Our Congregation’s History

“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

Like the church of Ephesus, St. John’s has known the struggle to remain faithful to the Gospel. Through good times and bad, her pastors and her people have trusted in the promises of God and God has been faithful to his Word. The Lord has used this church to bring his grace to a great number of people and St. John’s continues to be a witness to this community. The church today reflects a continual growth in its understanding of what it means to be the church, the body of Christ. The following summary of the history of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Northumberland tells the story of the faith of its people through the many generations beginning in 1817. In the coming years, additions will be made to this historical record and it is our prayer that it will be a record of continued faithfulness.

St. John Drawing With the laying out of plots for Northumberland on August 27, 1772, the early settlers of the area realized the need for a House of God, and accordingly John Lowden and William Patterson set aside a plot at the Corner of Queen and Third Streets “for church purposes forever.” Since 1817, this plot has been the site of our Church. For the first 45 years, the plot was unused but in 1817 followers of three predominate faiths in the village were called together and decided on a church structure. Represented were the Episcopal, Reformed and Lutheran faiths. A Presbyterian church had already been established. Work began in July 1817 and on August 30, 1818, the structure was completed and dedicated to the worship of Almighty God. Serving the first congregations were Rev. P.J. Shindle, Lutheran; Rev. Martin Bruner, Reformed; and Rev Elijah D. Plum, Episcopal. The size of the building was about 35 feet by 45 feet.

For the next nine years, there was little growth, but in 1834 an effort was made to secure funds for needed repairs. At about the same time, the Lutheran and Reformed congregations bought the interest of the Episcopal folk. A continuous recessions again confronted the two congregations and in 1847 a new effort was made to call together the remnant of the two churches. Reorganization was again in order and those named to the council were the forefathers of many of today’s members of St. John’s.

The church was renovated in the 1850’s and in 1858, the Lutheran and Reformed congregations merged into one – the Lutheran – and it was further decided that German and English would be used at services every other week. With the merger there came new life and vigor in the church members and great endeavors were undertaken and accomplished. The gains were culminated, when, on February 10, 1870, 61 persons were received into membership. The rewards were apparent from the past failures and hardships and at one St. John’s was established as a successful venture.

In 1872, St. John’s severed its ties with Zion, Sunbury, and the council called its first pastor. Five years later, having grown considerably, the congregation decided on a newer and larger House of Worship. The little church was removed and a more modern edifice erected. The summer of 1878 found the placing of the cornerstone of the new church, with dedication in July 1879. In 1892, the church purchased a home next to the structure and St. John’s had its first parsonage.   A few years later, Trinity and Grace Churches were founded in Point Township and became part of St. John’s parish, continuing until December 31, 1946.

St. John’s continued to grow. On March 2, 1902, Sunday School services began in a newly erected room at the rear of the church, which measured 50 by 60 feet. In 1910 a new Moller pipe organ was installed and three years later the Sunday School area was enlarged to handle the increased numbers making up the congregation at this time. By 1917, St. John’s had grown to 461 communing members with 650 confirmed members and 794 baptized members. The Church School had an enrollment of 724 and there were other auxiliary groups including the Missionary Society, Ladies’ Aid Society, and Luther League.

The church basement was improved in 1931, to include a social hall with kitchen facilities, and in 1924 a 15-foot lighted cross was placed atop the church tower. It had 22 bulbs and when illuminated at night could be seen for miles around. It stood until February 1967, when destroyed by a storm.

An expansion program began that provided the present Christian Education building in June 1929. Highlights of the early 1930’s included the Golden Jubilee of the Missionary Society; vesting of a junior choir; partitioning of fellowship hall with use of curtains and renovations of the old Sunday School rooms.

The 125th anniversary was marked by joyous services November 5-8, 1941, bringing to St. John’s the pastors of Northumberland, its former ministers and Synodical leaders.

A note burning service was held on June 23, 1948, as St. John’s was able to liquidate its debt. Also in 1948, the first Boy Scout to receive the Pro Deo Et Patria Award was Douglas Y Boden. Later on June 25, 1961 celebration was given with the ordination of Rev. Douglas Y Boden.

A new pipe organ was dedicated on February 1, 1959 following extensive renovations and remodeling of the area in an around the alter. The parsonage also saw renovations.

The period of 1961 to 1966 found St. John’s adopting a new constitution and the organization of Lutheran Church Women.

Continued improvement to the church facility could be seen through a new roof in 1967,and the painting of the sanctuary. Four new church signs were placed at the entrances to the community in 1969.

St. John’s members opened their hearts and homes to victims of the Agnes Hurricane disaster of June 1972, providing food and shelter to many. Members and the church Boy Scouts donated time and energy to clean up homes on Island Park.

Handbells were purchased in 1973 and became the property of the music department. In September 1976 the first Handbell Choir was organized. The Handbell Choir provides delightful music to listen to.

First plans made for a Christian nursery school for tots ages 4 and 5 to meet three mornings a week were launched in 1975. The school opened in February and later expanded for 3 year olds in September. Mrs. Gretchen Brosius was the first administrator. The goals of the school are to provide a succession of experiences whereby each child may have the opportunity to develop at his own rate in several areas: physical skills, personal value skills; academic learning, group values and relationships, self expressions, home, church, and school relationships and as a child of God and how to grow in His love.

Due to an energy crisis at the school, in January 1977, the church rented Sunday School rooms temporarily to the Shikellamy School District for Priestley School classes. A new cross in the church tower was replaced after its destruction in May in a wind storm was replaced in July 1977.

Again, during the 1980’s St. John’s saw continued improvement and growth. The former parsonage was razed and the area developed into an enlarged parking lot, the sanctuary was refurbished that included paint and decorating, new carpet and refurbished pews. The floor in Fellowship Hall was replaced after damages from a leaking roof and wall water seepage. In June 1986 work began on the Martin Luther Memorial Library and was renovated and redecorated. Dedication of the new library was held on October 5, 1986.

The Council approved the church participation in the program “Adopt A Highway” in May 1990, and the youth, with adult supervision began the project in September. The area is for two miles along Route 11 east of the American Legion Post 44. The program continues at this time with church volunteers. In July of 1990, the Council began planning a project to restore the stained glass windows in the Adult Sunday School area. The project began in January 1991 and was completed the following month.

Over the last two decades, a lot of changes occurred here at St. John’s.   Major building and property renovations were undertaken that included the expansion of the parking lot; remodeling of the kitchen; mens and ladies bathroom in Fellowship Hall; remodeling of the bathroom near the Office; the addition of a bathroom in the Narthex; upgraded electrical system; new heating and air conditioning through several phases; insulating of the sanctuary and Wheatley Avenue building roofs; rebuilt organ; and new sanctuary doors.

Other projects included placing a new shingle roof on the sanctuary; the re-pointing of the chimney in Sept 2009.   The sanctuary had new carpeting installed and a new Dossal Cloth.   New carpeting was also installed in the Memorial Room, Ladies Sunday School Room; Wheatley Avenue building along with tile in the entrance ways.   Volunteers repainted the Children’s Sunday School Rooms; Wheatley Avenuebuilding; Fellowship Hall, and new curtains were hung on the stage and windows in Fellowship Hall.

Office upgrades and improvements in keeping up with today’s tech savvy society saw the addition of the Shepherd Staff Program; computer networking and payroll system program; and email.   A website was developed.

While projects renovations and improvements continued over the years so has the ministries of St. John’s.   For several years a  Family Camping Trip was held in July at various campgrounds around the state where campers experience faith and fellowship among God’s beautiful outdoor creation.   A Migrant Clinic was held for local seasonal migrant workers to receive health screenings.    The Funeral Luncheon Committee was re-established to provide a meal after a funeral service for members of the Church.    First Communion Retreats were first held at American Legion Post #44, Northumberland, and Weller Park, Shamokin Dam.   The retreat provides instruction and preparation to youth who will be receiving their first Holy Communion in the Church.

In March 2011, Kathryn’s Kloset was instituted providing a monthly give-away of detergent and other personal care items to members of the community in need.    In January 2014, His Lighthouse Café began offering a free meal to those in need of a warm meal and mealtime fellowship.  His Lighthouse Café operates the 4th Thursday of each month from 4:30-6:00 p.m.

In addition to the previously mentioned rebuild of the organ, the music ministry of St. John’s acquired a keyboard, melody chimes, started and Ensemble group for special holidays and produced two CDs.

January 2015 the sanctuary was repainted through a generous bequest.

Church Committees and dedicated volunteers have provided activities for members and the community and fundraisers to offset renovation costs for various projects.  These have included the Annual Spring and Fall Rummage Sale, Soup Sales, Christmas Bazaar, Fishing Tournament to name a few.