SIDNEY — In a continually changing world, few things are constant. While there is still St. John’s Lutheran Church at 120 W. Water St. in Sidney, Ohio, we’ve been changing, too … for 175 years. This coming Sunday, July 12, 2015, the congregation will officially commemorate the organization of our church on July 5, 1840.
At the time, Sidney had 713 inhabitants and forests still covered large portions of the county. The first Church Council was installed on Nov. 1, 1840. A list found in the first record of the congregation, dated Oct. 30, 1842, contains the names of 33 communicant members.
During the first 14 years of its existence, St. John’s congregation had no church building of its own and services were conducted in the homes of members, halls, and churches of other denominations. The congregation finally secured a church home of its own in 1854 by purchasing the modest frame building and lot on Water Street vacated by the Associate Presbyterians, who had built it in 1835. The Lutheran membership continued to grow, reaching 200 communicants by 1885, and a new church building was constructed and dedicated on Oct. 14, 1888.
The second building was used until the congregation outgrew it. The cornerstone of the current building was laid July 17, 1927. The educational wing was constructed in 1960.
The physical structures have changed, significantly, over the years. However, the focus of the congregation continues to be service to God and our Lord Jesus Christ through service to our members, our community, and to our neighbors, near and far.
Sixteen ordained Lutheran ministers have served the local parish since 1840. Notably, two of those pastors have a combined tenure of over 77 years: the Rev. H. W. Swinehart led St. John’s Lutheran Church from 1924 to 1970; the Rev. Jonathan Schriber has been serving since 1984. Associate and visitation pastors have also served St. John’s. Seminarians have used their year of internship at St. John’s to help complete their education.
Today, St. John’s Lutheran Church is a caring congregation of over 600 members. Though we are proud of the building in which we worship, the heart of our congregation beats outside these walls, in our neighborhoods, communities, and in our relationships. We take seriously our mission to make disciples of all nations, but know that our calling ultimately begins right here, with our families, friends, and neighbors.
St. John’s has become a “cradle of ministers,” too; five members have gone on to serve congregations around the world, four members are currently in seminary, and one family is on their way to mainland China.
St. John’s is an active, working church that is clearly focused on the needs in our local community and the larger community of man. Our “neighbors” are children of God. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) confesses the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In our preaching and teaching the ELCA trusts the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.
Lutheran Christians believe that the story of God’s steadfast love and mercy in Jesus is the heart and center of what the Scriptures have to say. Lutherans share the “good news” of Christ’s life, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. We proclaim that we are accepted unconditionally; we are forgiven, saved, and justified by God’s grace for Christ’s sake through faith alone.
ELCA teaching and theology serves the proclamation and ministry of this faith. It does not have an answer for all questions, not even all religious questions. Teaching or theology prepares members to be witnesses in speech and in action of God’s rich mercy in Jesus Christ.
Worship is central to an active Christian community. Still, it is the outward expression of our Christian beliefs that make us known beyond the doors of 120 W. Water St.
The St. John’s Thrift Shop provides an economical doorway that enables customers to “make ends meet.” The monthly Community Lunch gives families and individuals the opportunity to share a meal in Christian surroundings. Our fall Coat Giveaway helps children and adults alike to have warm comfort through the winter months.
We support our youth on their annual mission trips; the past several years to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Wired For Christ youth band participates in worship services and community events, such as the fair. Along with vacation Bible school for young children, St. John’s offers an open, Christian summer activity for older youth in our community through Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Ohio (LOMO).
Sunday school classes for youth and adults meet to learn about our faith and our responsibilities as Christians.
We help to fund the Gideons in their testimony and we support the Council On Religious Education. Our meeting rooms are used by local substance abuse programs. Locally, nationally, and internationally we offer support to other Christian-based ministries with our benevolence.
Every celebration needs a focal point. For St. John’s Lutheran Church our focal point will be this coming Sunday, July 12. Throughout this anniversary year, St. John’s has scheduled visiting pastors and preachers to proclaim the Word of God from the pulpit – itself a fixture from the past as many preachers today chose to be closer to the congregation.
July 12 will be a very special day of worship at St. John’s. The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton will give the celebration message, with ELCA Southern Ohio Synod Bishop the Rev. Suzanne Dillahunt presiding over the service.
Each day is a continuous beginning. On July 12, 2015, St. John’s will have “worship as usual,” except that there will be just one combined service of the Word at 9:30 a.m. As usual, we will begin our week with worship. As usual, we will celebrate the Sacraments through Holy Communion. As usual, we will thank God for our blessings. As usual, we will prepare for the coming week. However, during this week, we will begin our second 175 years of service to Almighty God.
We invite our fellow Christians – and all souls looking for an island of calm in our sometimes crazy world – to join with us on our journey with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Come for a visit. Come to stay. While we celebrate our 175 years, we encourage you to celebrate with us; not just a date on the calendar, but also for the eternal blessings of communion with our Risen Lord. Hallelujah!
The writer is the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Sidney.