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The history of Our Saviour’s United Church of Christ Congregations [begins in 1895 while the history of congregation members] begins one hundred and fifty years ago in July of 1842. At the time of members arrival, the area was only a territory of the United States. It was a densely covered wilderness teeming with Indians and a variety of wildlife.
The older congregation members were immigrants who had come primarily from the Hunstruk area of Germany. Their trip was long and arduous as they traveled by sailboat, barge and steamboat through the Great Lakes. They came to the Germantown area along an Indian trail that stretched from Milwaukee to Fond du Lac.
The pioneers were God-fearing people, and religion was a vital part of their lives. In 1841, Philip Dhein, Sr. and his wife settled, with the help of Indians, in what became Dheinsville. He, along with William Wasmuth and Andrew Wetterau, founded Christ Evangelical Church in 1842. Church services were held in a log schoolhouse located a one mile west of Dheinsville. The first minister, Reverend Christian Schmidt, came from Milwaukee once every four weeks to serve the settlers, conducting services in the German language. During the winter months, those attending services walked through the fields to the log school house with the women wearing heavy shawls over their heads and shoulders.
In the early 1850s, a log church edifice was erected at Dheinsville on land donated by Plilip Dhein, Sr. On 21 April 1857, the congregation was incorporated and recorded as the United Evangelical Protestant Christ Church.
In 1860 a church building of limestone, obtained from Rockfield, was built to replace the original log church. A tower was added to the new building in 1888 and in 1890 new bells were purchased for $485.00 and installed in the tower. It soon became the custom, in addition to ringing the bells for regular services, to ring them at six o’clock each Saturday to welcome the coming Sabbath. The bells were also tolled to announce to the community that someone had died.
In 1895, a portion of the congregation, under the leadership of Pastor Reverend C. Ruegg, left Christ Evangelical Church to found a new church just a mile away on Division Road. [At the time it would have been considered the Rockfield church.]
[The church was founded 21 May 1895 when the trustees were selected. They were: U. Huber, president; Wm. Meyer, secretary; Peter Bast, treasurer; and Valentin Hoelz, Louis Boecker, and J. Bast Sr. On 16 June, the land which had been donated by Louis Boeker (sic) was formally dedicated as a site for the church and parsonage. On 7 July the corner stone was laid. Sixteen heads of families signed the constitution, and upon taking a vote, the name Zoar was chosen for the church. On 20 October the church was dedicated. Reverend C. Ruegg was unanimously selected as pastor.]
Reverend Ruegg had served the congregation’s members since 1868 and spent a total of forty-six years in the Christian ministry in the Germantown community. During that period he preached a total of four thousand two hundred and eighty (4280) sermons and was known to regularly burn his written sermons in the church stove after services so as not to repeat them over and over! Mrs. Amilia Ruegg, his wife, was a teacher and musician, and both she and Reverend Ruegg had a great influence upon the community. Reverend Ruegg died in 1915 and Amilia in 1924. [both are buried in Our Savior United Cemetery]
The first Ladies Aid at Christ Evangelical Church was organized in 1898. Following this, improvements in the building itself were begun. In 1901 new pews an altar and pulpit were acquired and installed along with new walls of wood and plaster in order to eliminate the problem of water collecting on the stone walls. The original interior of church had been of whitewashed limestone with a ceiling that extended to the roof. The two circular windows that had originally been in the front of the church were also covered by the wood wall. Their location may still be seen on the exterior of the building. Stained glass windows, which tell the story of the sower and the seeds, were donated by the Ladies Aid in 1914. Electric lights were installed in 1925. Two other important changes occurred as well in 1920, English began to be used in bible study, and in 1928, women were given the right to vote. In 1927 English services were conducted every second Sunday. In 1931 Reverend Kaiser, not being fluent in German, received help with the language from Reverend Muelheisen.
The interior of Christ Evangelical Church has been redecorated several times. One addition was a huge painting of Christ. Also, the inscription, “Gott ist die Liebe” was painted at the front of the church in old German script and was later redone in the English translation “God is Love.”
Back to Zoar Evangelical founded 19 October 1895. The founders of the new congregation first met on 21 May 1895 and they were: Jacob Bast, Louis Boeker, Valentin Hoelz, Christian Stark, Jacob Konrad, Jacob Beuscher, Jacob Konrad II, Philip Kuhn, Peter P. Bast, Herman Hornig, Ulrich Huber, David Hoelz, and Jacob Hoelz. A church building and parsonage were built for $2000.00 and were paid for within one year’s time. Over the church door the insignia read, “Deutsche Evangeliche Synod von Nord Amerkia.”
The first service in the new church was held on 20 October 1895. Two new bells named “Truth” and “Grace” were rung for the first time.
As was the custom in local churches at the time, all services and other church activities at both churches were conducted in German. This gradually began to change in the 1920s when the English language came into greater use. However, German was still used in the confirmation classes until the late 1920s, and some services were still conducted in the German language until a short time after the end of WW II. Also in the early days of the congregation, a typical German custom was followed with all the men sitting on the right side of the church, the women all on the left side, and the young people all in front.
Both the Christ and Zoar Churches at first had their pulpits placed high in the center front of the church behind the altar, a practice common in churches at that time. The organ was placed to the left of the altar and pews to the right were reserved for board members.
In 1935 handsome stained glass windows were installed. These beautiful windows depicted the four evangelists, the symbols of the four apostles, and on the upper portion of the windows, the symbols of the early Christian Church. Further additions included the installation in 1947 of a Gothic arch at the front of the church along with a large painting of Christ. The organ was placed in the balcony at this time. Women were finally permitted to vote at Zoar, under the leadership of Reverend C. Fischer, the Frauenverin, later known as the Ladies Aid Society and finally, the Women’s Guild was organized. The Young People’s League soon followed.
Zoar Evangelical and Reformed Church was received into the membership of the Evangelical Synod in 1931 and Christ Evangelical Church in 1936. In 1957 the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged with the Congregational Church and both Zoar and Christ Churches became members of the United Church of Christ Synod. Shortly after this, the members of Zoar beautified the entrance of the church with the addition of a lovely stone extension at the front of the building. This made it possible to modernize the structure with the addition of a lounge and restroom areas. One special feature of the renovation was the original cornice from the front of the church was retained and mounted above the new entrance doors.
Christ Church and Zoar Church, although two separate congregations, participated in many mutual activities over the years. Joint Lenten services, missions festivals and frequent joint choir performances were enjoyed by both groups. The congregations always were mission-minded and to this day an important celebration, the Mission Festival, is held each year. Traditionally the festival is held on the third Sunday in October. Originally it was an all day celebration with services in the morning, afternoon and evening. A huge dinner at noon and a supper at night were customary. A missionary was always a very special guest and the festival served as a kind of homecomings for former members. The current Festivals while less elaborate, are still a special celebration in the church. Now there is only one service followed by a dinner and fellowship, but always with a special missionary as the honored guest.
Several sons of Zoar’s Congregation became missionaries themselves: Reverend Hubert Konrad who served in India; Reverend Arthur Konrad who ministered in both Albania and the Central American Mission in Guatemala; Reverend Philip Fisher, in India; and Reverend Ken Christian Fisher, a grandson of Reverend Christian Fisher, also served in India. In addition to the missionaries mentioned above, a number of sons of the congregation became pastors: Reverends Louis Boeker, James Konrad, Phillip Schowalter, George Schowalter, Sigfried Dietrich, Dr. Frederich Kruse, Daniel Schowalter, and Scott Goodwill.
In 1962, because the mutual needs and concerns of the two congregations, Christ Church and Zoar Church were reunited, surely to the glory of God, and a new name was chosen – Our Saviour’s United Church of Christ. The first joint service was held on 21 October 1962 in the Zoar Church building. The properties were incorporated and the Christ church parsonage was sold. The cemetery at Dheinsville, however, is used for funerals and burials.
In 1916 Reverend Klein began serving both Christ and St. Jacobi Churches. This practice continued after 1962 up to 1966 when Our Savior and St. Jacobi decided to terminate this relationship and the pastor then served only Our Savior.
The Christ Church building itself, a wonderful old place of worship was rented in 1976 to the Germantown Historical Society and is now used as a museum and for activities of a historical nature.
Written in 1992 by Pearl Kuhn commemorating the congregations 150th anniversary
Contributed by Vivian Goodwill, Church Secretary
Updated [ ] by Donald Joseph Schulteis