Our past here at St. John Lutheran Church in Baldwin, IL offers, first and foremost, a solid foundation in Scripture and its teachings. The Rev. I.C. Noll of Ruma, IL and later the Rev. P.C. Schrader of Evansville, IL were the first Lutheran pastors to serve people from Baldwin particularly through mission efforts at Preston, IL. Though no Lutheran congregation was founded in Preston, the work of Revs. Noll and Schrader lay behind people in the Baldwin area examining the teachings of Scripture as presented in the Unaltered Augsburg confession and then deciding in 1883 to form a Lutheran congregation. Under the guidance of the Rev. P.C. Schrader the congregation was formed on December 26, 1883.
As has happened with the whole Church of Christ throughout its existence, the congregation experienced trials and triumphs. And like the church at large, it would seem that trials precede and set the stage for the triumph of the Lord in His Church. The congregation first met in members' homes but soon began meeting in the Campbellite church in Baldwin, IL. The congregation built a church in 1890, but in 1905 it burned to the ground after being struck by lightning.
Trial turned to triumph when the congregation decided to build a new church on donated ground south of town. With boldness and foresight the congregation first erected a school building followed in 1906 by the church building which still stands today. The school gave a firm foundation in God's Word to children of the congregation, many of whom are staunch and faithful members today. The new church building was also struck by lightning, but God preserved it from serious damage.
The congregation has been served by many faithful pastors. Perhaps none left so strong an imprint of staunch faithfulness to the Word of God than the Rev. Justus Lohrmann. Some current members speak today of his demanding, thorough and rewarding instruction. Yes, in that day the Pastor's instruction may have seemed a "trial," but the triumph of faith in the hearts of our members is evident today.
Our congregation suffered the trials of social and political upheaval two times, once in the course of each World War in the 20th century. Being mostly of Germanic background and speaking the German language, pastor and members found themselves looked upon with suspicion and the butt of harassment and persecution. Worship and instruction in German, the mother tongue of many, was prohibited. Members have often spoken of the trauma that it caused. The Lord triumphs through what we might see as trial. By the necessity of using English, the Word of God became available to a broader segment of the population.
Another time of trial came when declining enrollment and the departure of a teacher led to closing the grade school in 1973. A powerful resource for Christian education was lost in the community even though children could continue in Christian education at Trinity Lutheran School in Prairie, IL, at St. John Lutheran School in Red Bud, IL and later at Christ Our Savior Lutheran High School in Evansville, IL. The congregation, however, has adopted the laudable practice of paying tuition for our students in those schools as a way of affirming the benefit of Christian training for the young.
Not operating a school has had the effect of enabling our congregation to be strong, faithful and generous supporters of mission, education and social ministry on the synodical and district levels of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. In addition, the congregation supported two mission volunteers, one to Latvia and one to Slovakia. Currently the congregation has dedicated major support for translation missionaries in Botswana, Africa. The congregation has also pledged tuition assistance for students at Christ Our Savior Lutheran High School in Evansville, IL and $1000 per year for college students in training for church work careers in the LCMS.
What do we face now and in the future by way of trials and triumphs? We do not know. The trials might frighten us, and the triumphs might make us proud and self-satisfied if we knew them ahead of time. In the present, two great challenges face us, first of all, dramatically changing values and attitudes in contemporary society. Secondly, a decline in the population of those who have made up the membership of our congregation.
As recently as a generation ago-even more so two generations ago-the church with its organizations and activities served as a focal point of both religious and social life. The church provided a strong sense of community. Fast, easy and easily available transportation and instant, long-ranging communication ability has made a lifestyle focusing on individuals, rather than community possible and attractive. Personal liberty and fulfillment are among the most highly prized values in our culture today. That works to erode loyalties whether to church, to family, to school, to club, civic organization or political party.
The challenge which lies before us in the future is to address the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the changes that are taking place in our culture. That is precisely what our forbearers, for instance, when the changed from German to English in worship and education became necessary. Today and tomorrow we need to address the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a society of increasingly fragmented individuals, not in order to reinvent a past that can't be reclaimed, but in order to bring people to their personal Savior. It is He alone who has saved the lost (Mark 16:16)! He alone draws all people to Himself! He is the anchor of our faith and our lives!
The best part is that the Lord has declared-not just promised, but declared-as fact the triumph of His Church. Even "the gates of hell will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18). As a Christian congregation we give thanks to the Lord for endurance in trial and the declaration of triumph. In His grace and strength we, the members of St. John Lutheran Church, walk with one another confidently into the future with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!