St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized in 1895 by eight immigrant families. The first building site and cemetery is on county highway 9, one mile South of Okabena, Mn in West Heron Lake township. At first members shared a pastor with St. Paul’s church in neighboring Rost township.
Membership grew. The congregation became able to support it’s own pastor by 1911. In 1912, the church building was moved to Market Street in Okabena. A new structure was built next to it in 1914. The old building remained in use as a classroom and meeting hall.
In 1915, St. John’s became a voting congregation in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.
From 1904 to 1916 the Church had a Christian day school whenever teachers were available. Services and school classes were held in the German language. In 1917, the school was closed. Our nation was at war and anything “German” caused suspicion and distrust. The children attended classes in English at the new public school. English usage gradually increased. The first English services were funerals so that friends and neighbors could understand the message. English became predominant by 1920. German services continued once per month until 1957 so that the older members could hear the gospel in their mother tongue.
In 1945, the congregation became concerned about doctrinal errors at the Synod’s seminary in St. Louis. Membership in semi-religious fraternal societies was also troubling. After much discussion, debate, negotiation, soul searching and prayer, St. Johns terminated membership in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod six years later. This decision had some dissenters and a third of the members left to form their own congregation.
In 1970, an education wing was added to the main church building. The original building was moved to Worthington, MN. It’s currently part of the historical exhibit at Pioneer Village.
The congregation remained independent until joining the Church of the Lutheran Confession in 1976. This synod’s members come from former Synodical Conference congregations. Another struggle concerning fellowship with semi-religious fraternal organizations and insurance societies occurred in the early eighties. Again, several members left to join other congregations.
Since that time membership has grown. It comes from a large geographical area. Some drive over 80 miles to attend services.
St. John’s restarted its Christian Day School in 1995. Classes are offered for children in grades K through 8. Other activities include: Children’s preschool, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Ladies Aid, Choir, Youth Choir, Women’s Bible Study Group, and Mission Society.
The latest addition to the physical plant was the installation of a Wicks pipe organ in 2003. This instrument supports a congregation known for its love of singing hymns of praise.
St. John’s congregation strives to remain faithful to God’s word in doctrine and practice.