The History of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
The first German settlers who came to this area of Northeastern Pennsylvania loved the lush woodlands, abundant clean water, pure air, and plentiful deer, rabbits, and game birds. These pioneers had high hopes for the future and dreams of a better life for their children. Very early on, they met with their neighbors to thank God for His many blessings. They gathered together in each other's homes and held simple worship services.
Although actual documentation is sparse, it is believed that ministers, Lutheran and Reformed, visited this area and held services in private homes and provided some sort of itinerant ministry as early as 1790. It was the Reformed Church that organized first in the fall of 1792. Just seven years later, the growing Lutheran community met and organized their church, the day after Christmas, in 1799.
In 1800, both congregations met and decided to build a union church. By building one "union" church, two denominations could more readily afford its upkeep.
They held their first services in the church in 1808. The structure was a crude log building containing just two rooms -- one room used for the church, the other used as living quarters for the schoolteacher. It was nothing more than a primitive, two-room log cabin in Hughesville (now St. Johns). Still, it was the beginning of a special Christian association between the two congregations that exists to this day.
That little log cabin church served both congregations for almost 20 years, nestled on the banks of the Nescopeck Creek.
In 1825, both congregations realized they were outgrowing their small church and school building. They decided to build a second church to more adequately serve their growing congregations. They sold the first church to a local farmer who transported it to his farm, where it was later used for a barn.
The second union church was built approximately between where the current churches stand today. It was also made of logs, but the new church was larger. It featured a shot tower, to be used in the event of an Indian raid, which incidentally, never occurred. It also had a balcony which occupied three sides of the church interior. At the front of the building was the pulpit, high above the wooden pews, which had a sounding board behind it.
The local faithful used this church for 45 years. Then, in January of 1868, it was decided to build another new church.
In the fall of 1873, this third church building was dedicated. It was built very near to where our present church stands today. At that time, it was considered to be structurally and architecturally advanced, costing only $14,000 to build. It was dedicated with much pomp and circumstance.
In 1894, this church was completely remodeled and improved. A new organ was purchased for $800. This refurbished building, with its new organ, served both congregations until the year 1911.
Unfortunately, on March 4, 1911, this third union church burned to the ground. The fire purportedly started in a faulty furnace. It was at this point that each congregation decided to build a church of its own, which was started promptly. The cornerstone was laid at a special service on June 12, 1912.
On February 12, 1913, Pastor Martin J. Swank presided over the special dedicatory service for our present church building.
"Oh, how blessed is this place, filled with solace, light and grace..." Those words were joyously sung that morning at the 10:00 a.m. service, and then Pastor Swank asked the congregation to bow their heads as he prayed:
"Let Thy favor be upon this house, which we have built for Thy glory, to be a memorial to Thy name, a dwelling place for Thine honor and a house of prayer for Thy people. Accept it, O Lord, as Thine own, and visit it with Thy holy presence to the end, that our going in and our coming out may be blessed from this time forth, even forevermore, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen."
Today, strangers to Butler Township may find our church because of its proximity to the Interstate Highway overpass, but, to valley old-timers, the perennial Nescopeck that flows through St. Johns will always be the hallmark of the Lutheran Church that has stood near its banks for two centuries!