According to an historical sketch prepared by the late Rev. John Strauss at the occasion of the 50th anniversary of St. John’s observed on October 21, 1934, the late Herman Staas was the moving spirit in the founding of the Evangelical church in Robinson. Mr. and Mrs. Herman Staas and their nine children came from Hunteburg, Hanover, Germany, and settled in the Robinson Community in the year 1882. They sent such favorable reports back to their old home community in regard to the people and land of their new home that a number of families followed them to this new home the following year.
In the year 1884 an Evangelical congregation was organized in the the leadership of Rev. Christian Schaer, Pastor of Zion Church, Waco.
The following were Charter Members:
Mr. and Mrs. Herman Staas and family, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Shaeper and family, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Frese and family, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Schaeper and family, Mr. and Mrs. William Schaeper and family, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Frese and family, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kettler and family, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Quinius and family, Mr. Herman Rueter, Mr. William Kettler, Mr. Henry Staas, and Mr. and Mrs. John Strauss and family. This last family included Miss Gustie Krehbiel Quinius, an adopted child, and Mill Lily Quinius who became the wife of Rev. Joseph Rieger.
The pastors of Zion Church at Waco served St. John from the time of the organization until the year 1900. These pastors were: Rev. Christian Schaer, 1884; Rev. William Schultz, 1884-1885; Rev. William Helmkamp, 1885-1886; Rev. C. Lengtat, 1886-1890; Rev. William Hermann, 1890-1892; Dr. William Baur, 1892-1894; and Rev. William Schlunk, 1895-1900.
During the first six years following the organization of the congregation, services were held in the homes of members and in the Presbyterian Church in Robinson. In the first worship service of the congregation held in the Presbyterian Church, the opening hymn was the hymn of praise; “Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation!”
One of the Charter Members, John Strauss, a schoolteacher by profession, had moved from Indiana after suffering a breakdown in health and being advised to move to Texas. He and his young bride, the former Meta Quinius, arrived in Robinson in 1879 and he found teaching positions in Hewitt, Lorena, and Robinson schools. In the year 1889, after a storm wrecked the public school building in Robinson, Mr. Strauss organized what became the Robinson Academy. The site of the Academy was northwest of the church.
While it was good for the congregation of St. John to be able to use the local Presbyterian church building for worship services, they wanted their own church building. This desire grew and the congregation began working toward making the dream become a reality. Members of the church gave to a fund for a church building, collections were made, and loans from 3 individuals in the total amount of $400.00 were made at 6% interest. With funds to use, the congregation began to look seriously, and, heeding the advice of John Strauss, the congregation looked for land in the Village of Robinson.
In the year 1889, under the able leadership of Rev. C. Lengtat, the congregation purchased land at a cost of $100.00. This land—lots one and three of Block 13 in the town of Robinsonville— was deeded to Christ. Rueter, Wm. Schaeper, and C. Lentat, trustees of St. John’s Church of the German Evangelical Synod of North America by J.T. Tate Warranty Deed dated December 7, 1889. James T. Tate (1849-1903) also served as contractor in the building of the church structure, for which he was paid $597.00. Construction was completed in 1890.
This building, 22 feet wide and 36 feet long, was build largely with volunteer labor at a total cost of $654.80.
During the first decade of life at St. John’s church, there were 30 christenings, 7 marriages, and 9 deaths.
— 1894 to 1904 —
The years passed. The congregation grew. In the year 1900, the congregation was able to call its first resident pastor, John Strauss, a graduate of Elmhurst College, who had originally trained as a school teacher. After a short time as teacher and choir director in Zion church, Indianapolis, he had entered Eden Seminary to prepare for the ministry.
From the year 1900 to 1904, 17 infants were christened, 8 young people were added to the church rolls through the Rite of Confirmation, 4 marriage ceremonies were performed, and 3 funeral services were conducted. In total, there were 35 christenings, 9 confirmands, 7 marriages, and 9 deaths during the second decade.
— 1904 to 1914 —
Rev. Strauss provided stable, inspirational leadership for the group of believers. The membership rolls grew, resulting in the need for more space – a larger building. The size of the first church building no longer was sufficient for the number of worshippers. The congregation had out-grown the building. A decision was made to build a larger church building.
Thus, in 1906 a Building Committee was formed. The members were: Henry Schaeper, William Schaeper, Henry Frese, Henry Staas, William Staas, Herman Rueter, William Kettler, and Jno. Strauss.
Articles of Agreement were drawn between the German Evangelical St. Johannes Church of Robinson and the Contractor, J.E. Johnson of Waco, to construct and erect and furnish all materials for the building of a one-story frame structure in accordance with the plans and specifications furnished for the same by Milton W. Scott, Architect, of Waco, Texas.
Milton Scott (1872 – 1933) had built a reputation as a master architect. Waco landmark buildings that he designed include the Clifton House, First Baptist Church, the Hilton Hotel, Palm Court, and Waco High School.
He also designed
the old Cotton Palace pavilion and the Artesian Bottling Company building, now in use as the Dr. Pepper Museum. He designed the second Temple for Rodef Sholom, a beautiful house of worship.
The cost of the construction of this second church building was $2,500.00. The building was 32´ wide and 52´ long with a steeple 52´ high.
The steeple held a 500-pound bell presented to the church by Mr. H. Kinderman, father of Mrs. Herman Quinius who was the sister-in-law of Mrs. John Strauss. This bell was cast by the Hy. Stuckstede Company of St. Louis, Missouri and was then shipped to Texas. The bell, which was used to call the congregation to worship in their new church building, continues that function today.
From the years 1904 to 1914, 12 marriage ceremonies were performed, 79 infants were christened, and 58 young people were added to the membership rolls of the church through the Rite of Confirmation. 14 funeral services were performed. The larger church building was certainly appreciated.
— 1914 to 1924 —
These were busy years. Rev. Strauss was a diligent, dedicated shepherd to his flock. And his flock grew. Church services were conducted in the German language until the year 1920, when the congregation voted to have English services on the first Sunday of each month.
In addition to his duties as Pastor of St. John, Professor Strauss was kept busy with the Academy.
The words of Reverend Frank Horak, Jr. give us insight into the importance of the Academy: “The role of the Academy in the life of the Texas District of the Evangelical Synod should never be forgotten. The lifeblood of a church rests solidly on the ministry of the church. Robinson Academy was the training center for several ministers who became leaders in the denomination. Public school education usually went up to the 8th grade in rural communities. Continued education had to come from elsewhere.
Robinson Academy was accessible and available to many central Texas communities and Robinson residents made rooms available to students from surrounding communities. Because of Strauss’ long tenure as professor and pastor, most central Texas Evangelical Churches were touched by his leadership. In the year 1922 the operation of the Academy was taken over by the Evangelical Synod of North America.
During this period of time, there were 60 christenings including 4 done in Elm Mott for the Neumann family. The parents and sponsors promised to “bring the child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” There were 51 confirmands, 17 marriages, and 19 deaths.
— 1924 to 1934 —
This decade was begun with a building project. In 1924 a hall for church school, meetings, and social purposes was erected. There were partitions on casters that could be moved where needed to provide separate areas for Sunday school classes to meet. Vacation Bible School was held in this building and the porch was used for craft projects. It was a very handy building to have.
On December 16, 1927 incorporation papers were completed for Evangelical Saint John’s Church at Robinsonville, Texas. Also in 1927 the name “German” was dropped from the Synod title of “German Evangelical Synod of North America”. We were becoming more and more a part of the American way of life.
November 25, 1928 a fire destroyed the Robinson Academy building. The school continued for a time and then closed permanently.
And on June 20, 1929 Texas Power and Light Co. brought electric power to Robinson. For a $3 deposit and a $1 fee, electric service was brought to St. John’s Church. On February 3, 1931 a Right of Way Deed from Evangelical St John’s Church of Robinsonville to the County of McLennan allowed space for a public street for $24 on the western edge of the property.
80 christenings, 56 confirmations, 46 marriages, and 28 deaths occurred during this decade.
— 1934 to 1944 —
This decade began with a change in the Evangelical denomination. Stressing the liberty of conscience and authority of the Scriptures and their common liberal German Protestant heritage, the churches of the Reformed Church of the U.S. and the Evangelical Synod in North America united in 1934 to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Thus, we became St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church.
January 1939, the St. John congregation decided to have English services on the first and third Sundays of each month.
“Professor” Strauss, as he was affectionately known, built a spiritual congregation. After 40 years of ministering to the congregants of St. John church, Rev. Strauss retired in 1940.
He was followed in St. John’s pulpit by Rev. Joseph F. Krueger who, with his wife Meta and their four children, arrived in 1940 to be our second settled pastor.
With the arrival of the Krueger family, the need for a parsonage was realized and that resulted in the first parsonage in 1941.
August 1941, St. John was accepted as a member of the Germania Mutual Aid Association and paid a fee of $5. On March 29, 1942, the first confirmation class after the arrival of Rev. Krueger added 15 members to the rolls of the church.
April 1943, the decision to have but one German service a month was made. In this decade there were 39 christenings, 65 Confirmands, 20 marriages, and 34 funerals.
— 1944 to 1954 —
Rev. Krueger was a busy man. The congregation of St. John church continued to grow. His pastorate marked the final period of transition to a more modern type of church organization and methods. On April 13, 1947, German services were discontinued except for Christmas Day; this single German service was later changed to Good Friday.
In 1948, Rev. Krueger answered a call to ministry in Newton, Kansas which resulted in the Rev. Carl H. Kluge arriving with his wife in November to become our third settled pastor.
Rev. Kluge had a vision for St. John that resulted in a decision to build a new church structure in 1951. The existing church building, built in 1906, would be torn down and replaced. Preparations began. On October 7, 1951 a motion was made, seconded, and carried that the Church Council be empowered to carry out plans for the construction of our new church being governed by a building committee.
On December 5, 1951 a motion was made and carried that we give our approval to the committee report and pledge our support. The Trustees were: A.W. Staas, President; W.G. Peplow; John Ashleman, Secretary; H.T. Neumann, Treasurer; Wesley Grube; William Kettler; and John Koerth.
February 10, 1952, at the age of 99 years, 4 months, and 28 days, Rev. John Strauss passed from this life. He came to Texas for his health and had a long life here.
The dedication of the third church
structure for St. John’s church was
celebrated on August 31, 1952.
On April 1, 1953 Rev. Kluge resigned
his pastorate with St. John and answered a call to ministry in Kyle, Texas. He was replaced by Rev. Theo F. Schumacher who, with his wife Evelyn, arrived on July 17, 1953 to become our fourth settled pastor.
During this decade there were 72 christenings, 72 confirmands, 33 marriages, 36 deaths, and 3 new members by other means.
— 1954 to 1964 —
In 1955, Zion Church of Cottonwood was dissolved and the membership, with privilege of transfer elsewhere, was absorbed into our congregation. About twenty members were added to the church rolls as a result.
In 1957 the Evangelical and Reformed Church united with the Congregational Christian Church and became the United Church of Christ with the theme “that they may all be one”. We are proud of this unique heritage: from our beginning, we have not been part of a denomination formed on dividing, but uniting with others, time and time again.
The Good Friday service in 1959 marked the final service conducted in the German language at St. John. All services since this date have been conducted in English.
In April 1959 Rev. Schumacher leaves and on August 1, 1959 Rev. Fred J.W. Weltge arrives to become our pastor.
November 16, 1962, a deed from Bertha Rau Strauss and John D. Strauss to St. John’s United Church of Christ set in motion a building program on land located directly across the highway from the church. The building program ensued and on May 26, 1963 the new parsonage was dedicated.
Rev. Weltge was a true shepherd to his flock, watching over all with care and concern. He and his family were the first to occupy our new parsonage.
During this decade there were 115 christenings, 33 confirmands, 37 marriages, 54 deaths, and 35 new members by other means.
— 1964 to 1974 —
The anniversary service held on October 25, 1964 celebrated our 80 years of life as a church. Rev. Carl Burkle, South Central Conference Minister, gave the sermon at the morning service with Rev. Carl H. Kluge returning to Robinson to give the afternoon sermon. The Senior Choir and the Junior Choir performed musical selections. Virginia Wuebker was organist for the morning service with Jean Kettler playing the organ for the afternoon service.
Rev. Weltge, our fifth settled pastor, was a true shepherd to his flock, watching over all with care and concern. These were quiet years − growing years. The church building was recently built, the parsonage was newly built. Rev. Weltge was able to concentrate on his “flock” and the congregation flourished under his pastorate.
There were 48 christenings, 62 confirmands, 42 marriages, 64 deaths, and 51 new members during this decade.
— 1974 to 1984 —
A display case to be used in the Narthex, an outdoor church sign, and a cross made of oak listing the pastors who had served St. John were added in 1974.
The celebration of 90 years of life as a church was held on October 27, 1974. Rev. James Tomasek, South Central Conference Minister, gave the sermon at the morning service, “Celebrating the Christian Community” with Rev. Theo F. Schumacher traveling from Evansville, Indiana to give the sermon for the 3pm afternoon service, “Can Your Gods Be Stolen?”. The Senior Choir performed “Cherubim Song” during the morning service, and a duet of Ann Groppe and Doris Rasner performed “In A Quiet Moment” during the afternoon service. Jo Ann Brown was organist with Virginia Wuebker as pianist for the morning service. For the afternoon service they switched with Virginia at the organ and Jo Ann at the piano.
The paneling in the Chancel was completed in 1975 along with a flower garden. Two 9″x4″ wooden crosses were made and installed above the doors leading to the Chancel in 1977. Playground equipment and fence were acquired in 1977 and a hedge was planted between St. John’s property and that of First Baptist Church. In 1978 a Roper kitchen range was purchased.
Rev. Weltge continued as pastor during this decade. These were busy years with a concentration on people and improving our property. A rose garden was added on the north side of the church in 1979.
Mid-way through the decade, the 95th anniversary celebration happened on October 14, 1979. For this service, Rev. Schumacher returned again from Evansville, and spoke on the subject “The People Who Have Passed the Ball to You”. The Senior Choir performed “If My People Will Pray” and “Here Am I, Send Me” and the Junior Choir sang “O How He Loves Me”.
A basket dinner was enjoyed at noon followed by a 2:30 afternoon service during which Dwight Forbis provided a solo, “Amazing Grace”, accompanied by Melinda Nichols. The Rev. Edwin Mehlhaff, Associate Conference Minister spoke at the afternoon service.
Jo Ann Brown was at the organ and Virginia Wuebker was at the piano both services.
In 1982, having outgrown the original kitchen, the stage area in the assembly room was converted into a kitchen, and the original kitchen be-came a library. Also in 1982, St. John was registered with the Texas Historical Society and received a plaque; white, purple, and green paraments for the chancel were given, in addition to a trophy case.
In 1983 portraits of our pastors were framed and given to St. John to be displayed on the wall.
During this decade there were 52 christenings, 42 confirmands, 53 marriages, 64 deaths, and 51 new members.
— 1984 to 1994 —
1984 our centennial year! The founding of St. John church 100 years previously was celebrated in a manner befitting that many years. Two services were provided. For the morning worship service, Jo Ann Brown was organist and Ronda Kirk was pianist. Ronda Kirk sang “My Tribute” and Rev. Edgar Krueger provided comments and prayer. The sermon “A Place and A People” was given by The Rev. Edwin Mehlhaff, Associate Conference Minister. Ted Neumann and Cynthia Sykora sang “Fill My Cup, Lord”.
Following a catered meal, the historical marker was dedicated.
At the 2:30 anniversary service, Ann Groppe was at the organ. Karen Groppel sang “We Shall Behold Him”. Larry and Marla Overstreet sang “There’s Something About That Name. Rev. Paul Kluge provided comments, Martha Kettler presided over the Confirmation Roll Call and recognized guests. The Overstreets sang “Father, Lift Me Up” and Rev. Ernest Dean, Jr, gave the sermon “In Search of Truth”.
This was a grand occasion and well attended. Following is Rev. Weltge’s report that appeared in the newsletter. “Over 400 Centennial Invitations were sent out; requests received for noon meal reservations were 523; to allow for extras we contracted with Clem Mikeska’s B-B-Q for 525 @ $4.50 each. Total served, 434, but we paid for the 525 contracted, $2,362.50. We wanted to allow for extras rather than be short…The Morning Worship attendance, 476; not all stayed at noon, but others came who had not been able to be in Worship… The ushering was great!… Mr. W.O. Schnizer and committee did a beautiful job in arranging flowers around the altar, corsages, carnation at each table, the colorful arrangement around the Historical Marker… Other flowers: Altar centerpiece (daisies and blue carnations) for John/Wilma Westbrook’s 30th Wedding Anniversary; white Mums beside Lectern and Pulpit, Mrs. Meta Hartwick; Mums from Dr. Jack and Barbara Kilgore “Congratulations on a wonderful one hundred years of service in the area. Our best wishes for the years to come”; Arlo and Janet Weltge (in Memory of our aunt, Sister Clara Weltge and her grandfather, Alvin Macheledt); a silk flower arrangement from the family of Herman Rueter; a silk pole ivy in memory of Bill and Ella Rueter by the children…Thanks to Mary Lou Jahnke for the sketch of three Church buildings used on the Invitations and the Centennial Bulletin…Paul and Mildred Kunze for video taping the service… Mrs. Lewis Brown for permitting use of her property for extra parking (Randy Wegwerth for mowing the area)…Martha Kettler for Historical Room arrangements…and Jeannette Nehring for Centennial Plates”.
In 1985 Rev. Weltge retired from active ministry and he and Ruth moved to the hill country. He was followed in 1986 by Rev. Ron Krueger who arrived with his wife Sue and their sons.
In 1989 racks for Bibles were added to pews in memory of Henry Kahanek and Bibles for the pew racks were given in memory of Erna Kunze by her husband and her children.
In 1993 a new covered entrance for the Narthex was added and a Baldwin piano was purchased for use in the Assembly Room using proceeds from a craft sale.
During this decade there were 29 christenings, 34 confirmands, 36 marriages, 78 deaths, and 49 members by other means.
— 1994 to 2004 —
Early in this decade, Rev. Ron Krueger
answered a call to ministry in Spring, Texas. He was followed in St. John’s pulpit by the arrival of Rev. Frank Horak who served as interim pastor while we looked for a full-time pastor.
Rev. Horak looked around the church and found things that we could do to improve the church building. The projects that we entered into included carpet for the rooms and folding chairs and round tables for the assembly room. Then we acquired a 12′ conference table and 14 maroon arm chairs for meeting use. We added Confirmand/Acolyte robes and an eternal light for the Chancel. We looked at the Pastor’s Study and re-covered the couch and chairs there. All of this occurred in 1995. Rev. Horak came up with many things for us to do and coined the phrase “the church at the rise in the road”.
December of 1995, Rev. Larry Bünger arrived to be our next settled pastor. He served us until his health failed. January 2002, Rev. John Will arrived to serve as interim. Our Search Committee worked diligently and found Rev. Robert Workman to serve as our next settled pastor. He arrived in August 2002. He served until November 2003 when he left the St. John pastorate.
During this decade there were 24 christenings, 28 confirmands, 21 marriages, 43 deaths, and 56 new members.
— 2004 to 2014 —
Rev. William Mulford arrived in March of 2004 to serve St. John as an Intentional Interim Pastor. He brought a lot of energy to the position of pastor. He authored the bulletin and experimented with various formats for it. While he was here, we bought a new printer so that we are able to do print jobs ourselves. He served until June 2005 when Tammy Wynn filled our pulpit for several months.
We relied on retired U.C.C. pastors, students at Baylor’s seminary, and local pastors for pastoral service for several months. Rev. Kathy Fox filled our pulpit for many of those Sundays.
January of 2007 Pastor Glenn Kramer, a retired Lutheran pastor, filled our pulpit until August 2007 when Rev. Toni Kracke, a recent Eden Seminary graduate, arrived with her husband, Kermit, to become our next settled pastor.
The October 18, 2009 celebration of our 125th anniversary was the culmination of several good deed projects involving the number 125, including book, food, and toy donaitons to those in need.
Rev. Kracke resigned her pastorate to return to St. Louis in November 2010. On May 6, 2011, Scott Spence, a student at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, filled the pulpit at St. John for the first time. He began filling St. John’s pulpit on a weekly basis in August 2011, driving from Austin on weekends to provide worship services.
In 2011, we completed several renovation projects on the parsonage. Following his graduation and ordination, Rev. Spence was installed as our tenth settled pastor October 2012. He, his wife Tara, and their daughters Leah and Miriam brought new enthusiasm for the work of the church and its place in the community.
In 2012, a new communion table was dedicated in memory of Rev Weltge. In 2014, wooden flooring was installed in the Assembly Room.
During this decade, there were 15 christenings, 5 confirmands, 12 marriages, 47 deaths, and 30 new members by other means.
— 2014 to 2019 —
In these last five years, the pews and sanctuary flooring have been refinished. In 2018, Jerry Brown used the wood from older church pews to create a cross for each family of the church to hang in their homes.
Rev. Spence resigned August 5, 2018 to follow a call to Waterloo, Iowa. Jacob Brenton began as Acting Interim Pastor September 2. Jacob is a dual degree student at Baylor working towards a Master of Divinity from Truett Seminary and a Master of Business Administration from the Hankamer School of Business. In August 2019, he achieved Licensed Ministerial status with the North Texas Association, UCC, and is pursuing ordination as a Member in Discernment. He has presided over 4 funerals in our church.
In September 2019, the congregation voted to install a new digital sign on the front lawn, improving our visibility and presence on the main highway of our community.
135th Anniversary services will be held October 27. To give back to our community and demonstrate our thankfulness for 135 years of God’s faithfulness, we are providing school supplies for Robinson Kindergarten teachers, school supplies and books for a local special needs classroom, baby supplies for the Family Abuse Center, food and supplies for the Animal Shelter, and collecting an offering for Heifer International.
We are indebted and grateful for the women and men who sacrificed greatly that the Gospel of Christ’s liberation might be proclaimed in Robinson for over 135 years now. We have grown from a church of German immigrants to Robinson’s united church for all people to worship and serve the Lord. Join us as we continue to learn, worship, grow, and live as the body of Christ.