In the spring of 1895 a number of Lutheran families joined together to organize a Lutheran congregation. The name chosen was Evangelical Lutheran St. Johnís.
Unfortunately, no records of the first two years are preserved, but the following are known to have been among the charter members: D. M. Boatsman, Brunke G. Schmidt, Chas. Lipps, Fokke Aden, Wilm Saathoff, Jacob J. Stindt, Gerd G. Schmidt, John Giesmann, Henry Kruger.
Services at first were held at the Bethel Methodist Church, 4 miles south of intersection of Highway #41 and Douglas Road, Sterling Nebraska, but soon arrangements were made to hold afternoon services in the Baptist Church in Sterling at the intersection of Washington and Iowa Streets. Rev. H. Beckmann of Burr, Rev. G. Bergstraesser of Helena, and Rev. O. Lompe of Hanover, all pastors of the Iowa Synod, conducted these services.
In the early summer of 1895, a call was extended to Rev. H. Wendt, who had graduated from Wartburg Seminary the previous year and who was at that time assistant pastor at Dubuque, Iowa. The young, zealous pastor went to work to build up the membership. He conducted weekday schools at two places: southwest and and southeast of Sterling, several months each year. Soon a third school was opened in Sterling.
Evidently the first two years were difficult, for according to the minutes of the meeting held January 1897, they met to reorganize the recently abandoned organization. The by-laws were reviewed, paragraph by paragraph. After undergoing some changes they were accepted, officers were elected and the possiblility of erecting their own church was discussed.
On March 1, 1897, the congregation decided to erect its own church building. D. M. Boatsman, B. Schmidt, Chas Lipps, F. Aden, and H. Landwehr were elected as a building committee.
The new undertaking progressed rapidly and before fall the new church was dedicated to the service of God. The church faced east parallel to Ohio St.
In August 1899, the congregation bought a house south of the church from Mr. Harris for a parsonage.
The members of the congregation were concerned from the beginning in bringing up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. In order to do this more effectively, they decided to build a school house in the summer of 1902. It was through regular instruction in this school that many of the present members of this congregation had a firm foundation laid for their Christian faith and profession.
In the fall of 1903, Pastor Wendt accepted a call to Dunlap, Iowa, and Rev. E. Schroeder of Syracuse, Nebraska was called as the new pastor. During his pastorate, the English language was introduced in a limited way in the school and in Luther League. Pastor Schroeder served the congregation well for ten years. He then accepted a call to Osage, Texas.
The Rev. H. Wunderlich of Tripoli, Iowa, was called. He served the congregation for six years during the difficult times of World War I, and then accepted a call to Otis, Kansas.
By a unanimous vote of the congregation, Rev. Schroeder was again called as pastor. He gladly accepted the call and returned to Sterling to serve four more years. It was August 3, 1`92, that the Ladies Aid was organized and about the same time that the Menís Organization started.
On July 4, 1920, the 25th Anniversary was celebrated. Morning service was conducted by A. Grundel, afternoon service by Rev. H. Wendt (former pastor), and Evening service by Rev. Schroeder.
Pastor J. H. Moehl of Cook, Nebraska was then called. During his ministry, English services were introduced and an English Sunday School was organized. The ladies quilting group was also started. Beginning January 1928, English and German services were held every Sunday morning. Luther League was organized in 1924 and was first call Wartburg League.
On October 24, 1925, it was decided to build a new parsonage. The parsonage was built on the same lots as the old one so the pastorís family occupied a rented house, east of the church, while construction was in progress.
It had become apparent for a number of years that the church building was inadequate for the needs of the congregations and the question of erecting a new building had been under consideration for quite some time.
After much planning and under the leadership of Pastor Moehl, the congregation in January 1930 decided to erect a new house of worship. Those on the building committee chose Harvey C. Peterson of Omaha, Nebraska as the architect. The Nelson Construction Company, also of Omaha, received the general contract to build the new church.
The total cost of the church was $44,974.18. This included architect fees, furnace, furniture, light fixtures, wiring, plumbing, windows and pipe organ.
The work proceeded rapidly and on October 10, 1930, the beautiful new sanctuary was dedicated for the ministry of His Word and Sacraments. At the same dedication, the Central District of the American Lutheran Church was organized in the new house of worship. Dr. Richter, who had been president for many years of the old Iowa Synod, preached the dedicatory sermon. At the district business meeting, during the week following, Pastor Moehl was elected President of the Central District. Since this new office would require him full time, he tendered his resignation. It was accepted with much regret.
A call was extended to Pastor C. August Decker of Peoria, Illinois. He began his work in Sterling in January, 1931.
Difficult years followed because of drought, unemployment, depressed farm prices, together with the large debt ($31,000) still resting on the new church. Many members were serving their country during World War II. Due to the fine cooperation of the church council, the willing sacrifices of the members, and the fine support of the Ladies Aid, the congregation was able to pay its last indebtedness in January 1944. After serving the congregation faithfully during those difficult years, Pastor Decker resigned in 1945. The congregation celebrated its 50th Anniversary on July 29, 1945.
Pastors serving the congregation were:
Pastor John Voelk, Pastor Herman Damm, Dr. C. Madsen, Pastor A. G. Langholz, Pastor Harold Gronstal, Pastor Kenneth Rust, Pastor Herboldt, Pastor Wendell Debner, Pastor Don Wilken, Pastor Ernst Bentsen, Pastor Clayton Skurdahl, Pastor Stanley Floth, Pastor Doyle Karst. Presently serving the congregation is Pastor Mark Jamison.