The Founding of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer are steeped with significant history leading to the founding of the church. The following includes excerpts from a written account (prior to 1930) authored by Frank Burkhardt, the first secretary of the congregation.

The first settlers of the Lutheran faith in what is now the village of Burkhardt were the Christian Burkhardt family. They arrived in St. Croix County in 1868, and soon other Lutheran families began farming in the area, including the Julius Beer family. These early families began attending church in Stillwater, but the Burkhardt sisters organized a Sunday school for the children near home (cira 1880). The German language was used in Sunday school until 1895, and then English was adopted. This offered all children of the community an opportunity to attend. The Burkhardt sisters went on to teach Sunday school for 50 successive years.

Homesteading of more Lutheran families in the vicinity led to making Burkhadt a regular preaching place. Pastors from Stillwater churches and professors and students of Luther Seminary (formerly in Afton, Minnesota, not in St. Paul) conducted church services in various homes and in the district schoolhouse. In the fall of 1903, Rev. F. Ebert, who had served the field for 14 years, accepted a call to Ohio. In January, 1904, Rev. A. C. Ernst (married to Elfrieda Burkhardt) of Chicago took charge of the Stillwater parish, including the missions at both Burkhardt and Somerset.

It soon became apparent for the need to organize a congregation and establish a church home. On Sunday, April 10, 1904 Pastor A. C. Ernst announced the Christian Burkhardt offered to donate a lot plus $500 toward building a church. The enthusiasm and contributions of those attending services that day brought the sum up to $1,010. Two weeks later a decision was made to erect a church building costing about $1,500.

A building committee was appointed, which consisted of Julius Beer, Christian Burkhardt, John Beer, Fred Ullrich and Pastor Ernst. By resolution, the name chosen for the church was the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.

A contract for the building was awarded to the lowest bidder, Johm O. Lee of Hudson, for $1,775, and the stone/foundation work to F. Borchert of Stillwater for $125. Work began immediately and on July 31, 1904, the cornerstone, which was presented by the P.N. Peterson Granite Co. of St. Paul, was laid by Pastor Ernst.

Dedication services were delivered in both German and English on November 13, 1904. These services drew many from the surrounding area, and noteworthy is that the collection on the occasion totaled $78.53.

1904 – 1929

The first congregational meeting was held January 2, 1905, and a model constitution was adopted. Officers elected were: Frank Burkhardt, secretary; Julius Beer, treasurer; five trustees, Christian Burkhardt, G.M. Rembold, Emil Miller, F.C. Templeman, J.H. Beer; and two deacons, C.G. Lewerer and Carl Redlich.

The Ladies Aid was organized on February 26, 1905. The first officers were: Mrs. Lewerer, president; Mrs. Ullrich, vice president; Helene Burkhardt, secretary; and Bertha Burkhardt, treasuerer.

In October of 1929 the church celebrated its 25th anniversary in conjunction with the annual mission fest.

1930 – 1954

The years of the Great Depression and World War II brought much change to the world, and Redeemer Lutheran was no exception. In early 1930 Rev. Ernst retired, and five pastors were to follow in the upcoming 25 years. That might not be unusual for many churches, but Redeemer Lutheran has had only 10 pastors total in its 100-year history.

In June of 1930 the Rev. W. Klawitter was installed. He became the first resident pastor of Redeemer Lutheran. In the early months, of 1931 the congregation rented a house for $15 a month to serve as a parsonage. In November of 1931 the house next to the church was purchased for $1,00 from Burkhardt Milling Company. It served as the parsonage for many years to come.

In late 1932 Rev. Klawitter accepted a call to St. Paul. He was replaced by Rev. F. Darnauer, who served until the spring of 1936, when he accepted a call to Iowa. In July of 1936, Rev. G.A. Pilgrim was installed and remained at Redeemer until 1950.

Rev. Marvin J. Grunke was next to serve, from 1950 to 1953, followed by Rev. Glen Rachuy. Rev. Grunke also served Christ Lutheran in Somerset, and Redeemer Lutheran remained a joint parish until 1996.

1955 – 1979

While the previous 25 years were marked by changes in personnel, the next several years brought many physical changes to the church itself.

The church celebrated its Golden Anniversary in the fall of 1954, and a special appeal was made on that day for raising funds for a building project. There were no facilities for serving meals or for conducting the growing Sunday school classes. The Grange Hall (Hudson Town Hall) was the church’s only resource for accommodating those functions.

Much of the construction work was done by the congregation, headed by Vernon Orf. By the end of 1955, the first wedding reception was held in the church’s basement, at the wedding of Jim Ebbe and Valerie Peterson.

The Golden Anniversary celebration also spawned the beginning to the still popular chili suppers. Proceeds from the first supper were used to purchase material to make robes for the choir that would sing at the 50th anniversary event.

The altar also underwent major renovations. The windows framing the altar were covered and the Gothic-style altar was given a more contemporary look. After Rev. Rachuy left in July of 1957, the congregation was without a pastor. Seminary students from St. Paul served the church until Rev. Weber was installed in October of 1958.

When Rev. Weber left in the fall of 1961, the church was served by two seminary students, Ron Barth and Arnold Waznik, until May of 1962. The congregation called Arnold Waznik, who resided as pastor until his retirement in 1996.

April of 1960 marked the birth of the American Lutheran Church (ALC), the result of the merger of three Lutheran bodies. After the merger, the Ladies Aid became known as the ALCW.

The 1970’s were years of big change in the ALC. At the October 1970 convention the ALC voted to allow children to receive communion at an earlier age. The congregation of Redeemer Lutheran voted to grant communion to children who were 10 years old or had completed the 5th grade, which was the recommendation of the ALC. Also, the old chalice was replaced by individual communion glasses.

Another importation change was that the ALC voted to admit women into the Holy Ministry. The change would ultimately result in Redeemer Lutheran welcoming its first woman pastor. This era culminated with a bank, when the church celebrated its Diamond Anniversary on September 16, 1979. More than 200 people attended the service and enjoyed a lunch served by the ALCW. An informal gathering in the afternoon was led by Pastor Waznik and included music, singing and letters of greetings. Pastor Waznik closed with a solo. “The King Is Coming”.

1980 – 2011

The church underwent more modernization in the 1980’s and ‘90s. The altar was refurbished with paneling and wallpaper.

The biggest change, however, was the retirement of Pastor Waznik in 1996. The congregation had been blessed by his leadership for 34 years. How were they ever going to replace him?

An interim pastor, Rev. Paul Martinson served for a year while the church sought a replacement. It was with great excitement that the church greeted Pastor Marilyn Thurber in December of 1996. Her invigorated sermons, wonderful sense of humor and infectious enthusiasm are mainstays of the church today.

The first donation to a new building fund was made in 2005. It took 6 years, but we finally raised enough money to build a new church east of the original church site. It cost a bit more than the $2,000 needed to build the church in 1904. Ground was broken on June 12th, 2010 and the members went to work, headed by Dick Ostendorf, on the Redeemer’s current residence. The last wedding in the original church was that of Joel and Kim (Brown) Longnecker on September 10, 2011 and performed by Rev. Thurber. The last Sunday worship service was on January 8th, 2012, with members of the congregation walking the baptismal fount, sacraments, and flags to the new church after the service.

New Legacy

After nearly 108 years in the original church, the little church with the big heart dedicated the new facilities on January 15th, 2012. We squeezed approximately 285 people into that worship service and used every chair in building. It is beautiful, open, and spacious, giving us work to do in filling it up every Sunday, which we fully intend to do.

The Lord blessed this congregation with many helping and skillful hands that poured their sweat and blood into the new church. While all of their individual work and sacrifice can never fully be appreciated, it can be felt in the vibrancy of the new sanctuary. You can sense it in the shiny new kitchen and “parlor” (as Rev. Thurber likes to call it). And we look forward to the youth that will fill the south wing with laughter and praise. Learning, as their parents before them, what it means to be full of the Lord. And also what it means to be a proud member of the Little Church with the Big Heart.