History of the Church
In the early 1800’s the only settlers in this area known as Yellowhead Township, Kankakee County, Illinois were members of the Pottawatomie Indian tribe under the leadership of Chief Yellowhead. The chief died in 1828 and the first white settlers arrived in the Sherburnville area in the 1830’s. It was not until the 1860’s that the German migration began into this area. Several years passed before the need was felt to organize a congregation to serve these new settlers in the community known as Petersburg.
Pastor Reinecke began to hold occasional services in 1868. This was the foundation for the establishment of a congregation the next year. On July 11, 1869, under the leadership of the Rev. Killian Barth, The Evangelical Saint Paul’s Congregation of Yellowhead was organized. The details of organizing a congregation were carried out at a meeting following the Sunday service at which Holy Communion was celebrated for the first time. During that meeting the previously elected officers were approved, the exact boundaries of the property were selected and $900.00 was pledged for the building of a church. The pastor’s salary was set at $200.00. On December 19th of that year, the first church, schoolroom, and parsonage were dedicated to the service of the Triune God.
In the beginning the congregation was not a strictly Lutheran one although Pastor Barth had strong Lutheran leanings. The Augsburg Confession, Luther’s Small Catechism, and the Lutheran liturgy were all adopted by the congregation. The church was served by a number of both Lutheran and Evangelical (Reformed) men during the next several years. Pastor Barth left in 1870 and was followed by a Luther Candidate of Theology, Heinrich Hunziger, who left in 1871. The Rev. Friedich Woelfle, an Evangelical pastor, came next and stayed one year. The Rev. Lorenz Traub, a Lutheran Pastor succeeded also for one year.
Finally in June of 1875 the congregation installed a pastor who was to serve them faithfully for over a decade. The Rev. Peter Graef had an event-filled ministry here. On the night of January 24, 1880, the church buildings were all destroyed by fire. The first records were also lost, but a new book that had been started in 1878 tells us the members immediately began to rebuild. The new church and parsonage were dedicated on November 7, 1880.
Pastor Graef also spent much time instructing the congregation concerning the teaching of the Lutheran Church. As a result of his labors the voters decided to become members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod on June 13, 1886. Pastor Graef left that same year. During the vacancy a Sunday school was started.
The Rev. J. H. Gose was installed as St. Paul’s next pastor in September of 1886. The congregation continued to grow and develop into a mature Lutheran congregation during his period of service. An organ was purchased during that time as well as an addition to the parsonage. The 25th anniversary of the congregation was celebrated with Pastor Graef as the guest speaker.
It is reported; during those years the total budget for home purposes was just over $600.00 of which $500.00 was the pastor’s salary. Special basket offerings were taken occasionally for various charities, and an annual mission festival was held to raise money for that purpose.
Pastor Gose died on November 19, 1905 while serving the congregation. He became the first pastor to be buried in the church cemetery. The Pastor H. W. Meyer succeeded him. During his pastorate the salary was increased to $800.00 per year. In the minutes for the 1908 voter’s meeting is recorded an additional fringe benefit for the pastor. In that year it was decided that a neighbor, John Stoeven, was to be paid $10.00 per year to pasture the pastor’s cow and that the pastor was to receive an additional $15.00 to purchase hay. During Pastor Meyer’s time, the mission festival grew into quite a celebration with services held outside. Stands were erected and there was even a band at times for entertainment. Crowds of people came from neighboring congregations to join in the festivities. Pastor Meyer left in 1910 when he accepted a call to another parish.
His successor, the Rev. J. C. Horsch, was installed in April of 1911. During his pastorate the church was completely rebuilt and enlarged. In the minutes of the March 1916 voters meeting, it was decided to build a cruciform church out of the old and to put in enough of a basement so that a furnace could be installed. The cornerstone was laid on June 11th and dedicated November 26th of that year with three services. The evening of November 26, 1916 the Ladies Aid Society was organized and their first project was to donate a new altar for the church. English services began in 1918 with one such service held on the first Sunday of every month.
Pastor Horsch left in October of 1921 and was succeeded in December by the Rev. Karl A. Guenther, a former missionary in Argentina. Pastor Guenther served St. Paul’s longer than any of his predecessors, over 23 years. In 1927 more seating was added to the church by removing a wall between the church and the school room on the south side. In 1930 it was deemed necessary to replace the parsonage. A new house was built for $5391.17. Mission offerings received much stress during those years and increased substantially.
Several new organizations came into being during those years also. In 1922 a Young People’s Society was organized. At times it had as many as 60 members. It was not unusual for young people to remain members well into their 20’s or until they married. Many found their husband or wife at those meetings. Membership declined during World War II and the group is currently inactive. A Men’s club came into being and flourished for a time. The Dart Team is an offshoot of this group. In 1939 the Dorcas Society was founded and the served the congregation for over 40 years.
English services became more prominent at St. Paul under Pastor Guenther’s leadership. This time is considered the transition period from German to English. The Pastor became ill and preached his last sermon on February 4, 1944, and passed away February 6, 1945. He is also buried in our cemetery.
The Rev. Reimar A. Frick was installed as St. Paul’s next pastor in July of 1945. During his 18 years of service many more changes were made. In 1947 the congregation changed the dues system under which each member was told how much to give to the envelope free will system. A new front entrance was added to the church during those years and additional land purchased for the cemetery.
In 1959 the congregation celebrated its 90th Anniversary. To prepare for this event it was decided to completely renovate the church. The walls were painted and floor tile installed. New carpeting, new pews, pulpit, and baptismal font were obtained. The Ladies Aid contributed greatly to these renovations.
In the 1960’s Pastor Frick became increasingly concerned about the doctrines and practices of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. When the congregation decided not to leave the synod was he requested, Pastor Frick submitted his resignation on January 2, 1963. Shortly after this meeting about twenty families also left and founded Our Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Grant Park.
On May 5, 1963, the Rev. Henry J. Behrens was installed as pastor. During the vacancy the parsonage had been completely redecorated. In 1965 the members decided to discontinue German services completely. A Couples Club was organized during those years as well as a Junior Young People’s Society. In the late 1960’s many additions and improvements were made to the church in preparation for the congregation’s centennial celebration. In 1966 a Rogers electronic organ was purchased for $7700.00 and the former organ chamber was converted into an Altar Guild room by the Ladies Aid. In 1968 the Dorcas Society donated the paneling for the basement walls. In the spring of 1969 dry wall was applied to the interior church walls and other improvements were made, too numerous to mention. The centennial was celebrated on September 14th of that year with two services and guest speakers. St. Paul’s had truly been blessed for that first hundred years.
November 9, 1969 the congregation voted to terminate its membership in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod because that Synod had declared itself in fellowship with the American Lutheran Church. Pastor Behrens became a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod though the congregation remained independent for several years. In May of 1970 Pastor Behrens submitted his resignation for health reasons and was granted a peaceful release.
January 10, 1971 the Rev. Reinhart Kom was installed as the next pastor at St. Paul’s. Under his leadership the congregation conducted an educational program concerning the ministry of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The congregation voted to join that group on January 6, 1974. In June of that same year Pastor Kom accepted a call to another parish and the Rev. John G. Zickuhr was installed on October 20, 1974.
During the fall of 1974 both the church and parsonage were covered with vinyl siding. May 7, 1976 the Dorcas Society donated a steeple spire to the church. The same year, the Lutheran Girl Pioneers Caravan was organized and the Bicentennial of our nations was observed. Several thousand dollars were also spent that year to repair and cover our beautiful stained glass windows with storm windows.
April 2, 1978, the congregation surprised two of its Church Council members by commemorating their long and faithful service to the congregation in the morning worship service. Mr. Edwin Menke had served the congregation for 36 years in various capacities, including serving as chairman for the past 25 years. Mr. Ernie Wietbrock had served for 32 years on the Finance Committee and as Financial Secretary.
During 1978 plans were made to observe our congregation’s 110th anniversary. With the help of the Dorcas Society, Ladies Aid Society, Dart team, Couples’ Club, Junior Young People’s Society and the Lutheran Girl Pioneers many projects were completed. They were: the installation of new carpeting, theater-type seats in the balcony, paneling and installation of a ceiling in the sacristy, painting of the interior of the church, and a ventilation system. God has once again showered his family with blessings.
In 1980 a new individual communion set was donated and placed into service. The use of the King James Bible was discontinued in favor of the New International Version. Twice during Pastor Zickuhr’s service the steeple and bell tower were blown over by strong winds. Yet even then God’s grace shone in the lives of the believers. In each circumstance the steeple and bell tower were rebuilt. A handicap entrance was added in 1991. In 1993 the congregation replaced The Lutheran Hymnal, which had been used for over 50 years, with a new hymnal-Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal. Over the years since, the congregation has accustomed itself to new hymns and revised orders of service. The Couples’ Club changed it name to Fun and Fellowship during Pastor Zickuhr’s service. God’s Word was preached in its truth and purity. In celebration of the 125th anniversary a new sound system, new front entrance doors and a new anniversary cornerstone were installed. New altar paraments and a new baptismal candle were purchased, and the church interior was painted. The anniversary was celebrated on July 10, 1994. Pastor Zickuhr received and followed a call to serve in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1995.
The Rev. Dennis Rardin was installed as St. Paul’s next pastor in early 1995. Improvements were made to the parsonage during Pastor Rardin’s two years of service including new windows throughout and a fence to enclose the backyard. Sadly, Pastor Rardin resigned from the ministry on January 26, 1997 because of health reasons. Yet even in this sad time, God still watched over the members of St. Paul, making His grace known to them.
Seminary graduate, Christopher K. Pratt was ordained into the public ministry and installed as St. Paul’s next pastor on June 29, 1997. Under the leadership of Pastor Pratt a Joint Evangelism Committee was formed with Our Redeemer congregation to bring the Word of Grace to the people of this area, the parsonage roof was replaced; the congregation adopted the practice of offering both the individual and the common communion cups to the members at each communion service. The cemetery rules were changed to allow members of Our Redeemer to be buried in St. Paul’s cemetery. In celebration of the congregation’s 130th anniversary new church carpeting was installed in the sanctuary and air conditioning was installed in the basement. A new oil-filled Baptismal candle and oil-filled advent candles were donated by the Sunday school. New white altar paraments and new fair linen were donated. The basement kitchen was redecorated with a new sink, new cabinetry, and new countertops. Pastor Pratt received and followed a call to Cannon Falls, MN in 2005.
On June 4, 2006 the Rev. David W. Schmidt was installed as the thirteenth full time minister at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Grant Park, Illinois. This would be the fourth congregation in his ministry. One of the unique things about Pastor Schmidt’s ministry is that he had never conducted a Christian Funeral. That changed on July 6, 2006. Also, early in his ministry, he encouraged St. Paul to have talks with their sister congregation, Our Redeemer, to explore the option of merging in to one congregation. These seeds were sown as early as pastor Zickuhr with the help of Pastor Pratt during his years with St. Paul’s.
Throughout his first three years however many joint fellowship events have been held such as a Harvest Party, Game Night, and Church Picnic. The members of St. Paul’s provided church floats in numerous community parades a very good evangelism tool. We have experienced growth during these three years through transfers and welcoming back some members who had left our congregation.
As we continue to plan for our next 140 years of God’s grace, the congregation has considered a pre-school, a fellowship hall and various other avenues for growth. Some of the improvements that have been made in the last three years are a new floor for our basement, a new sound system and hearing impaired devices, a resurrected web site, http://www.stpaulgrantpark.net and also occasional blended services using the LAPPY, a new hymnal “Let the People Praise You provided by memorials.
We thank God for His grace these last 140 years and ask for His guidance as we continue to celebrate the Gospel of free and full forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. May He ever continue to keep this Christian Family, its pastors and its people, faithful to His Word and Sacraments in all of their truth and purity. To God alone be the glory!