By Stephanie Malench
St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Maryville will be holding its last service on Sunday January 2, 2022 at 10:15 a.m. after 175 years service to the community. In 1846 the church formed from 72 individuals from 20 families in the area known at that time as Pleasant Ridge. As most of the residents in the area at that time were German, German was the official language of the church.
In 1847, the church was accepted into the Missouri Synod St. John’s is known as the “Mother Church” to five other Lutheran churches in Illinois. The first generation of churches to come from St. Paul include Zion Lutheran Church in Staunton in 1847, Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Collinsville in 1848, St. Peter Church in Prairietown in 1853, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamel in 1856, and Good Shepherd Church in Collinsville in 1959. In all 15 other churches were formed from the church as far away as Litchfield.
A cemetery was also started in 1846 across the road from the church and will be the receiver of the funds from selling the church. Next to the cemetery is the building that was once a one room school house.
In 1859, the congregation voted to build a new church, the one still in use today. Current member Jim Mezzano’s great great great grandfather helped with the building of the church by using his horses and wagons to haul brick from St. Louis. The pulpit and alter were hand carved by Mr. Henry Heneke, who had only one eye. The baptismal font in the church today is also original.
The church has been expanded twice since it was originally built. The first time was in 1987 when the first addition was put on to house the preschool. As the program grew, another addition was put on in 2002. Both additions were almost entirely covered by donations.
The preschool closed in 2019 due to declining enrollment as families sought one school with additional grade offerings.
The current church holds 250 people, but the current congregation is only 15, most of which are elderly like Mezzano and his wife Roberta.
Arlene Wilke, 93, of Collinsville, has attended St. John’s since she was two years old. Wilke remembers when there used to be 85 attendees at the service and 102 attended Vacation Bible school each summer.
One of the projects Wilke used to help with was making Braille books to send to blind children in China. Her fondest memory was getting married to her late husband Marvin in the church 70 years ago.
All of her children, grand children and great grandchildren were baptized at St. John’s, the most recent great grand child three weeks ago.
The oldest member is Norma Scheiter, 94 of Maryville, who started attending St. John’s in 1962 when she and her husband moved to Maryville from St. Louis. Her favorite memory from St. John’s is the Mother/Daughter Banquets that were always well attended.
When Reverend Willard Meyer made the announcement of the last service to his congregation, he told them “it won’t be a time of sadness, it will be a time of joy”.