History of St. Peter's

St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized on January 1, 1850, by German settlers in the Arenzville area. Twenty-eight families met at Fred Lovekamp’s house, and decided to purchase 40 acres of land from him for $50. On this site now stand the present church and parish hall, the cemetery, the parsonage, and some farm ground. The cornerstone for the first church was dedicated to the Lord’s service. The building measured 26 by 36 feet and cost $900. Twelve feet of the church building served as living quarters for the pastor. The first pastor of St. Peter’s was Rev. Frederick Reiss, who began his ministry in September of 1850.

Between 1850 and 1873, 370 people signed the new church’s constitution. The congregation had grown to such an extent that, by 1855, the members decided that the church building was too small. They built a separate parsonage, and enlarged the church building. In 1871, the members built a new church, diagonally across the road from the first building. The cornerstone was laid on April 19, 1871; the building was dedicated on November 5, 1871. The white frame building was noted for its tall tower, for a stained glass window over the altar, showing Christ praying in the garden of Gethsemane, and for the Moeller pipe organ, which was added in 1927. The original church building continued to be used as a school house for a German parochial school until 1897, and was moved next to the new church in 1915 to serve as a Sunday school building.

The congregation and pastor were originally affiliated with the Illinois Synod, which was at that time a branch of the General Synod of the Lutheran Church. Rev. Reiss broke off his relationship with the General Synod in 1866, and the congregation did the same in 1870. After Pastor Reiss resigned in 1871, there was a split in the congregation. One group wanted to affiliate with a more orthodox synod, and succeeded in bringing in a pastor of the Pittsburgh Synod. At the election, however, a majority of the congregation voted to call a pastor of the Central Illinois Synod (General Synod). Protesting that the outcome of the voting was a violation of the church constitution, a number of members withdrew and formed Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Arenzville (Missouri Synod) in 1872. In 1875, the Wartburg Synod was organized at St. Peter’s to meet the needs of German-speaking General Synod. It gathered German Lutheran congregations form Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. St. Peter’s officially joined the Wartburg Synod in 1877, and continued its membership there until the synod merged with others to become part of the LCA in 1963 and later the ELCA in 1988. In 2022, the congregation voted to leave the ELCA and join an association of churches called Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC).

As the original German settlers grew more Americanized and the country changed, the members of St. Peter’s had to leave their German language behind. When Rev. Schmidt served as pastor (1901-1911) he encouraged the use of the English language. The change was gradual, but important, as many of the younger members no longer spoke German. As late as 1915 when Rev. Garten served as pastor, German services were still held once a month though many young people stayed outside because they couldn’t understand the language. During the years of World War I, German language and identity became harder to maintain in American society, because the Germans were seen as the enemy. During this period, St. Peter’s made the transition to English only.

Over the years, the church buildings have changed even as the church’s mission has remained constant. When Rev. K. Bruno Neumann served as pastor, from 1930-1940, the church and parsonage had electric lights installed. In 1958, the first church building called Luther Hall was replaced by a new parish hall to house the Sunday school classes. In 1971, the nearly 100 year old church building was burned to the ground at the hands of arsonists. Only the offering plates survived the fire. A new church building was built on the same spot and dedicated on September 3, 1972. A new parsonage was also built in 1978 to replace the parsonage first constructed in 1855. While these buildings have served St. Peter’s well through the years, it is the faithfulness of God and the faith of the people gathered that make our church endure. An electrical problem caused a fire in the parish hall in 2008. The building was rebuilt on site with an addition of offices and a fellowship area between the church and parish hall. This new structure was dedicated in 2009.

St. Peter’s has raised up nine men to be ordained as pastors to serve other churches: Paul Holtgreve, Arthur Schmidt, Paul Schmidt, Albert Schnake, Herman Hammer, Paul Nordsiek, Opal Meyer, Christian Meyer and George Lovekamp. One pastor’s wife also has come from St. Peter’s: Mrs. Emma Hammer Kaitschuk.

The following have served St. Peter’s as pastors through the years:
Rev. Frederick Reiss (1850-1855, 1860-1871)
Rev. Zettelmeier (1855-1860)
Rev. Shoemperlen (1872-1873)
Rev. C. Plumbeck (1873-1875)
Rev. H. Holtgreve (1875-1876)
Rev. Reinhardt (1876-1879)
Rev. R. Schickle (1879-1881)
Rev. R. G. Linker (1881-1897)
Rev. George Strieb (1897-1901)
Rev. E. Schmidt (1901-1911)
Rev. E. Pett (1911-1913)
Rev. R. Bruno Garten (1913-1925)
Rev. M. A. Jensen (1925-1929)
Rev. K. Bruno Neumann (1930-1940)
Rev. Gilbert A. Saathoff (1941-1947)
Rev. Ernest A. Slottag (1948-1952)
Rev. George A.C. Bischoff (1953-1972)
Rev. Robert R. Wegehoft (1972-1976)
Rev. Walter Chellberg (1977-1982)
Rev. Thomas Christell (1983-1990)
Rev. Bruce Hanson (1991-1993)
Rev. Randy Van Ert (1994-1997)
Rev. John E. Rothfusz (1997-2005)
Rev. Deanna Laird (2007-2009)
Rev. Cindy Krause (2010-2014)
Rev. Cory Lange (2015-2018)

St. Peter’s has groups for men and women, young and old. The men’s group gathers to farm the church ground including a 240-acre farm inherited from the Paul Osterholdt estate. The income from the crops is divided evenly between the church and the men’s group. The men’s group uses its share to support a variety of ministries, locally and across the country. The women gather for Bible study and fellowship and with groups from other churches. There are groups for youth of different ages and through the years have had an adult choir to sing during worship. St. Peter’s has an active Sunday school, with classes for both children and adults.

The central activity at St. Peter’s has always been the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. We gather to hear the Word of God and share in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. These gifts strengthen us in faith and send us out to live as God’s people day by day. God has been faithful to us during the 172 years of our history as a church. We trust that God will continue to be faithful in the years ahead, and use the people of St. Peter’s to be a blessing to the entire world in Jesus’ name.