On April 27, 1997, St. John Lutheran Church, Dickson, Tennessee became a chartered congregation of the Mid-South District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. This date is significant because this particular weekend coincided with the 150th Anniversary Celebration commemorating the formation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In preparation for the Charter Service and to commemorate the Synodical anniversary, this history was first chronicled to remind all who worship here about the many milestones involved in both the formation of this congregation as well as the Synod as a whole. Following a brief Synodical history, the history of St. John Lutheran Church and the formation of the Waverly and Dickson missions will be given in detail. For just a moment, allow yourself to step back in time.
THE LUTHERAN CHURCH—MISSOURI SYNOD
In studying the Synodical history, it is important to remember that our founding fathers did not stem from a common root. Rather, they came from different parts of Europe, they arrived in America at different times, and they settled in different regions of America. However, even though they were very diverse, these men were brought together by God’s guiding hand and agreed on all matters pertaining to faith and life. They were joined together through leadership, integrity, and adherence to God’s Word as expressed in the confessions of the Lutheran Church. It has been through the Grace of God that a small group of twelve voting members and ten advisory members from sixteen congregations, organized on April 26, 1847, has grown to over 2.7 million baptized members in over 6,000 congregations worldwide.
Synod, by definition, means walking on the road together. When the original group first met back in 1847, they called themselves the German Evangelical Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other states even though the majority of the group was from Missouri. Hence, the fledgling Synod became most frequently associated with Missouri. As the group grew, the mix of ethnic backgrounds within the group changed. This diversity prompted a decision not to be identified solely as the German Evangelical Synod. As the membership spread throughout the various regions of this country and the world, the official name was simplified and changed to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN DICKSON
The Lutheran Church has a long history in Dickson. The first St. John Lutheran Church was established in 1872 by a group of Lutherans who had moved into the area from Pennsylvania. The group met in various houses until 1891 when property was purchased from the Southern Presbyterians to construct a sanctuary, a school and a parsonage. A small cemetery also became a part of the property. The congregation’s pastor was Reverend W.C. Barnett with Miss Kate Boggs, a former missionary, heading the school.
In the early years, St. John enjoyed steady growth. In fact, some accounts referred to St. John as “a center of community life”. However, as the congregation moved into the twentieth century, many of the members moved back to Pennsylvania. At a critical juncture in the life of the church, the size of the congregation had dwindled to only nine women.
Persistent to keep the church alive, the small group continued to worship regularly, without a pastor, until late 1940. Occasional worship occurred on into 1942. Inevitably, though, the final disposition of the church property was decided in 1945 by the remaining four members. The church building stood vacant until 1955 when its fate was sealed, and it was demolished. Today, a private residence is the only tribute to the St. John Lutheran Church which stood for over 60 years at 208 East Walnut Street in Dickson. One of our current members, Frances Underwood, remembers attending Sunday School at the former St. John.
It had been approximately 55 years since the last worship service at the original St. John Lutheran Church. Even though the original church was not affiliated with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the name of the previous church was adopted as the name for the current congregation. The current members feel there is a certain degree of comfort in the name St. John. In a way, we feel we can benefit and grow from the original Lutheran presence in the Dickson area.
The years following the disbanding of St. John were marked by an influx of new people moving into the Dickson area from all over the country. Frequently, these folks came from areas to the north where there is a stronger Lutheran presence. As the new arrivals found no Lutheran churches within a 30-minute drive, many turned away from the Lutheran Church and joined other denominations to fulfill their spiritual needs.
However, because there were some who refused to abandon their Lutheran beliefs, there was always hope that the Lutheran Church would re-emerge here. In light of this hope, the Mid-South District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod had been monitoring the area for a number of years.
ATTEMPT MADE IN WAVERLY
In 1968, the Al Johnson Construction Company, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, opened a subsidiary on the shores of Kentucky Lake in New Johnsonville, Tennessee called Vanguard Services. The purpose of the subsidiary was to build barges for the growing traffic on the Tennessee River. To staff the New Johnsonville plant, the Al Johnson Construction Company moved five Lutheran families to the Waverly area.
One of the families attended a Lutheran Church of America in Nashville, over 60 miles away. As a result of this family and the other known Lutheran families in Waverly, LCA established Emanual Lutheran Mission in Waverly. The first services were held on October 26, 1969 in the conference room of a local bowling alley. Attendance at the first service was 25. Initial support for the mission was great. Monetary gifts were received from as far away as Georgia. Pews were received from a local Presbyterian Church, and a piano, communionware and hymnals were donated by the mother church in Nashville. Pastors for the mission were students from the Vanderbilt University Divinity School. As time passed, a more suitable building was found in downtown Waverly.
Prosperity was short-lived, however. Within two years, Al Johnson Construction Company experienced major personnel cutbacks, which seriously affected Vanguard Services. All but one Lutheran family left the state and at this point Emanuel had only three active families remaining. Efforts were made to continue the mission, but eventually LCA advised the group to disband and worship elsewhere. The last service was held on April 25, 1971.
HOLDING OUT HOPE
As new people continued to move into the Dickson area, they were led to worship in Nashville. As early as the late 1970’s and early 1980’s there was much discussion with the Mid-South District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod that Dickson would be a logical location for a future mission.
Following the formation of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bellevue in 1982, members began a savings account in Redeemer’s Lutheran Church Extension Fund that, when needed, could serve as “seed money” to help support a mission in Dickson. At the same time, the District was looking at various parcels of land in and around Dickson that might be suitable for a mission church.
RESURFACING IN WAVERLY
Unaware of developments in Dickson, one more attempt was made to establish a mission in Waverly. In May 1993, a deaf young man in Waverly was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. His wishes and that of his parents were to find a Lutheran pastor to provide religious instruction before his death. Working through the home health care agency, the family was put in contact with Pastor Tessaro of Eternal Mercy Lutheran Church for the Deaf in Memphis. Shortly thereafter, Pastor Tessaro began traveling to Waverly to meet with the young man twice per month for religious instruction.
Soon after Pastor Tessaro’s initial visit, an advertisement appeared in the area newspapers soliciting interest in forming a Lutheran Church in the area. After receiving at least eight calls in response to the advertisement, including one from the deaf young man’s parents, a meeting was scheduled to discuss the prospects for forming a church. This meeting, held on August 25, 1993 at the White Church on State Highway 13, was attended by approximately 30 people. It marked the beginning of the Our Savior Lutheran Mission in Waverly.
The first service was held on November 14, 1993 with 28 people in attendance (a few from Dickson). Services were held regularly by Pastor Tessaro, on evenings of the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Service locations changed frequently before finally settling into the American Legion Hall in downtown Waverly. Finally the deaf young man was confirmed on January 30, 1994, and called to his eternal home in August.
Pastor Tessaro continued to hold services in Waverly until September 1994, at which time the pastors in the Nashville Circuit were contacted about continuing the mission services. An agreement was reached and a rotation was worked out involving Pastors Powell, Kalleson and Otto. Eventually, it became increasingly evident that there was sufficient support to warrant moving the mission from Waverly to Dickson.
THE DICKSON MISSION
The last service was held in Waverly on January 8, 1995. January 22, 1995 saw the establishment of the Dickson Mission with services held at St. Christopher’s Catholic Church. This first Sunday evening service was attended by 36 people. A brief meeting was held afterward to discuss rent for St. Christopher’s and compensation for the Nashville pastors.
Evening services continued on a biweekly basis and eventually a Bible Study was organized to meet on alternate Sunday evenings. In addition, the group entertained thoughts of purchasing a small local church, but all agreed it was not the right time for this. By mid-June of 1995, the District was seeking a retired pastor to serve the mission by September 1, 1995.
In light of this information, the group began looking in earnest for a location to hold Sunday morning services. As the War Memorial Building was being considered, the City of Dickson Council Chambers was offered to the group at no cost. God surely does provide. Pastor Powell had agreed to hold Sunday morning services at 8 a.m if a retired pastor could not be found.
With the meeting place established, Coordinators were elected at an after-service meeting on August 13, 1995. Elected to guide the development of the mission congregation were David R. Riesland, William Wehman, Paul Darcey, Scott Walker, Charles Burt and Everet Purrington. Direction for the Coordinators was provided by Pastor Powell and the District. At the same August 13th meeting, the official name of the Dickson Mission was changed to St. John Lutheran Church. The final service at St. Christopher’s was held on August 27, 1995.
ST. JOHN LUTHERAN CHURCH
The first morning service for St. John Lutheran Church, conducted by Pastor Powell, was held on September 10, 1995, in the City Council Chambers. This initial service was attended by 55 people, and the first baptism was performed at St. John. The delightfully large initial attendance pointed to the fact that a larger, more permanent worship facility was essential. In addition, there was an amount of inconvenience associated with the City Council Chambers because everything had to be carried in and out for each service—including the altar. All present at the first service signed the guest book. For the occasion, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Pastor Powell’s congregation and former home to many future St. John members, presented St. John with a set of Altar Books including the Lectionary, Agenda and Altar Book.
As time passed, it was obvious that more room, as well as a place to store worship materials, was essential. After negotiations with the Primitive Baptist Church fell through, an agreement was reached with Macedonia Apostolic Church. Services were moved to the new location March 10, 1996. The new facility offered more opportunity for Sunday School and limited fellowship activities.
In the midst of the move, Pastor Powell was concluding his first adult instruction class. The fruits of this labor were realized in April when eight adults were confirmed, of which four were baptized, six members were received by Reaffirmation of Faith, and two children were baptized. At about the same time, the exciting news was received that a seminarian, John Gierke, had been placed as a Mission Developer in the Mid-South District to serve St. John. Pastor Gierke was to arrive in July 1996.
With a new pastor on the way, the group organized swiftly, securing office space and a temporary residence. A series of church work days were held to paint the outside of the church building and to make some modifications to the interior.
The installation of Pastor Gierke was held on Sunday afternoon, July 7, 1996. Attendance was 113 with a reception following at the Senior Citizen Center. This was truly a momentous occasion in the history of St. John. Following the installation, Pastor Gierke assumed the duties that had been performed by Pastor Powell.
Shortly after the installation, the Coordinators agreed that April 27, 1997 would be the date for the Charter Service. This date was chosen to coincide with the 150th anniversary celebration for Synod. There was indeed much to do in the meantime…..
- A five-year financial plan was completed and submitted to the District.
- A mission statement was developed for St. John: “Sharing God’s Love in Christ”.
- A committee was organized within the congregation to begin work on a Constitution for St. John. After three months of considerable effort, a document was sent to the District Constitutional Committee and was approved.
- Incorporation documents were filed with the State of Tennessee in January of 1997. A tax exempt status was filed for in February of 1997. A president and corporate secretary, Bill and Lois Wehman, were elected for the purposes of incorporation and would serve until Charter Sunday.
- A nominating committee was established to develop a slate of officers for the first church council. A president, vice-president, recording secretary, financial secretary, and two elders would be elected. These officers would assume their respective offices after installation on the Sunday following the Charter Service.
The Charter Sunday service was on April 27, 1997 at the Senior Citizens Center in Dickson. Numerous guests, area Lutheran ministers and St. John members attended and participated. Members and friends of St. John signed the Charter which is now framed and on display at the church.
The first council meeting was held May 14, 1997 for the newly installed council: President Bill Wehman, Vice-President David R. Riesland, Recording Secretary Lois Wehman, Financial Secretary Carmel Dotson, and Elders Paul Darcey and Pete Van Doren.
The congregation was looking for property on which to build a permanent church structure for St. John. An offer made to Bruce Peery for property near the small airport on Highway 96 was not accepted. In May of 1997 the Lutheran Church Extension Fund offered St. John a 6-acre parcel of property on Highway 96 and Hogan Road for $83,000.00. On the 27th of that month the congregation voted to buy this property.
St. John moved services, offices and a newly acquired organ to a warehouse at 1436 Highway 96 on September 1, 1997. St. John congregation was, for the first time, located in a building which was available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. This warehouse building was transformed from a cold, open, airy structure to the home base of St. John’s worship and ministries for over two years. The congregation grew in number over 20% while located in this facility.
In October of 1997 a Call was extended to our Mission Developer, Reverend John Gierke. After accepting the Call, Pastor Gierke was installed on Sunday, November 30, 1997. The service was well-attended by members of St. John, guests and several Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod ministers participating in the ceremony. Pastor Gierke and all of St. John’s members were charged with the mission to extend God’s Kingdom in all our decisions, actions and events.
During our first Advent season in the warehouse/church we enjoyed more freedom to choose times of services and St. John put up our first Christmas tree in a facility we did not share with someone else.
January 1998 expanded the ministries and leadership at St. John with the birth of two new boards: Education and Discipleship. A Youth Group was formed and started meeting in the winter of 1998. Three elders now assisted Pastor Gierke and attended the growing congregation. St. John was blessed with a choir offering a music ministry during worship services. In June of 1998 we offered our first Vacation Bible School held in the evenings during the course of a week. The theme was “Hooked on Jesus”.
September 20, 1998 marked the first youth class Confirmation with six students being confirmed.
In spring of 1998, with a new church building project at hand, it was decided to hire a fund-raising consultant to assist with the process. Capital Funding Services of Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Foundation was chosen to guide and encourage leadership during this Sustained Giving Stewardship Emphasis. A leadership team was formed in June. The summer-long emphasis, named “Love Keeps Building” (LKB) consisted of leadership training, member visitation, a 6-hour Prayer Vigil and a Commitment Dinner which was held on August 30, 1998 at the Tennsco Community Center. As a result of the Stewardship Emphasis, over $115,000.00 was pledged by members to be given over a three-year period. The LKB emphasis continues today as a building debt reduction opportunity.
A Building Committee was formed in 1998 and many hours were logged to bring the building process from dream to turn-key condition. The Groundbreaking Ceremony was at the Highway 96/Hogan Road building site before Sunday morning worship service on March 21, 1999. The event was attended by our contractor, Sovereign Constructors, and the architects, Deal and Cain. The building loan was provided by Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF).
The erection of the new St. John church building brought many new opportunities to the members and friends of St. John. During the construction process, a prayer circle was held at the start of each workday, led by a member of St. John and attended by the work crew. Before the wallboard was installed, members wrote favorite scripture, prayers and hymns in the framework of the building. Each Saturday, and many days in between, members and friends of St. John gathered at the building site to clean up, mow, paint, caulk, hammer nails, feed the volunteers, etc………and the fellowship grew, thanking God our Heavenly Father for His abundant gifts.
On October 3, 1999 St. John Lutheran Church filled to overflowing (estimated 250 souls) to dedicate the new building to the worship, service and glory of God. Members and guests marched into the sanctuary singing “The Church’s One Foundation”. Also dedicated on this day were a new keyboard, the Baptismal Font, the Altar and the Pulpit.
For the first time, St. John welcomed Baby Jesus in two services on Christmas Eve; one at 7:00 p.m. and another at 11:00 p.m. We also enjoyed our first New Year’s Eve Service in the new building as the congregation welcomed the new Millennium (without any Y2K mishaps!).
The newly-formed Board of Properties inherited the responsibilities of the Building Committee, including care and maintenance of St. John’s church building, contents and landscape. In January 2000 a fourth elder was added to the Board of Elders to help care for the growing congregation.
Flagpoles for the American, Christian and Tennessee flags were dedicated February 13, 2000 in memory and honor of U.S. Veterans. Mid-South District President David Callies participated along with the congregational veterans leading the members of St. John.
The first Oktoberfest was held in October 2000. This fun event produced proceeds which provided help to Care Net and the local prison ministry. In December we offered the first “Journey to the Manger”, a live portrayal of events leading up to Jesus’ birth.
We bid farewell to the Tim Freeze Family in 2001, as they were going to Papau New Guinea to begin support work for Wycliffe Bible Translators.
In the summer the sun’s glare through the large window behind the Altar was softened with the installation of a covering with symbols of the Trinity. Now we could concentrate on the sermon without sunglasses.
Two services were begun on September 23, 2001 to encourage better attendance and offer a choice of types of service. The early service was traditional while the late was contemporary. However, after two years, it was decided to return to one service.
In January of 2002 Pastor Gierke accepted a Call to Conway, Arkansas. His farewell was February 24, 2002. This new congregation now faced a “vacancy”, but many faithful retired pastors assisted and encouraged us during this time—17 months in all.
Five young people were confirmed in September 2002.
Oktoberfest was held again, with a craft auction. The proceeds this time were sent to the Freezes in New Guinea. This continued to be a fund raiser for the family’s support in New Guinea.
Our first Valentines Day Dinner was held February 14, 2003, with a catered meal instead of a Potluck. Don Wharton entertained us with humor and music. There has been an annual picnic, usually around our Charter Anniversary date. In May of 2003 Divorce Care was started, and was well received by those attending. After two successful years, it had to be dropped as the leader moved to another state.
In May 2003 St. John extended a call to Pastor Nathan Jansen. He and the family came to visit and liked what they saw. The Call was accepted in June and Installation was on August 10, 2003. All the Circuit pastors attended and Reverend Ronald Jansen preached at his son’s Installation.
The “big” event of 2004 was the paving of the parking lot. The ladies, especially, were quite pleased with this improvement.
A delivery truck caused some excitement in April 2005 when it became stuck under the canopy. It wasn’t even delivering anything to St. John. There was some minor damage which was quickly repaired.
Now we prepare to celebrate our Tenth Birthday, which is September 10, 2005. A Committee is preparing a special day for us. And so we enter our second decade of “Sharing God’s Love in Christ” with the community.
The history of St. John, while relatively short in comparison to other events, has been storied. The formation of this congregation has been the result of the actions of multiple groups not consciously acting in unison with one another. It has been fascinating to watch the development and to see how one event has led to another. Those who have been privileged to watch these events at St. John have witnessed God’s plan unfold.