Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

  St. John Lutheran Church
Historical Marker
Thrall, Texas

Historical Marker Dedication 11/04/2007

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409 S Main St

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1891
 
 

Marker Text:
St. John Lutheran Church dates to 1917, when area Lutherans joined with the Rev. Arthur E. Hartmann, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church (Taylor), to organize a new congregation. Members met in the public school and in homes until constructing a building here in 1921. The church has a long history of social service; one early project involved sending clothing to the needy in Europe following World War I. Membership grew steadily, especially in the 1930s and 1940s during the pastorate of the Rev. Willard Ander. The church built new facilities at this site in 1957 and today, St. John Lutheran Church continues to serve as a spiritual leader in the community of Thrall. (2007)


 
 

 

St. John Lutheran Church, Thrall, Texas
Historical Narrative by Linda Richter
 
I. CONTEXT
In the small rural Williamson County town of Thrall, a Lutheran congregation is closing in on the 90th anniversary of the organization of their congregation. Although none of the charter members are alive, I'm sure that they would be very proud to know that the congregation they started back in 1917 is still a very active congregation and a big part of the Thrall community. The congregation and the town have seen many changes during the last ninety years along with increases and decreases in population, record breaking floods in 1921 and yet both have survived. The present congregation has approximately 197 baptized members and is currently served by Pastor Jon Bielfeldt. The present church is built on the original site of the first church. The physical address of the church building is 409 South Main Street, Thrall, Texas 76578.


Thrall was founded in 1876 as a railroad station on the International-Great Northern line and was first called Stiles Switch, after a family that owned a ranch at the site. The Stiles school was opened in the 1880's and a gin was built in the 1890's. When a post office-general store was opened in 1901, the name Thrall was chosen for the community, after Homer S. Thrall. The town was a farming and cattle center in the early years of the twentieth century. It had a bank and a population of 150 in 1914 prior to the organization of the congregation. In 1915 Thrall was caught up in an economic boom resulting from the discovery of oil on nearby farms. Some 200 wells were dug in the area, and the population may have climbed as high as 3,000 over the next few years. By 1920 the oil boom had leveled off, and the population of the town had fallen to 272. I With the oil boom and the population increase, people needed places to stay and hotels were built. After the oil boom leveled off and the population returned to 272 in 1920, hotels were empty. On May 13, 1920 the congregation acquired two lots and a two-story hotel building, which was dismantled and the materials used in the construction of the first church. The present church is still on this original site.


II. OVERVIEW
In 1916, a group of Lutherans in and around Thrall realized the need of a Lutheran parish to be located in Thrall and began looking into the possibility of organizing a congregation. Reverend Arthur E. Hartmann, who was pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Taylor was contacted and assisted in the organization of a congregation. On June 25, 1917, St. John Lutheran Church was organized with the following charter members: Mr.and Mrs. Henry Birkelbach, Mr. and Mrs. William Diebel, Mr. and Mrs. L. Walter Fuchs, Mr. and Mrs. John Goetz, and Mr. and Mrs. Ad. Mager. In the early days of the church, services were held in the public school and in the homes of the members. There were many disadvantages because of dirt roads to Taylor which many times created uncertainties of the service due to the mud and weather hazards. Many members had to be visitied in a buggy at times of illness when it was almost impossible on account of muddy roads. At first growth was slow and many means had to be used to provide enough money to pay the Pastor's expense and salary. [2]


 St. John Lutheran Church joined the First Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Texas at the time of organization, thus becoming affiliated with the Iowa Synod. In 1930 the congregation became a member of the Texas District of the American Lutheran Church and in 1960 of the Southern District of The American Lutheran Church. [3]


The ladies of the church also had a devout interest in the welfare of the early church and they organized into a Ladies Aid Society on May 27, 1919. The organization was to be known as the Maria -Martha Society, later known as Mary-Martha Aid Society. The Charter members were: Mrs. Henry Birkelbach, Mrs. William Diebel, Mrs. W. C. Belz, Mrs. C. H Braun, Mrs. L Walter Fuchs, Mrs. Louis Albert and Mrs. Krause. The society did much to gather and send clothing to the needy in Europe immediately after World War I. They were active in apron, bonnet, and quilt sales, and sales of Household Magazines. In 1920 the ladies began to look forward to a time when this congregation would have their own church building. The entire congregation began looking forward also to this reality and the first property was acquired on May 13, 1920, which consisted of two lots and a two-story hotel building, which was to be dismantled and the materials used in the construction of the church. The desire became a reality when on April 3, 1921, a neat and churchly building was dedicated to the Glory of God. The dimensions of the church were 30' by 60'. The church building included four small rooms, three of which were used for Sunday School purposes and one to be used principally for the Pastor's study and the storing of church supplies and records. The Mary-Martha Aid Society contributed much to the new church besides many hours of work, including an organ, a new altar, pulpit, and communion service. [4]


Pastor Hartmann continued to serve the congregation until 1921. In July, 1921, he was assisted by Pastor F. C. Scholz. On February 5, 1922, Reverend Theo Krienke was installed as the first full time pastor. He served the congregation until February, 1930. During his pastorate the congregation did not boast of any phenomenal growth due mostly to the depression years and the fact of not having a resident pastor. [5]


A new parish alignment was made in the spring of 1930 when Pastor S.A. Bogisch of West Taylor was installed as pastor. Pastor Bogisch served the congregation until the fall of 1933. Due to illness, Pastor Bogisch was assisted for a while by his brother-in-law, Reverend Wilson Hill. In January, 1934, Pastor A. E. Rode of Taylor agreed to serve St. John Lutheran. During the summer months of 1934, he was assisted by Pastor L. D. Braun, a student of theology and a son of the St. John Congregation. Reverend Willard Ander was installed as the first resident pastor of the congregation in September, 1934. He served the congregation6 until 1946. During his pastorate, St. John Lutheran was aligned with St. James Congregation of Wuthrich Hill as a dual parish. The alignment continued until 1946.


This period (1934-1946) may be characterized as a period of growth and expansion. There was a steady increase in membership and in the activity of all age groups in the work and fellowship in the church. A new constitution was adopted and the physical properties were improved. In 1937, a modern parsonage with a full basement for Sunday School was erected. In 1942, the Kirkpatrick property across the street from the parsonage was purchased and converted into a useable parish house. In 1944, the interior of the church was renovated and the exterior repainted. [7]


 By January 1, 1946, the church records showed that it had 258 baptized members and a confirmed membership of 189, and a Sunday School enrollment of 131. Pastor Willard Ander was assisted for some time during his pastorate by his grandfather, Reverend Theo Ander who delivered his sermons in the German language for some of the aged members of the congregation. Pastor Willard Ander resigned as pastor in March 1946 to become superintendent of Trinity Lutheran Homes at Round Rock. He continued to serve the congregation until a new pastor was installed. [8]


On July 7, 1946, Pastor E. Herber was installed as the sixth pastor of St. John Lutheran Church. Pastor Herber served the congregation for 22 years. The three present church buildings were completed during his pastorate including the Annex in 1949, the new church in 1957, and the Educational Center in 1965.


In order to provide more room for worship and for the increased Sunday School enrollment, the congregation added an educational annex to the old church in 1949. This educational annex was planned with the view that at some time in the future the old church would be replaced with a new building which would incorporate the Annex. In 1955, average Sunday attendance was 250. The 1956 total budget was $7,992 and the pastor's salary was $3,400 in 1957.


In July, 1953, planning began for a new house of worship and after about three and one-half years of planning and fund-gathering, the congregation decided on December 30, 1956, to accept the bid of Mr. Horace Howard to build a new chuch according to the plans made by Mr. Henry Steinbomer, architect. On January 20, 1957, a Service of Farewell was conducted in the old building. During the next three and one-half days, with the help of 895 man-hours of volunteer labor, the old church was dismantled. Some of the original flooring was used in the Hopf home in Thrall. A ground breaking service was held on Sunday afternoon, February 3, 1957, and construction of the new church began on February 5, 1957. The original building committee for the planning of the new church was composed of Harvey Johnson, A.W. Fuchs, William Malish, Frank Bergstrom, W.F. Fuchs, Albert Ging, and Eric Teggeman, Sr. The entire membership was committed to and involved in the building of the new house of worship. [9]


The new church is of semi-modern design. The concrete floor rests on a suspended reinforced concrete foundation. The walls are of brick, tile, and plaster construction. The roof is supported by laminated arches and purlins. Seating capacity in the pews, including the choir and balcony is approximately 320. With the use of additional chairs and the overflow space in the Annex, five hundred worshippers can be comfortably seated. The furniture (which is still used) is of rift-sawn oak, and was manufactured by the L.L. Sams Co. of Waco, Texas. The window glass and the glass in the west wall is known as Blenko glass, and was installed by the Black Art Glass Company of San Antonio, Texas. The stained glass (blenko glass) used in the new church was manufactured in West Virginia. Although this type of glass has been in use in Europe for many centuries, particularly in some of the Cathedrals of France, it was comparatively new in America at this time. The patterns and symbols were designed and installed by the Black Art Glass Company of San Antonio, Texas. The west front has three large panels. The center panel depicts the three articles of our Christian faith, as  expressed in the Apostles' Creed. Viewing from the top is the hand which represents God the Father and the work of creation. The lamb represents Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And the work of redemption and the descending dove represents the Holy Spirit and the work of sanctification. The side panel to the right (as seen from inside the church) depicts the Word of God, the scroll and the lamp. The side panel to the left depicts the Church, which preaches and administers the Word of God. In keeping with ancient usage, the Church is symbolized by the ship. Piercing the west front is a streak of light representing the light of God's glory.


The other windows on the sides of the church also have symbolism. The two windows behind the choir loft have six panels that symbolize the "Festivals of the Church Year." They are Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. Continuing down the south side of the nave there are three units of windows. The first window has the three "symbols of Christ" (the IHS, the Chi Rho, and the Alpha-Omega). The second window has the three symbols of the passion, the crown of thorns, the nails, and the INRI. The third window has the symbols of the Christian faith, the Trinity, the universal Gospel, and the anchor of hope. Following is a picture of these three windows. The north side of the nave has one window which symbolizes the "Means of Grace". The three symbols represent the Word of God (open Bible), Holy Baptism (font and descending dove), and the Lord's Supper (wheat and grapes). [10]


Cost of the new church building and furnishings amounted to approximately $65,000. Construction began in February, 1957 and dedication was on November 3, 1957. In January, 1965, the congregation authorized the construction of a new Educational Building and air conditioning to the annex and the church for a cost of $32,000. Dedication services for the Educational Building were held on October 17, 1965. Pastor Herber ended his highly successful tenure at St. John Lutheran Church when he retired from active ministry in 1968. In August, 1968, Pastor James Heineke accepted the call to serve as pastor. He served the congregation until June, 1975 when he accepted a call to the Lutheran Church in Sinton, Texas. In August, 1975, Pastor Luther Durkop accepted the call to serve as pastor at St. John Lutheran. In October 1975, the church received a loan of $10,000 for parsonage repair and approved Pastor Durkop and Pastor Walter Miller (St. John Lutheran, Thorndale) to jointly serve the Sandoval congregation. In January, 1976, the church received $1,000 to be used for bench cushions. In 1977 Pastor Durkop reported average church attendance was 181. Pastor Durkop urged the membership to approve "open communion" to all Christians and the issue passed unanimously. The untimely death of Pastor Durkop in 1978 brought a new era and new challenges to the congregation. [11] Pastor Durkops' wife and daughter are present members of our congregation and he had a grandson that went into the ministry.


Prior to calling a new pastor after Pastor Durkop, the congregation asked retired Pastor F. T. Sager to serve as interim pastor. He accepted and involved himself in every aspect of the church's activities. On Sunday, March 25, 1979, in a special called meeting, the membership called Pastor Wilburn P. Kensing. Pastor Kensing accepted the call and became the ninth pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Thrall. At the annual congregational meeting in 1980, the congregation voted 98-60 to use the new hymnal. Pastor Kensing spent time teaching the congregation the many new items in the new hymnal. The church voted to purchase a new Rodgers organ from J.R. Reed for $9,295. A secret ballot approved a study for a new parsonage and named Ed Carlson to head the committee. On October 12, 1980 the membership voted down the building of a new parsonage. The vote was 56 for and 62 against. The parsonage would continue to be an issue for several years to come. At a meeting in February, 1981, the membership approved new lighting in the church at a cost of $2,100. Then in January 1982, Pastor Kensing accepted a call to the joint parish of Pottsville-Shive and Pastor F. T. Sager again served as interim pastor. On March 28, 1982 Pastor Ted Steenblock of Fredericksburg accepted the call to be pastor and was installed on July 11, 1982. During his ministry, the membership approved a new roof for the parsonage and in March 1985, members approved a new heating/air conditioning system for the church at a cost of St. John Lutheran Church, "80th Anniversary Program, Thrall, Texas, June 8, 1997 $18,500. Pastor Steenblock resigned on October 1, 1986 and once again Pastor F. T. Sager served as interim pastor for the third time at St. John Lutheran.
On March 1, 1987, in a special called meeting, members voted to extend a call to Pastor Robert Sauer and he accepted and became the eleventh pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Thrall. Pastor Sauer had previously served in the Missionary field and then served at New Wehdem near Brenham from 1975 to 1987. The old parsonage was still an issue for the congregation and on March 19, 1989, the members voted to accept the bid of $67,541 from contractor Darrell Hall to build a new parsonage.


The new Lutheran (ELCA) Constitution was presented to the congregation by David Krueger on November 10, 1991. The membership voted to accept the new constitution. In 1995, the members approved a pexiglass system to protect the stained glass windows. The chili supper has become an annual fundraiser for the church. In November 1991, Nancy Hall became the first woman council member. 12 Several women have served on the council since and we presently have a woman who is the President of our Church Council, Marjorie Krueger. Pastor Sauer continued to lead our congregation until his retirement in April 2001. Retired Pastor Walter Miller served as Interim Pastor of the congregation until Pastor Larry Handeland was installed as the twelfth Pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in June 2002. Pastor Handeland served the congregation until June 2004 when Pastor Walter Miller once again agreed to serve as Interim Pastor. Pastor Jon Bielfeldt was installed as our pastor on August 27, 2006 and presently serves our congregation as our pastor.


III. SIGNIFICANCE
The congregation of St. John Lutheran Church in Thrall, Texas looks forward to celebrating their 90th anniversary in June, 2007. Presently we have approximately 197 baptized members. The congregation has survived growth and decline in membership and has continued to keep pace with the changing world. The buildings have come and gone and are currently modern and adequate for our congregation with the parsonage being our newest building. It still remains as the largest congregation in Thrall. The Thrall community still remains as a rural farming and cattle area as when it was founded so many years ago and has thus far avoided the urban sprall of the Austin area. It is a pleasure for me, Linda Richter, to have the opportunity to research and prepare this history of our congregation. I have been a member of this congregation since baptism as a baby in 1952. My paternal grandparents were members of this congregation as well as my parents who are still members. My daughter is also a member so four generations of my family have been members of this congregation. There are still descendants of some of the founding fathers who are members of this congregation. I have many memories of going to church and Sunday School in this congregation. I was only five years old when the original church was torn down but I do remember it and remember going to church in the Thrall school auditorium while the new church was being built. The old original parsonage had a basement (which flooded many times when it rained) and I remember going to Sunday School in the basement. My childhood years saw some of the largest memberships of the church and adding the Education Center in 1965 to accommodate the increased children in Sunday School was very welcome since we had outgrown the 12 St. John Lutheran Church, "80th Anniversary Program". Thrall, Texas, June 8, 1997


Annex and the parsonage basement. My daughter and myself had the same Sunday School teacher for Kindergarten and played in the same sand boxes. Mrs. Era Fuchs was this faithful teacher who also served as church organist for many years until she retired in her 80's. Mrs. Fuchs has passed away but she has a daughter who is still one of our members and her in-laws were founding fathers of our congregation. Having been around for the last fifty years of this congregation, I have seen some of the changes first hand. Hook forward to this congregation continuing to serve this community and celebrating 100 years and many more.
 
VI. DOCUMENTATION
1 Scarbrough, Clara Stearns, Land of Good Water: A Williamson County History (Georgetown, Texas: Williamson County Sun Publishers, 1973)
2 St. John Lutheran Church, "50th Anniversary Program", Thrall, Texas, June 25,1967

Ibid
4 Ibid
5 St. John Lutheran Church, "Dedication Services Program", Thrall, Texas November 3, 1957
6 Ibid
7 Ibid
8 St. John Lutheran Church, "50th Anniversary Program", Thrall, Texas, June 25, 1967
9 St. John Lutheran Church, "80th Anniversary Program", Thrall, Texas, June 8, 1997
10 St. John Lutheran Church, "Dedication Services Program", Thrall, Texas, November 3, 1957
11 St. John Lutheran Church, "80th Anniversary Program", Thrall, Texas, June 8, 1997
12 Ibid
 
Prepared by: Linda Richter

 

 


 

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