By Paige Lambert
The sanctuary was full, every pew and four extra rows seating generations catching up on the latest news. Pastor David Goeke addressed the congregation, welcoming longtime members and visiting family.
With a cue, the metal bell rang aloud into the neighborhoods of Uhland, celebrating the 125 anniversary of St. John Lutheran Church.
In 1889, a few families began meeting in homes to hold church meetings. Over the next decade a building was constructed, pastor appointed and bell donated to the then named St. John Evangelical and Reformed Church.
The congregation consisted of farmers with German ancestry, many speaking only German at the time. As the town of Uhland grew and the children began school, the church’s own language and services reflected the change.
Since then the church has moved locations, been led by almost 20 different pastors and changed denominations twice.
Goeke, who has pastored the church for two years, said even with all the change the church marks its anniversary by its continual mission, not location or denomination.
“The Gospel of Jesus was preached from the first time [the church] started in 1889,” Goeke said. “And it continued through the denominations, and ups and downs until this day.”
After the bell ringing stilled, Goeke began to speak in German, asking who still understood the original language. A few grandparents raised their hands, listening to him lead part of the opening hymn in German.
Lois Franke-Daughtery said she remembered sermons like these from when she was a young girl. The program would be delivered completely in German once a month.
Daughtery said while her parents and older sister liked it, she didn’t care for it at the time.
“I can understand it, but I grew up speaking English,” Daughtery said. “But it’s great to be here and hear it, not many people get this opportunity.”
The commemorative service continued in traditional Lutheran style.
A sibling quartet stood by the aged organ, singing the first of many special songs in the program. Even though she isn’t part of the congregation, Kassi Guzman said, she wanted to visit the church her family called home for seven generations.
“We knew it was important because this is a church that’s seen a lot of our family,” Guzman said. “It’s more of a family than a congregation.”
The quartet finished its song and sat in the front row, the same place Daughtery and her sister sat during confirmation 50-60 years ago.
“All of us kids sat there during confirmation, then we would go to picnics and baptisms and weddings,” Daughtery said.
Goeke guided the congregation through the liturgy and the Rev. Kenneth Hennings, president of the Lutheran Texas district, gave the sermon.
Hennings spoke about pressing as the church has for 125 years, and how doing so would impact a whole community.
To exemplify this, Goeke set up computer and projector for a video chronicling the church’s years.
The computer was placed in the middle aisle, right where Beverly Kleen’s mom, she and her daughter walked during their wedding ceremonies.
“I walked down that aisle in 1967, the same place my children were confirmed,” Kleen said. “We have and probably will stay here because of our history here, and because I have so many aunts and cousins here.”
The sibling quartet rose again to sing a hymn written at the 75th anniversary, and performed at the 100th in 1989.
Goeke said because the church has lasted for so long, many members are grandparents and older. He said he hopes more families will keep the church going.
Sixteen-year-old Avianna Burkepile played the organ while the quartet finished the hymn. Though she has only been a member for two years, she said she will return between college semesters.
“I love the small community, and I know everyone here,” Burkepile said. “We support each other, and we’re all like family.”
As the congregation walked to the celebratory meal, the old bell rang 125 times. In 2039, that bell may ring 150 times.