The St. Luke’s United Church of Christ sits on the Minnesota-Iowa border at the edge of Eitzen.
The St. Luke’s United Church of Christ sits on the Minnesota-Iowa border at the edge of Eitzen.
St. Luke's United Church of Christ in Eitzen will celebrate its 150th anniversary on Sunday, Aug. 11, beginning with worship service at 9 a.m.

During the service, several former pastors will give brief greetings. Also the Acting Conference Minister of the Minnesota Conference, UCC, Rev. Howard Bell, will be giving a charge to the congregation, and members of the conference's Committee on Ministry will present a commemorative plaque to the congregation for 150 years of ministry.

Following the service, a group picture will be taken outside the church with current and former members participating. Afterwards, a catered noon meal will be served to those who have made reservations in advance.

A German Heritage Sunday worship service took place on July 14, using a translated service and liturgy from 1887 to worship in that style. Also there was recognition of members 80 plus years of age as well as couples married 50 or more years.

The church is located on the Minnesota-Iowa line near the south edge of Eitzen. The state line runs through the church.

Early German history

In the early 19th Century, German immigrants came to Wisconsin and Illinois and from there went further west, many settling in the Eitzen area, which was named after the community of Eitzen in Germany.

In 1859, early religious meetings were held by Rev. Muckwitz, a missionary, at the home of Frederick Kohlmeier. Later on, meetings were held in the schoolhouse in District 59, better known as "The McNelly School".

Rev. F. C. Clauson, a Norwegian pastor serving the Spring Grove, Wilmington and Black Hammer churches, could speak the German language, and he would occasionally visit the new settlers and baptize their children.

In 1863, a meeting was called at the farm home of Henry Deters on the Iowa side of the line, not far from the present church building, to form a religious organization.

This group of 34 German settlers from both sides of the Minnesota-Iowa border adopted the name "St. John's Evangelical Congregation" and application was made for membership in the then Northwest Synod.

That fall it was voted to purchase five acres of land for the sum of $200 from Max Powell for a building site. The following year, a church was built on the Minnesota side of the state line at a cost of $800. The minister lived in the upper floor of the building, and the first floor was used for a schoolroom as well as a place of worship.

This building was used as a place of worship until 1874, when it was replaced by a new structure built at a cost of $2,700. The first St. John's church became a home for the church custodian after the new church was built.

In accordance with European custom, a cemetery was established in the churchyard. The first burial was John Linde, age 4 months and 23 days.

Settlers spawn two churches

Although St. Luke's Church had its beginning in 1863 with the organizing of St. John's congregation, it should be recorded that it is the product of not only one Eitzen church, but of two.

The beginning of the Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Church dates back to July 23, 1866, when a meeting was held for the purpose of electing a church council. The early beginning of this congregation, who were mainly citizens from the Hannover part of Germany, was a struggle as money was very scarce

A five-acre lot was purchased from Christian Bunge and a cemetery established. With the small membership, it wasn't until January of 1870 that there was $140.80 in the building fund, making it possible to start construction of a small church on the site where the present parsonage is located.

Zion's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Eitzen, was also part of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church at one time. Some members left to form their own church. Their new church building was dedicated Nov. 12, 1871.

Two churches unite

On June 16, 1892, a meeting was called by members of the German Evangelical Immanuel Church and the United German Evangelical St. John's Church for the purpose of merging the two congregations. The members of these two congregations unanimously decided that the new congregation should be called Deutsche Evangelische St. Lucas Gemeinde, (German Evangelical St. Luke's Church).

Rev. Adolph G. Niedergesaess served as pastor from 1881, also taking over the office of ministry of the St. John's congregation from April 1884 until the union of the two congregations in 1892.

It was through his untiring efforts that this union was brought about and then named St. Luke's Evangelical Church.

A separate schoolhouse was put up between the two churches, and school was held several months each year, usually by the minister. After the merger, the Immanuel church building became a school for religious education.

In 1896, an addition was built on both sides of the St. John's church, giving an old Greek style of being built in the form of a cross. They also decided to build a new parsonage half a mile from the church, next to the former Immanuel Church. Dedication day on Sept. 1, 1898, was a day of joy and blessing for the St. Luke's congregation.

On June 23, 1917, the tower of St. John's church was struck by lightning, and the pine and tinder-dry building quickly burned to the ground.

Some of the articles rescued from the blaze were the clock, altar lamps, a few hymnals, some of the collection purses, the captain's chair used by the custodian, two chancel chairs, baptismal font, and quite a few of the old benches.

Present brick church built

All the members were aware of the fact that there was no suitable place available in which to conduct church services for the large congregation. In the days and weeks that followed the fire, plans were under way to erect a new church.

People responded generously to the task at hand by giving and working with real unity. More than 1,000 loads of building materials were hauled with horses and wagons and sleds from a distance of 10 to 15 miles.

By August 1918, the new impressive structure was completed at a cost of about $40,000. All debts had been paid by Aug. 11, the day of dedication.

With the structure on the state line, the pastor in the pulpit could lean to the left and be in Iowa or lean to the right and be in Minnesota.

Also it is interesting to note the structural similarity to St. Mary's Catholic Church at Lycurgus in Makee Township, Allamakee County, Iowa. Both structures were designed by the same architect, but their bell towers were built on opposite sides of the facade.

Each portraying a story, the beautiful stained glass windows imported from Germany were donations by members of the congregation in memory of their loved ones. The women of the congregation donated the new bell, and the young people funded the pulpit, altar and organ.

The single-manual Kilgen pipe organ that was purchased for the new church did not arrive in time for the dedication ceremony, so a group of men with band instruments furnished the music for special singing.

The education building was constructed in 1967, and the church redecorated and new pews installed in 1982. On May 18, 1996, a hailstorm caused about $50,000 damage to the parsonage and church.

In 2001, a new front entrance, attached canopy and elevator were added, costing $420,269.83, paid for by generous bequests, memorials and donations.

There have been several mergers in the life of St. Luke's. In 1934 there was a merger with the Reformed Church, and in 1957 another merger took place with the Congregational Christian Churches of America and this united body was given the name, United Church of Christ. Now the name was St. Luke's United Church of Christ.

There are two cemeteries for St. Luke's. The one by the brick church, originally the cemetery for St. John's Church, is referred to as St. Luke's Church Cemetery. The other, which belonged to Immanuel Lutheran Church, is called "The North Cemetery".

With the acquisition of an acre of land south of the church, a Living Memorial Park has been established, where trees or shrubs can be planted in memory of a loved one.

German was the only language used until 1924 when English began to be used in Sunday school and confirmation classes. In 1926, a worship service in English took place once a month. It was twice a month by 1932. The German worship services were discontinued in 1954.

Since 1973, the main fundraiser for the Women's Fellowship is the Harvest Supper, held the last Wednesday of October.

Over the years, this congregation sent nine people into Christian ministry - eight of which were ordained, and one is a Christian worker.

St. Luke's currently has membership of 323 and continues to be active in the wider ministry of the church, both in youth and mission work.

Faith of founders continues

As did early settlers who started the church, the congregation continues walking the way, learning the truth, and living the Christian life.

Today, wider fellowship is taken seriously at St. Luke's. Unity and cooperation across denominational lines have become outstanding characteristics of the church.

"This year, we remember the faith of our founders and celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit and the dedication of all the members of this congregation who responded to God's call here in Eitzen," state the current husband and wife pastoral team, the Revs. Kent and Debra Meyer.

"We give thanks for their labors, their struggles, but above all, their faithfulness to God and their desire to share the Gospel with their neighbors and the world.

"We believe firmly that the faith, which called this congregation together 150 years ago, continues to live and work within the men and women, youth and children of St. Luke's today. And by God's grace, 150 years from now, the Word of God and the love of Christ will still be celebrated and practiced here at St. Luke's."