IAGenWeb Bremer County

St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Waverly
Early History from 50th Anniversary Booklet (1872 - 1922)


Among the earlier settlers who located in Waverly and its tributary there were also a number of Germans of the Lutheran faith. Systematic church work among them, however, was not taken up until the later sixties, a decade or more after a Lutheran congregation had already been organized in Maxfield township, the mother church of Lutheranism in this section. The first sermon in Waverly by a Lutheran pastor, as far as we know, was preached by Prof. G. Fritschel, D.D., at the time professor in Wartburg Theological Seminary, St. Sebald, Iowa. Pastor L. Schorr, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church, Maxfield, began the regular and systematic work, conducting worship every second Sunday afternoon. The congregation, however, was organized by Pastor Paul Bredow who took charge of the Maxfield church in January, 1872. He also took over the work in Waverly left by Pastor Schoor, braved cold weather and bad roads, inspired the little band of Waverly Lutherans with confidence, and May 9, 1872, organized St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. Eight heads of families signed the constitution: Henry Maas, E. Seybold, M. Koeberle, Carl Boedecker, John and August Friedemann, John Voigt and John Mahnke.

Pastor Bredow continued in charge of the new congregation until the arrival of its first regular pastor, the Rev. M. Gerlach, a graduate of Wartburg Theological Seminary, who came August 1, 1872. Not only was the congregation small in numbers but poor also in this world's goods, so that the stipend offered the pastor was not sufficient for his up-keep and he was forced to give private instruction, in addition to his regular work, in order to make ends meet. Pastor Gerlach is characterized as a very earnest and zealous man who devoted himself whole-souled to his pastoral work and especially the regular instruction of his flock. Before the end of the first year of his pastorate he had already prepared a class of sixteen for confirmation.

Poor as the people were and weak in numbers it is not surprising that they should have no place of worship, which they could call their own, nor were able to acquire one. The first services were held in a brick school building on the east side of the river, then for a while on the upper floor of a wagon and paint shop on the west side. The need of a church of their own was keenly felt. In order to secure and save the first funds to meet this need a women's society was organized, one of whose prime functions it was, to work for a church building.  And this society did succeed after a while in saving up $300, a considerable amount of money under the conditions.  But now unfortunately a split occurred in the congregation, a number of families seceding and trying to organize a rival church. This left the Congregation weaker than ever, beside engendering much bitterness of feeling, and the prospect of securing a church property of their own, however modest, was more remote than ever. The moneys saved thus far were invested in a parcel of land for a cemetery, St. Paul's Cemetery southeast of town.

Pastor Gerlach accepted a call to Franklin Mills, Iowa, in 1876, and was followed in rapid succession by several pastors, M. Eberhard, D. M. Ficken, a Pastor Sommerlad, all of whom remained only a short time, however. When Wartburg Teacher's Seminary was removed to Waverly in 1879 one of the members of the faculty, Prof. E. Eichler, was called to take charge of the congregation in addition to his other work. This he did until 1884, when throat trouble forced him to retire from active work. Again for a year the congregation was left vacant.  In 1885 Wartburg College of Mendota, Ill., was also removed to Waverly and united with the Seminary.  The congregation again called one of the members of the faculty, Prof. F. Lutz, to discharge the duties as its pastor. Meanwhile the congregation had grown stronger and saw its way clear to support a pastor of its own, and extended a call to Pastor F. Zimmermann of Monona, Iowa, who came in the early fall of 1886.

The advent of Pastor Zimmermann marks the beginning of a new era for the congregation. Altogether he served for seventeen years, and next to the grace of God, it is due especially to his leadership, his efficiency as pastor, preacher, teacher, that the congregation owes its rapid growth during the next years.  Pastor Zimmermann passed to his reward March, 1917, at the time pastor in Oelwein, Iowa.

The new pastor found a struggling congregation still worshipping in rented quarters. The little brick church of the defunct Presbyterian congregation had some years before been secured for this purpose. This church was located in what was known as Curtis Grove on the east side and was a neat structure with a small white tower, entirely adequate for the congregation's purposes. But it was not their own. Meanwhile the church property of the Universalist congregation on the west side was offered for sale. Pastor Zimmermann immediately took the matter up with his people with the result, that it was unanimously resolved to buy it. The congregation thus came into possession of the first church of its own. The purchase price was $1000. This occurred in 1886.  It will require but little thought to appreciate the joy and enthusiasm of the people who had for the first time in their history a church of their own, after worshipping for fourteen years in rented quarters. The congregation continued to grow, indeed, to such an extent that it became necessary to enlarge the church only tow years later. This was done by adding a thirty foot addition. The days of want and poverty were past. God had signally blessed his people. At the time of the silver jubilee, 1897, the pastor could report that the congregation now numbered approximately 130 families, owned a valuable church property, including a spacious church, a large school building to accommodate its flourishing parish school, and a parsonage, and all property unencumbered by any debt.

The present school building was erected in 1890, enlarged in 1901, and again improved in 1911. The present parsonage was built in 1900, and addition added in 1914, and extensively improved in 1920 and 1922. The pipe organ was secured in 1901.

It was during the pastorate of Pastor Zimmermann that the congregation was privileged to observe the silver anniversary of its organization. This was done May 9, 1897. The speakers for the occasion were Pastors Lutz, Adix, Schedtler and Prof. W. Proehl, D.D. The congregation at the time numbered 115 voting members, 381 communicants, and 639 souls. The jubilee report showed the following ministerial acts performed during the past 25 years:  440 baptisms, 255 confirmed, 109 marriages and 109 burials.  Altogether it was a wonderful showing especially in view of the struggles of the early part of that period.

Pastor Zimmermann's ministry ceased in June, 1903, when he accepted a call as president of the Lutheran College, Brenham, Texas.  The congregation accepted his resignation, however, reluctantly, and voted him a vote of grateful appreciation for his zealous and consecrated ministry.

The Parish School

It will be well at this place to add a few words on the school work of the congregation. From the beginning great stress was laid by the congregation and its pastors on the proper instruction and indoctrination of the young. The first resident pastor, the Rev. M. Gerlach, immediately took up this work and gave it much attention and prayer.  But here again it was Pastor Zimmermann who placed the school on a solid foundation. Since it was impossible for him to devote as much time to the school as its upbuilding required, and the time had not yet come for the congregation to call and salary a trained teacher of its own, he secured assistants paying them largely out of his own meager means, so that the school might in no wise suffer. The congregation recognized the blessing of a Christian Day School as the nursery for the church, and finally in 1891 resolved to call a regular teacher to take charge of the work. Various men were engaged but served only a short time. The names are the following, Illing, Gosse, Nothnagel, and Hecker. June, 1894, Mr. O. Hardwig, a graduate of Wartburg Teachers' Seminary, took charge and served the congregation as teacher and organist until the spring of 1903, when he took up his new duties as professor of music at the seminary. When Prof. Hardwig entered upon his duties the school numbered some 40 pupils. Due to his indefatigable and efficient work the number at one time was brought up to 89. Mr. Hardwig was succeeded by C. F. Liefeld, who came in the spring of 1903, and served until August of 1913, filling the position with credit.  Indeed, the work at the school had meanwhile increased to such an extend that it became necessary to call an assistant.  Miss Lydia Ide was engaged for this position. She was followed in 1907 by Miss Mathilda Kraushaar, who taught to December, 1910. Her successor was Miss Emma Goppelt. Meanwhile Mr. Liefeld accepted a call to the faculty of Eureka Lutheran College, Eureka, S.D., and was succeeded by Mr. Em. Isaak. The latter continued in office until the winter of 1917, when he went to Benson, Ill. During the time of Mr. Isaak it became necessary to call a second assistant. Miss Goppelt had meanwhile also resigned (1916) so that the congregation called two new teachers in the persons of Miss Ida Goeken and Miss Laura Grube, the former to take the place of Miss Goppelt, the latter to take charge of the Kindergarten and first grades department. Additional property was also secured and arranged for a Kindergarten and primary room in the property adjoining the present church to the east. When Mr. Isaak left in the early spring of 1917 Miss Goeken was made principal and Miss Helen Becker engaged to take her place and also serve as organist and choirleader.  Miss Goeken was followed in 1920 by Miss Augusta Topping, the present principal. The Misses Grube and Becker both resigned in 1921. The school meanwhile had also decreased in enrollment and the congregation resolved to engage only two teachers. Miss Selma Klein took charge of the lower grades in 1921. Prof. Ernest Heist assumed the duties as organist and choirleader.

In conclusion be it said, that from the beginning St. Paul's Church fully recognized the importance of careful instruction of the young and the value of a full-fledged Christian day school as the best means to accomplish the purpose - a fact which subsequent events amply confirmed and justified. It may be a hackneyed saying, but nevertheless it is true, that he who has the young has the future. The Church can not be too conscientious in properly instructing her children in that "doctrine which is according to godliness," because after all only the Holy Scriptures can "make men wise unto salvation" and also equip them for the best of citizenship here below.  

The successor to Pastor Zimmermann was Pastor John Weyrauch, who came to Waverly from Rock Falls, Ill., in the early fall of 1903. The outstanding feature of Pastor Weyrauch's pastorate was the building of the handsome new church, one of the finest church buildings in this section of the state. The matter of the new church had been agitated and discussed for some time. The congregation had grown to such a degree that the old church was hopelessly too small. The question took its first definite shape in July, 1905, in a resolution to purchase a building site. After a year's delay for one reason or another, the so-called Tanner property was purchased, the site of the present church. A building committee was appointed consisting of Prof. A. Engelbrecht, chairman, Messrs. F. P. Hagemann, Rev. C. Ide, H. Kasemeier, G.A. Grossmann, John Schoof, August Friedemann and H. Clausing. The cornerstone of the new church was laid July 15, 1907, and the church itself dedicated March 1, 1908. The church including the lot and the furnishings with the exception of the organ and the baptismal font cost $32,550.00. Today the congregation owns a property which a conservative estimate places at over $50,000 in value.

Pastor Weyrauch was a very earnest and zealous man, a splendid preacher and pastor. During the latter part of his ministry it was apparent that his health was failing. In spite of this, however, he headed the committee which solicited the funds in cash and pledges to make the building of the new church possible. But though the new church meant so much to him he was privileged to preach in it but four times. His weakened physical condition forced him to retire from active work and he resigned in May, 1908. The congregation accepted his resignation with many regrets, but resolved that he shall continue as pastor until the coming of his successor. At the same time it voted him a vacation until the end of his ministry. - Pastor Weyrauch passed to his reward in April, 1910.  A successor was called in the person of Pastor Emil H. Rausch, the present pastor.

The pastor-elect arrived in Waverly, September 9, 1908. He found a strong and church-going congregation with 170 voting members, approximately 500 communicants and 780 souls, with a flourishing parochial school and Sunday school, an active women's and young peoples' society, and a fine church property. But there were two outstanding problems from the beginning which demanded attention: a heavy indebtedness of over $13,000 with a financial system which barely met the current expenses, and the language problem.

The first of these, the matter of the debt, was solved with relative ease. By January, 1910, the debt including interest amounted to $15,000. The campaign to liquidate this indebtedness and do so at once was started by the sainted Mr. Frederick Schack, who offered $1000 provided the entire indebtedness would be wiped away. The congregation took the matter up with alacrity and resolved with the help of God to have the debt cleared away by the first Sunday in April. An every member canvass was immediately staged by the church council and its indefatigable treasurer, Mr. Wm. Weiditschka, no funds, however, being solicited outside of the congregation, and when the appointed time came the pastor could announce after worship, that the moneys were secured. Like one man the whole congregation arose and sang the hymn:  Now thank we all our God!

The matter of the financial system, however, was not so easily disposed of. It had been customary in the congregation for every head of a family to contribute a stated amount, theoretically according to ability, for the entire family. But even the strictest economy could not always keep the necessary disbursements within the limits of the income. And as a result the congregation was always more or less forced to struggle with overdrafts at the bank, to borrow money to pay these, and to pay interest. After years of considering and many spasmodic attempts to remedy the situation the congregation cut the Gordian knot by abolishing the old and adopting a new system.  This was done in the general meeting of January, 1921, when the every member canvass and weekly envelope system was adopted, which proved a marked success. And the debt which meanwhile had again accumulated? This was taken care of by the special jubilee fund which was raised for the golden jubilee, and which netted over $10,000 in cash and pledges, in addition to the $1000 raised by the women's society.

The second of the problems which was beginning to make itself felt was the language problem. The congregation had been organized as a strictly German language congregation, which was well and good and the only proper thing to do at the time. And it had continued to use the German language only in its worship and religious instruction, though the secular instruction was given in English. The younger generation in the natural course of events began to grow away from the use of the Germany language and threatened also to grow away from the church. It was clear that something must be done. The congregation took the matter up in the spring of 1909 and introduced regular English work. It met with opposition at first, as was to be expected. But the work has been kept up in ever increasing measure to the present day, so that today there is regular worship in English, some of the societies using the English only, the instruction in all secular branches is given in English, and the religious branches in both languages.

A number of other things might be mentioned, the placing of the new pure Carrara marble baptismal font by the Y.P.S., the entertainment of the two delegate meetings of the synod, 1910 and 1920, the enlargement of the cemetery, the beautiful new furnishings, especially by the women's society, and the decoration of the church, in preparation for the golden jubilee, the congregation war record, with over 60 of its young men with the colors and its pastor on various national Lutheran war boards, but space forbids.

We conclude this brief sketch with the earnest prayer that the congregation may grow in grace as it has grown in number and influence, and that God may make it a power for good for many.