A Brief History of St. John's Lutheran Church
About 1835 Eastern settlers began to arrive in their covered wagons on the treeless prairie north of Ottawa. In 1855 the village of Somonauk was platted, and in 1859 it was incorporated. To many of these settlers, the desire for a better life included the freedom to express their love of God. They also desired to gather for Christian fellowship.
On May 1, 1860, the first record book of the “Vereinigten Evangelisch Protestantischen Gemeinde zu Somonauk [United Evangelical Protestant Community in Somonauk], DeKalb County, State of Illinois” was dedicated, naming as pastor Ernest Guntrum.
Forty-two men gathered to help organize the congregation under the sponsorship of pastors of the German Evangelical Synod of North America, a replica of the Prussian State Church of Germany.
The German Evangelical Synod of North America was a Protestant church body dating from October 1840. The church based its position on the Bible as interpreted by the symbols of the Lutheran and Reformed churches so far as they are in agreement, points of difference being left to “that liberty of conscience which, as a component part of the basis of man’s ultimate responsibility to God himself, is the inalienable privilege of every believer.”
On November 30, 1862, the congregation reorganized as the “German United Evangelical St. John Congregation of Somonauk, Illinois.” Article 5 of the constitution stated that German was to be the church language forever.
For the first four years, a Methodist church building on South Sycamore Street was rented to serve as a place of worship for the congregation. In April 1863, the congregation purchased two lots on Green Street, where the church still stands, at a cost of $80. On February 7, 1864, the congregation accepted plans to build a church with the dimensions 32 feet wide by 48 feet long, 16 feet high.
In October 1866, it was proposed that the title of the Banzet cemetery be turned over to the church. Henry Banzet had bought this land from the United States government for $1.25 an acre when James K. Polk was president (1845-49). The offer was accepted, and the cemetery, located on Hoxsey Road south of Somonauk, has belonged to the church since then.
At the January meeting in 1887, the congregation decided to become an independent congregation and severed its connection with the Evangelical Synod of North America. The congregation elected to become a Lutheran congregation.
In 1901, the first question of the use of the English language appears in the minutes. And in April 1902, the congregation voted to introduce alternate German and English services. In 1915 the minutes had to be recorded in English for the first time, because it was not possible to get a secretary to record them in German.
After 61 years, the church building had become inadequate for the growing congregation, and the need for a larger structure was imperative. On December 16, 1923, the congregation voted unanimously to build a new church. The old church was demolished and work on the new church began in the summer of 1924. A cornerstone of imported Swedish granite was laid on August 31, 1924. On February 20, 1925, the new St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church building was dedicated.
In 1926, a resolution was passed that there would only be one common service a year in German.
In 1928, women were given the right to vote on all matters brought before the congregation. Until that time, they had only been allowed to vote on calling a pastor, the pastor’s salary, erecting a new building, and “all matters of education.” But the first woman to serve on the Church Council was not elected until 1976.
In 1930, the Iowa Synod, which included St. John’s as a member congregation, merged with two other synods to form the American Lutheran Church (German), and St. John’s became a member of the new body.
The Great Depression that began in 1929 took its toll on the finances of the congregation. In 1936, the total income for the church was $2,005.57, which after expenses of $2,004.68 left a surplus of just 89 cents. On Sunday, June 26, 1938, the 80 members who attended worship put a total of $13.92 in the collection plate.
On December 15, 1939, 79 years after the congregation’s founding and 77 years after the founders had specified the use of German “for all future times,” the congregation voted to discontinue the use of German entirely.
On February 26, 1950, a new Wicks organ with Deagan chimes was dedicated, the result of a five-year fundraising effort. The base price of the organ was $4,750. The organ has been overhauled and is still serving the church.
In 1960, the American Lutheran Church (German), which had counted St. John’s among its member congregations since 1930, merged with the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Norwegian) to form the American Lutheran Church (A.L.C.).
In 1961, the congregation voted to build a new parsonage, on two lots the congregation had purchased that were across Green Street from the church. The parsonage replaced a building that stood just east of the church, the site of the current parking lot. The 1961 building still serves as the residence of St. John’s pastor and his family.
The congregation approved a plan for a parish activity center in 1979. The plan included constructing a building, converting the church basement to Sunday school rooms, adding new pews and carpeting to the sanctuary, and adding a second entrance on the west side of the building. The total cost of the project amounted to $195,000. The old parsonage was to be torn down to make room for a parking lot. On June 22, 1980, the Parish Activity Center was dedicated.
In 1988, the American Lutheran Church, of which St. John’s had been a member since the A.L.C.’s formation in 1960, merged with two other Lutheran church bodies, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America, to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (E.L.C.A.). St. John’s is a member congregation of the E.L.C.A.
In 1998, the church held its first 5 o’clock Christmas Eve barn service. The barn service has become an annual event, weather permitting, each Christmas Eve. It typically attracts worshipers from the Somonauk community beyond the membership of St. John’s.
In 2002, St. John’s became a seminary intern training congregation, in cooperation with the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Each year, a third-year seminarian spent a year at St. John’s, honing his or her ministry skills while serving the congregation. Ten interns trained at St. John’s, one each year through 2012.
A growing congregation meant that the church needed more space. At the 2007 annual meeting, final approval was given for a new parish activity center to replace the 1980 building. The congregation voted to proceed with the construction of a 2,100 square foot narthex, to be named the Welcome Center, which would connect the sanctuary with a new 9,100-square-foot building with a fellowship hall, kitchen, classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, and storage space.
A last-minute change was made to the building plans. When it came to the attention of the Building Committee that Our Sharing Pantry (the food pantry serving Somonauk, Sandwich, and Leland residents) was facing a steep rent increase, the committee decided to reduce the planned size of the kitchen, increase the area available for food storage, and host the food pantry.
Bishop Gary Wollersheim of the Northern Illinois Synod dedicated the new addition in April 2008.
Through the years, the people of St. John's Lutheran Church have continued to seek out new opportunities to do God’s Work with Our Hands. We now support more than 20 mission efforts, and are constantly adding more.
With thankful hearts we praise God and thank him for our congregation with the many talents and gifts that have made the accomplishments of the past century and a half possible.