A History of St. John Lutheran Church
As with most Lutheran churches in the upper Midwest, this church was born before there was a church building or a resident pastor. People had been drawn to this area to harvest the pines, but the greatest influx of people came when the railroad was built, when land became available for a low down payment and low monthly payments. The railroad also made it possible for the Rev. D. Markworth to travel to this area from Gillett, for former members of this parish had asked him to come north to serve their spiritual needs. He did this from 1911 to 1919. The church first met in the homes of members, and then moved to the schoolhouse for the services. In 1919, with leadership from the District Mission Board, a call was issued to a graduate from the St. Louis Seminary. Rev. John Nau was installed as the first resident pastor, and on August 30, 1919, the church was organized and chartered.
There were eight families in this newly organized church, but still there was no building or parsonage. Pastor Nau was engaged to a young lady from Ohio, but he couldn’t get married or bring her until they had a home to live in. Thus the first priority was a parsonage. Members cut the timber, had it milled, and then built the home on a portion of the five lots they had purchased in the village. They had no money for siding, so it stood many years wrapped in tarpaper. In 1920, the "Coleville" school was no longer needed, and the congregation purchased it and moved and converted it into a church. This served the parish until 1970, when the present church was built on land donated by Mike and Bernice Maloney. The Church Extension Fund provided the capital so this new structure could be built, but the total cost could not exceed $60,000.00. This structure was dedicated on August 30, 1970. The idea for a new church, located next to the highway, was first advanced during the pastorate of Rev. Loren Trapp in January of 1969, but lack of funds in the Extension Fund delayed this until Pastor Leslie Weerts shepherded this flock. At the time the church was built there were 153 communicant members and 205 souls.
From its birth until 1955, St. John Lutheran Church had its own resident pastor. Pastor Nau took a call to a rural Wausau parish in 1923. Another Seminary graduate, Richard Rohlfing, then came to Townsend, but after three years he was called to Concordia College, River Forest, as the band director and instructor in the music department. During the next ten years Rev. H.L. Busing served God’s people here. In 1936, Rev. Gustave Karpinsky was assigned to this parish, but left in1942, to serve as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army. For nearly four years an interim pastor, the Rev. Otto Schreiber of Suring, served this congregation. It was only after the war, in 1945, that a fulltime pastor could again take over as Servant of the Word. Rev. E. Malueg served this northern parish for seven years. Changes in the economy, and in the church, brought on a decline of membership. Once again, from 1952 until 1955, an interim pastor who also served two rural parishes near Gillett, the Rev. J.R. Westphal, served this congregation.
Finally, in 1955, a dual parish was created with St. John Lutheran Church of Laona. The parsonage in Townsend was sold, as a newer parsonage existed in Laona. Those who served both parishes were Pastors Richard Tremain, Daniel Ahrens, Loren Trapp, Leslie Weerts, Richard Dannenbring, and Keith Brutlag. During Pastor Brutlag’s ministry a mission congregation was started at Crandon, and to help serve God’s people here, Vicar Larry Harvala was assigned to this parish, with Pastor Brutlag as supervisor. A study was conducted by the congregation in 1979, which led to a decision to go on their own and call their own pastor. They also voted to build an addition to the existing structure - a fellowship hall, kitchen, and downstairs classrooms. This new addition was dedicated on April 30, 1980.
Once again a new, but older, seminarian was assigned to this church. Pastor Gerald Behling arrived in March of 1980, serving first as vicar, and then being ordained and installed as Pastor on September 20, 1980. Pastor Behling's outgoing personality proved to be a vehicle of the Lord's grace and invitation especially to visiting attendees from downstate and northern Illinois, who came to Townsend to recreate and enjoy God's Country. Summers became the best attended months, and three, then four services per week proved necessary. Pastor Behling will always be remembered for his heartfelt greeting, "Peace and joy to you this day!" Congregation rolls increased to over 750 baptized.
At a special congregational meeting on January 25, 1988, the members felt that the parish had grown to such an extent that another servant of our Lord was needed to carry out ministry at St. John. It was resolved to call a Minister of Christian Education, Youth and Music. It was acknowledged that it would be difficult to find someone who could cover these three areas, but God found the person we needed in Mr. Scott P. Wycherley, who had been serving in Greenbelt, Maryland. He was installed in July of 1988, and continues his service among us. When Pastor Behling retired in October of 1993, God in His grace provided for His people the Rev. Gary C. Bratz.
Pastor Bratz brought over thirty fresh ideas to the ministry in Townsend including prayer partners, mentoring for confirmation students, "Clown" worship, contemporary services along with the "All God's People Sing" hymnal, video projector and screen, fundraiser auctions, Creative Worship, and chancel drama.
Because of the increase in membership and needs, it was decided to add additional classrooms and a larger fellowship hall. The expansion was built in the summer of 1998 with the help of the Laborers for Christ and many volunteers from the congregation. It was completed and dedicated on November 1, 1998. District President Arleigh Lutz was guest preacher on that day.
The new building soon became home of a thriving social mission in our area: the Christian Food Pantry. Since March of 1999 the Pantry has grown to serve about 120 families on a monthly basis, and sees donations of over $35,000 annually, all of which goes to feed financially strapped people in an area from Suring to Wabeno. St. Mary's of the Lake Roman Catholic Church in Lakewood, Crooked Lake, and Silver Cliff sends thousands of food items and about 25 volunteers to help St. John maintain the Pantry.
Upon Pastor Bratz's retirement in January 2003, a call committee was established to seek a new pastor. The Lord sent us Pastor Ken Mangold who had missionary experience in Kazakhstan and several years in a dual parish near Peoria, IL. Pastor Mangold was installed on January 4, 2004. Under his leadership an emphasis was placed on education in the Word, family ministry and growth of the church through Christian relationships.
Pastor Mangold had a life threatening liver disease diagnosed when he was 19 years of age, but under control until his condition seriously worsened in 2005. He underwent a liver transplant at University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison in July of 2006. After six months of recovery he resumed his ministry in 2007, was our circuit representative at the synod convention in Houston, and led our youth to the gathering in Orlando that year. In early 2008 he again had to take an extended leave due to complications from treatments and surgery. Not wishing to put the congregation through a long period without a full-time pastor, he resigned as head pastor in March of 2009. After moving back to Washburn, IL in 2013 to serve part time at St. John there, his condition worsened, and he was placed on the list for a second transplant. The Lord called him to eternal life in September of 2014.
At the time of Pastor Mangold's resignation, the congregation went ahead with what most thought would be a long call process and wait for the Lord to send a new shepherd. The first call was to Stephen Mueller of Sun Prairie, WI. The Holy Spirit led Pastor Mueller to accept our call, and he began his service among us on December 1, 2009. Pastor Steve had served our district before at Bergland/Ontonagon in the U.P. and also at Junction City, WI. In 2011, the second year of ministry here, he met with everyone through a series of "Night With Pastor" gatherings in the homes of our members. In these meetings he received from the members their personal faith histories and vision for the future of St. John congregation.
Some important ministries have flourished under Pastor Mueller's leadership. The Christian Volunteers, led by Kathy Moerman, have helped seniors and handicapped individuals in the community with housing repairts, maintenance, and cleaning projects. The Brother's Keeper program led by Dick Hungerford, has initiatlized an administrative system that has formed over 35 cell groups in the congregation to provide caring personal ministry.
After 23 years of service to St. John, Townsend, our DCE Scott Wycherley retired in October of 2011, but still continues as Director of Music. The old Baldwin organ, about to fail us as our main worship instrument, was replaced by an Allen organ with digitalized pipe organ sound in March 2012.
In 2015 a strategic planning committee was formed to look at church expansion, to enhance our worship area, and to make room for future increases in attendance. This committee was and continues to be led by member Betty Zimdars who has experience leading strategic planning for public education in the Green Bay area.
Betty's efforts along with those of project manager, Ken Schwebke, developed a plan for an addition to the church building that involved expanding and enhancing the chancel/altar area of the nave. It accommodated three more rows of pews on both sides, provided a nave-width chancel area, and extra storage and counseling rooms toward Hwy. 32. The focus of the chancel is the center stained glass window depicting the Tree of life, River of Life, several patches of local and biblical flowers, and sky featuring a dove and light of Christ. In front of it hangs The Cross. The new chancel area accommodates space for the organ console, piano, and choir performances. The dedication was October 28, 2018.
As our congregation looks to its 100th anniversary in August of 2019, it remembers a century of God's grace, mercy, and guidance.
The years have brought many changes, but one thing that has never changed is the love that the Lord has lavished upon this congregation.