Pastor Daniel Bishop does not consider the current St. John’s Lutheran Church old as it has not hit its century mark, being completed in 1927 by North and Sons. According to the Pekin Sesquicentennial, Pekin’s first church — which became known as the Foundry church — was established in 1830. St. John’s is young in comparison. However, St. John’s still holds a rich history in Pekin as its congregation was established in 1852.
According to Bishop, St. John’s has had three church buildings over the years: first, an 1853 building on the south east corner of Fourth Street and Ann Eliza Street; second, an 1871 building across from the first church on the north side of Ann Eliza; and third, the current 1927 building at 711 Court St.
“It was initially founded by German-speaking immigrants. … You had those who were of a reformed background and those who were of a Lutheran background meeting together just because of the common language,” Bishop said.
The church is located on a triangular piece of land. Services are at 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. The congregation is currently served by one pastor. The congregation has five part-time employees: a church secretary, a membership secretary, an organist, a choir director and a hand bell choir director.
Bishop said the “part-time positions range from just a few hours per month in the case of the choir directors, to half-time in the case of the church secretary.”
Walking around the outside of the church, the bells could be heard ringing. Bishop said the carillon was not original; however, the heavy hinged doors date back to 1927.
“That’s kind of a cool feature,” he said.
A cornerstone on the side of the church reads 1926, the year construction began, with completion in 1927.
The building also still has copper downspouts and gutters that are now green — tarnished over time — and iron grates that cover the window wells.
“I can’t tell you if those are original, but they look really old,” Bishop said.
Bishop, 55, has been at the church for five years. He said he thinks he is the 29th pastor there. Formerly, the church had two pastors at a time, but now it is just Bishop, who ministers to the 400-plus active members. He said when he first came to the church he had so much to do that he didn’t really have time to learn all about the church’s history. As he has settled in, he is learning more.
The church, he said, had three construction phases, all built in different years. The main sanctuary, the original part of the church and its basement were built in the neo-gothic style at a cost of $102,000. A kitchen was added to the basement, which are both still used today.
“American churches were typically built with a basement. The basement was used for gatherings,” Bishop said.
There also was a parsonage on the property that no longer exists, Bishop said. The second portion of the church — the gym and classrooms — was built in the 1950s. The last portion was renovated in 1993 to install an elevator.
The heart of the church — its sanctuary — holds Bishop’s favorite feature of the church — the stained glass windows. They are positioned in the front and rear of the sanctuary near the sanctuary’s ceiling.
“It reminds us of important scenes of the life of Jesus from birth to baptism and his suffering in Gethsemane and his Crucifixion. Then you have the resurrection of Jesus in blessing, and in the front is the ascended Jesus, the exalted Jesus,” Bishop said.
The acoustics are something that Bishop appreciates in the main sanctuary, which is about 3,400 square feet. He said previously they were not as good due to a heavy red carpet that absorbed the sound. Originally, the church had a concrete floor.
In 2014, renovations were done to include new light fixtures, vinyl flooring under the pews, a lighter weight blue carpet for the aisle and some new cushions were purchased for those requesting them to sit on the wooden pews. Including the balcony, the main sanctuary seats about 340.
Ornate woodwork can be seen in the sanctuary. Bishop said you won’t find this kind of craftsmanship in modern buildings of today because it would be too costly.
“This kind of woodwork is not unusual as far as churches go, but it is kind of pretty. No one wants to put the money into that kind of work anymore. … I think what you have mostly here is stained oak and these flat panels, I am almost certain (it) is pine,” Bishop said.
Another piece of quality craftsmanship in the sanctuary is the Hinner organ. The organ was renovated by the John-Paul Buzard Company in 2014. Like the church, the organ has undergone several renovations. In the 60s, a new console was built.
“In the end, they hindered the quality of playing by putting too much extra stuff that it wasn’t built for,”Bishop said. “Buzard came in and tried to put it more back to its original configuration.”
The console the organ is situated in is dated 1928 and came from Chicago.
“This is much closer to the original organ which was manufactured right here in Pekin,” Bishop said. “The pipes are original. To our knowledge we have the only … functioning Hinners pipe organ in a church in Pekin.”
A small room in the church’s basement serves as a history area. Lining the walls are decades of black and white photos of previous confirmation classes, women’s groups, basketball teams and other church memorabilia in glass cases.
“You can see the difference in family sizes from way back when and family sizes now where people only have one or two children or none, and of course, the baby boom years are obvious,” Bishop said.
Asked why it is important that the church keeps a history room, Bishop said the reasons are twofold.
“Of course there are always people interested in history. In a church, when you think about its history, it’s really a history of God’s faithfulness to his people. So, you look at these confirmation classes and you see all these years, whether there were in some of these a dozen, or there might be some of them as big as 20 — those are big groups — or maybe only a handful, but those were all people who were baptized and instructed in the Christian faith,” Bishop said. “That’s evidence of God’s mercy to the congregation.”