Lutheranism in Utah
The Story of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod
The story of Lutheranism in Utah is a record of persistent prayers, consecrated and self-sacrificing service, unswerving loyalty to Jesus and His Truth, and hopeful determination in the face of many difficulties and obstacles. It is the story of the mustard seed of Lutheranism being planted in the “Zion” of Mormonism.
In 1847, the Mormon pioneers, under the leadership of Brigham Young, possessed the then barren and unpromising Salt Lake Valley as a haven of refuge and citadel of Mormonism. These Mormon colonizers had been in Utah for twenty years before the first Protestant church or school was established in the territory.
Two events – the driving of the Golden Spike on Promontory Point, completing the first continental railroad, and the discovery of valuable minerals in the Bingham Canyon region by soldiers quartered at what is now Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City – brought increasing numbers of non-Mormon folk into the state. Protestant churches sought to follow such people with the established church and the larger denominations organized churches and schools primarily to satisfy the needs of the Gentiles (non-Mormons) in the area.
As these churches and schools grew in number and scattered through the territory, there grew up a clashing of cultures – that of the Mormon and non-Mormon – which led the mission board to send missionary workers to the Gentile communities and to the Mormon towns with the aim of giving to all an appreciation of the New Testament Gospel as understood by the Protestants. The friction between these cultures was made more severe by the fact that Utah was a pioneer area and that the passions of men were given freer rein than was later the case.
The contrast between these cultures centered primarily on differing views about God, the family, the state, and authority in religion. The Mormon Church taught that God was a being of flesh and bones, marriage was for time and eternity and might be polygamous, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Mormons had scriptures that were thought to be as authoritative as Christ’s teachings and they believed that the theocratic government of the Mormon Church had total authority in religion.
In their first forty-three years in Utah, the Mormons built an expensive temple but developed no free public school system. It was not until 1890 that the Gentile government in Salt Lake City was able to set up the first public school system in the state. Thus, one appreciates the work of the Protestants and Lutherans in particular, in establishing their schools and churches in this area.
The first Lutheran work to be done in the state of Utah was motivated by the fact that there was a large proportion of inhabitants of Scandinavian extraction in and near Salt Lake City. The Evangelical Lutheran Augustan Synod of North America seems to be the first Lutheran body active here. They began work in Salt Lake City, on July 18, 1882.
The Evangelical Lutheran Augustan Synod of North America felt a responsibility toward these people. Upon the recommendation of Dr. John Telen, the Augustan synod decided to undertake a mission in Utah. Dr. S. M. Hill responded to the call and came to Salt Lake City in 1882.
The first meetings were held in St. Mark’s Episcopal Schoolhouse, and on the July date previously mentioned, the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized with five charter members. In 1885, the church building located on the corner of 2nd South and 4th East was constructed at a cost of $7,000 under the direction of Dr. J. A. Krantz who served the congregation as pastor from 1885 to 1891. A Day School was organized and continued to function for many years.
Numerous preaching stations were maintained throughout Utah. The pastor in Salt Lake City served in such places as Sandy, Bingham Canyon, Park City, Ogden, Eureka, and Provo. The Zion Church radio program during the 1940s in an attempt at serving scattered Lutherans all over the state.
The United Evangelical Lutheran Church started mission work in Ogden, Logan, and Spanish Fork about the turn of the century, but turned the work over to other synods: The Ogden field to the Augustan Synod and the Spanish Fork field to the Synodical Conference. The United Evangelical Lutheran Church decided long ago to center its missionary efforts out here on one congregation, namely Tabor Lutheran Church, then located at First Avenue and ”E” Street, Salt Lake City, which indeed from the beginning was the main point of the mission. The purpose was to build up one strong congregation and otherwise, at least for that time being, to leave the rest of the field to others.
The first records of the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod date back to 1885 when some of the people who later helped establish St. John’s congregation attended a Lutheran church served by a Pastor Kuhr, located on 5th West and 7th South. The first Evangelical Lutheran St. John’s Church was organized by Rev. Otto Kuhr of the New York Ministerium of the General Council. 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 on September 9, 1894. Pastor Kuhr changed the name of his group to the Erste Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische St. Johnnes Germeinde. 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.
In 1893 the Rev. W. H. Behrens came to the field as a missionary for the Missouri Synod. Services were held in the Auditorium Building, 2nd West and 4th South and he lived at the St. Elmo Hotel, Main and 3rd South Street. In 1894 Pastor Behrens accepted a call to Tacoma, Washington. During his brief stay, records show that five were baptized, there were three private communions, and fourteen were communed in public services, while two couples were married.
Shortly, after Kuhr’s departure, Rev. Herman Hoffman (1898-1900), a General Council minister from Wisconsin, accepted a call to Salt Lake City. Since very few people attended 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 St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in early 1898. But on June 4th of that year, President Weiskotten of the Missouri Board of the General Council informed the congregation that the Synod’s support would cease after July 1. The congregation then turned to President Philip von Rohr of the Wisconsin Synod for possible financial help. But this request was denied in 1899.
Determined to water the mustard seed of Lutheranism, deacons H. Blank, William Redeker, and W. Allens, under the leadership of Pastor H. Hoffman, turned to the Missouri Synod for support, contacting Pastor Buehler of San Francisco, California, President of the Western District of the Missouri Synod.
Pastor Buehler inquired as to the doctrinal position of the congregation and its pastor and a visitation was made by a Pastor Obermeyer of St. Louis. After more correspondence with Professor A. L. Graebner of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and with Professor F. Pieper of Concordia Seminary and President of the Missouri Synod, Pastor Hoffman resigned, and a call was extended to Rev. J. R. Graebner who began the first work of the Missouri Synod in Utah in 1900. During his pastorate, which continued to 1904, the first property was purchased at 130 East 7th South Street for $2,100, and the congregation was incorporated in September 1903.
After the Rev. Graebner was called to Fort Wayne, Indiana, a chaplain stationed at Ft. Douglas, Rev. Paul Brockman, a member of the Wisconsin Synod, served the little congregation in the Norwegian church building until 1905.
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 on December 17, 1905. In 1906, a parsonage was erected for $1,500 through a loan by a Lutheran in Wisconsin. And in 1908 Pastor Lankow designed and built the Christian Day School.
The story goes that this first church, designed, and erected by a Mr. Warren for $5,000, was pointed out by guides in charge of tours, as the “tiniest church in· town.”
The mustard seed had a way of growing in spite of its original size and difficulties. The school that was organized in 1909 with twenty-three pupils in eight grades was taught by a Mr. H. Plueger (1909-1914). Then the student pastor Arnold Grumm (1914), who later became vice president of Synod. In 1915 student pastor, Lawrence Meyer, who later became Director of Publicity for Synod, taught the school, and from 1915 to 1918 a Mr. J. B. Dubberstein taught the grades. The school had become a flourishing institution but in the years that followed the work progressed slowly and although the congregation grew somewhat in numbers the parochial school lost ground and was closed in 1918.
When the Rev. W. J. Lankow accepted a call away from Salt Lake City he was succeeded by Rev. H. Ruphoff who served here for a short time, from 1913 to 1914. The student pastor Arnold Grumrn (1914-1915) served the flock for a year. He was followed by student pastor Lawrence Meyer in the school and pulpit. The congregation was once again served by a full-time pastor when Rev. William Schmoock accepted the church’s call. He served here from 1915 to 1918.
During World War I, the Rev. John C. Kaiser, who served as a chaplain in the United States Army during World War II, served as pastor from 1918 to 1922. These were trying years since many members were still German and the German language was still being used in the services.
The government required the congregation to use the English language in worship and in school. The school, then under Mr. B. J. Dubberstein (1915-1918) closed in 1918 because of the difficulty of switching from German to English. However, English services gave the struggling congregation many mission opportunities.
Pastor Kaiser was succeeded by the Rev. J. A. Schlichting (1922-1926) who came from Buhl, Idaho, to take over the work, which included English and German services each week. Progress was marked and the congregation, which was still receiving a subsidy to carry on its work, became self-sustaining.
The work in the Sunday School took a decided upswing so that the old school which was now being used as the parish hall, was enlarged to double its size. During this time, the Walther League (1922) and Mission Society we reorganized to assist the pastor in his mission activities and to appeal to the women who were more conversant with the English than the German. It was also during Pastor Schlichting’s ministry here that the congregation which had been a part of the California District was assigned to the new Colorado District.
The Rev. F. E. Schumann became the pastor of this church, St. John’s, in 1926, coming from Syracuse, New York, with his bride, who assisted him greatly during the nineteen years of his pastorate, which ended in 1945.
He served with marked success. During this period, the greatest progress was made at home, and in the establishment of new congregations and mission places. On December 1, 1929, Pastor Schumann took over the Icelandic Lutheran Church in Spanish Fork. On December 14, 1930, the Rev. Bunde Skov, became the first resident pastor in Provo, also taking charge of the congregation in Spanish Fork.
In February 1931, Pastor Schumann began work in Murray by instructing a family of ten in their home. This group grew so that in July 1931, public services were begun in the Methodist church building in Murray. In the meantime, work was also begun in Ogden where the Rev. E. C. Schmidt, a candidate from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis Missouri, took over as the first resident pastor in August 1931. Through radio broadcasts in 1927 and 1928 contacts were made in Logan. On August 29, 1932, Pastor John Feiertag, a graduate of Concordia Seminary came to Murray to take over that field as the first resident pastor.
Because of the aggressive mission activity of the church during this time an assistant, Rev. Paul Hansen was employed to serve the congregation for a time in its activity in Utah and western Wyoming. Later, Pastor Hansen served the Ogden Church until he entered the Army as a chaplain during World War II.
July 1935 marked the reopening of the Christian Day School that had been closed in 1918. Mr. Raymond Mueller of Seward, Nebraska, was called to serve as the teacher and principal. With this school the Christian Day School system of our church was again firmly established in Utah, and, at one time, schools were operating in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Murray, and Provo.
During the ministry of Pastor Schumann, a number of men were inspired to prepare themselves for the ministry. The first was the Rev. George Fisher, then the Rev. Carl Witte, the Rev. Carl Losser, the Rev. Clayton Hammel, and the Rev. Ben Bauer.
The year 1937 records the beginning of a vast building program. On December 19, 1937, the new St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was dedicated at 1030 South 500 East across from Liberty Park. The ground had been broken at this new site on June 24th of the same year.
In May 1941 under the pastorate of Rev. Allen Schuldheiss, who had taken over the Murray congregation on July 30, 1936, the Murray Methodist Church building was purchased then remodeled and dedicated on October 11, 1941, as Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. Pastor Paul G. Hansen had been called into the Ogden field in February 1938, after serving as Pastor Schumann’s assistant in Salt Lake City from August 1937. Besides the Ogden field, Pastor Hansen, as previously stated, served Logan, Evanston, Wyoming, and Rock Springs, Wyoming thus initiating the work in the western part of that state. On July 11, 1943, Pastor Hansen dedicated his newly built church in Ogden (St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church), on the corner of 28th and Quincy.
Pastor Charles M. Looker, a graduate of Concordia Seminary, Springfield, Illinois, was installed as pastor in Provo, on July 18, 1943. On April 16, 1944, he dedicated his newly constructed chapel in Provo, (St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church). Pastor Norbert Reschke was installed as pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Murray on October 10, 1943, and began active work in Tooele. 0n July 9, 1944 candidate Clemens Harms, of Scottsbluff Nebraska, was ordained in Salt Lake City at St. John’s to take over the Logan, Brigham City, and Preston, Idaho field, residing at Logan. Thus, the work in all the larger centers of the population was established and enlarged, congregations organized, and churches built.
In May 1945, Pastor Schumann accepted a Call to Pittsburgh and the Rev. R. E. Schultz became his successor. Under the leadership of Pastor Schultz, nine lots and a house were purchased in an unchurched area in the southeast section of the city. It was proposed to build both a church and a parochial school there. This became Redeemer Lutheran Church.
In February 1950, Aid Association for Lutherans agreed to loan $35,000 to St. John’s for their new school addition, with groundbreaking ceremonies following on March 12, 1950. The day school continued to serve the congregation until 1971 when it was closed. In 1984, St. John’s offered its educational facility to Salt Lake Lutheran High School for eight years, until the high school moved to its own campus at 4120 South 900 East.
Since Pastor Schulz, there have been six pastors called to serve St. John’s congregation: Pastor I. Brandt (1953-1958), Pastor C. Stockamp (1958-1967), Pastor I. Meinzen (1968-1975), Pastor R. J. Schrank (1976-1993), Pastor J. Mau (1994-1999), Pastor B. Lindemood (2000-2013), and Pastor H. Malone (2013- present).
St. John’s Community Child Development Center (CCDC) was established by the congregation in 1998 under the direction of Pastor Jon Mau. The Sudanese Ministry began in 1997 when 3 young Sudanese men came to the church looking for help with the needs of the newly arrived Sudanese refugees.
Under the direction of Pastor Malone, both the CCDC and the Sudanese Ministry continue. The CCDC has been providing preeminent childcare and early childhood education to Salt Lake City for over two decades and has grown to four locations, bringing Jesus into the lives of over 300 families.
The Sudanese ministry has grown to include mission trips to South Sudan to plant Lutheran Churches and train native Sudanese church leaders. One member of the congregation in South Sudan was trained and ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sudan (ELCS) to serve the Lutheran congregations in that area. One local member of St. John’s Sudanese Ministry is currently completing his education and training under the mentorship of Pastor Malone to become an ordained LCMS Pastor to Salt Lake’s Sudanese congregation.
The Sudanese ministry in Akobo continues. Pastor Malone, representing St. John’s, taught the Book of St. John at the Sudanese Seminary in Yambio for two weeks in 2018 as part of the Lutheran Heritage Seminary Education program. St. John’s Sudanese Ministry supported the Akobo mission ministry by supplying funds to rebuild their church in war-torn South Sudan and continued active involvement with Pastor Stevens and his refugee camp mission outreach program.
St. John’s LCMS continues its gospel ministry of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ to individuals, families, and the community into this new millennium.
From these humble beginnings, St. John’s is the mother or grandmother congregation of Utah LCMS churches in:
- St. Mark’s, Provo (1931-2019)
- St. Paul’s, Ogden (1940)
- Christ, Murray (1941)
- Trinity, Layton (1949-2010)
- Redeemer, Salt Lake City (1950)
- First Lutheran, Tooele (1953)
- Cross of Christ, Bountiful (1958)
- Calvary, Midvale (1959-1970)
- Our Savior, Vernal (1960)
- Holy Trinity, Logan (1962)
- Faith, Roosevelt (1974-1994)
- Trinity, Cedar City (1976)
- Good Shepherd, Richfield (1977)
- Trinity, St. George ( 1978)
- Grace, Sandy out of Christ (1982)
- Zion, Kanab out of Richfield (1997)
- Holy Trinity, Riverton out of Grace (2009)
This history has been produced by:
Excerpts from “Utah Centennial History of Protestant Churches”, Westminster College, and “Faith to Move Mountains” by Lyle Schaefer, 1969.
Based on historical research by Pastor R. J. Schrank, 1998, and 2015.
Compiled by Susan Roberts, 2020