of the congregation’s history has been marked by several important events and mission activities. The tornado of May 11, 2000, destroyed the church facility and fellowship hall, both of which were a total loss. In their recovery, the congregation worked hard to sort out the possible options for the future. At length and after much good and constructive discussion and exchange of ideas about possible alternatives, the congregation decided that the best solution would be to rebuild on the present site. The congregation (thinking of the younger persons in the congregation) decided to add ten feet in height to the proposed multi-purpose room and include in the construction an area large enough to be a gym for basketball, volleyball, and other similar activities. Another feature of the new building is the quilting room as an area specially set aside and designated for the extensive quilting ministry of the congregation. The parsonage was sold in 2003 for $87,645.00.  

After the decision about that was made, the congregation pulled together to complete the project. Workers from the Amish community did the bulk of the framing and rough construction and the roofing and there was a great deal of donated talent and labor by members of the congregation. Members of the congregation worked especially with the interior and with much donation of time and effort in electrical, plumbing and heating installations, dry-wall, staining, painting, varnishing, etc. The result has been a well-appointed functional new building that is debt free and available and used as a resource not only for the congregation but for Bennington Township and the community as well. The very functional and beautiful new building was completed in 2001.  

One of the members of the congregation described the experience of the tornado and its aftermath as follows: “We were very upset, very sad to see that our older facility was destroyed. It was an important place for us and for many significant events in our lives. But God moves in mysterious ways, and he took from us a facility that had been constructed for the mission of the 19th century Church and gave us a facility that will be suitable for the mission of the Church in the 21st century.” 

It is also significant to say that during this period it is also significant to say that there were a great many people from outside the congregation (even across the country) who stepped forward to give financial, personal and spiritual assistance. Chief among those helpers were the Methodist congregations of the Dunkerton community that offered the use of their facilities after the tornado. In accepting that offer the congregation was given time and a place for worship until the necessary decisions had been made. The congregation is grateful for that and all the local assistance during this period. In response to the help, the congregation established a “Helping Hands Fund” that is carried annually in the church budget to assist other congregations and individuals who may have experienced similar losses and who may have similar needs as to what were our own during the time or the tornado and it’s aftermath.. 

The congregation presently maintains a regular, active, and normal program of activities in worship life and youth activities with education programs in Sunday Church School, confirmation instruction and with a large and active Adult Sunday Class that meets during the Sunday School hour. Throughout this period the congregation has also maintained support for the mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and for the ministry of Lutheran Social Services in Iowa. It has also responded in a solid and positive way to special needs like the recent Tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. Of special note is the active quilting ministry that has been developed that produces approximately 350 to 400 quilts per year for distribution primarily to and through Lutheran World Relief but also to the Church’s Bremwood Children’s Home in Waverly, Iowa, the Women’s Shelter in Waterloo, Iowa, and to other special needs as they arise. For a congregation of our size, that is a remarkable achievement. 

A more extensive and detailed history of the congregation has been produced for the congregation’s 125th anniversary and is available at the church office at 4110 E. Mt. Vernon Rd., Waterloo, Iowa 50703. 

(History updated July of 2016)