Friday, June 20th, 2008
By Margie Wuebker
New Bremen church grows and blossoms over 175 years
NEW BREMEN - Colorful banners decorate the exterior of St. Paul United Church of Christ proclaiming its 175th anniversary - a milestone shared with the community where founders put down roots and built places to worship.
The current church, located at 119 N. Franklin St., continues to serve the religious needs of members. It is also a place where babies are carried for baptism, couples come to get married and departed members receive a final farewell.
The history of the congregation dates back to July 23, 1832, when 33 residents of Cincinnati traveled northward to what is now Auglaize County to take charge of an 80-acre tract of land purchased from the U.S. government. Their mission was to start a Protestant town. Each settler received an acre of land and the remainder was reserved for future use. Efforts during the early months focused on carving a settlement from the swampy, forested land and building log homes before winter.
The church was established June 11, 1833 with 16 registered members. Services were held in Henry Mohrmann's barn at the southeast corner of what is now North Main and First streets, the church's first place of worship.
"The congregation was too poor to support a pastor," said Genevieve Conradi, who helped draft a commemorative anniversary book. "Arrangements were made and Rev. C. Hinsch came from Piqua for monthly services."
On Feb. 2, 1834, the town fathers donated a building site between Franklin and Herman streets with the stipulation the land be used exclusively for a church and school. A log cabin was constructed the same year followed by a parsonage in 1852 and a parochial school in 1883.
The Rev. Ludolph H. Meyer became the first resident pastor in 1835. He reportedly came from Cincinnati after learning the congregation would pay an annual salary of $300.
The influx of immigrants swelled membership and the small church became overcrowded. Plans were made in 1848 to build a larger church west of the log structure facing Herman Street and the church yard/cemetery. A cholera epidemic delayed construction for nearly a year and claimed the lives of 122 members and/or their children. Architect Friederich Schulenberg was among the victims who represented 20 percent of the congregation.
Members established a Sunday school program in April 1874, with William Finke as its first superintendent. Two bells were added to the church tower around the same time and janitor William Fuelling rang the larger one three times a day.
In 1890, the congregation built a third church of brick, thanks to a legacy from H.H. Steinmeyer. Two lots adjoining the original property were purchased from William Langhorst for $2,400 and the church was built at a cost of $19,664.02.
Preparations for the ambitious project nearly claimed the life of a horse belonging to Fred Wellman, according to the church book prepared by Conradi, Lucille Francis, Amy Scheer and Kathleen Topp. The animal got too close to the edge of a cistern and fell in. Fortunately, rescuers came to its aid.
Laying of the cornerstone on Aug. 3, 1890, drew a large crowd. A published account in the New Bremen Sun noted more than 300 people came on an excursion train and a large number came by rig from surrounding communities. A dinner was served free of charge at the schoolhouse prior to the two-hour ceremony.
A New Year's Day fire in 1897 destroyed the church, which many considered the pride of the town. All that remained the following morning were brick walls and the belfry, including the large clock.
"It is amazing how quickly the church was rebuilt considering workers of that time did not have all the heavy equipment we have today," said council member Dennis Dicke.
A bid of $10,554.55 was accepted from builder Wilhelm Brinkmeyer on April 15 of that year. The cornerstone was laid May 30 and dedication of the new building was Dec. 5.
Many improvements have taken place over the years and ministers have come and gone. The Rev. Rick Weir, the last full-time minster, retired in 2007. The Rev. Leah Matthews now serves as interim minister.
The name gradually evolved from the original St. Paul German Lutheran Church to St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church. In March 1943, 500 hymnals were ordered bearing the name St. Paul Evangelical & Reformed Church. In June 1957, the Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Churches and the Congregational Christian Church united and the local church became St. Paul United Church of Christ.
"The celebration of our history marks a special time," Dicke said. "The church has withstood trying times over the years but grew and prospered along with the community it calls home."
St. Paul United Church of Christ in New Bremen will mark its 175th anniversary June 29 with a special worship service at 10:15 a.m. followed by a summer picnic in the church park.
Former ministers and ordained sons and daughters of the congregation are invited to the worship service. New Bremen Mayor Jeff Pape will present a proclamation at the end of the service and a ribbon cutting ceremony is planned.
Free homemade ice cream, cake, cookies and pie will be served and the Sharon Chaney Band will perform from 1-3 p.m. Cotton candy, snow cones and blow up games will be offered for youngsters as well as corn hole games for all ages.
Book committee members have completed a comprehensive 175th anniversary book tracing the congregation's inception to the present. It also profiles people who have influenced lives and fostered spiritual growth within the church through the years. Copies are available at the church office for $10 or arrangements can be made to mail the book at a cost of $13 each.
Festivities will continue with a float entered in the annual Bremenfest Parade on Aug. 17 and the sixth annual Wing Ding on Nov. 8, a fall celebration featuring German food. Proceeds benefit the missions.
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