The first church erected in Mahone Bay according to M.B. DesBrisay’s “History of the County of Lunenburg”, was a Union building commenced July 17, 1833. Four denominations worshipped here in turn – Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists. The Lutheran trustee was Peter Strum.
The Rev. W.W. Bowers, of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Maryland, was called in 1863 and served the large body of Lutherans, most of them in the Mahone Bay area. He began his duties on December 1, 1863.
St. John’s Lutheran Church of Mahone Bay was first fully organized as a District Congregation on June 6, 1864, when the following persons were chosen as officers of the church: Nathan Kedy, Thomas Ernst (my great-great grandfather), Phillip Aulenbach, Frederick Ernst, and James Hiltz.
On October 20, 1866, a motion was made, quoting from the minutes, “to proceed to erect a new Lutheran Church building in Mahone Bay”. The motion was carried unanimously and it was noted that “money already collected for such an endeavour was $1,263.00.”
Also on the same date, a new Compact was entered into as follows:
“We whose names are hereunto subscribed, being adherents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church do agree to write ourselves together as a distinct Congregation to be called the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mahone Bay, Lunenburg Col, Nova Scotia, and do agree to call the Rev. W.W. Bowers, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Maryland…We bind ourselves to abide by the Constitution and By-Laws of the Church…We obligate ourselves to pay for the yearly support of our Pastor the sums set opposite our respective names in this book.”
To which agreement are appended the names of Phillip Aulenbach and thirty-six others, each guaranteeing the sum of $32.40, totalling $1,166.40 for the year!
The original church building was erected “near to the water’s edge and was 38 feet by 50 feet with a 20 foot post, a gallery, and a graceful spire, furnished with a bell.”
On October 3, 1870, the members of Mahone Bay and vicinity met and appointed the Rev. W.W. Bowers, Chairman, and David Ernst, Secretary. By a 2/3 vote, the meeting resolved to adopt a Constitution of 10 Articles. The Council working with Pastor Bowers was composed of Phillip Aulenbach, George Ernst, Thomas Ernst, Nathaniel Ernst, Frederick Ernst, Stephen Schlagenweid, Alexander Hamm, Harry Ernst, Josiah Bruhm, Nathan Kedy, John Ernst, and Alexander Lantz.
On September 8, 1873, a Congregational meeting agreed on the following resolution:
“That the congregation will join the Pittsburgh Synod and thereby the General Conference, and that until a new English Minister arrives, the Lutheran Church in Mahone Bay shall be open every Sunday morning and evening for Prayer Meetings.”
In 1876 the Rev. J.A. Scheffer was called from Delmont Charge, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Pastor Scheffer began his ministry on July 16, 1876. He was the first English-speaking pastor and the first to minister alone to all the needs of the parish. During his ministry the records show an increase from 32 Communicants in 1876 to 346 in 1885!
In 1876 the first Church records were kept in Mahone Bay. Previously statistics were recorded in Lunenburg with their church records.
The first baptism was that of Minnie Maude Halimore on July 29, 1876, infant daughter of William and Charlotte (Hirtle) Halimore. The sponsors were Mr. and Mrs. David Hirtle.
The first marriage was solemnized on March 3, 1877, and joined in Holy Matrimony James Alvin Eisenhauer, Newburn, and Eliza Jane Minnich, Petite Riviere.
The Rev. D. Luther Roth wrote the following in his “History of the Lutheran Church in Nova Scotia”:
“On Christmas evening, 1876, the Rev. Mr. Scheffer with his Sunday School at Mahone Bay under the guidance of Rev. Mr. Roth, held a Christmas Festival with addresses from the Clergy of Conference, excellent music, and a finely illuminated and tastefully decorated Christmas tree, as far as we know the first in any Church in the Province. The Rev. Mr. Roth has cause to remember it for his house narrowly escaped being burned to the ground while he was with his wife attending upon it!”
The first Catechetical Class numbered 22 members and was confirmed on April 1, 1877. On January 1, 1890, the congregation voted to build a parsonage not to exceed the cost of $1,500.00, and was completed before the end of the Rev. Jacob Maurers’ ministry in St. John’s Parish.
On January 1, 1903, the annual congregational meeting voted $4,000.00 for renovating and improving the church and building a Sunday School area in connection with it.
The following August, the cornerstone was laid. The cornerstone contained the elements of the Lord’s Supper, coins – all bearing the image of King Edward VII (1902), the Constitution and Charter of the Congregation, Church Almanac of 1903, a Church Book, The Lutheran (a magazine of the church), the Signal, and the Progress-Enterprise.
By December 26, 1912, the mortgage was paid off and a month later St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church held Jubilee Services.
On January 3, 1926, the pipe organ was purchased for $5,000.00 and was dedicated with Miss Gladys Conrad at the console. Sermons were by the Rev. F.L. Wartzell, the Rev. George P. Endy, and the Rev. George Innis.
In 1947, organ chimes were dedicated to the Glory of God and in loving memory of Henry and Eleanor Hirtle. The Chimes were donated by their children.
Other significant dates in the history of St. John’s include the year of 1955, when the church parking lot was constructed. In 1965 and 1970 new additions to the Sunday School were completed. In 1982 the Sacristy of the church was renovated in memory of Wilbert and Bessie Ernst. The Sunday School hall was remodelled in the same year thanks to a bequest from Gladys Nellie Maude Ernst. In 1986 the chimes were electronically connected to speakers in the steeple and dedicated in memory of Arthur Ernst. In 1991, the Mahone Bay Parish, consisting of four congregations, was dissolved by a duly constituted vote of the congregation of St. John’s. The congregation once again became a single and distinct congregation on its own. In 2010 the Sunday School, offices, and kitchen were renovated and a new side entry with a wheelchair lift was built.
(Written by Mrs. Elizabeth Ernst)