“Pastor E. B. Marr served as the
first resident pastor of St. John’s. His first sermon was delivered in
October 1878. Pastor Marr served two additional groups – a small
congregation at St. Gilman and another group in Baker Township, Osceola
County. This arrangement provided all groups with God’s pure Word and
the Sacraments during the lean years; especially the grasshopper
afflicted year of 1879.” by Pastor Marr
“When Pastor P.C. Hast took over the parish it included the following fields: the local group at St. John, St. Gilman (now Ashton), a group in Osceola County, and two groups in O’Brien County – one of these at Sanborn. In 188_ Pastor Hast organized a preaching place at Sheldon where Pastor Marr had already conducted several services in 1881. In 1884 or 1885 the two congregations in O’Brien County and the one in Osceola County formed one parish and called on Iowa synod pastors to serve them.” by Pastor Hast
“After establishing his home in St. John’s congregation near Boyden, this young and energetic missionary, Pastor Marr, conducted preaching services among the Lutherans of the surrounding territory and organized them into congregations. Among them was a group in the town of Ashton which became a rural congregation near Ashton later on. He founded another rural church in Osceola County which now constitutes our Melvin congregation. A third congregation now being supplied with pastors from the Missouri Synod he founded at Sanborn and a fourth charge he established among the Lutherans in O’Brien near Hartley. This congregation disbanded several years ago and its members joined various nearby congregations.” by Pastor Baetke
The following pages are a translation of a section of the German historical book “Gesebichte des ersten Dakota Districts der Ev. Luth. Synode in Iowa U. A. S. (Story of the first Dakota district of the Ev. Lutheran Synod of Iowa and other states).
CENTER TOWNSHIP, O’BRIEN COUNTY AND MELVIN, IOWA
The Immanuel congregation in neighboring O’Brien County came into existence soon after the establishment of the St. John congregation at Boyden. The congregation was founded by Pastor Marr in 1881 and served by his successor Pastor Hast until the year 1884. At this time Immanuel, together with the St. Peter congregation located in Baker Township, Osceola County, received a resident pastor in the person of H. Blum. Both congregations (Immanuel and St. Peter) immediately sought synodical affiliation, no doubt due to the influence of their pastor and the staunch synodical support evidence by Mr. Heinrich D. Jahr.
Visitors coming to O’Brien county in pioneer days were always graciously and hospitably received in the Jahr home. On such occasions constructive conversation was often carried on past the midnight hour. At many a synodical meeting it was Brother Jahr who came forth with the pertinent remark or suggestion.
Mr. William Steuck donated a tract of land to the Immanuel congregation during the summer of 1885. A church building measuring forty feet by twenty four feet, with a sixty-five foot high tower was erected on this land. The congregation acquired an additional five acres of land which provided for a cemetery plot and a pasture. At the back of the church provisions were made for a parsonage. The parsonage was two stories high and each story had two rooms. It was a primitive arrangement that was typical in that time. The parsonage far surpassed the sod shanties or the board huts of the Dakotas, however. Disturbing unrest and strong divisions existed in the congregation and this brought about years of delay in the erection of an improved parsonage.
The third congregation served from Immanuel was a group located in the town of Sanborn, Iowa. Due to the afore-mentioned divisions, Sanborn was lost from completely and an opposing congregation which had been formed in Hartley claimed some members from Immanuel. Immanuel, in its best years, had included thirty-some members. At this time the congregation in Osceola county also broke its bonds with Immanuel and the future appeared very grim.
These conditions contributed to the many changes in pastorates. By 1900, eight pastors had served: Pastors Marr, Hast, Blum, Goppelt, Thusius, Sheffelmann, P. Bunge, and Wm. Schroeder. Since 1900 an additional eight men labored: Pastors Goeringer, Kern, Timmcke, Dequisne Sr., Dequisnes Jr., Holst and Dieter. The two Dequisnes (father and son) had the longest tenure – a total of approximately ten years between the two of them.
In the early years conditions in northwest Iowa were little better than those found in the Dakotas. The main difference was probably that the people living in Iowa added more plantings to the prairie landscape. It is possible that Iowa’s climate and soil were more adaptable to plantings. It was evident that in Iowa every farm showed plantings while much of the Dakotas remained treeless.
Once in connection with a mission festival the cramped parsonage sheltered twenty-one people It did not seem to occur to anyone that additional facilities were needed to shelter the large group – fellowship of this kind occurred so seldom that no one complained about the discomfort of a bed on the floor.
There was little variation of the winter storms or the bitter cold of many of the winter days. Pastor Bunge (who served the longest period of time) could tell many interesting stories of his experiences in the field. Pastor Bunge often recognized God’s gracious protection when traveling by horse and buggy to the St. Peter congregation in Osceola county. During the winter he might encounter a winter storm or blizzard and in the summer it might be a thunderstorm which was accompanied by pouring rain. Storms also caused difficulty in the care of the pastor’s livestock; a cow, horses, and chickens. This was because the barn sheltering the animals was located in the middle of the pasture at some distance from the parsonage and church.
During Pastor Goerringer’s pastorate a more adequate parsonage was built at Immanuel in 1902. That same year it was necessary to repair the house of worship. A storm that occurred on June 24 caused a great deal of damage in the area. The church tower at Immanuel was completely demolished and the church building was moved off its foundation. Insurance money received, together with a small additional sum made it possible to repair the damages. The rooms that had formerly served as the parsonage were arranged to provide room for a school. The only thing that survived from the tower was the weather vane – an item that had great sentimental value. When the first tower was erected there were serious differences of opinion as to what should be on the top of the tower. A cross was suggested, ordered and received but before the cross even arrived it was evident that many members had an aversion to the use of the cross on the top of the tower. Many felt they would rather have a cock gracing a weather vane call them to repentance. Mr. Jahr diplomatically ended the dissension by placing the cross on his shoulders, carrying it to the cemetery, and erecting it on his mother’s grave. The weather vane (complete with a cock) was placed on the tower and in 1922, when the history of the first South Dakota District was written there was a faithful remnant who still gathered in its shadow.
While Pastor Goerringer was serving Immanuel he was once again called upon to serve the congregation in Osceola county for a time. Immanuel gradually deteriorated and it seemed that she was destined to follow the path of other country congregations who were gradually being swallowed up by neighboring town congregations. One of the main obstacles to a prosperous Immanuel was that a group of unchurchly people had settled in the proximity of the congregation. Every pastor who came to the fold labored with the zeal of an Elijah to bring these people into the fold but it seemed that it was a lost labor of love. The people seemed more at home with beer and dancing than with church pews. The few that did allow themselves to be won for a church turned to a less fundamental church than the Lutherans. It is not surprising that members lost hope, sold their land, and moved elsewhere. Even so, all who came in contact with Immanuel and its early pastors treasure the memories of those years.
A far better destiny was in store for St. Peter’s congregation in Osceola County. St. Peter was served by the pastors of the O’Brien Immanuel congregation until the fall of 1894. Worship services took place in a rural school house until the lack of cooperation on the part of some of the school directors became tiresome. A decision was then reached to erect a house of worship and a parsonage under one roof. It was the fall of 1894 that Pastor Chworowsky was called. Pastor Chworowsky had succeeded in establishing a preaching place in Hartley. It soon became apparent that St. Peter’s step toward independence had been premature since the main congregation numbered less than twenty families. Pastor Chworowsky had a large family and found it impossible to exist on the means and small salary the congregation could afford to pay. The same was true of his successor, Pastor H. Finke, even though he was a single man without a family. After Pastor Finke left, the old order was restored and the pastors of the O’Brien Immanuel congregation once again served the Osceola group.
In 1900 the Rock Island Railroad built a track from Hartley to Sibley. The village of Melvin was located three miles southwest of St. Peter Church. Under Pastor Kern’s leadership the old church was torn down, a new house of worship erected in Melvin and the congregation relocated to town. After several years of growth, thoughts on independence and self-support once again entered the minds of the St. Peter congregation.
A slight misunderstanding between the pastor and the membership in the O’Brien congregation (Immanuel) led Pastor Timmcke to announce to the Immanuel group that he was loosing all bonds with them and moving to Melvin. This came to pass and a beautiful parsonage was erected for Pastor Timmcke’s use in Melvin. Unfortunately he did not enjoy the parsonage for long. He was offered the opportunity to serve as the administrator of the new college at Eureka, South Dakota and he accepted the offer.
Pastor A. Albert became Pastor Timmcke’s successor. Rev. Albert was an American born citizen and he recognized a need for establishing worship services in the English language in order to achieve continued growth. Many who had been reluctant to become members now joined.
When this writing appeared (1922) Pastor Albert was still serving the membership with blessed results. The membership of the congregation surpassed forty families and the church as well as the parsonage were modernized.
The early pioneers who are still a part of the membership retain vivid memories of the early struggles and give God all honor and glory, singing praises to him with the hymn writers.