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
In the 1870's German Lutherans continued to leave their homeland to escape hardships, unstable economic conditions, and threat of serving in the army to fight against Russia. They traveled for six to seven weeks on sailing ships to New York, New Orleans, or other United States ports. Joys and sorrows often accompanied them. Babies were born on ships. Illnesses were often prevalent. When anyone died far from the ports a funeral was conducted by a pastor on the ships and the body was lowered overboard into the ocean-a watery grave. Grief-stricken Christians came to the new world. The immigrant Lutherans had heard before they left Germany from friends in America or heard when they arrived in the United States about the vast expanse of rich grassland with good water and the abundance of rocks and timber which could be used for buildings farmsteads and business buildings in Kansas. Many settled in the Alma area - some to be near their relatives and former friends from Germany. St. John Lutheran Church at Alma grew as people moved to the area, and God continued to build a community of saints in this place. Within five years the first church had become too small for all who came to hear words of comfort in the saving Gospel of Christ and to worship. The congregation decided to build a larger church building of stone construction measuring 30x50 feet with a steeple 25 feet high. The contract for the stone work was given to August Falk (great-grandfather of Mrs. August (Wanda) Zeckser) for $390 and the contract for the carpenter work to Gerriet Diepenbrock (great-grandfather of Mrs. Ray (Marilyn) Simon and Jacob H. Terrass for $325. This church building was dedicated to the glory of God on March 30, 1879. The cornerstone of that church is placed behind the altar of the stone church that replaced it in 1908. It says: Ev. Luth. Kirche Anno 1878 U A C Translated from German and Latin: Evangelical Lutheran Church Year 1878 Unalterd Augsburg Confession Candles were the main source of light in pioneer homes, businesses, schools, and churches. They were set in metal usually tin or wooden holders with or without a glass chimney. In homes they were often set in a wax base on a saucer or in a cup. Candles were made of beeswax, tallow, or a combination of both. They were dipped or molded. The wick was usually a homemade cord as few people had money to buy wicks if they were available. The candles used at St. John were homemade by several member families. They were used on the altar, for lighting at the pulpit, and for lighting in the nave. The following information relative to making candles which were used at St. John was told to Miss Dorothy Kratzer by her aunts Sophia (Kratzer) Emrich and Emilie (Kratzer) Ditmann, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Adam Kratzer, and by Mr. Henry Wendland, a son of Ludwig Wendland. In late summer Adam Kratzer taught his oldest daughters Sophie (ages 6 or 7) and Caroline (age 5 or 6) to gather several species of prairie plants at a certain stage of maturity from the hill in the pasture. (Mullein is also called a candlewick plant.) They stripped all small branches and leaves from the main stem which they then soaked in warm water to soften all material surrounding the strong fiber of the stem. The next day they washed the strong fibers in the cold running water of the spring to remove all soft plant material and then laid them out to dry. Their hands hurt from being in the cold water. As the stems were drying the girls had to work them with their hands to keep them pliable. Their mom had taught them to braid strands of cord. When the stems were dry, they braided three to six fibers to make candlewicks. Adam and his sons William and Leonard harvested beeswax from beehives in trees in the timber. When Gustav and Henry were older they helped their brothers. The fat from their butchered beef had been rendered out-of-doors in a big black iron kettle to supply tallow for candles and soap-making. (Homemade lye soap was often a part of the pastor's salary.) The candle making process used a mold which needed to be filled. A candle mold base usually held four to twelve tapered candle forms. It was usually made of tin. One of the girls placed the wick into an end form, pulled it through the small hole in the bottom, and made a large knot to keep melted wax or tallow from running through. The other girl held knitting needles horizontally over the middle of each row of forms. The first girl pulled the wick taut in the center of the form, wound it over the knitting needle keeping it in the center of the form. She then wound it around the knitting needle over the center of the first form in the second row of forms, put it through the hole at the bottom, pulled in taut, and knotted it tightly against the hole. They used the same procedure for each two forms until each form had a wick down the center. Their parents melted the beeswax or beeswax-tallow mixture and helped the girls carefully pour it into each form until they were capable of doing it themselves. The girls held the knitting needles in place until the wax or mixture was hardened. When the candles had cooled and hardened overnight, they slipped the knitting needles out, quickly dipped the mold in hot water, and quickly turned them upside down. The candles slipped out, the pairs were cut apart, and were carefully laid in a wood box to be taken to the church on their next trip to town. Their parents helped them until they were older and could responsibly make candles by themselves. Mary, Emilie, and Fredricka learned the process from their older sisters and took over when they were capable. Candles were made during cool weather in the fall or early spring so they would harden and cure evenly. Beeswax candles were used in warm and hot weather. Beeswax-tallow candles were used in cold winter weather. Mr. Wendland said that the girls made many very good candles for use on the church altar for many years. When kerosene lamps were available and affordable, they were used for lighting the pulpit and the nave.