A Brief History of Our Redeemer

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, originally known as St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, was organized June 3, 1865, as an independent church. Services were held in the homes of the pastor and members until the church building was constructed in 1867.

On June 6, 1865, Louis Koch deeded lots 286 and 297 to Trustees Philip Mittler, August Ramthor, and Frederick Shoaf (Pope County Deed Book “M,” p. 445). The deed stipulated that a Christian school was to be built on one lot within two years of the execution of the deed. The school was never built. A parsonage was later constructed on the lot, however. It is said that the original parsonage was located on the northwest corner of Monroe and Edwards Streets.

Congregation members in the early church were, for the most part, German immigrants who brought trades and skills which were vital in establishing a prosperous community. In November 1838, six hundred and sixty-five Saxony emigrants, led by Rev. Martin Stephan of Dresden, left Germany for the United States in five chartered ships. Free worship had been opposed in German for nearly 80 years, and by 1835 the situation had become intolerable. About 600 souls survived the trip and sailed up the Mississippi River to St. Louis in 1839.

The Streit family of Pope County was a part of this group. The family planned to remain in St. Louis but business reverses and the cholera plague of 1852 forced them to relocate. They settled in Bay Bottoms in Pope County, later moving to Golconda. Other German immigrants who helped establish the church and the community were the Reinhardt family, who were builders and lumber dealers; the Mittlers, who were pioneer merchants; the August Richters, who were in the ice business; their son-in-law, Julius Brandt, who joined him in the business and later expanded it to include a butcher shop; and August Ramthor, who was a butcher. Other names appearing in the early church records included Weidemann, Rottman, Hoffmann (or Hoffermann), and Kluge. Descendants of several of these families are still members of Our Redeemer. The first pastor of the church was the Reverend Gebhardt, great-grandfather of the late Effie Reinhardt Held, whom many in the community remember.

Charles Hoffmann was the first person to be baptized in the church in 1868. The first confirmation class in 1866 contained the following children: Fred Fallbrush, Charles Reinhardt, Paul Reinhardt, and Wilhelmina Kluge. These children and many who followed them attended church sponsored classes during the summer to study German, since services were conducted and church records maintained in that language until World War I when some English began to be introduced into the service. The Golconda Weekly Herald, 15 June 1871, advertised 10 weeks of German classes to be taught by G. Brandstetter.

Stories of the early church, related by older members, say most of the women had only one “Sunday dress”; they paid 25 cents dues to the Ladies’ Society; members took turns cleaning the church for 25 cents; one woman cleaned the kerosene lamps as her offering; another woman laid the fire each Saturday in the stove which was positioned in the middle aisle. The fire could then be lighted quickly on Sunday morning. There was a tin screen to protect those who sat too close to the heat. The men sat on one side of the church, the women on the other, as was the custom in many early churches.

The bell, which had been cast in Germany, cracked on an extremely cold day in 1879 and was recast by J.C. Stuckstede of St. Louis. The bell was customarily tolled to announce the death of a member. The last time it was tolled was in 1955 to announce the death of Mr. Charles Hoffmann (who had been the first child baptized in the church). The bell can no longer be tolled because the clapper is now broken.

Over the years the congregation has played an important role in the community. During the disastrous 1937 Ohio River Flood, the church responded to a crucial community need. The Herald Enterprise of February 1, 2937 carried the following item: “A number of patients have received treatment in the hospital, located in the Lutheran church. This service by the Red Cross and local doctors and nurses will continue as long as there is need for it.” In the February 25 issue another item read: “Beginning next Sunday, services will again be held in the church building. An offering will be taken for the Red Cross.” During the time the church was sued as a hospital services were held in members’ homes as they had been in the days before the church was built.

The top of the bell tower was struck by lightning about 1938 and the roof and many of the church records burned. So much of the history of the church is unknown and comes largely from the recollections of the older members as handed down in their families. It is not known when the name of the church was changed to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.

In 1940 Our Redeemer Church became a members of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other states. This national church body later changed its name to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

In 1984 the parsonage which had not housed a pastor for many years was renovated and on May 27, 1984 it was dedicated as the “Children’s Sunday School Educational Building.” Also in 1984 the two lots lying to the west of the church property were purchased along with the mobile home located on the property. This mobile home is used for the Church Office and additional Sunday School space.

The Church building, erected in 1867, has been well-maintained and improved over the years. The interior has been well-kept without sacrificing original style. The pews have been replaced at least twice, but a few from an earlier period are still in place in the rear of the church. The original pews were handmade of 14-inch poplar boards. The wood-burning stove was replaced years ago by a furnace, and the kerosene lamps were taken from the walls when electricity became available. The original windows have been replaced by stained-glass windows which were given in memory of loved ones. The stained-glass window behind the altar was installed in 1925 and the side windows in 1955.

The interior of the church was redecorated in 1988 with plans being drawn by Alice Taylor of Golconda, much of the work being done by the members. New storm windows were installed in 1989 for warmth and for protection of the stained-glass windows.

Although the church is proud of its heritage, it by no means lives in the past. In recent years the ministry of Our Redeemer has expanded to include a program of institutional ministry to the Golconda Job Corps and to the Dixon Springs Work Camp of the Shawnee Correctional Center.

The church bulletin for the 100th Anniversary of the church in 1965 concludes with a statement that seems to sum up the history of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church: “The congregation, though small, has persisted through one hundred years and looks to the future with enthusiasm in Christ.” And now, twenty-five years later, Our Redeemer congregation still has confidence in the work of our true Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and on the basis of His promises knows that the best is yet to come for us.

Ms. Mildred McCormick
Golconda Historian

Twenty-five years after Ms. McCormick’s history of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, just a few things have changed.

The church bell has been repaired and now tolls before each service. It is a particular joy for several members of the congregation to watch the smallest children ring the bell.

At the recent installation of the camera used to provide audio and video of the services to the nursery in the Fellowship Hall, the bell was oiled and pictures were taken of the original writing cast upon the bell at its making. It says:

ST. LOUIS MO. 1879.

The German phrase, “Die Deutsch Lutherisch Gemeinde in Golconda” should be understood as “The German Lutheran Congregation in Golconda.”

Of note, the word “Gemeinde” is the German word for the smallest unit of governance, like that of a small town such as Golconda, but it can also refer to a congregation.

Additionally, the congregation, in 2001, completed construction of a two-story Fellowship Hall enabling the congregation to serve the congregation and community by hosting various events, classes, and meetings. The large kitchen also makes for great Sunday afternoon potlucks and Wednesday evening dinners.

The pews have been replaced again, this time from a Church of the Nazarene congregation in Decatur, Illinois.

Prison Ministry remains an important part of the congregation’s life, though the locations have changed somewhat. Bible studies are provided at Shawnee Correctional Center and Vienna Correctional Center. A worship service and additional time for study is provided at the Dixon Springs Impact Incarceration Program.

No congregation is promised 150 years. For that matter, no congregation is promised even one year. Regardless, we know that our Redeemer lives. And whether Our Redeemer is here for another 150 years or not, the Church rejoices that the gates of hell will not prevail against Jesus the Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Soli deo gloria. To God alone be glory!

Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Pastor, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church