St. John’s dates its beginnings as a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod to August 12, 1900. Rev. John R. Garebner was ordained and installed by his father Professor A.I. Graebner and Dr. F. Piper, Synod President, as the first resident pastor.
The beginning of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod work in Utah dates back to the year 1893, when Rev. William H. Behrens came as a Missouri synod missionary to Salt Lake City. For fourteen months, he conducted services in the auditorium building at 200 West and 400 South. Recorded were five baptisms, three private communions, fourteen public communions and two marriages. Due to financial conditions Behrens preached his farewell sermon October 28, 1894, accepting a call to Tacoma, Washington.
The first Evangelical Lutheran St. John’s Church was organized by Rev. Otto Kuhr of the New York Ministerium of the General Council. Coincidentally, he preached his first German sermon on the same day, March 6, 1892, that Rev. William Luessenhop of Colorado held a German Lutheran service in the Westminster Presbyterian Church.
At first, Kuhr held German services at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church until a site was purchased. Construction began July 3, 1894, on a chapel at 700 South and 500 West.
Cornerstone laying and dedication were held September 9, 1894. Pastor Kuhr changed the name of his group to the Erste Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische St. Johnnes Germeinde to distinguish from Behren’s group.
The site proved to be too far removed from the city center. Kurh began holding additional services at St. Mark’s Episcopal school. August 1, 1897, Kuhr left Salt Lake City, later becoming a missionary to Brazil.
Shortly, after Kuhr’s departure, Rev. Herman Hoffman, a General Council minister from Wisconsin, accepted a call to Salt Lake City. Since very few people attended at the west side chapel, Hoffman began holding services at Zion Lutheran Church. He also continued a free Lutheran Parochial school there.
In an attempt to efficiently serve the German Lutherans, he reorganized the congregation in early 1898. June 4, 1898, President Weiskotten of the General Council Mission Board informed the congregation that after July 1, 1898, the Synod would no longer be able to provide financial aid. The years 1898 and 1899 proved difficult for the little German congregation.
Unwilling to disband the congregation first approached Rev. Phillip von Rohr, president of the Wisconsin Synod. Denied there, they turned to Pastor Buehler of San Francisco, president of the Western District of the Missouri Synod. He requested Pastor Obermeyer of St. Louis to visit the congregation on a trip west. Subsequent correspondence with Professor A. L. Graebner and Professor F. Pieper, President of the Missouri Synod, resulted in the Missouri Synod’s promise of support in the amount of $300.00 annually.
Graebner was installed August 12, 1900, and began holding German services at Zion Lutheran Church. He also inaugurated an English service on the last Sunday of each month. As the original German Lutheran chapel was inconvenient and the congregation was relying on rented quarters, a permanent location was sought. A site was purchased at 130 East 700 south for $2,100.00.
Graebner left July 1904 for Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The vacancy was served by Chaplain Paul T. Brockman, a Wisconsin Synod chaplain at Ft. Douglas. Services were conducted at the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Savior on 400 East Street.
Rev. William J. Lankow (1905-1913) of Tacoma, Washington, became pastor in the summer of 1905 and continued to hold services in the Norwegian church until the Germans dedicated their church at 130 East 700 South.
Construction began in September. Dedication services in German and English were held December 17, 1905. Pastor Lankow also designed and built the first school building in 1908. It opened in 1909 with 23 pupils, under teacher H. Pfueger (1909-1914.)
Nine pastors, chaplains and vicars served the small congregation from 1900 to 1926. After Lankow, they were H. Ruphoff (1913-1914); Vicars Arnold Grumm (1914) and Lawrence (Lorry) Meyer (1915-1918); and J.C. Kaiswer (1918-1922.)
During World War I, the government required the congregation to use English language in worship and in the school. The school, then under Mr. B. J. Dubberstein (1915-1918) closed in 1918. During the pastorate of J. A. Schlicting (1922-1926) the congregation became self-supporting and was assigned to the newly organized Colorado District . The Walther League (1922) and a mission society were organized and the school building was enlarged to double its size to serve as a parish hall.