A congregation with a rich past and a bright future
History has a way of revealing the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The history of St. John Lutheran Church is no exception.
St. John’s history began when in the early part of the year 1915, the Rev. J. W. Behnken, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston, responded to the invitation of a number of Lutherans in Galveston to hold worship services. After a number of weeks it became evident that the nucleus of a congregation was present, and consequently the Mission Board of the Texas District LCMS was asked to station a missionary in Galveston. In May of the same year, 1915 the District appointed E. H. Kreidt of Concordia Seminary to be its missionary. In September 1915, the month after the great storm, the missionary arrived and thus began missionary work in Galveston.
The first services were held in the rented gymnasium of the Y. W. C. A. on October 10, 1915. In December of the same year the small church was able to rent a vacated Methodist church and in the early part of 1916 there were 30 souls, 22 communicants and 65 Sunday school pupils. Difficult days soon followed though. The great war took several members, and eventually the congregation lost its lease on the Methodist church. In 1918 Rev. Kreidt was called away and after a duration of some months, Rev. Budde came to take charge. Rev. Budde was here for a short time, departing in May 1919.
In August 1919, Rev. A. F. Michalk accepted a call and was installed as pastor. He found conditions rather disheartening and by the end of the year the membership, after much moving around, again held services in the Y. W. C. A. The four voting members and fifteen communicant members then agreed to buy three and one half lots on the corner of 39th and Avenue L as a permanent location. On February 6, 1921, the present congregation was incorporated under the laws of the State of Texas, and was given the name: ST. JOHN’S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH, MISSOUI SYNOD. The incorporators were Dr. J. F. Krueger, Dr. W. J. Krueger, and Mr. R. E. Neumann. The first church building was dedicated to the glory of God on June 26, 1921. Thus began the history of St. John’s congregation.
A decade of work under Rev. Michalk resulted in much growth for the congregation, including the start of a Lutheran day school. It was therefore with regret that the congregation permitted its first full time pastor permission to accept a call to the congregation in Fedor, Texas, on February 28, 1930. The Lutheran day school started under Rev. Michalk in 1922 had by this time two fulltime teachers, Mr. E. L. Bangert and Mr. W. O. Doering. These two men served faithfully for the next 20 years. In addition to their other duties, they were able to assist the congregation in the vacancy created after Rev. Michalk’s departure.
In September, 1930 Rev. Theo. Bornemann accepted the call to St. John’s. On December 6, 1931 the congregation dedicated its two story 4 room school building which still stands today.
In the years that followed, steady progress in the work of the Lord was made, both with the school and with the church. Many improvements were added from time to time, one of the largest being the pipe organ bought and dedicated in 1936. In 1939 Rev. Bornemann accepted a call to a congregation in Algonquin, Illinois, and was given a peaceful dismissal on July 10, 1939. A vacancy of five month resulted and in November 1939 a call was extended to Rev. Edwin A. Nerger who was serving as Assistant Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church Houston. He accepted the call and was installed on December 17, 1939.
In 1945, with anticipation of numerical growth, a fund was begun for a new church building. The drive however was set back when Rev. Nerger was granted a peaceful dismissal to accept the call extended by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana. After a short vacancy, Rev. A. C. Diers accepted the call to serve St. John’s and was installed in March of 1946. Seeing the need for future expansion additional property was purchased at 3923 – L and plans progressed toward the building of a new sanctuary. In April 1950 Rev. Diers accepted the call to St. Paul’s Lutheran, McAllen, Texas.
The Rev. A. F. Droegemueller was called to St. John’s and was installed in August 6, 1950. Property was purchased at 3920 – K and the parsonage, located at 1117 – 39th was moved to make way for the new church building. Additional property was purchased at 3918 – L and the old church building was later moved to this site and used until it was demolished to make room for the present sanctuary.
In January, 1953, Rev. Droegemueller bid farewell to St. John’s and left for his new parish, Bethany Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas.
Rev. John W. Jackson of Raymondville, Texas came to Galveston and was installed on April 2, 1953. The plans for the new church building were complete and the fund established was quite healthy. On September 6, 1953 groundbreaking ceremonies were held and construction began. The church was dedicated to the glory of God on April 21, 1954. Some years later Rev. Jackson received a call to the Institutional Chaplaincy in Houston and after turning down the first call, was inclined to accept the second and left Galveston in October of 1962.
The Rev. John R. Saeger was installed as the seventh pastor of St. John’s in January 1963. A request was made by St. John’s for the District to consider supporting an Institutional Chaplin at UTMB. A Deaconess, Miss Carol Schewe, was supplied and remained on for two years. The District then placed a call to Rev. Robert Wedergren who accepted and served as Chaplain at UTMB until his retirement in 1994. Rev. Saeger served the congregation until January 1967 when he left to begin his studies in Houston as Institutional Chaplain.
The Rev. Lawrence Burgdorf of Grandview, Missouri was installed in August of 1967. At that time the parsonage was sold and plans were developed for a new school building to be constructed at the corner of 40th and L. A grant from the Moody Foundation and contributions from the Krueger and Olsen estates aided in the project. The new school was dedicated in early 1971. Just prior to that, on October 18, 1970, Rev. Burgdorf accepted a call extended by the congregation in Overland, Missouri.
The congregation was vacant for a period of about one year. In November, 1971 Rev. Benjamin G. Rathgeber was called to serve St. John’s. He accepted and was installed on January 9, 1972. The school prospered during the early 1970’s. However, the congregation itself began to feel some of the movement of Galveston residents up to the mainland, which made it very difficult to sustain growth. On July 7, 1975 Rev. Rathgeber accepted the call to serve the parish in Cleburne, Texas.
St. John’s again found itself in the midst of a pastoral vacancy. After nearly a year and a half , on March 14, 1976, Rev. Thomas P. Krause was installed as Pastor of St. John’s. During his seven year ministry at St. John’s there was a significant number of students from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) who began to attend. Pastor Krause attributed much of the success in attracting UTMB students to the efforts of Principal Larry Brose and past principals Mr. Ken Buehring and Mr. Gary Merritt. After many years of service which included the reworking of the church constitution to include a “Church Council” form of government Rev. Krause was called to Cedar Park, Texas on May 29th, 1983 and was given a peaceful dismissal from St. John’s.
The congregation again was to endure a rather long vacancy. After almost a year and half, in August 1984, Rev. G. Donald Loudenback was installed at St. John’s. Under Rev. Loudenback’s leadership emphasis was placed on personal Bible study as well as small group studies in members’ homes. By the grace of God, St. John’s weathered some very difficult times in the decade of the 1980’s. It was a time of change for the congregation and a time to reassess its goals and objectives. On August 21, 1988 Rev. Loudenback resigned his call at St. John’s, returning to the teaching profession in the Houston area.
After Rev. Loudenback’s departure there was a vacancy of five years. Rev. Ray Bowles, who had previously retired from serving in the Houston area, came to St. John’s on August 28, 1988. He brought some much-needed stability to the congregation. He served here with a great deal of love and patience during the entire five year vacancy. For his faithfulness the congregation is truly thankful.
In an effort to help out with the vacancy the congregation requested and was granted a Vicar from the Fort Wayne Seminary. On September 9, 1990, Mr. Wade Butler was installed as Vicar at St. John’s. Vicar Butler served for nearly a full year, with financial constraints causing him to finish out his service under the supervision of Gloria Dei Lutheran in Clear Lake, Texas. Vicar Butler worked a great deal in developing an elite core of acolytes called the “Order of St. John’s.” As a note, Vicar Butler and his wife Debbie met their son, Michael Gallo, a second grader, at St. John’s. Following a series of intertwining events, the Butlers adopted Michael in August 1995, nearly five years after leaving St. John’s.
It was during the rather long vacancy period, 1988 – 1993, that St. John’s day school had to be closed. The school served this community well for 70 years. It was therefore with a great deal of sadness that its doors were closed in 1991. While the school is no longer open to train young minds, those who have gone before remain as fruits of God’s work through the ministry of St. John’s school. For that enduring sign of God’s grace we give thanks.
God blessed the congregation with some much-needed financial support, when in June of 1992 the Galveston Independent School District began leasing the school building at 40th and L.
In April of 1993 the congregation voted to call a graduate from the seminary to come and serve as its pastor. On July 11, 1993, Rev. M. Alan Taylor was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry at his home congregation, Redeemer Lutheran Church – San Antonio. On July 18, 1993 Rev. Taylor was installed as the pastor of St. John’s. Over the years prior to Rev. Taylor’s arrival there was some much needed healing that took place among the members of St. John’s. Rev. Taylor has attempted to continue that process by placing a strong emphasis on the Word of God and God’s grace given through that Word.
While the congregation had seen a great deal of change, having lost many long time members through retirement, job relocations and death, a bit of new life was seen in the number of new members that joined in 1995 and 1996. By the beginning of 1997, the 75th anniversary of St. Johns, there were 195 members and 145 communicant members.
The congregation, in addition to being served by pastors has been served by many faithful principals and teachers. The principals who served here were Mr. E. L. Bangert, Mr. W. O. Doering, Mr. Martin Klammer, Mr. Ed Bernthal, Mr L. Hohle, Mr. Roland Trinklein, Mr. Robert Mosemann, Mr. Kenneth Buehring, Mr. Larry, Merritt, Mr. Larry Brose, Mr. Allan Paluch, Mr. Lowell Baumann, Mrs. Ruth Doering, and Mrs. Holly Hacker.
Our prayer is that God, in his grace, will lead us to step through new doors of opportunity as they are opened to us. We move forward in the promise of His grace.
Certainly God’s grace is evident in the story of St. John’s and certainly it will be evident in the future. In September 2021 the congregation will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +