In 1894 a small group of Lutherans, under the leadership of Mr. August Boehmer, broke away from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church to organize the first German Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Ottawa. The services of the Canada Synod were requested by this group.
Pastor Carl Lukas and the German school of 1904
The Reverend G. Schuelke of Eganville, Ontario, served the newly founded congregation until it was strong enough to call a pastor of its own. Pastor Schuelke served St. John until the summer of 1895, at which time he moved away.
By the spring of 1895, the congregation had increased sufficiently in numbers to appeal for a Pastor of its own. A request was sent to the Canada Synod, while it was in session at Elmira, Ontario. Not only was this request granted, but also additional support, in the amount of $234 annually, was extended to the congregation.
Hence St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ottawa came to be. The founding men and women believed, as did Dr. Martin Luther, that the Word of God was the only true, infallible authority in all matters of faith and life, and that the only hope of a happy life both here and hereafter, depended not on what they were and had done, but rather what God was and had done for them. On August 15 1985, the Reverend G. de Zocher was installed amid great rejoicing as the first pastor of St. John.
In early September of that same year, the young congregation set to work to realize the things that it had hoped for, by resolving to build a church in the community of New Edinburgh. Lots were purchased on Crichton Street for the sum of $500. The construction of the church was completed at a cost of #1,100. The building was 66 feet long and 24 feet wide, and was originally divided into two parts: one to serve as a place of worship and the other as a classroom for Sunday School and day school. Of the $234 provided by the Synod, $150 went toward the pastor’s salary and $84 was allotted for house rent.
By January 1, 1896, the congregation was able to reduce its outstanding debt from the construction of the church by $500.
On October 27, 1895, St. John was able to dedicate the new church to the service of the Triune God. At 9:30 a.m. the congregation gathered in the Sunday School room at the rear of the building, where the Confessional Service for the Rite of Holy Communion took place. At 10:00 a.m. the members assembled at the entrance of the church, where they sang the hymn, “God Who Madest Earth and Heaven” in German. The building contractor, Mr. August Boehmer, presented Pastor G. de Zocher with the church keys, who in turn opened the door and entered with the congregation to begin the Service of Dedication.
Reverend C. Zarnke of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church of Arnprior, Ontario, offered the dedication prayer. The dedication of the alter and baptismal font was performed by Pastor de Zocher. Frederick Boehmer, son of August and Bertha (nee Kropp) Boehmer, was baptized at this first service. Mr. Frank Kropp, Mr. Albert Stroehmer and Miss Anne Wollenschlager served as sponsors. From the pulpit, Reverend G. Brackebusch preached the dedication sermon, which was followed by the well-known Lutheran hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God”. Holy Communion was then administered, followed by prayer and the benediction by Pastor de Zocher. A evening service was held at 6:30 p.m.
The first officers of the new congregation were:
- Mr. Wilhelm F. Roeske, Treasurer
- Mr. Herman Kaufman, Chairman
- Mr. August Wollenschlager, Elder
- Mr. Herman Fillman, Trustee
- Mr. Rudolf Stroehmer, Trustee
- Mr. August Boehmer, Trustee
A few firsts were recorded during the christening year of St. John. December 26, 1895, saw the first marriage rites performed. Mr Tomas Jacobson and Miss Wilhelmine Bornemann from Holstein, Germany, were married during the Christmas Day worship service, with Mr. Herman Kaufmann and Mr. Herman Fillman as witnesses of the marriage. On January 31, 1896, the first burial service was that of Mr. Ferdinand Schneider, age 26 years. On Palm Sunday 1896, the first two children were confirmed at St. John by Pastor de Zocher: Nathilde Emilie Bertha Fillman, born November 26, 1882, and Albine Bertha Auguste Wollenschlager, born March 15, 1882.
After a pastorate of almost four years, Pastor de Zocher conducted his farewell service on June 25, 1899, and followed a call to Thorne Centre, now known as Ladysmith, Quebec. St. John, now a young and thriving congregation, began a call process for a new leader.
The congregation didn’t have to wait long. Just two weeks later, on July 9, 1899, Reverend Carl J. Lucas accepted the call to serve St. John and on July 30th was installed as St. John’s second pastor by the President of the Canada Synod, the Reverend E. Neudoerfer. Pastor Lucas, who was born in Breslau, Germany, studied Theology at the Martin Luther Seminary in Buffalo, New York, and was ordained on April 22, 1897. Under the careful guidance of Pastor Lucas, the congregation continued to thrive.
The next five years saw much work from the congregation concentrated on establishing its presence in New Edinburgh. In 1900, the interior of the church was painted at a cost of $60. The scripture from Habakkuk 2:20 “The Lord is in his holy temple, let everyone on earth be silent in his presence” was inscribed in German over the chancel arch. In May 1902, a bell was donated to the church by one of its members, Mr. Frederick Kropp. The bell was cast and assembled by the C.S. Bell Company of Ohio. The specifications of the bell were three feet in height, three fee in width, weighing 756 pounds and bearing the inscription “St. John Church”. The belfry was surmounted by a wooden cross, which was lit in the evening with decorative lights. On the afternoon of July 13, 1902, the seventh Sunday after Trinity, the church was crowded on the occasion of the dedication of the new bell, which had just recently been placed into position in the church tower. As Pastor Lucas began a special prayer of dedication, the bell was slowly tolled by Mr. Rudolf Stroehmer. From thereon, even to this day, its peal welcomed all who heard it to the fold of St. John.
At a congregation meeting held January 1, 1903, the members of St. John committed to building a parsonage on the church lot for Pastor Lucas. The building committee, consisting of Mr. August Boehmer, Mr. H. Fillman, Mr. H. Pollex, Mr. August Wollenschlager, Mr. J. Peters, Mr. W. Roeske, and many volunteers from the congregation, constructed the two storey building for $2,000. Since this was a considerable amount of money at the time, St. John had to rely on the generosity of the congregation to cover a large portion of the cost of construction.
Finally on August 3, 1903, the new parsonage was opened. Every member of the congregation who was able to attend was present, each feeling a personal interest in the new building. Lights were arranged on the verandah and up to the roof of the house as part of the opening ceremony. The ceremony took place inside the parsonage and was conducted by Pastor Lucas, who delivered an address on the text, Joshua 24:15, “I and my house will serve the Lord”
At the conclusion of Pastor Lucas’ address, he called upon Reverend Norman McLeod of MacKay Presbyterian Church. Reverend McLeod congratulated the congregation on their beautiful parsonage and said that, while there was little difference in opinion between his church and St. John, there was one thing that was common to all, and that was the faith in Jesus Christ. He briefly referred to the great founder of the Lutheran church, Martin Luther and the founders of the Presbyterian church, John Calvin of Geneva, and John Knox of Scotland. In closing, Reverend MacLeod said, “If there is anything in Protestantism which will save, it is due to these heroic spirits.” Several German hymns were sung and a short program was given afterwards. An adjournment was then made to the lawn adjacent to the parsonage, where the Ladies’ Aid Society of the church provided refreshments. The long strings of coloured lights arranged on the verandah and the roof of the house produced a very beautiful effect as the evening drew to a close.
The parsonage was a comfortable, two storey, brick veneer building that faced Crichton Street and was built quite near the church. A pretty verandah ran along the front of the building. The interior was exquisitely planned and finished. A beautiful frescoed arch divided the parlour from the dining room and another arch was built in the hall entrance. Interior finishing was complete in every detail. The building was furnished with all the latest conveniences for that time, such as electricity, hot and cold running water, and a furnace. Evergreens were planted around the house as landscaping.
A new organ was purchased for the congregation, at a cost of $275, on October 2, 1905. The Youth organization raised the funds for the acquisition of the organ, which was dedicated on October 15. This was the first organ in use at St. John.
The 10th anniversary of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church was celebrated by the congregation on October 8, 1905. Pastor Zarnke preached in the church, which had been decorated by the women of the congregation, at both the morning and evening services.
During the first ten years, the church had been flourishing. At the time of the 10th anniversary, it numbered 42 voting members, 170 baptized members, and 115 communicant members. In Sunday School, there were 47 children, and in Parish School, conducted by Pastor Lucas two days of the week, there were 27 pupils. The assets of the church at the time were valued at $4,500. The first 10 years of St. John saw 62 children baptized, 38 confirmed, 12 marriages and 17 burials. (10 of the 17 burials were children.)
In the early part of December, 1907, Pastor Lucas accepted a call to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Preston, Ontario. On January 1, 1908, he held his last service after almost eight and one-half years of effective service with St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Pastor Lucas was succeeded by Reverend Frederick Beer, who came to Ottawa in February, 1908. Not all was well between Pastor Beer and the congregation. In an effort to introduce strict discipline in the congregation, Pastor Beer forced the withdrawal of many members from the congregation. Because of this drastic loss of membership, the Canada Synod eventually withdrew support from the pastor and congregation. Pastor Beer was called to Brandon, Manitoba in October of 1912, likely much to the relief of St. John. After Pastor Beer left, the congregation applied to the Ohio Synod for service and support. On November 1, 1912, the application was accepted and St. John became affiliated with the Ohio Synod. With this new affiliation in place, the next step was to find a new pastor.
A year and a half later, Reverend B.E. Rutzky arrived in Ottawa on April 23, 1913 and was installed as St John’s fourth pastor on June 22. Pastor Rutzky was the first pastor from the Ohio Synod to lead St. John. At this time, the decimated congregation numbered only 12 voting members, but the spirit among those few was enough to ensure that the congregation would grow once more. During Pastor Rutzky’s pastorate, a new alter and a copy of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue of the resurrected Christ were presented to the congregation by the Luther League and Sunday School respectively.
Replica of Bertel Thorvalden’s statue of the resurrected Christ
After serving St. John for three years, Pastor Rutzky was succeeded by Reverend Leo J. Ebinger. Pastor Ebinger, his wife Gertrude, and their little daughter Betty, arrived here February 9, 1916, a few days after the Parliament Building fire. At this time St. John was comprised of 18 voting members, and 52 communicants. On February 13, 1916, Pastor Ebinger was installed as Pastor of St. John by Reverend Salzwedel. As soon as Pastor Ebinger got started, he faced his biggest challenge in his ministry at St. John, maintaining a strong relationship with the community for his German congregation, while Germany waged war during the First World War. Pastor Ebinger would accomplish this feat twice, the second time in the 1940s during the Second World War.
In 1919, the church building, which was rapidly falling into decay, was rebuilt with renewed enthusiasm by the congregation. This complete remodeling included the raising of the old church building from the posts on which it had been standing and the placing of a full foundation and a full basement beneath it. In the process of raising the church, the front vestibule fell while two members of the congregation, Mr. August Boehmer and Mr. Carl Stolzman, were standing underneath. But through the Lord’s protection, both miraculously escaped serious injury. Upon completion of the remodelled building, including a brand new vestibule, the cornerstone, the gift of Leopold Ruch, was laid with a fitting ceremony.
Side view of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church circa 1910
Almost all the work of the renovation was the result of generous gifts and labour from individual members and organizations. In particular, members of the Ladies’ Aid Society, through their many efforts, paid more than half the cost of the rebuilding of the church. The renovations that took place included a new lighting system and a forced-air furnace system. The main auditorium was improved by removing the wall separating the auditorium from the school room, thus increasing the seating capacity to 160. A larger nave was built and a new narthex was added. New and more comfortable pews were installed, a choir loft was built, the interior of the auditorium was redecorated, the roof shingled, and the exterior of the church was repainted white.
The Ladies’ Aid also provided new altar coverings, new Bibles, carpets, repairs to the parsonage and construction of a new garage beside the parsonage. A few months later, an organ was purchased for approximately $1,100 to replace the original one purchased in 1905. The total cost for all this work and the new organ, amounted to $8,500. The congregation didn’t stop there. The Society also furnished the new kitchen in the basement with a gas stove and utensils, and the Luther League provided a brand new piano. The congregation at that time was still young and numbered only about 30 voting members and about 35 families. Yet, the entire debt for the renovation and the organ was paid in a little more than ten years.
On October 27, 1920, the congregation of St. John celebrated its 25th anniversary by conducting a reformation and reunion service under the auspices of the Luther League. The auditorium of the church was decorated with cedar and chrysanthemums by the women of the congregation. Pastor Ebinger preached the evening anniversary sermon. All members who had been confirmed in St. John in the past 25 years were specially invited by the Luther League. After the church service, the Luther League, with the guest of honour, met in the basement hall for a general reunion. A letter of greeting from Reverend Lucas of Brooklyn, New York, who organized the Luther League of St. John during his pastorate in Ottawa, was read during the reunion by Frederick Boehmer, President of the League. In the first 25 years as a young congregation, St. John had already experienced her share of ups and downs. But with Pastor Ebinger at the helm, the next 25 years would bring prosperity and spiritual growth to St. John.