In 1880, seven families formed St. John’s Evangelical Church, under the leadership of Philip Schneider. The charter members included Gottlieb Bohmann and his wife, Wilhelmina, John and Susan Haass, Philip and Wilhelmina Hartling, John Schneider and his daughter, Phoebe, Philip and Maria Schneider, Karl and Katherina Venter, and Andrew and Christina Zimmerman. The congregation met in their homes and the Merton Odd Fellows Lodge until 1882, when they built their church on the northern end of Main Street in Merton. The names of William Hufton and his wife, Ane Hufton are on a warranty deed, recording their sale of land for $100 on April 20, 1882 to John Haass and Charles Reuter, trustees of St. John’s Evangelical Church of Merton, and their successors in office.
A simple wooden frame building with clear glass windows and three concrete steps leading directly into the sanctuary was erected. There was a large wooden steeple with a lightning rod. The church building was dedicated on October 15, 1882. Indians would watch through open windows as the congregation worshipped, with the men sitting on the south side of the sanctuary and the women and children on the north side. The first wedding held at St. John’s united William Schlicher and Ella Haass in 1902.
In 1910, the women of St. John’s organized the Woman’s Society with the first meeting held in the home of Mrs. George Haass. The group’s name was changed to the Women’s Guild in 1942, and this group continues to meet today. Over the years, the women have held many fundraisers and provided meals for special events, funerals, and for various community organizations. Their funds purchased countless items for the church, paid for repairs and utility bills, and their charitable contributions have benefited many causes.
An entryway was added to the building in 1910 to prevent wind gusts from entering the sanctuary whenever the door was opened. In 1929 – 1930, in time for the church’s 50th anniversary, the building was lifted and a new foundation was built and basement was dug out. A furnace was installed at the cost of $255. This was a great improvement over the pot-bellied stoves that once stood in the church proper that had to be lit early on cold Sunday mornings to make it warm enough for worship services. Stained glass windows were added as well as popular interior decorations of the time, tinwork with impressed designs. During later renovations the tinning was removed. A “Sunburst” window was also added above the door. This much-acclaimed sunburst stained glass design by Mr. Higgins was recognized for its unusual beautify in meetings by other denominations. Sunburst ornamentation was popular during this period. The effect is achieved through cone-shaped glass that reflects the light in a sunburst. This treasured window was installed above the altar in our current building.
Worship services were held in the German language until 1929 when German and English services were held on alternate Sundays. By 1931, just one German service was held monthly. August 27, 1937 marked the last German Sunday service, held by Rev. Edwin Wullschlager. St. John’s Evangelical Church became St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church in 1934 and St. John’s United Church of Christ in 1957.
In 1937, the church’s steeple was struck by lightning and the entire top section was lost to fire. It was never rebuilt, but a cross was erected upon the cupola. The chancel was newly built in 1948 and a new hardwood floor was installed. Through various fundraisers, the senior choir was able to purchase a new electric Baldwin organ in 1951. A sound and speaker system was acquired in 1960. The organ was replaced as part of the centennial celebration in 1982. A carillon system of recorded bell sounds was installed as a centennial gift in 1980. The bells chimed familiar hymns at noon and at 6 p.m. regularly for several years.
The church building was lifted again in 1957-1958 and moved eleven feet to the east and nine feet to the south, adding a basement, boiler room and kitchen. Workmen found another set of solid concrete steps under the steps that were built in 1929, which were hard to break, even with an air hammer. For the first time, the church had running water and the women no longer had to carry water from home for all the church suppers. The new addition also included a carport, relocated entrance, narthex, cry/cloak room, restrooms and a closet. The main entrance was moved from the west side of the building to the north side. The Reverend Gilbert Frohne and Marvin Becker, president of the congregation, reported finding the following items when the 1882 cornerstone was unearthed: a copper box containing a German hymnal, a German “kinder bote” (Sunder school paper), a “calendar” (German yearbook), and Indian head penny, nickel, and three-cent piece, all from 1882, and a penny from 1929, the year the church was raised on its foundation. When the cornerstone was replaced, coins from 1957 and 1958 were added, as well as newspaper articles and a list of church members. During the renovations, services were held at Merton School. The long-range plan was completed in 1973-1974, when the sanctuary was again refurbished with new carpeting and a piano, a new altar and pulpit.
St John’s was known for its popular ice cream socials on the church lawn, featuring homemade ice cream and strawberries from the parishioner’s gardens. After the basement was added, the church hosted many village suppers for the local fire department and other organizations, as the Odd Fellows Lodge, or old Community Hall, had been torn down. St. John’s spaghetti suppers have also been a popular community event in recent years.
In the late 1980’s, St. John’s building committee began searching for land to purchase for future expansion. The church was offered an opportunity to purchase a lot from Donald Dibble on the corner of Sussex and Winkleman Roads (Hwy. VV & KE). Long-range plans for a modern facility that would be handicap accessible, offer more storage, and attract new members began. A successful capital fund drive in 2001 meant the dream would finally become a reality.
St. John’s UCC celebrated the groundbreaking for its new church facility on March 30, 2002 to celebrate the congregation’s 120 years of worship as a church family at the 7298 Main Street location. Past members, their families, and former ministers were invited to attend. There was a potluck meal following the service. The first worship service in the new location was held October 6, 2002.
At that time, the Sunday school roster was relatively small and could be accommodated by the two classrooms and the fellowship hall. As our membership grew, however, we began again to feel the constraints of space and the decision was made to expand once more. The fellowship hall was doubled in size and an additional wing was added with a library, pastor’s office, more restrooms, three classrooms, and a large all-purpose room. The ground was broken on Memorial Day in 2008 and construction was completed in April of 2009.