THE HISTORY OF OUR CONGREGATION
The history of our congregation is not only interesting but also very special in many ways. It is particularly special as we think back that 150 years ago God caused a small group of families to leave their homeland in Germany to come here to America to plant His church in our community which we now call our home. It is also special when we reflect back on how God has preserved and blessed this little flock for 150 years. It is special when we think back on the strong religious convictions our forefathers must have had to leave their homeland in order to come to this country to have the freedom to worship their God as they pleased. It must have taken a great deal of courage and a strong faith, particularly by the women, to sell their possessions, say good-bye to relatives and friends, and then go on a long and dangerous ocean voyage into a land which for the most part was still a wilderness. Although fellow Lutherans had gone before them just a few years earlier to settle in a faraway land called America, the decision to leave must have still been difficult.
Our history is also very interesting. The land and conditions that existed when our forefathers came into this community were far different than they are today. Although the region known as the Wisconsin Territory was claimed by the U.S. government, it had not yet attained statehood. The Indians who had once lived here had been driven further West. Only a few still roamed through the countryside. At the time our forefathers arrived in 1846, the southern part of the state was being settled mostly by people of English descent from the eastern part of the country. Some German immigrants had settled in Milwaukee and the surrounding areas. Milwaukee and Green Bay were just beginning to develop into cities. Watertown and other small towns around the southern settlements were being established. The little villages of Mayville and Theresa had come into existence a year or two earlier with perhaps no more than half a dozen settlers. But for the most part the state was uninhabited and the land was unclaimed. It could be purchased from the U. S. government for $1.25 an acre. Most of the land in our neighborhood was covered by trees. None of the trees had ever been cut down, no ground had ever been plowed, and no stones had ever been removed to plant crops. There were no roads, just a few old Indian trails. There were no bridges to cross the river and of course there were no houses or barns on the land.
The first settlers who founded our congregation were German Lutheran immigrants from the provinces of Brandenburg and Pommerania in Prussia. Prussia was comprised of what today we know as northern Germany and extended east into Poland. The capital of Prussia was Berlin and was ruled by the Kaisers. The province of Brandenburg included Berlin and the surrounding territory while Pommerania made up the northern and eastern part of the empire bordering the Baltic Sea.
At the time of the Reformation, most of the German lands accepted the new Lutheran doctrine. However, as the years passed, most of southern Germany reverted back to Catholicism. After the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which in essence gave each region the right to choose its own religion, many Lutherans now living in southern Catholic states moved further north into states which were either Lutheran or tolerant to both religions. Some of these Lutherans resettled in Prussia (Preussen). This region had remained Lutheran. But through the years the Reformed faith had also gained a strong following in Prussia. As had been the custom in Europe for centuries, the church was under the control of the state. Ever since the Reformation, the differing religious beliefs caused divisiveness among the people. From local disputes this often led to open warfare. This also proved to be a problem for a ruler in his respective state, particularly for the defense of his country in time of war.
After Prussia had been overrun by Napoleon, Kaiser Friedrich William III made every effort to better unite his people to defend himself from future attack. Being a noble man, himself of the Reformed faith and his wife a Lutheran, he thought it possible as well as expedient to unite the protestants into one state church. So in 1817, in observance of the 300th anniversary of the Reformation, he decreed that the Lutheran and Reformed Church be united into one church Die Unierte Kirche. This meant that people of both faiths now had to worship together. An entirely new agenda for the church service and church order was drawn up which was to be used by pastors of both faiths. Being fully aware of the feelings of its people, the government moved very slowly to enforce this law. After receiving objections from both sides, the Kaiser met with his advisers and the theologians to work out a compromise acceptable to both sides. However, some Lutherans could still not comply with the Kaiser's orders. Their main objections were to the liturgy and the Reformed view on the Lord's Supper. They continued to worship by themselves in small groups in their homes and in some instances in barns. This was in open defiance of the law and led to bans and restrictions.
Another factor which prevented these Lutherans from worshipping together was the religious climate in general. In the previous century, known as the Age of Enlightenment, many scientific discoveries had been made useful to man. This also introduced the Age of Reason or Rationalism. Before any fact could be accepted, it had to be reasoned out. The rules of science were now also applied to the Bible. Biblical truths that can only be accepted by faith were now doubted or often rejected entirely. As a result other theological thought and doctrine developed which was not consistent with God's Word. From the higher schools of learning including the theological schools, this philosophy filtered down from the pastors into the pulpits. It was in this environment that these Lutherans found themselves in the years preceding their departure.
Gradually the government took more drastic measures to force the remaining Lutherans, found mostly in the eastern part of the kingdom, to join the Union. The pastors and leaders of these groups were arrested and fined. Continued resistance led to imprisonment. They became known as 'Alt-Lutheraner' (Old Lutherans) because they held to the old Lutheran doctrine and Confessions. By the middle of the 1830's these Lutherans felt conditions were intolerable and made plans to emigrate. They heard of countries such as Australia and America where they would have religious freedom. In 1837 a sizable group left with their pastor for Australia. In 1839 a large group set sail for America, some of which settled in Buffalo, N.Y., while others continued on to Wisconsin to settle in Milwaukee. Part of this group went on to found the community of Freistadt. In 1841 Kaiser Friedrich William III died and his son, Friedrich William IV, succeeded him. He immediately lifted the ban on the Lutherans and allowed them to form their own church. However, they were still denied certain rights and privileges afforded other citizens. Lutherans who left the State Church to join the 'Old-Lutheran Church' were treated with disdain and resentment. There were also certain pastors who opposed the form of church government in their own Lutheran church. These factors together with the attraction of good cheap land in America caused the immigration movement to continue. In 1843 several more sizable groups left to come to America. While some of these stayed in New York, the majority came to Wisconsin to found the communities of Kirchhayn and Lebanon. Throughout these years many other Lutherans left as individual families or in smaller groups and settled in these established communities.
On June 11, 1846, about 20 families left a small (dorf) village, called Nahausen, near the Oder River in Brandenburg, Prussia, to come to America to join fellow Lutherans in Lebanon. After a long ocean voyage of 55 days, nearly two months, they arrived in New York. Then they continued their journey on to Wisconsin. They came to Lebanon on September 29, 1846. The entire trip took a total of 111 days, almost 4 months. Upon their arrival, they found most of the government land already claimed in that vicinity. So about 13 families decided to settle in a place where government land was still available and a Lutheran community could be established. They found a location suitable to them here in Town Theresa, just a few miles east of the little village of Mayville. Now being fall, the men immediately set out to file land claims. Forty acres bordering the Rock River were purchased for a church and school in the name of Friedrich Jagow. In early November the men came here to clear land while the women and children stayed with friends and relatives in Lebanon. A log cabin was immediately built so the men would have a shelter. This was their abode that entire winter as they went about each day to cut down trees, clear land, and build log cabins for their families. It should be noted that these men conducted divine services every Sunday in their little cabin. Though we have no available record, this log cabin was probably located in the vicinity of our present church.
In the spring of 1847, the men returned to Lebanon to get their families to move into their new homes. A group of Pommeranian families also joined them. Together, with Pastor Geyer from Lebanon, they organized as a congregation on second Pentecost Day, May 24, 1847. Services were conducted every Sunday in the home of Friedrich Jagow. An agreement was made with Pastor Geyer to serve them with Word and Sacrament every 8 weeks. It was the first Lutheran church or congregation in the entire community, and was indeed, "Die Erste Evangelische Lutherische Emanuels Gemeinde". We have no record of the organizational meeting or a list of the charter members of the congregation but from land claims filed in October of 1846, we find the following names: Friedrich J agow, Johann Friedrich Fellwock, Michael Saase, Sr., Carl Jesse, Friedrich Schwann, Friedrich Kuehl, William Braasch, Gottlieb Braasch, Friedrich Christian, Carl Schwantes, Christlieb Schwantes, Michael Zimmermann, Michael Budahn, Wilhelm Milbrot, and Carl Bannenberg.
As more immigrants settled around them, they soon realized the need for a church. So in the spring of the following year, a log church was built which was also to serve as a school. This building was dedicated on Pentecost Day, 1848.
It is hard for us today to imagine the primitive living conditions of these early pioneers. Their home was a one-room log cabin. There were no electric lights, no radio, no television, no telephone to call the neighbor or doctor if one was sick. There was no chain saw to cut down trees, no backhoe to remove the stumps, and no tractor to plow the ground. And then there were all those stones! There was no car to go shopping or take them to church. The nearest town to get supplies was Watertown some 30 miles away. This distance had to be covered either with horse and wagon, on horseback, or on foot. Despite these conditions and the physical hardships they had to endure, the Lord protected and provided for them.
The small congregation was soon beset by turmoil and dissension. Because Pastor Geyer had to travel a distance of over 25 miles, they now tried to acquire their own pastor. A man named Boehm appeared in their midst who claimed to have been sent by the well-respected Pastor Wilhelm Loehe in Germany to minister to the Lutherans in America. With this credential he became their pastor. But after a short time, Boehm, who also taught school several days a week, was dismissed because of unsound doctrine in his preaching and other misconduct. A split resulted when a minority of members wanted to retain him. Boehm continued to serve this group while the other group held services by themselves. Eventually Boehm had to leave.
Now a man named Leonard came to them from Nahausen, Germany, who was known by some of the members. He had been an assistant pastor in their home parish and had left the Union Church for the same reasons they had. He seemed to be qualified so he was installed as their next pastor. It is recorded that he was welcomed and had the confidence of the entire congregation. But before long they discovered that he too deviated from Scripture in his preaching and was released on the basis of false doctrine. Again a split was caused when a minority of members retained him. Before long, however, this group also dismissed him.
Once more the two groups came together and decided to approach Pastor Geyer again to see if he would serve them, perhaps on a more regular basis than before. Pastor Geyer agreed to serve them on the condition that they make certain concessions to him which had resulted in splits over disputes he had experienced in his congregation in Lebanon. This a number of members, composed mainly by the Brandenburg founders, refused to do. This group then went ahead and asked Erdmann Pankow, now the pastor of a group that had split from Geyer's congregation, to be its pastor. The other group, consisting mostly of Pommeranians from the eastern part of the parish, yielded to Geyer's demands and was served by him. Needless to say, the split was now real. Once again the division between the two groups was along the same lines as the previous ones had been. Just how long the two factions functioned in this manner we do not know.
The group served by Geyer now placed a call for a pastor with the Missouri Synod, most likely because of Pastor Geyer's affiliation with it. The group which was still served by Pankow did not take part in the call. So it happened that young Martin Stephan, Jr., having just completed his studies at the St. Louis Seminary, accepted his first assignment to become pastor here. Pastor Stephan arrived in 1853. In 1854 his group, now consisting of 26 families, requested and was granted its release from the mother church to form its own congregation. They built their church, which also included a residence for the pastor, on a high hill several miles east of the mother church. Under Pastor Stephan's guidance and able leadership, the split was soon healed and he went on to serve both congregations.
Both congregations were named Immanuel and were distinguished from each other by being referred to as the 'upper church' and the 'lower church'. Later on they became better known as Hochheim and the River Church. Throughout the following years, one pastor continued to serve both congregations while residing at Hochheim. The upper church immediately opened a Christian Day School in 1854. The lower church started one a year later in 1855. In both cases, the church building was used as school. The upper church joined the Missouri Synod several years after its organization while the lower church did not join the Missouri Synod until 1937. Both congregations actively supported Synod and its mission programs over the years since it provided them with pastors and teachers.
Pastor Stephan was a faithful shepherd and was loved and respected by all. Both congregations grew and prospered under his care. In addition to his own congregations, he served another congregation in the neighborhood as pastor filial. After a stay of only 3 years, to the disappointment of his members, he accepted a call to Oshkosh.
The congregations now called Pastor Peter Dicke from a Franconian congregation in Michigan. Pastor Dicke came in 1857. The following year, in 1858, the lower church built a new frame church. It also had a built-on teacherage. Again this building served as school. Pastor Dicke also served all three congregations. In addition he was very active in mission work around the area. He traveled on horseback to baptize many infants outside his parish. His travels took him all the way west of the Lake Winnebago area where Lutherans had now settled to organize congregations. During his pastorate a dispute arose in the Hochheim congregation over private confession. This resulted in a split where a number of families left to form the Zion congregation in 1863.
Another disruption in the lives of the church members occurred during the Civil War years. This resulted not from church matters but over political issues. It is almost inconceivable that five young men lost their lives in the War. We do not know how many other men served in the War from the two congregations. Families and neighbors were divided over the slavery issue. This caused many of the founding families, including the Saases and Fellwocks, to leave and move to Fayette County in Illinois.
An attempt was made in 1864 to reunite the two congregations. The upper congregation approached the lower congregation with a proposal to join together with them and build one church somewhere between the two parishes. After a lengthy discussion in a special meeting held by the lower congregation, no action was taken. So in 1867 the upper congregation proceeded to build a beautiful brick church, designed by Pastor Stephan. It was located in Town Herman across the road from the old church. In the year 1883, the present brick church was built by the lower congregation. In 1885, a separate school with a teacherage was built. This is the present limestone structure which stands south of the church.
While the two congregations continued to prosper in the following years, they also experienced times of sorrow. Over a period of twenty-four years, they mourned the loss of three pastors who died while in office here. They are: Pastor Dittmar Kothe in 1889, Pastor J. F. Leyhe in 1891, and Pastor Theo. Hoffmann in 1913. Teacher Adolph Schwanke (Hochheim-1903) and Teacher Rich- , ard Werning (River Church-1933) also died while in office.
At the turn of the century the character of the congregations had not changed. They were still all German. With few exceptions, they were still all farmers. Whenever a German family left a farm, another Lutheran German family would take over. Although they were now all Americans, they still spoke German. German was preached from the pulpit and German was taught in their schools. However, as they realized the importance of English, some English was also taught. English could also be learned in the small public schools located within the district. As the years went by, more and more English was taught in the schools and was gradually introduced into the pulpit. Starting in the 1930's, services were conducted in both languages. This practice continued until 1965 when regular services in German were discontinued.
Through the years, the congregations continued to make improvements on their properties. Better heating and lighting systems were installed. In 1932 the lower church remodeled the interior of its church. This included raising the chancel area, moving the pulpit, purchasing a new altar, installing new windows and pews, in addition to redecorating.
The Hochheim congregation suffered a severe loss in 1941 when its church was destroyed by fire. The small congregation proceeded to build a new church which was dedicated in July of 1942. But in 1956, this church was also destroyed by fire. The members then decided not to rebuild but to accept an invitation from the lower congregation to join them and again become one congregation. This amalgamation took place in 1957. Thus, after 103 years, the existence of the Hochheim congregation ended. It is an important part in the history of this congregation.
The united congregation now built a parsonage to accommodate the pastor at the site of the lower church. Because of the additional enrollment of school children, a classroom was added to the new brick school which had been built in 1951.
In 1965, the interior of the church was redecorated and new pews and light fixtures were purchased. The old pipe organ was replaced by a new Haase organ. In 1982 this organ was again replaced with a new Hammes-Foxe tracker pipe organ. An extensive renovation project on the church was done in 1986. A narthex including restrooms was added to the front of the church, which altered its appearance. The entire interior was again redecorated which also included new flooring and carpeting. The entire basement was excavated at this time and the walls reinforced. This project was made possible in large part by a bequest from the estate of Anton (Tony) Jagow, a descendant of one of the founders, Friedrich Jagow. In 1991 another extensive project was undertaken which included the building of a new sacristy with kitchen facilities underneath. The church basement was completed and is now used for meetings and other church functions. At the same time, one of the rooms in the school basement was remodeled into a Preschool and Kinergarten classroom.
Much of the maintenance and many of the improvements made on the church properties in recent years were done by faithful members who contributed many hours of their time and labor. Their skills and talents have been a great blessing to the congregation. Over the years the church grounds have been beautified with the planting of many trees, shrubs, and flowers. This, too, has been done by members who have spent many hours of their time not only in planting but also in the continuous care needed to keep the property looking attractive and well-maintained.
As we near the end of this century, the character of the congregation has changed. Very few members still speak German. Less than half of the members are farmers. Just a few of the old family names are still found in the congregation. Many other changes have taken place. We no longer need candles or lanterns. The horses have disappeared. The landscape has changed. No doubt the forefathers and foremothers would have a difficult time recognizing the place where their church once stood. But the one thing that has not changed is God's Word, on which that first church stood and on which it must stand today.
So, as we have seen, the history of our congregation is indeed special. As our name Immanuel suggests, God has been with us and richly blessed us. Despite of what appears as the devil's attempts to prevent our Lord's church from being established here, the 'gates of hell did not prevail against it'. How thankful we should be today who as members have been able to sit at the feet of its faithful pastors and teachers to learn of Him Who died for us and rose again. As we look at the cross, either in church or on its high steeple, may it remind us that through it we have that blessed hope of eternal life and we will be able to meet the forefathers and foremothers who have been a part of this history. As we reflect on these present and future blessings, we cannot help but 'fear the Lord'. Yes, we cannot help but 'stand in awe of Him'!
"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth's sake."
Much of the information on the early history of the congregation was taken from articles written by J. Friedrich Fellwock. Mr. Fellwock was fifteen years old when his family came to America in 1846 with the group from Nahausen in Germany. He was one of the young men, who together with his father and other men, came here in the fall of 1846 to help clear land and build log cabins. His father, also named Johann Friedrich Fellwock, was a founder of the congregation. They settled on the former Wegner place and lived there until they moved to Illinois in 1865. At the age of 55, having been a farmer all his life, he was asked by his congregation to be its teacher in the parochial school. He taught school for over 15 years. In his later years he wrote reminiscences of his life. They were later translated by his son, Mr. P. E. Fellwock. They were submitted for publication by a nephew, August H. Saase, and appeared in the CONCORDIA HISTORICAL INSTITUTE QUARTERLY, Vol. xv. No.3 of October, 1942, 'Ii Chapter in the Beginnings of Lutheranism in Wisconsin", and again in April and July of 1950, Vol. XXIII, No.1, and No.2, "Memoirs of J. Friedrich Fellwock".
We are deeply indebted to Mr. Fellwock for these illuminating and interesting recollections and for putting them down in print for us to read today. The facts and many details recorded in his memoirs are not only interesting but also give us an insight into the early life of the congregation. In tribute to Mr. Fellwock and as a reminder to us, I felt it fitting to close with the words in the final paragraph of his memoirs:
"My sincere wish, hope, and prayer now, as always is that you my good children, all of you, as well as others who may read these lines, live upright, truly Christian lives and be faithful members of the Lutheran Church. That you raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord and send them to our Christian Day school. In this way, as well as at home, give them a thorough education in the fundamentals according to the Scriptures."
- Werner Steinbach