Buena Vista County, IA
USGenWeb Project


  History of the German Methodist Episcopal Church

Coon Township, Buena Vista County, Iowa

The following is a translation (pages 385 - 388) of the history of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Coon township, Buena Vista, Iowa, from the German publication, Die Nordwest Deutsche Konferenz der Bischöflichen Methodistenkieche; Redaktions-Komitee, 1913, E. W. Henke, W. H. Rolfing, Friedrich Schaub, L. J. Brenner, J. F. Hartke, der Konferenz, Charles City, Iowa; (The Northwest German Conference of the Episcopal Methodist Church, Publications Committee, 1913).  This charge was known by three different names:  the Varina Mission, the German Methodist (Episcopal) Church of Coon Township, and the Salem (Zion) Methodist Church.

Varina Mission

This area belonged to Storm Lake for many years and was served from there.  In fact, even before we began to hold church services in Storm Lake, we were doing mission work in the vicinity.  In 1871, E. W. Henke sought out the Germans in the area and found a settlement of about 8 families, among them were J. Ernst, H. Backeberg, C. Jammerthal and C. H. Nitzke.  They were poor and most lived in sod huts or very small houses.

The preacher found a very friendly welcome in the Ernst home.  He also preached in this home at first, until a schoolhouse was built nearby, where services could be held.

In 1874 - 75, Phil Hummel often traveled through the area preaching in private homes, and several members joined the church under him.  From 1875 to 1878, Gottlieb Häfner was missionary in that area.  He lived in Storm Lake.  Services were held in the school houses and private homes.

The first members were C. H. Nitzke, August Porath, Carl Schumann, H. Bakeberg, C. Jammerthal and their families, and several others.

In 1886 - 87, this appointment was filled by Friedrich Röhrich.  During this period, a small church was built, which was a gathering place for the congregation, Sunday school, and other worship services.

In fall 1887, the position was again assigned to Storm Lake.  Good revivals were held now and then, and the work prospered.

In 1896, under E. W. Henke's tenure, the church was remodeled and enlarged, and a steeple was added, out of necessity, since the congregation had grown.

The church continued to be served from Storm Lake until fall 1904.  In the meantime, the C. M. & St. Paul Railroad line was built through the area and the town of Varina established.  Several of our people moved there, and since the congregation had a large number of youth, who needed more attention than could be provided from Storm Lake, Arthur W. Henke was appointed to this position, and then on, services were also held in Varina.

At the conference in 1905, 16 probationary and 77 full members were reported.  The collection for missions was $169 and for improvement of the church property, $120.

From 1905 - 1907, Otto E. Johnson was the pastor.  A good revival was held in the first year.  At the end of his tenure, there were 8 probationary and 80 full members, and the mission collection had risen to $260.

His successor was W. P. Krämer, who served 4 years.  During his tenure, the parsonage was paid for and the other improvements made, valued at $1,200.

In 1912, G. C. Clausen was pastor and lived on the site in the first year.  Meanwhile, the membership had declined a little, as several members had moved away.

In the fall of 1911, 3 probationary and 65 full members were reported, and a mission collection of $191.  The church property was valued at $4800.

August Porath, local preacher, served there many years and proved to be a loyal member.  C. Schumann, who has completed the race, was not only a good class leader for many years but also an excellent administrator for the church. C. H. Nitzke and his family supported the work of the church for many years.  Later the Splittgerbers, Manskes, Carl Poraths, Degners, Hausers and a large number of younger families were added.

We have many young people there, and this congregation has a promising future.  Since this is the last charge in the Upper Iowa District, some closing remarks are in order.

It has now been 40 years since we have been doing mission work in northwestern Iowa, and great things have happened.  Oh, what a harvest we will have some day!  Eternity will reveal to us how many of our number will be among the flocks of the redeemed.  Wesley, the founder of our church, said:  "Our people die blessed."  This has proven over and over again, for hundreds have died blessed and finished the race victorious.

We now have large, beautiful churches, parsonages with modern furnishings.  Our people have become wealthy and have beautiful homes themselves, with special conveniences.  Where $10 was given 40 years ago, today $100 or even $1000 is given for church purposes.  But only for church purposes but also for expensive clothing, often to such an extreme that it is hard to distinguish between church members and worldlings.

Doesn't materialism play too big a role in the church?  Hasn't spiritual life declined, and aren't people trying in too many cases to replace internal things with large collections and external adornments?  Are we as successful as we should be in our inner growth?  Are we as successful as we should be with all our large facilities?

At times it seems that the prophet Isaiah was creating a fitting image when he said,

"Awake, Awake, put on thy strength, O' Zion, put on thy beautiful garments, O' Jerusalem, the holy city, for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.  

Shake thyself from the dust, arise, and sit down, O' Jerusalem; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O' captive daughter of Zion" (Isaiah 52:1-2).

The Pommern families—Degner, Hanke, Strey, Porath, Schumann, Splittgerber, Manske and Fetkenheuer—first settled in the Willow Grove section of Newell Township, Buena Vista County, IA.  On December 31, 1885, they left the Newell Methodist Charge and became the Coon Township Charge.

Ted Fetkenheuer
Mesa, Arizona