A History of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Thurmont.
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A HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
1760 - 2018
The Monocacy Congregation
The first Lutherans in Maryland were Swedes who came in 1645, 115 years before our Church was founded, and settled in the present-day Cecil County. They succeeded in building a church in 1649, but without regular pastors and with the defeat of Sweden in the New World venture, the congregation passed out of existence.
The turn of the century saw an increasing number of Germans coming to the New World. At first, Pennsylvania authorities had prohibited colonization west of the Susquehanna River, but with the influx to the Pennsylvania colony in 1710, the westward push had begun. In time these German Lutherans spilled across the Susquehanna into Maryland and Virginia. Many stopped in Maryland along the banks of the Monocacy River in Frederick County, near the present Creagerstown, and in time a small village was settled. The first permanent Lutheran congregation in Maryland was founded there in 1732 and was known as the Monocacy Congregation.
Fredericktown, to the south of Monocacy, was laid out in 1745. The newer town began to grow and, with its growth, the village of Monocacy declined. Then, too, Maryland began filling up. Between 1748 and 1753, 2,800 Palatines from Germany came to Maryland.
Meanwhile, Monocacy Congregation suffered from lack of leadership just as the Swedish church had. Reverend Michael Schlatter and Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, a church organizer now considered to be the Patriarch of American Lutheranism, visited the church in 1747 to settle differences in the Monocacy church, and to preach and administer the Sacraments. Muhlenberg drew up the first constitution for both the Monocacy and Frederick churches.
The village of Monocacy dwindled until about 1760, then it was abandoned altogether as the village of Creagerstown was established on higher ground. The Monocacy Congregation records were transferred to the Frederick church. Although there are no existent records, there is the possibility that some of the scattered members of the Monocacy congregation eventually found their way into the Apple’s Church, founded in 1760, to the north of present-day Thurmont.
The Apple’s Church
1760 – 1857
Apple’s Church has always been accepted by St. John’s Lutheran Church of Thurmont as its mother church, and a daughter of the Monocacy Congregation. The Apple’s Church was organized about 1760, and the Lutheran and Reformed Congregations shared its ownership.
Peter Apple (Apfel), from whom the church derived its name, arrived from Germany in 1717. Not later than 1729 the family moved to Maryland and settled on the farm just east of the present Apple’s stone church. Mr. Apple gave his son-in-law a farm on which was built one of his first log houses. In this house, about 1750, the first worship services were held. A great influx of Germans had arrived by this time and they, together with the divided Monocacy Congregation, joined those worshipping in the log house.
Peter Apple, realizing the urgent need for an organized congregation, deeded an acre of land, March 19, 1760, to Matthias Ambrose, Jacob Matthews and Jacob Ambrose, trustees, for the use of a church, schoolhouse and cemetery. The schoolmaster taught on weekdays and conducted worship services on Sundays. The first church building was erected in 1770 and Jacob Weymer became the first Reformed minister, while Philip Mathews, one of Peter Apple’s grandsons, was very likely the first Lutheran pastor.
The congregation enjoyed a steady growth in membership as well as in spiritual edification. The church building had been enlarged and later repaired, but the time soon came when a new and larger structure was needed. The cornerstone of the original stone church was inscribed, April 13, 1826. From the beginning, many of the members traveled far distances through mountains to attend services. In early years, they carried guns for protection against “marauding Indians and wild beasts.” The sermons were preached solely in German until 1830 and then alternated for a few years with English. Finally English was adopted for services.
In this period from 1770 to 1857, Mechanicstown (Thurmont) grew in population to such an extent that the Lutherans felt the need of building a church closer to their membership. Consequently, in 1857, the Lutheran congregation left the Apple’s Church.
The Lutheran Ministers who served the congregation at Apple’s were:
Rev. D. F. Schaffer (Shafer)
Rev. A. M. F. Haas
Rev. J. G. Grubb
Rev. Michael Wachter
Rev. S. W. Harkey
Rev. Reuben Weiser
Rev. J. J. Remensnyder
Rev. J. Richards
Rev. G. W. Anderson, 1853-1856
Rev. William Hunt, 1856-1861
St. John’s Lutheran Church of Thurmont (Mechanicstown)
1858 - 2010
Mechanicstown, founded in 1751, was by the turn of the century a village of importance. The United Brethren Church had already been dedicated on December 11, 1831. The Lutheran and Reformed Congregations were still worshipping at Apple’s church as late as 1857; however, the Lutherans had long considered the feasibility of moving to town. Subsequently, during the pastorate of Rev. William Hunt, they built a splendid structure on our present location and dedicated the church in the spring of 1858.
The Mechanicstown Lutheran Church was of brick and stone and the peak of the roof was fifty feet high and supported an imposing tower of thirty feet located on top of the front gable. The main entrance was centered in the front gable of the church and opened directly into the narthex. The nave of the church contained three rows of pews. The chancel rail spanned the width of the center pews and a short rail was placed at both ends, directly in front of the “amen” corners. There was no altar in this church initially.
The pulpit was centered in back of the chancel railing. The baptismal font was simply an ordinary bowl which the pastor held in his hand. Later, an elaborate font was added, which contained a marble basin supplied by Peter N. Hammaker, an active councilman. The font used in our church today contains the original marble basin. The pews were constructed with straight backs and seats with a narrow cap piece on top. Midway down the main aisles, two large ornate bowl-type stoves were recessed in the side row of pews.
The choir sang from the balcony, which was built over the front entrance and was entered by way of winding stairs. The first organ was a melodeon and was known as “old Mozart.” It was used for 18 years before an organ was installed. The lighting consisted of two large octagonal oil-burning chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. Wall bracket lamps were used on the side walls and in the balcony.
The Rev. William Hunt had begun his pastorate at Apple’s in 1856 and accompanied the 215 members from Apple’s Church to Mechanicstown; apparently, the new church project was his foremost desire. Pastor Hunt shepherded the Mechanicstown congregation until his resignation in 1861.
The Rev. Samuel Curtis (1862-1866) succeeded Pastor Hunt. The new church was now completed and well-organized. A new constitution was adopted, and the indebtedness of the church considerably reduced. Pastor Curtis resigned in 1866.
The Rev. John Unruh (1866-1871) became our next pastor. A joint council of the Mechanicstown charge was organized which included the Utica, Creagerstown, and Bethel charges. Meetings were held quarterly, with the annual elections held at the Creagerstown charge.
Pastor Unruh tendered his resignation in 1871. The Rev. John J. Summers (1871-1877) accepted our call. Pastor Summers’ pastorate in a four-parish charge was a strenuous assignment, and even though his parishioners were faithful and attentive and the relationship between pastor and people good, certain circumstances occurred which led to his resignation in 1877.
At a special session of the council in December 1876, a committee was appointed to procure a new parsonage, which resulted in the moving of the parsonage to Lewistown. The Utica charge had now withdrawn, and the Creagerstown and Bethel charges also withdrew from the council. The Mechanicstown church made an alliance with the Rocky Ridge congregation, thus creating a two-parish charge.
A call was extended to the Rev. W. C. Wire (1877-1887) and he accepted. During his term many improvements were made: the Sunday school room was enlarged; a new pulpit and chancel, a reading desk, a baptismal font, and new windows were installed; the grounds in front of the church were improved, and a fence was erected. Various societies were organized, among them the Mite Society and the Missionary Society. Pastor Wire resigned in 1887. At the time of his departure, our Sunday school had 250 members. There was a positive balance in the Church treasury and no indebtedness.
On September 18, 1880, a congregational meeting was held for the purpose of organizing a corporate body under the Act of General Assembly of Maryland of 1868. The title was changed to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Thurmont when, in 1894, the name of the town was changed from Mechanicstown to Thurmont.
The Rev. J. H. Barb, D.D. (1887-1896) began his pastorate with St. John’s on November 17, 1887, and was one of the most able pastors in our church’s history. In 1889, the Mechanicstown membership was growing and numbered 324. In July 1889, a publication entitled “Church and Home” was published as a Lutheran Congregational Monthly. At the time of Pastor Barb’s resignation in 1896, our congregation had a membership of 402.
Following the resignation of Pastor Barb, there were twenty-two applicants to fill the vacancy. The congregation extended a call to the Rev. Arthur Bredenbeck (1897-1898).
The Rev. W. S. Metzger (1899-1903) entered his pastoral work here in May 1899. The great depression of 1890 was still fresh in the minds of church members who were experiencing financial difficulties. Pastor Metzger worked patiently to liquidate a small indebtedness with which the congregation had been encumbered prior to his arrival. Much was accomplished despite adverse conditions. The membership increased, repairs were made to the church roof, the indebtedness was reduced, and a new service hymnal was adopted. In addition, St. Mark’s of Sabillasville was now being served from Thurmont. Rev. Metzger tendered his resignation effective 1903.
The Rev. Charles E. Keller, D.D. (1903-1906) served our congregation as supply pastor for three years. On February 25, 1906, the council was called into special session to hear a committee representing the Mite Society. They presented the prospects of rebuilding or remodeling the original church building. This was the beginning of the remodeled church. Pastor Keller resigned on March 21, 1906.
The Rev. Martin Luther Beard (1906-1915) became our pastor in 1906 and moved his family into the parsonage directly across the street from the church. After committees were appointed, plans presented, and finances considered, finally the congregation decided to remodel the existing structure and authorized the council to proceed with the work. The remodeling program started immediately after Easter, 1909.
Arrangements were made for holding services in Town Hall while the remodeling was done, and the furniture was stored in the basement of the fire hail. The church was rededicated on Sunday, September 4, 1910. While the church was only remodeled, for all practical purposes it was virtually a new structure.
A completely new front was added and a recessed chancel, a new chancel rail, and a choir loft were installed. The pipe organ had been moved to the side, and a pastor’s study and choir room were added. Elevated pews improved the rear of the church, and new windows, carpeting, pews, frescoing, lighting, heating, and an arched ceiling gave a new look. In the basement, the main Sunday school room was enlarged. Many other improvements were made, all of which resulted in a beautiful church.
The church building was now completed, but the church was in need of a parsonage. An inquiry was made in hopes of obtaining the Groff property. However, the council deemed it unwise to make the purchase at that time. Pastor Beard purchased the property and granted the council the option of purchasing it for use as the parsonage any time they so desired. He asked only the same price he had paid. The council paid Pastor Beard $125 per year for use of the parsonage.
The church constitution was again revised in 1908 and adopted by the congregation in December 1909. In 1916, Pastor Beard was stricken while visiting friends and died within a few minutes. His untimely death was a shock to the congregation. He was a faithful and devoted servant of God.
A call was then extended to the Rev. W. C. Waltemyer (1916-1923). The Beard property was purchased and the deed was received on December 5, 1917, the amount of remuneration having been $2,800. After necessary repairs were made, the Waltemyers moved into the parsonage in 1917. World War I was now being fought and Pastor Waltemyer tendered his resignation in order that he could serve as a chaplain in the U. S. Army. The council refused to accept it and issued him a leave of absence. Mrs. Waltemyer and the children were permitted to remain in the parsonage.
The Rev. Dr. A. R. Wentz of the Gettysburg Seminary served as our supply pastor during Pastor Waltemyer’s absence. In 1919 Pastor Waltemyer returned from military service. He requested to be relieved of his duties effective January 1, 1923. The Rev. James A. Brosius (1923-1927) came to us in 1923 and tendered his resignation effective May 1, 1927.
The aftermath of World War I was still keenly felt in the effect that it had on the economy of our country. The ravages of the years were beginning to show without and within. For some time we experienced deficits in our congregational finances. More than one-third of the membership was unable to meet its obligations. It was during this period that the Rev. Charles H. Corbett (1928-1956 Retired) came to us from Baltimore. He was installed on January 15, 1928.
Not long after Pastor Corbett began his ministry with us, it was evident he would give generously of himself; this was true of his substance as well. Realizing the financial difficulties encountered by our members during these troubled years, Pastor Corbett voted himself a $200 reduction in his annual salary, which was already meager. The congregation was deeply touched.
On January 1, 1935, our confirmed membership had reached 256, and the church indebtedness had been cleared. The indebtedness on the new organ that had been purchased several years prior to 1935 was also eliminated. Every-member canvasses were being conducted annually and with great success.
In honor of the tenth anniversary of Pastor Corbett’s ministry in Thurmont, special services were held in 1937. During this year, the exterior of the church was painted by several laymen of the church, since regular contractors could not be engaged. The work was done at a cost of $370 – and by men over 70 years old at the time.
The twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the United Lutheran Church in America was observed in our congregation in 1938. Among the many worthwhile objectives involved in this observance were the revitalization of a new interest in church attendance, the addition of new members, and the raising of funds for church extension as well as the continuation of the present program.
It was felt necessary in 1939 to provide additional space for our Sunday school, and plans for its expansion and financing were approved by the congregation on May 10, 1939. The council was authorized to erect an educational building, adding it to the west end of the church building, at a cost not in excess of $9,000. The amount was exceeded and further approval by the congregation was necessary. The new addition was dedicated on November 5, 1939. Four additional classrooms for the Beginners, Primary and Junior Departments of the Sunday school were gained through this two-story brick addition which also included a basement. The kitchen was also renovated and re-equipped.
The Carillon tower chimes and amplifying system, donated in memory of Barbara Ellen and Grayson Curtis Weddle by their children, were gifts gratefully received and installed in 1940. The Westminster Chime Clock was installed in 1942, from an anonymous donor. After the death of Miss Linnie McGuigan, it was determined that she had provided that gift. The church nave, narthexes, and chancel were repainted in 1944. New lights and carpeting were also installed. The frescoing in the chancel and the nave was done by Robert J. Welsmann of Baltimore.
Pastor Corbett had served our congregation just twenty days less than 29 years when we learned of his intention to resign as an active pastor. The resignation was accepted with great regret and became effective November 31, 1956. In honor of his many faithful years of service, the congregation elected Pastor Corbett our Pastor Emeritus. The Corbetts retired to Gettysburg and later to Florida. A golden Jubilee Service celebrating the 50th anniversary of his installation as Pastor of St. John’s Church was held January 13, 1978, at St. John’s. Pastor Corbett passed away on May 31, 1984 and Mrs. Corbett on March 22, 1985, after which the congregation began planning memorials for the Corbetts.
The Rev. Eugene R. McVicker (1956-1959) became our pastor on November 18, 1956. At a congregational meeting held on February 4, 1958, a revised constitution was approved for our congregation. Among its provisions were that the name of our church be changed to St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church and that the Church Council be increased from eight to twelve members.
At a special meeting of the council on April 26, 1959, Pastor McVicker announced his intentions to resign in order that he might take up duties in a specialized field. Even before his arrival in our midst, Pastor McVicker had been taking special training to work with deaf individuals. Gallaudet College, the only college in our country that specializes in teaching the deaf, had requested that Pastor McVicker serve as the Professor of Religious Education.
During the following six months, the Rev. Carey A. Moore, Jr., served as supply pastor.
The Rev. William E. Ervin, Jr., (1960-1970) arrived on May 1, 1960, to take up his duties as our new pastor. A young man just recently married, Pastor Ervin had been out of Seminary only two years. Through the pastorate of Pastor Ervin, many activities and improvements took place.
During our bicentennial year in 1960, extensive work was done to modernize the parsonage, including brick casing at an approximate cost of $6,000. The proposed budget for that year was $15,114. Baptized (children and adult) members numbered 542, and confirmed (adult members) 430. Our 200th anniversary was commemorated with a great deal of celebration and fellowship. In this week of activities many members gave unselfishly of their time and talents for this special event in our church. Mr. Howard Damuth and Mr. S. E. Barnhart co-chaired the event committee.
The new Maryland Synod of The Lutheran Church in America was organized in September 1962, and Pastor Ervin and Mr. L. K. Thompson attended. During this time our average Sunday morning attendance was 170, and the proposed yearly budget was $22,281.
A special congregational meeting in September 1964 voted to restore the possessive “s” to the official name of the church. At the same meeting, it was decided to renovate the interior of the church. This general redecoration took place in the church auditorium with repainting, decorative artwork, and ventilation done by the Roth Brothers at a cost of approximately $4,500. Additional improvements included the erection of a planter in front of the church with a modern, lighted bulletin board, a gift from the Women of the Church.
On Father’s Day, June 20, 1965, St. John’s was honored to have President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson attend the morning worship service.
The year 1965 also saw the dedication of the Corbett Chapel, along with the new Schulmerich Carillon, which increased our inspiration in the field of worship and music over the years. A public address system was given to the church, and repairs carried out included the blacktopping of the driveway and parking lot, insulation of the church building, and white opal glass placed in the lanterns of the sanctuary.
During the later part of the 1960’s, the Pastor’s study was moved to a large room in the northwest corner of the Education Building on the second floor, along with the secretary’s office.
Women of the Church facilitated extensive remodeling, and modernization of the kitchen occurred in 1967, including the installation of new sinks, birch cabinets, and Formica tops. The project cost $1,150.
Both Pastor and Mrs. Ervin shared a deep interest in young children; with their help and guidance, St. John’s Christian Kindergarten became a reality.
Reconditioning and repainting of the exterior of our church occurred in 1969 at a cost of $1,762. That same year, the basement room of the church received new lighting, a dropped suspended ceiling, and wall paneling.
After a ten-year stay at St. John’s, Pastor Ervin resigned in 1970. Much had been accomplished and again we felt a loss. During the nine-month interval, the Rev C. Leighton King served as Vice Pastor.
The Rev. Frederick W. Simmel (1971-1975) arrived with his wife, Charlene, and family to assume his ministry at St. John’s in June 1971. That year, our proposed budget was $25,993, with the pastor’s salary set at $5,940. With the arrival of our new minister, the parsonage received minor renovations.
St. John’s was honored to have the Corbetts visit with us for the celebration of Pastor Corbett’s fifty years in the ministry.
Under Pastor Simmel’s pastorate, the following renovations took place during 1973 at an estimated cost of $11,000: twenty storm windows were installed, the unused door of the Fellowship Room was bricked and a large storage cabinet was constructed in its place, and five storage cabinets were installed in the Sunday Church School. A storage closet, shelves, bulletin board, and blackboard were built in the Nursery, paneling added half way up the wall, and an area rug purchased for that room.
The pastor’s study and other areas around the church were paneled, and the Fellowship Room and other areas painted. Communion and altar storage cabinets were built in the sacristy. Renovations to the Chapel included paneling the wall in the front of the church, painting the other three sides, installing an acoustic ceiling, and adding a rug. This work was completed and dedicated in September 1973.
Pastor Simmel’s stay with St. John’s was very short; he resigned in April 1975, and again we were without a minister.
Dr. Elwood S. Falkenstein served as our Vice Pastor for a period of seven months.
Catoctin Lutheran Parish was established on August 10, 1975. This consisted of St. John’s and St. Mark’s, of Sabillasville, forming a joint Parish Council. Under this structure, each congregation retained its corporate identity, government, and mode of operation. The purpose of this arrangement was to plan for and implement those areas of joint concern and needs. The membership of this council was composed of six council members from St. John’s and three from St. Mark’s. Confirmation instruction, Holy Week services, and annual weekend retreats were some of the activities shared by the Parish.
Average Sunday school attendance during our 215th anniversary in 1975 was 65 members, with 25 in the adult class and 40 in the children’s classes.
A warm welcome was extended to the Rev. G. Randall Neubauer (1975-1984) along with his wife, Seminarian Beth Spitzner Neubauer. Upon graduation from seminary and her ordination into the Lutheran Ministry, Pastor Beth became our co-pastor (1976-1981). Thus a new event took place in our church history, a husband and wife team ministry.
Necessary renovations to the interior of the parsonage amounted to approximately $5,000. The Women of the Church contributed to this project by providing appliances.
In order to protect the beauty of our church’s windows, installation of protective glass on the stained glass above each of the front entrance doors and the large stained glass window facing the street took place in 1977. Additional maintenance was performed on the other stained glass windows including painting and straightening. This project was done by Townley Stained Glass Studios of Hagerstown at a cost of $4,517.
That same year an old dream and a new vision became a reality. A portion of the attic space was converted into one large room on the third floor of our building. Only the center portion was converted, permitting normal ceiling height. This still allowed storage space on each side. A fire escape was also added at this time. The room provided a more private and suitable location for pastoral counseling, adult bible classes, committee and council meetings. With furnishings, the approximate cost of this conversion was $10,000. In 1978, a new revision of St. John’s Constitution and Bylaws were approved.
A special congregational meeting approved the purchase of the new Lutheran Book of Worship. It was noted that the Worship and Music Committee would help to plan the services; no longer would this be strictly the pastor’s responsibility. Much conflict arose. Consent was given for the purchase of the new hymnals and in May 1979, they became part of our worship service. Although not officially recorded, information available indicates that weekly communion was instituted around this time, with support from the church council and in accordance with the L.C.A. 1978 adopted statement of Communion Practices. This change in local practice saw the rise of a growing conflict within the congregation.
With the construction of their new home in 1979, the Neubauers moved from the parsonage, which was then rented. That same year repairs were made to the parapet on the church tower by James Hauver of Smithsburg at a price of $2,855.
As we entered our next decade the accepted budget was $51,666.16. Active members numbered 295.
Because of furnace failure occurring on many occasions, our members agreed to proceed with replacing the heating system in 1981. This was done by Phoenix Oil Company for $11,400.
Catoctin Lutheran Parish was dissolved and separation occurred on August 16, 1981. This ended the joint sharing of pastors, and St. Mark’s was successful in their call for a part-time minister. Although this action saddened many, as St. Mark’s had been part of us from the turn of the century, we were very happy for their ministry. This same year, Pastor Beth Neubauer resigned to accept a position at Gettysburg College.
For a short time (1982-1983) an Intern Pastor, Oble Yoder, from Gettysburg Seminary, was assigned to train in our congregation. Pastor Randy Neubauer resigned August 1984, and Vice Pastor James B. Slingluff came to us in September 1984.
A new standing-seam roof was put on the parsonage in 1985 by Hartman Roofing, Inc. of Frederick at a cost of $5,500. New sidewalks around the church building were also installed this year. Plans are now underway for the repairs, renovations, repainting, and carpeting of the interior of the church building. The congregation approved Pavlantos of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, ‘to undertake this project during our Anniversary Year at an estimate of $35,000.’
With a history that dates to 1760, we are one of the few pre-Revolutionary period churches, having been founded 16 years before the Declaration of Independence. Being an old church, we are rich in history and tradition. The 225th Anniversary booklet’s history section concludes with the words, “In leaving our legacy we look toward the future; to the youth, we offer a challenge.”
In 1987, the Rev. William Peacock was called to be our pastor. Pastor Peacock, his wife Gretchen, and their children, Karl, Angie, William, and Benjamin moved into the parsonage. The Peacocks became very involved in the life of the church. Pastor Peacock initiated a long-range planning process for the church which focused our attention on several key areas important for church growth. A group was formed that studied how we were being led by God to serve the people of Thurmont and the people of the world. This work led to the creation of a second service on Saturday night that was more contemporary than the service on Sunday morning. Processes were also initiated to begin serious consideration of how the physical space we were using in the church limited the growth of the Saint John’s Christian Preschool, Sunday school, and other important church ministries. During this time the church sound system was upgraded, a short-range wireless broadcasting system was installed for the hearing impaired and the services were recorded for shut-ins. Some physical improvements included work to reseal the brick exterior of the church, clean the stain glass windows and install louvered windows to increase airflow. Steve Jones, a new member of Saint John’s, entered the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg. During the years Pastor Peacock served at Saint John’s, his wife Gretchen took a particular interest in Christian Education and helped facilitate excellent Sunday school and Vacation Bible School learning opportunities for the Youth of St. John’s. Pastor Peacock served Saint John’s until 1992, when he left to take a call in the New York City area.
The church was without a full-time Pastor for several years. In 1994, the Rev. Arlene Favreau was called. Pastor Favreau was the last pastor to live in the parsonage. Her tenure at St. John’s lasted only nine months and we were again without a Pastor. In 1995 the Rev. Phillip Huber was beginning a consulting practice called Transforming Ministry Associates. As the focus of this practice was to help churches revision their future, a half-time call at St. John's was an opportunity for Pastor Huber to continue his consulting practice and put some of his ideas to work. St. John's was eager to continue long-range planning initiated by Pastor Peacock, so this arrangement worked out very well. After many months of prayerful consideration, we began to implement many of the ideas generated through this innovative means of guided introspection. A special focus on families with young children was one of the areas where ministry was oriented over the next several years. Likewise, there was a focus on congregational care and support. During this time we received word that a large contribution towards the construction of an expansion of the church was being made by Albert and Beulah Zentz, long-time members of the congregation. The new addition would allow for new rooms for the Christian Preschool, including new office space, a large indoor play area in the basement, and a new outdoor fenced play area. The older preschool room was upgraded and a new island put in with overhead cabinets. The second floor of the new addition contained two new Sunday school rooms and a large choir/multi-purpose meeting room, along with new bathrooms on every level. Construction on the building was completed in 1999. The church took out a loan of $219,000 to cover the remaining cost of construction.
In 1995, the Saturday night contemporary service was moved to late on Sunday mornings. This service, accompanied on the piano by Robert Freed who has been the contemporary musician since the early 1990s, was led by a vocal team and was meant to be more informal and free-flowing than the traditional worship service.
During this period a major new ministry called the Thurmont Thespians was initiated by Beth and Spence Watson. This group offers a free summer music workshop to children and teens who would like to learn all aspects of putting on a live show. Since the first show in 1999, hundreds of children and teens have been part of Thurmont Thespian productions. The company, which now stages four shows annually, has competed in regional theatre festivals and been recognized for their contribution to the arts in Fredrick County and Maryland. Bonnie Weaver was one member of St. John’s who was very involved acting and directing with the Thurmont Thespians. Bonnie felt called to enter the seminary and is now an ordained Lutheran Pastor serving in North Dakota.
While much of the energy of the church leadership was devoted to the building projects in the late 1990s, the church did see a rise in membership and ministries during this period.
During his time at St. John’s, Pastor Huber brought in several seminarians who were interested in his approach to church renewal. Ray Branstetter worked at St. John’s for a period of about 9 months during his vicarage year. Ray started several programs aimed at attracting people who were unchurched and making the gospel approachable. Some of these programs were combined with an innovative Saturday night worship service. Judy Moller, also a seminarian, worked with Pastor Huber during this time and became familiar with the processes being employed to have churches revision their future. Pastor Huber would host monthly get-togethers at his farmhouse in Gettysburg with a group called the Vision team and others from the Seminary or otherwise involved in the work of Transforming Ministries. The Vision team was not focused on the day-to-day dealings of the church; that role was left to the church council. Rather, the Vision team functioned as an ad-hoc team of people who felt called to the particular role of discerning God’s plan for Saint John’s. This team would take part in meetings throughout the synod at churches involved in similar re-visioning efforts.
As Pastor Huber wished to move on, having spent the better part of three years at Saint John’s working with the church council, the vision team, and the congregation, the time had come to call a new pastor. Given the fact that Judy Moller was going to be looking for her first call upon her graduation from Seminary and we had developed a great working relationship with her, Judy was called to be our full-time pastor in the summer of 1998. In 1999, air conditioning was installed throughout the church and the church’s website – www.saintjohnlutheran.org – went online.
Pastor Moller brought an eagerness and enthusiasm to her first call. She felt strongly about Christian Education, Youth, and Congregational Care. She was active in the Thurmont Ministerium and helped to bring the Food Bank to St. John’s when it needed a new home. “Pastor Judy” loved working with teens and oversaw a vibrant Youth Ministry program. In 2004 Pastor Moller left St. John’s to work with a new church start in Delaware.
From 2004 until 2007 the church was without a full-time pastor. The church continued to serve the community – especially with the Christian Preschool’s outreach to young children, Vacation Bible School programs for kindergarten and grade school children, and the Thurmont Thespians outreach to children and teens. Major improvements to the church included removing of the slate roof and installation of a new shingle roof, upgrades to the parsonage which is being rented, installation of Internet connectivity, and improvements to the fellowship hall.
In 2007 St. John’s called the Rev. Craig Moorman to a half-time ministry position. Pastor Moorman wanted to explore the opportunity of being bi-vocational, as he had previous experience as an architect and a builder. The call at St. John’s offered other opportunities for both Pastor Moorman and St. John’s, as among Pastor Moorman’s passions was re-visioning the church to discern and adhere to God’s mission. The church organizational leadership was streamlined during Pastor’s tenure to become more focused while seeking to involve more of the congregation in ministry. Biblical education, prayer, and Christian community where all areas of interests for Pastor Moorman, and he challenged the congregation to explore its role in Thurmont and the world and to listen for God’s call.
We were privileged to get to know Pastor’s wife, Nancy, and their large family of five children Katherine, Sarah, Luke, Jacob and Caleb. They live on a small farm in Mt. Airy, Maryland and opened their home up many times to host youth gatherings that included singing and bonfires. Pastor Moorman was a dynamic preacher and on occasion used elements of video, audio, and theatrical presentation to deliver the message. Many of these messages were recorded and played on a weekly Sunday morning radio program aired on WTHU in Thurmont and made available on the church website. During Pastor Moorman’s tenure, St. John’s experienced growth in its Sunday school classes, especially those for adults. A large group of adults participated in the Alpha program in 2009. Due in part to changes in the ELCA, Pastor Moorman resigned his call in July of 2010.
In August of 2010 a major refinishing of the Sanctuary was completed as ceiling vents were removed, plaster surfaces were refinished, and fresh paint was applied to the ceiling and walls.
For the past 250 years God has provided a community of faith call St. John’s Lutheran Church in Thurmont, Maryland. On the shoulders of the saints who have answered God’s call, the current worshipping community of St. John’s continues to gather – seeking to do God’s will and praising God’s name as it celebrates its rich history, looks to the future and says, “We are Loved by God to Love Others.”