Founding a Community of Faith
Following the Civil War, there was an influx of German immigrants into Texas. Unlike earlier German immigrants who came through Philadelphia and then spread across the United States, these Germans came directly through the port of Galveston and into Texas. Traveling north from Galveston, they encountered other predominantly German settlements – first in Washington County, then further inland in Fredericksburg and the Hill Country.
Those who stopped in Washington County discovered a fertile area that greatly resembled the plains of their homelands in eastern Germany. They also discovered a community already strongly shaped by German culture. They discovered a place that felt like home.
As the rural communities outside of town became settled, it grew harder and harder to travel into Brenham for daily conveniences. Desiring to worship God and pass their faith on to their children, one of the first priorities of these rural communities was to gather together as a community of faith – as a church.
In 1875, the Rev. Friederich Ernst of Immanuel Lutheran Church in the Wiedeville community began to meet with families in the Prairie Hill area. At the request of about 20 families, Pastor Ernst taught Scripture, officiated at weddings and baptisms, and provided direction for this newly forming family of faith. In September 1875, 10 acres of land on La Bahia Prairie in the Stephen F. Austin League was purchased for $100 in gold to be the site of a new church.
In January 1877, a building was built, so that this family of faith would have a place to gather for worship. On May 28, 1877, the congregation was re-organized and chartered, with 12 families. It is this date that the congregation of St. John celebrates on Memorial Day weekend every year, as we give thanks for those who passed the faith on to us.
Prairie Hill School
It was also in May of 1877 that the first regularly called pastor of St. John arrived. The Rev. Christian Carl Rudi served the congregation from 1877-1880. Under his leadership, the Prairie Hill school opened. The community of Prairie Hill brought to their new homes the Lutheran conviction that education was important. Although they were mostly all farmers, they wanted their children – and all the children in the community – to be provided with an education. As the most educated member of the community, Pastor Rudi was the only teacher at the school. At the Prairie Hill School, Pastor Rudi taught children about both religious topics and secular subjects.
Generations would be taught at the Prairie Hill School, as it later merged with other rural schools. The congregation of St. John eventually handed the management of the school over to the local school district. One of the last rural schools, Prairie Hill School remained open until May 1966. Many current members of St. John were educated at Prairie Hill, and one of the last teachers of the school, Mrs. Lydia Rust, is still a member of St. John.
The family of St. John remain committed to the importance of education, providing a vibrant Christian education program and offering a scholarship to our students who pursue higher education.
A Growing Community
In April of 1912, the congregation of St. John added a new 100 ft steeple to their church building, and the congregation served as host for the annual conference of the Texas Lutheran Synod. And then a month later tragedy struck: the church building burnt to the ground.
But the family of St. John was not deterred. Before the year had closed, the members of St. John had erected a brand new church building on the same site. The loss of the old building was an opportunity, and out of those ashes God brought forth new life. A larger church building, to provide space for a growing community of faith. The congregation continued to grow, as we welcomed our longest serving pastor, The Rev. Paul Gogolin.
Pastor Gogolin served the family of St. John for 31 years, from 1921-1951. During those years, the congregation saw drastic change: the congregation transitioned for being entirely German-speaking in worship and business to being entirely English-speaking; electricity was added to the church building; a new Parish Hall was built; and more and more members began arriving in automobiles. And yet, in the midst of all that change (because if it?) the congregation continued to grow and flourish.
Looking to the Future
In 1977, as the country celebrated its Bicentennial, the family of St. John celebrated the 100th anniversary of this family of faith. And a we celebrated and gave thanks for our past, we turned our eyes toward the future.
All these events (and so many more!) have led us to the place where we are today. A family of faith, gathering at St. John Lutheran Church. A community who cherished the memory of those who have gone before us, while heading into the future with courage and hope.
The congregation of St. John Lutheran Church of Prairie Hill has been blessed by the leadership of 15 wonderful pastors in the course of our history.
- The Rev. Friederick Ernst (Interim)
- The Rev. Christian Carl Rudi
- The Rev. Oscar Samuel
- The Rev. Appel
- The Rev. Apfelbach
- The Rev. Paul Gogolin
- The Rev. Sanders
- The Rev. Kramer
- The Rev. Charles Eckert
- The Rev B. Sue Beall
- The Rev. David L. Hansen
- The Rev. Jim Abbott (Interim)
- The Rev. Kyle Merkle
- The Rev. Jill Vivroux (Interim)
- The Rev. Shea Berbaum
- The Rev. Norman Sulaica