St. John Lutheran Church of Rutersville, Texas (a few miles to the northeast of La Grange, along Texas 237) was founded October 6, 1895. In October of 2020, we are marking 125 years.
St. John Rutersville is part of a four-congregation shared ministry, served by Pastor Marcia Kifer, with the assistance of a seminary intern, Vicar Cole McGlynn.
Pastor Marcia Kifer, above, has served Shared Lutheran Ministries Of Fayette County for 10 Years. Today worship was held outside and led from the front porch. The 1895 above the door is not the address, but the date the church building was built.￼
They have kept the old building in remarkable condition. It strikes me that the live oak trees surrounding the sanctuary are older than the building itself.
Folks wore masks or stayed far apart outdoors. Most remained in their cars, and tuned in to 107.9. Phil Oestreich broadcast the service on an FM transmitter.￼ People honked their horns to show appreciation or respond to questions. There was a festive feeling, and a throwback to my childhood days of drive-in theaters.￼￼￼ ￼
After worship, we headed over to the antique fair where the folks at St. John’s Warrenton were serving up sausages in tortillas. Good old Texas, at the intersection of Latino/a and German culture.
Shared Lutheran Ministries of Fayette County
St. John Ellinger 1861
St. John Warrenton 1865
St. Paul Fayetteville 1894
St. John Rutersville 1895
When Germans started immigrating to this area in the 1830’s, this was Mexico. Franciscan Friars had planted the first missions 200 years prior. The official language was Spanish. The official religion was Catholic. 200 years. In fact, it was illegal to build a Protestant church.
In 1820, Mexico won its independence from Spain. In 1836, after the Battle of San Jacinto, Texas declared itself an independent country (The Republic of Texas), however Mexico didn’t recognize it as such, considering it a rebellious province.
Just one year after the a battle of San Jacinto, November 21, 1837, a Methodist missionary by the name of Dr. Martin Ruter (1785-1838) arrived in the Republic of Texas, the same year Fayette County was created. Sadly, he died six months later. A few weeks after his death, ten Methodists bought a tract of land and named it after him: Rutersville. Over the next decade they worshipped in homes, started schools and even a college. Some consider Martin Ruter the father of Texas Methodism.
In 1848, Mexico lost half of its country to the United States in the Mexican-American War. Suddenly, Spanish-speaking people (criollos, mestizos, Native Americans and slaves) who had lived here for 200+ years, found themselves in an English-speaking country with English laws. “We did not cross the border; the border crossed us.” Their rights were curtailed, and their property was sold to new immigrants who spoke English, German and other languages. This land grab made some people rich beyond imagination.
The ships started pouring over from Hamburg. It was now legal to build Protestant churches, so the first Lutheran Churches were planted. (e.g. First Galveston 1851. Trinity in Frelsburg, Texas and Eben Ezer in Brenham in 1855.)
- 1820 – Mexico won independence from Spain
- 1836 – The Battle of San Jacinto and the Republic of Texas
- 1837 – Dr. Martin Ruter arrives
- 1845 – The U.S. annexed Texas, making it a state
- 1848 – Mexico loses half its land to the US in the Mexican-American War (Treaty of Hidalgo)
By the way, Sam Houston was Governor of Tennessee, then President of the Republic of Texas, then the first ￼US Senator from the State of Texas, then the Governor of Texas. He wanted to be President of the U.S. it might have happened, except…
In 1861, the Civil War began. The Texas legislature joined the confederacy. Governor Sam Houston, like everyone holding public office was required to pledge allegiance to the confederacy, but he believed the war was a colossal mistake, predicted it would cost thousands of lives, and refused to pledge allegiance forfeiting his governorship and forever his chance to be President of the US.
Trinity Lutheran Church in Frelsburg, Texas (Colorado County), was founded in 1855. St. John Ellinger (Originally in Ross Prairie) was founded in 1861, as the Civil War was warming up. After a pause in mission activity during the War, St. John Warrenton in 1865.
After the war, Rutersville was sold to a stock company and eventually bought by the Texas Synod. A Footprints of Fayette article submitted by Karen Wendler shares that a couple of attempts were made to start a school and congregation called St. Petri in Rutersville in the 1870’s. After several failed attempts, Pastor Carl Baer was called in 1894.
The first service was held on October 6, 1895, 125 years ago this month. Pastor Baer led the service and agreed to come every three weeks. This is why communion was every few weeks in North American Lutheranism. He received a salary of $75 per year, as well as $2 for baptizing a child and $5 for performing a marriage, funeral or confirmation.
Among the 1895 founders were names like Hencord, Harms, Voelkel, Helmken, Janssen, Reuther, Gerdes, Fiebig, Speckels, Oppermann, Stahmer, Folkens, Oeltjen, Mein, Lucke, Gau, Behrens, Schulze, Giese, Mohrusen, Havemann, Witt, and Citzler.
The Ambergs donated the land on which St. John presently stands. In 1895, a new church was built by Wm. Janssen and his sons for $1/day. The building withstood the Hurricanes of 1900, 1909, and 1915.
A dozen congregations were planted here in 50 years. Likewise, over in Washington County, a dozen Lutheran congregations were planted in 35 years between 1855 and 1890.
“Rutersville in Rhyme”(1895)
From: The La Grange Journal, Thursday, August 8, 1895
As you come from La Grange, upon Rocky’s hill,
You can view the city of Rutersville
In the early morn while the sun is bright
Its gay ornaments shine out of sight.
The Lutheran church is the first you’ll find,
Where the word is spoken most solemnly and kind,
Each day of labor, they endeavor to thrive,
And this was erected in the year ’95…
Right on ahead is William Herdler’s gin,
There bring your cotton when the season begin;
With a self-packing press and a suction you see,
This was erected in the year ’93.
On up the street is the blacksmith shop,
When your horse needs shoeing here you’d better stop;
With its warm fire glowing as bright as the sun,
And this was erected in the year ’91.
The grand ball room is the next on your right,
Where some people dance on a pleasant night,
with the music playing so soft and true,
This was erected in the year ’92.
The next door ahead is William Hancord’s Stand,
Where fine wines and liquors are always on hand,
Cigars, tobacco, and candy in sticks.
This was erected in about ’86.
Right across the street is H. Amberg’s store,
Which was erected in the year ’94,
With dry goods, hardware, and groceries to sell;
All of his customers are treated well.
Now let your horse travel as fast as can pace,
And you’ll find Rutersville the proper place;
When you need anything very large or small,
Just come around and give us a call. ~Author unknown
Trinity Frelsburg 1855
St. John Ellinger 1861 (Originally Ross Prairie)
St. John Warrenton 1865
St. John New Ulm 1867
Bethlehem Round Top 1867
United Schulenburg 1867
St. Paul Fayetteville 1894
St. John Rutersville 1895
Waldeck Ledbetter 1899
St. Paul Shelby 1902
Martin Luther Carmine 1902
St. Paul La Grange 1903
Pastor Baer confirmed about 200 members from 1896 to 1912. The Luther League of the church was chartered in 1944, a women’s society in 1948. The first altar guild was organized under the direction of Aileen Loehr in 1974.
In 1995, St. John celebrated its 100th anniversary Sunday, October 22 with Bishop Paul Blom, and Pastor R. Durst, former pastor preaching in the afternoon. There was a time capsule placed under the new ramp of the new addition to the church and fellowship hall. (Don’t forget about it.)
So what is the mission now? For many years, the mission was to welcome new immigrants, plant spiritual community and provide pastoral care. What is the mission now? Is the way forward clear?
The mission could be the same today. Immigrants are still arriving all across Texas, even in beautiful Fayette County, no not at the same rate as metropolitan areas. Unless the gospel is just for Germans, the mission could be similar, welcoming the stranger.
I could not prescribe this congregation’s specific mission for the next 10 years, let alone the next 125 years. This is something contextual, to lovingly discern, by listening carefully together to the voice of God and deeply to the needs of your neighbor.
But a big anniversary is a good time to reflect. And Reformation Sunday points to some timeless gospel truths that won’t by themselves make the vision clear, but can center us as we read the signs of the times.
The heart of the gospel in a Lutheran key is the doctrine of “justification by grace through faith.” Through God’s grace alone, by faith alone, apart from our works, we are made right with God, creation and one another in the cross of Christ. This is a message that all people need to hear, in every age.
- You are a beautiful, beloved child of God, created in God’s image. People young and old need to hear this.
- Your worth does not come from your good looks, the size of your checkbook or your house, or the importance of your job. Or your grades, if you’re in school.
- Your value in God’s eyes is not determined by your gender, ethnicity or the color of your skin.
- Your relationship with God, and hence the universe, is not dependent on your moral purity or perfection, or your ability to be “good enough” for God.
- God already loved you before you drew your first breath and will love you after you take your last. You are surrounded by love, empowered by love, even when the world is unkind.
- It is love that makes the world go round, not hate.
- You are loved with an everlasting love that is stronger than the grave.
And all these things are true of all the people of Fayette County, no matter how broken we are by sin. Our God is a God of redemption. God never gives up.
The church is the body of Christ. You, not you alone, but all y’all together, are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. It’s not really about making members for your church. It’s about spreading God’s love to the world.
I believe, that if we keep that straight, if we remember that our Lutheran lens through which we see the faith and see the world is “justification by grace through faith,” if we keep that constantly front and center before us, the vision will also start to come into focus. We will love our neighbor as ourself. We will proclaim the good news of the gospel, ￼￼work with together with all our beloved siblings in the Christ of other denominations, ￼we will feed the hungry and welcome the stranger. Maybe for another 125 years.￼￼
Colorado River Conference (9/14 in Fayette County. 5 St. Johns.)
9 Fayette County congregations in 50 years.
Trinity Frelsburg 1855 Colorado County
St. John Ellinger 1861 Fayette County (Originally in Ross Prairie)
St. John Warrenton 1865 Fayette County
St. John New Ulm 1867 Austin County
Bethlehem Round Top 1867 Fayette County
United Schulenburg 1867 Fayette County
St. Paul Fayetteville 1894 Fayette County
St. John Rutersville 1895 Fayette County
Waldeck Ledbetter 1899 Fayette County
St. Paul Shelby 1902 Austin County
Carmine Martin Luther 1902 Fayette County
St. Paul La Grange 1903 Fayette County
St. Paul Columbus 1919 Colorado County
St. John Cat Spring 1927 Austin County
Brazos Valley (12/18 in Washington County)
Eben Ezer Brenham 1855 Washington County
Salem Brenham 1856 Washington County
St. James New Wehdem 1869 Washington County
Zion Zionsville 1870 Washington County
St. Paul Rehburg 1870 Washington County
Immanuel Wiedeville 1871 Washington County
St. John Prairie Hill 1877 Washington County
St. Peter Gay Hill 1884 Washington County
Emmanuel Greenvine 1884 Washington County
St. Paul Phillipsburg 1890 Washington County
St. Paul’s Brenham 1890 Washington County
St. John Bellville 1896 Austin County
St. John’s Deanville 1910 Burleson County
St. John Waller 1914 Waller County
First Somerville 1924 Burleson County
Our Saviour’s College Station 1939 Brazos County
Christ Brenham 1965 Washington County
Peace College Station 1978 Brazos County