ST. JOHN LUTHERAN CHURCH
(The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod)
A family united by faith in Christ gathering around God's Word and Sacraments.
To reach out in Christ-like concern and Christ-borne love to each other and to those without Christ!
140 Years of History
Rev. F.J. Buenger, (a relative of Mrs. Donald Eicholtz who taught grades four, five, and six in the 1956-57 term) President of the Western District of The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States, now the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod toured and observed that many Lutherans had settled in Kansas because of its admission into the Union as a free state and the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862. Synod then sent three additional missionaries to Kansas. They were C.H. Luecker, Jonas Matthias, and Henry Christoph Senne. Henry Christoph Senne, an 1869 graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, received and accepted the call to serve the Alma and Templin communities. On the twelfth Sunday after Trinity he was ordained in the congregation on lower Mill Creek (Alma) by Rev. C.H. Luecker who had been ordained by Rev. Meyer a month before. Pastor Senne was installed in a small public schoolhouse near Templin on August 15, 1869. He then proceeded to organize a Lutheran congregation. A constitution was written and adopted. In 1870 the organizers Carl Lehmberg, August Weber, Adolf Fetting, Carl Falk, Erdmann Achtenberg, Adam Kratzer, Christian Hankammer, Fred Heidemann, and Ludwig Wendland signed the constitution of the newly organized St. John's congregation. Because of the large territory of the parish the congregation divided into two districts, the eastern (Alma) and the western (Templin). Pastor Senne conducted services nearly every Sunday in each district. The services were in the public schoolhouse, or the community building. In addition to preaching on Sunday he taught children who were old enough for confirmation instruction in his home. He taught German reading, German handwriting, and arithmetic in addition to catechism and Bible History. The children walked to school two evenings each week. His home was a small frame house to the south of the present church. A chicken house and barn were west of the house. At times children lived a great distance from Alma stayed at the Senne residence for a night or two. The boys slept on hay in the attic. The girls slept in the living area on the first floor. The hay was supplied by their parents. Mr. Henry Wendland, a son of Ludwig Wendland, related the following incident:
One evening before going to sleep the boys pretended to be asleep and would then drop a few stems of hay down the opening in the attic floor. They hoped they would land on Pastor Senne's head or on the book which he was reading. When he discovered their foolishness, he pretended not to notice. Then after a time...they learned very quickly that they better not try to do that again. No information was found relative to Pastor Senne teaching the children at Templin.
God blessed Pastor Senne with the gift of great zeal for mission work to 'proclaim the Gospel': All who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ have eternal life (John 3:16), and to "be a witness at home, to neighboring populations, and to the ends of the earth." Matthew 28:19 Acts 1:8 In addition to pastoring the Alma and Templin congregations Pastor Senne traveled by horse and buggy and/or spring wagon all over Wabaunsee, Geary, Riley, and Pottawatomie Counties, and part of Shawnee County. He preached the first sermon by a pastor of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other states now Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod in the capital city of Topeka in September, 1872. On his trips to Topeka he met friends of children whose parent or parents had died from diphtheria, smallpox, or other illnesses. Help was needed to take care of them. Pastor Senne brought some of the children to Alma. The Adam Kratzers, the Ludwig Wendlands, the Christian Hankammers, and other families made room in their log cabins to care for them until other arrangements were made. Pioneer Lutherans in Topeka and surrounding areas continued this kind of Christian love and nurture which spread to Winfield and led to the establishment of a Lutheran Orphans' Home in Winfield. From continuing to help children and families in need over a period of years, Lutheran Social Services was organized. Pastor Senne also ministered to families living south of Wamego in the Wells Creek area. Two congregations were organized in that vicinity. The southern St. John Lutheran Church built a frame church and established a cemetery. The building was later moved to Wamego where services were held for a number of years. Today it is a residence. The cemetery for this church is listed as St. John Lutheran Cemetery (Kaw Township) in “New Branches from Old Trees - A New History of Wabaunsee County” - c. 1976. The other congregation in the Wells Creek area was also named St. John. It was located to the northeast. It became a member of the American Lutheran Synod. Pastor Senne kept his team of spirited horses busy in Geary, Riley, and Pottawatomie Counties as he traveled by spring wagon. Mrs. Senne spoke to friends that when he left she knew where he might go but didn't know what problems he might have, or when to expect him home. He had difficulty crossing the Kansas River to get to Pottawatomie County to minister to families in the Wamego, Wheaton, Duluth, and other areas once a month. There was no bridge across the Kansas River. Ferry boat stations were located to the east of the present bridge. Pastor Senne's horses would not walk onto the ferry. After urging them many times he gave up and drove to the Adam Kratzer farm northwest of Alma. He knew that Mr. and Mrs. Kratzer often visited relatives to the north of Wamego. Their pony wasn't afraid to ride the ferry. He left his team and spring wagon at the Kratzer farm and used Mr. Kratzer's pony and buggy to cross the river and minister to families in Pottawatomie County. He also ministered to families, held services in their homes, and baptized children as far west as Beloit and the surrounding communities. At Beloit several times a year, he ministered to and communed the Helmutt Stuewe families who had come from Germany in 1871. Helmutt was the great, great-grandfather of Edwin, Maurice, and Mrs. Nyla (Stuewe) Maike and their siblings and great, great, great grandfather of Jeffrey Stuewe. In 1873 the members of the Alma district realized the need to build their first house of worship on the present church property. They erected an east-west gable-roofed frame 18x28x8 feet structure located on a site next to the south third of the west wall of the present church at a cost of $308.75. It was dedicated on March 2, 1873. In the eighteen sixties, seventies and eighties pioneer families had little money for anything other than the bare necessities of life. Cotton yard goods cost two or three cents a yard. Girls had one dress, usually a dark colored print, which was washed, starched, and ironed on Saturday. It was worn to church on Sunday and to school each day of the week. Boys shirts and trousers were washed and worn likewise. Children wore many hand-me-downs. In winter the children wore long underwear-often itchy wool. Many also wore black home-knitted wool stockings. Boys and girls nearly always wore black stockings. They wore heavy cotton stockings in summer. All laundry was rubbed by hand with homemade soap on a washboard in wooden or tin wash tubs of water. The water was heated in a large iron kettle over a fire out-of-doors or in an oblong copper boiler on the cookstove. White cloths were boiled after being rinsed to bleach them. School attendance by some farm children was very irregular. They had to help with farm work, most of which was done by hand. They began attending in early fall. During potato digging time; kefir corn and corn cutting, tying into bundles, and shocking time; and/or corn shucking time they missed school to help their folks get the harvesting done. In the spring they had to help with planting oats, corn, and kefir corn which was often done with a hand planter - one or a few seeds at a time. Pastor Senne continued traveling to minister to people in their homes and to many, many mission stations in the previously names counties until members in some areas organized congregations and called their own pastors. St. John Lutheran Church, Topeka, was organized in 1874. Pastor Senne installed their first pastor on October 4, 1874. He installed their second pastor in 1876. According to communicant records of 1874 at St. John, Alma, some of the Helmutt Stuewe family members came several times a year from Beloit to worship and to be communed. Family members took turns making the trips.