The middle of the Civil War may seem like a strange time to start up a new church — or not so strange, considering how weary people likely were, both physically and spiritually — but that’s what a dozen or more German families living in Marthasville did back in 1863.
St. Paul’s United Church of Christ at 103 S. Second St. was established that year as the Marthasville German Evangelical Church.
There were other churches in and around the area at the time, said Cathie Schoppenhorst, a member of the St. Paul’s 150th anniversary committee who works as a historic interpreter with Boone Monument Village, but they were either other denominations and cultures or else too far away (Holstein or Femme Osage).
Many of these families were second-generation members of Giessen Emigration Society who had followed Gottfried Duden to the area, noted Yvonne Ridder, another member of the St. Paul’s 150th anniversary committee. They worked as farmers, but they didn’t necessarily have horses and wagons to travel long distances.
“And it’s a long walk to Femme Osage,” she remarked.
Still, establishing a new church — especially in wartime — was no easy task.
“The first church was under construction (in 1862) and was destroyed one night,” said Schoppenhorst. “We don’t know why or by whom. It just says it was a pile of rubble the next day . . . There was no wind that night, so they thought someone destroyed it.”
Ridder pointed out that it could have been retribution from local slave owners who didn’t like the anti-slavery message being spread by an abolishionary preacher who came through the area.
“We found a statement somewhere that said the slave owners here had threatened to burn the seminary because of the preaching,” said Ridder.
“The Germans here, almost all of them, did not believe in slavery.”
The German families who came together to establish St. Paul’s had been meeting for worship since 1861 in the Ulfers log school about a half-mile east of town, said Schoppenhorst. Ministers were provided by the seminary at what is now Emmaus Homes.
Once enough families were attending these services is when they probably decided they had enough to start a church, said Ridder.
That was in 1863, but the church building itself wasn’t completed until 1864. It was dedicated on Easter Sunday that year.
Schoppenhorst said it’s unclear exactly how many families established the church because the record books are so unclear.
“When people joined, they signed the book, and when they died, they marked them out, but they didn’t put the dates, so we don’t know where it stops with the first families and starts the next group,” she explained.
Still, they have put together a list of assumed founding families — names like Wahl, Lagemann, Ahmann, Hillabrand/Hillebrand, Brauns, Brune, Budke, Gerlemann, Grunnecker, Hilgedick, Ottermann, Schulte, Suhre, Vetkotter, Wiesmann, Lonig, Moellenkamp, Rogge, Schamann, Schneider, Schowengerdt, Rawie, Hollenberg, Howelmann and Huhnefeldt — and many of their descendants are still in the community today.
Today’s members were surprised to find a detail in the minutes from January 1865 that noted not everyone who wanted to join the church was automatically welcomed.
“Anyone wishing to become a member must give his name to the pastor who then announces it two successive Sundays from the pulpit. Then if no congregation member has anything against this individual, he may be accepted . . . ”
After that, members were expected to be on their best behavior or else risk having their membership revoked: “Immoral acts committed by any member when admonished by the pastor or board to do better but ignores the warning will be dismissed from the congregation.”
A time line of the church history outlines other early meaningful events:
1865 — a bell is purchased for $439, a bell that is still used today.
1875 — a brick schoolhouse is built (an addition was put on in 1895).
1881 — the congregation cuts and hauls 20 cords of wood to heat the school, church and parsonage.
1884 — congregation hauls, shingles, boards and zinc from river landing to reroof the church.
1887 — 27 families from Femme Osage congregation join St. Paul’s; 24 fruit trees are planted between the church and parsonage.
1889 — a henhouse is built on parsonage ground.
1893 — volunteer takes wagon and solicits supplies for Emmaus Institute.
1894 — adult choir is started.
1896 — Ladies’ Aid Society formed.
1901 — Ladies’ Aid begins movement for new church.
Church Built 1905
The white frame church used today at St. Paul’s was built in 1905 at a cost of $8,340.
The foundation was made using a new material for the time — concrete. This was the cause of some disagreement between the contractor and the pastor, the Rev. Frankenfeld, who questioned the work, whether everything had been done correctly, said Ridder.
The contractor remarked that he had followed instructions in the book, to which to the pastor replied, “You can’t believe everything it says in books.” The contractor shot back with, “How can you believe in Jesus Christ? Doesn’t it tell about Him in a book?”
But it appears the pastor was right to question the contractor, said Ridder, noting there is a letter written to the building committee from a group of three men who had been appointed to investigate whether frost had damaged the foundation walls.
“A well-drawn sketch of the foundation . . . marked damaged areas which would need to be rebuilt as weather permitted . . . Most of the foundation under the main part of the sanctuary was marked to have up to 14 inches of the top layer taken down.”
Over a century later, the foundation is still holding up, said Ridder.
Much of the work in building the new church was done by members of the congregation. They hauled rock, lime and lumber.
The stained-glass windows in the sanctuary are original. They are dedicated in German to different groups of the time — the ladies’ aid society, young people’s society, choir and Sunday school.
Some members consider it a miracle that the windows have survived all these years intact. A pipeline explosion in New Haven in the 1970s did cause some minor damage, said Ridder.
The church itself also has survived being struck by lightning in 2010.
In 1911, gas lights were installed in the church and parsonage for $250, and evening services began being held in English. Sunday services continued in German until 1938.
Electric lights were installed in 1922.
In 1927, St. Paul’s joined the Evangelical Synod.
In the 1930s, members used shovels, buckets and an old gray Percheron mare to dig out a basement under the church at a cost of just $671.
They put in a simple kitchen and a stage, said Ridder. Members held wedding receptions down there, and plays.
When church membership was opened to women in 1932 it more than doubled membership from 108 to 218.
In 1934, the church’s name was changed to St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reformed Church to reflect the merger between the Evangelical Synod and Reformed churches. Although no one is sure when the church officially began using St. Paul’s in its name, Schoppenhorst noted.
The church’s name changed again, to St. Paul’s UCC, in 1957.
A few years later, continued growth of the church led to the need for another addition. Construction on the educational building with assistance from the A.C. Hasenjaeger memorial gift began in 1963.
In 1973, the first women served on the church council — Doris Bunge, Ella Mittler and Martha Wackher.
The educational building and fellowship hall were renovated and expanded in 1996.
Vibrant, Growing Congregation
Not many churches can say that after 150 years, their membership is not just strong, it’s growing, but St. Paul’s UCC can. Today the church has around 350 members — over 100 of whom were added in the last five years.
“At one point, we were told we were the fastest growing church in the St. Louis area conference,” said Schoppenhorst.
Ridder noted there are several specific reasons for the growth, including how a few years ago several members, young people and adults, went door-to-door in Marthasville to meet people and invite them to church.
“They found out there were people who lived just a few blocks away and didn’t know there was a church over here,” Ridder remarked.
“Now they have annual prayer walks where they just walk around, visiting with people and if they would like to have someone pray with them, they’ll do that.”
That is not a typical approach for all of the church members, she admitted.
“This is more of an old mainline church, where you keep your religion to yourself . . . but everyone is trying to get more comfortable with it.”
These kinds of efforts are all part of the church’s development of small group ministries over the last several years. The small groups are varied so that members can find something they enjoy and are good at.
Ridder credits St. Paul’s current Pastor George Dohm for his work in making this a reality. He has had an organized effort to find people’s strengths and then find how they can use those in the church, she said.
“The focus has been on building small groups, so people can work together and always incorporate a worshipful attitude with it, so it’s not just a get-together to drink coffee and have a good time, but to remember that you are a part of the church, but it’s also so important to get to know people personally,” said Ridder.
“If you just go to church on Sunday and never meet people any other way, it’s hard to get to know who they are and want to be back here the next Sunday.”
There are a variety of children and youth ministries, from traditional groups like the summer Vacation Bible School, Sunday School and Crosstraining for confirmation to more active groups like Super Sundays (a monthly activity focused get-together like hiking and biking the Katy Trail, roller skating in Union or trampoline jumping at SkyZone in Chesterfield) and Teen Adventures (which offers its own Adventure Sundays, as well as teen conferences and fund-raisers).
St. Paul’s youth group is very strong, Ridder pointed out, noting that the group has three mission trips planned this summer, trips that combine fun with volunteer work, contributions they make to help others.
Earlier this year, a group of St. Paul’s youth (eighth- to 12th-graders) raised $401 to purchase a water well in a Third World country. They raised the money by baking and packaging over 57 dozen Christmas cookies, holding a youth evening event for younger children and giving their own donations.
For adults, the small group ministries again offer those traditional activities like choir and quilters, but there are also things like a Creative Hands Fellowship for anyone interested in “engaging in crafts while building friendships,” and a weekly prayer ministry.
Pastor George holds a Bible study every Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m. at St. Louis Bread Company in Washington.
And a couple of families have stepped forward to contribute in their own way — spearheading efforts to restore the church’s two cemeteries. Nancy Ayres is taking on cleaning, restoring and resetting the tombstones in the old cemetery; and Bob Dohrer is cleaning and restoring tombstones in the newer cemetery.
“Not everybody can do public speaking . . . or go into nursing homes . . . or sing . . . we all do have different gifts,” said Schoppenhorst.
St. Paul’s missions and outreach work also is growing. It’s Helping Hands Ministry organized to help the elderly, widows and other local people in need has donated $2,000 and attracted 13 volunteers in just a few months.
Pastor George is quick to note that all the church has been able to do these last several years is a result of all the work the founders and others did over the last 150 years.
“Since I began serving as St. Paul’s pastor in March 2008, we have repeatedly ‘stood on the shoulders of the spiritual giants’ who have gone before us in this Marthasville community of faith,” he said.
“The Lord has been exceedingly faithful in the past, working through the people of St. Paul’s Church to share the love and grace of God in ways that transform lives.”
150th Anniversary Events, Book
Currently the church holds two services at 9 a.m. (more traditional) and 10:30 a.m. (more contemporary). On special anniversary event dates, only the 10:30 a.m. service is held, so there can be a dinner afterward where everyone can come together.
One confirmation reunion has already been held, and two more are planned.
The Rev. Don Sabbert came back and preached at a reunion in June for everyone confirmed before 1983.
The next reunion will be held July 21 with the Rev. Don Deeker celebrating those confirmed during his tenure, 1983-2007. Then on Aug. 18, Pastor George Dohm will celebrate everyone who has been confirmed from 2008 up to the present.
Other events this year include St. Paul’s annual chicken dinner, which will be held Sept. 15, noon to 5 p.m., and a 150th anniversary celebration that has been set for Oct. 13, although final plans are not in place.
The St. Paul’s UCC Annniversary Committee is in the process of putting together a 150th anniversary book that they expect to be complete by this fall. They are currently taking orders.