About the time Wheeling was holding an election for the purpose of incorporating into the City of Wheeling, our congregation also began the process of forming a church. In 1836 the first Mayor, Moses W. Chapline, was elected. The earliest records of a German-speaking, Protestant Congregation in Wheeling begin around 1835. Religious services were first held by these German pioneers in a frame building located on Main Street in North Wheeling.
Sometime at the end of 1835 or the beginning on 1836, the Rev. Mr. Andreas Schwartz became the first resident pastor of the group generally called the German Evangelical Congregation or the German Protestant St. Johnís Church. Services in these early days of founding were held regularly in the old Ohio County Court House, then located on Tenth Street opposite the old Market House. As the City of Wheeling grew, so too did the congregation that is presently called St. Johnís United Church of Christ.
In 1836 under the leadership of Pastor Schwartz, property was acquired at Eighteenth Street and Alley F for the sum of $1,500. A church was erected in that same year on the site now occupied by Laughlin Memorial Chapel of the First United Presbyterian Church. The cornerstone from the 1836 building is found in our 1907 building on the East wall of the second level at the foot of the grand staircases. It reads, "Erste Deutsche Lutherische Kirche in Wheeling, 1836" (First German Lutheran Church in Wheeling).
Between 1836 and 1870 various records show at least eighteen different pastors served the church.
During these 34 years we have no Council records. These valuable records of this period were probably lost in the 1884 flood. Sometime around 1869 or 1870 a smaller German-speaking congregation united with the "First German Lutheran Church." This mergered congregation selected as their new name Ė St. Johnís Evangelical Protestant Church. Their larger numbers necessitated a bigger building. They chose a central location for their member families on the corner of Seventeenth and Market Streets Ė the site of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station and now the West Virginia North Community College.
The ground work for this move and new building began October 1, 1868. Pastor Donner was instrumental in beginning a building fund. Each member was to contribute 10 cents extra every Sunday. A congregational meeting was held on April 4, 1869, and a building fund committee was appointed. Pastor Donner was commissioned to undertake "a canvas for the benefit of the church building fund among friendly and like-minded people." He was to receive $10.00 a day travel expenses. A goal of $4,000 was set as the basic amount needed to begin the building. This plan was never carried out because of "Pastor Donnerís unkind, domineering, boisterous, yes often eccentric, disposition which brought about his dismissal."
In 1870 a committee was named. The members paid $9,500 for the parcel of land located at Seventeenth and Market Streets and received $3,000 for the sale of the old church. During these years Pastor Julius Fuendling was elected as their pastor.
The financial situation was critical, yet the congregation chose to advance with courage and trust in God. A house collection was arranged and church fairs were held to raise money. Then in 1871, the first Sunday in Advent, the first church service was held in the schoolroom of what was commonly called the Evangelical Protestant St. Johnís Church with Pastor J. Fuendling officiating. On December 22, 1872, the church with all its accessories (but without the steeple yet to be finished) was dedicated with Pastor Ed Voss officiating. The building and grounds had cost $33,000.
During these years of storm and stress and pastoral changes, a group withdrew from the church around May 19, 1850 and formed Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, now located in Bethlehem. In 1867 St. Johnís members who lived in South Wheeling decided to organize and build a church in their own South Wheeling area, which became the present day St. Paulís United Church of Christ. By 1870 after these congregational changes our name became "St. Johnís Evangelical Protestant Church."
In 1886 the congregation wished to celebrate their 50th congregational birthday by completing the steeple and adding a bell. This was done on June 20, 1886, while Pastor W. G. Ulfert served the congregation. The steeple and bell cost $3,500 and were provided by the Womanís Society. In 1896 during Pastor Ulfertís ministry, a parsonage was built next to the church for the sum of $4,500. In the Fall of 1899 the congregation decided to renovate and beautify the inside of the church. The renovation was to be done without going into debt.
By January, 1900, the congregation voted unanimously to go ahead with the renovation. Everything would be gone or changed Ė altar, pulpit, benches, organ, windows, etc. The remodeling with the exception of the new glass windows from the Artistic Glass Painting Company of Cincinnati cost $5,500. But new challenges were ahead. Pastor Ulfert stated, "A splendid church building completed, St. Johnís should not rest, perhaps for his own good, because the proverb says, ĎRest I Ė so Rust I.í Therefore, God sent the congregation new work, new confusion, new annoyances, and trouble."
The challenge came in 1906 when the B. & O. Railroad, Company approached the congregation to purchase the property. After negotiations, the congregation received through a court ruling $82,000 for the remodeled church. The congregation chose a site on the northwest corner of Chapline and Twenty-second Streets for their new church. This site was purchased for $27,5000. The firm of Giesey and Faris was employed as architects. The windows not brought from the old church were purchased from Von Gerichten Art Glass Company in Columbus, Ohio.
On May 26, 1907, the cornerstone was laid in the northeast corner of the building. The inscription reads, "Evangelical Protestantische St. Johnís Church, 1836-1907." The cornerstone contains a copper box filled with various objects given by the members. The building and parsonage were designed in German Gothic style both inside and out. The dimensions of the church were 98 feet long and 55 feet wide. The parsonage (church house) is 66 feet by 25 feet.
The grounds and the church without the inner furnishings, such as organ, carpet, chairs, glass, etc., cost about $74,000. The magnificent windows of the previous church building had been incorporated into the present design.
Two new large central windows were added, one on each side of the sanctuary, given by the Womanís Society and Christian Endeavor Society:
South Jesus in Bethany with Mary and Martha North The Good Samaritan
The other new windows added to other parts of the building were:
Bell tower landingó
The Risen Christ
The Sacrificial Angel
The Resurrection Angel
Second level window:
Chalice and Grapes
Jesus, the Good Shepherd
Bust of the Boy Jesus
Several ornamental windows
Three windows in the East Wall, Second Level, at the foot of the grand staircase are:
Bust of the Apostle John
The windows over the entrance doors were also created for the new building.
And so with the completion of the 1907 building Pastor Ulfert said: "The old is goneó Everything has become new. May not only the stone church become new but, better still, the most beautiful adornment of a Church, the Congregation. May the memory of this day of dedication be a blessed one for generations to come."
Girded then with such a challenging history, let us look at the events of St. Johnís in the following years. On May 18, 1924, Rev. Wm. J. Hausmann was called to serve the congregation. The organ, which cost $16,000, was dedicated on April 7, 1925. In 1926 the entire church interior was refrescoed.
On October 21, 1928, St. Johnís affiliated with the Evangelical Synod of North America. In 1929 the German services were questioned and evaluated. On July 1, 1929, the congregation voted to have German services on the first Sunday evening of every month. Then on January 6, 1930, due to poor attendance, the congregation voted to hold the German services once a month after regular English services. Finally, on January 8, 1934, the congregation voted to discontinue all German services on a regular basis.
In June of 1934 Rev. Hausmann was given permission to look of rental property as a parsonage. Later in 1946 it was decided by the congregation to purchase the rental home of Rev. Hausmann for $9,000.
With a denominational merger, the congregation again changed their name on July 5, 1939 to St. Johnís Evangelical and Reformed Church.
In 1949 attention was given to the chancel area of the building. Nineteen members were in favor and thirteen were against altering and rearranging the chancel furnishings. A new central altar was purchased as well as new carpet. Various members also purchased a set of candlesticks, cross, altar vases, dossal curtains, choir rail curtains, flags, and had the chairs re-upholstered. The new chancel renovations were designed and installed by Meyers Brothers of Steubenville, Ohio.
In 1957 the United Church of Christ as formed, representing a merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. St. Johnís participated in this merger about 1961, and the name was again changed to St. Johnís United Church of Christ.
With the retirement of Rev. Hausmann after thirty-six years of faithful service, the congregation called the Rev. Mr. Ralph Rebman. Rev. Rebman served St. Johnís from 1960 to 1968. During the interim period after Rev. Rebmanís pastorate, the congregation purchased new cushioned pews for the sanctuary. By September, 1969, the campaign was over-subscribed. Around $6,000 had been received. The pews were purchased from the Sauder Manufacturing Company of Archbold, Ohio.
On January 18, 1970, a special congregational meeting was held to call the Rev. Mr. Byron Amacher. In that same month the congregation voted to sell the old parsonage at 41 Park Place and purchase a home at 20 Echo Terrace for the sum of $19,000.
In October, 1970, the congregation voted to have the Hunt Stained Glass Company of Pittsburgh re-cement the stained glass windows and pain the window frames in the sanctuary, the total cost for this project was $5,875. In January, 1971, the church steeple was repaired by the Trigg Company of Neffs, Ohio, for a cost of $3,001.
In July of 1971, Rev. Amacher was confined to the Ohio Valley Medical Center, and supply ministers were obtained from Bethany College. With this illness began periods continuing over 18 months when Pastor Amacher was unable to give his leadership ability due to being confined to his home or hospital.
On October 10. 1971, the congregation voted to accept a bid to renovate the womenís restroom for a cost of $2,562, as well as a bid to repair the gutters on the church for a cost of $1,895. In July of 1972 Council decided to call Dr. Hubert Barnett to serve as interim pastor, since Rev. Amacherís physical condition continued to worsen. These delicate deliberations were done with advice from the Eastern Ohio Association. Dr. Barnett began work at St. Johnís September 1, 1972.
In August of 1972 the organ committee report was approved, and the Moller Organ Company was contracted to releather certain sections of the organ for a total cost of $2,200.
In October the congregation received a letter of resignation from Rev. Amacher, effective December 31, 1972.
On December 17, 1972, the congregation of St. Johnís called the Rev. Mr. Ronald C. Riggs as their pastor. It was also decided at that time to place the present parsonage at 12 Echo Terrace up for sale and set up a housing allowance for their new pastor. Rev. Riggs was officially installed as pastor of St. Johnís on March 18, 1973. At that service the Rev. Mr. William J. Hausmann was honored with the honorary title of Pastor Emeritus.
At a special congregational meeting held August 4, 1974, it was voted to contract with the Hunt Stained Glass Company of Pittsburgh to seal with clear plexiglass the stained glass windows in the bell tower and to remove the opaque glass in the rest of the towers and replace with tinted plexiglass. This was financed through the Memorial Fund for a cost of $4,298.00.
On June 29, 1975, the congregation, after considerable study and discussion, embarked upon major renovation of the first level of the church building. For a sum not to exceed $17,000 the Blaine Sampson Company of Dallas Pike was hired to create a large multipurpose room, now being used by children in our Learning Community, a new nursery, and new kitchen plus a new menís restroom. The money to pay for this project was borrowed from a local bank, and the repayment of the loan is to be made using the dividends from church stocks that have to come to St. Johnís as bequests to the Memorial Fund. The work on this project was completed on January 23, 1976.
Challenged by the generosity of those who remembered their church in wills, the living members responded through a special drive to paint the sanctuary and all three halls and stair wells, and to add special spot lights to enhance the chancel area. The project was completed in time for the October, 1976, 140th Anniversary Celebrations. The total cost of this redecoration was about $7,200.
It had been apparent for several years that the churchís pipe organ was deteriorating. In 1979 the congregation decided to renovate the organ and a contract was signed with M. P. Moeller, Inc., organ building firm of Hagerstown, Maryland, for the work to be done at a cost of $79,000. Half of this amount was to be borrowed from the Memorial Trust Fund and the other half raised by donations. The renovation was completed in 1981 and the organ dedicated on Palm Sunday of that year; a dedicatory recital followed on June 7, performed by Dr. John Lively of Pittsburgh. At this time also Mr. John Shepherd became the churchís Organist and Music Director and began leading the choir to a renewed level of ability and ministry.
In August of 1980 Rev. Riggs accepted a call to the Congregational Church of Brea, California. His tenure as pastor had brought to St. Johnís an openness to new forms of worship, a commitment to quality church music and innovating Christian education, and a deep pastoral concern for the sick and elderly. In the interim following Rev. Riggsí departure the church was blessed with the ministry of Mr. Randall Hachfield, a seminary student; and by the Rev. Jack Lipphardt, Associate Director of The House of the Carpenter.
In December, 1981, the Rev. Robert K. Thompson became the 27th pastor of St. Johnís. At this time the church began coming to grips with the disheartening economic decline and population loss in the Wheeling area. Believing, nevertheless, that St. Johnís has a needed ministry to offer, the Church Council began facing the future with courage and faith. Among the many efforts directed at increasing the churchís understanding of its place of ministry and to increase its visibility within the community have been a door-to-door survey of neighborhood residents; participation in Wheelingís Ft. Henry Days Festival; sponsoring of organ recitals and choir concerts; an intentional church growth program to attract area newcomers and unchurched persons; implementation of a program of after-school care of "latch-key children"; continued improvements to the building, including repair and covering of the stained glass windows, redecorating the office area, renovations in the custodianís apartment, and especially the redecoration and remodeling of the second level as the 150th Anniversary project. In an era of population decline church membership has not grown in numbers, but Sunday worship attendance and financial giving increased significantly and many new people, including ethnic minority persons, became part of the churchís fellowship.
At the present, as through all the years, St. Johnís is indebted to the faithful numbers of people who have cared greatly about the life, ministry and future of the church. Some come especially to mind, such as the Loyal Workers (after whom the renewed second level of the building has been named "Loyal Workers Friendship Room"); the Lydia Circle; the volunteer church school staff; the choir members; the men and women who devote time and skill in various remodeling projects; the Church Council members; committee chairpersons and members; the children and young people who join us so willingly in worship, work and fellowship; and all those who consistently volunteer for tasks large and small. These are all that "cloud of witnesses" by whom a church becomes a fruitful means to ministry in Jesusí name.
The future of St. Johnís church is open-ended, even as it hold many uncertainties. Much has been done in 150 years, much will continue to be done, much is yet possible to do. We believe, however, accomplishments attained in future years will not bee Ė must not be Ė "by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord" (Zecheriah 4.6). On this happy occasion of our 150th church birthday, may the Living Spirit of Jesus reside within up all, and may we truly "continue faithful" to the work God has here give us to do.
Calvin Matzke, President
Leland (Jack) McWhorter, Vice-President
Rebecca Weisner, Secretary
Edgar (Duke) Ebeling, Treasurer
Janet Weisner, Chairperson
Leland (Jack) McWhorter