St. Paul’s Lutheran anniversary
Church marks its 160th birthday with historical presentation
St. Paul Lutheran Church, town of Berlin, celebrated a 160th anniversary on Sunday with tales of how a horseback circuit-riding pastor braved deep snows and frigid January temperatures to bring the Gospel to forest-covered rural Marathon County.
The Rev. Nathaniel Biebert, who was St. Paul’s pastor from 2020-17, painted a picture of how the Rev. Johanas Strieter, who lived near Princeton, three times rode a horse north in 1860 to preach in the town of Berlin, baptized children and organized a gathering of the Lutheran faithful. Biebert said it took two days for the pastor to make the dangerous trip. He typically stayed overnight at the Avery House in Stevens Point and at the August and Matilda Kickbusch’s home on Clark island, Wausau, before making the journey west to an early settlement of Pomeranians in the town of Berlin.
“Strieter had no idea what he was getting into,” he said.
Biebert said Rev. Strieter wound up at the home of Carl Kufahl in his first trip to the town of Berlin. The pastor preached, baptised eight children and, exhausted, fell asleep.
“I dreamt I was hearing the angels sing,” wrote Strieter in a diary entry. “But it wasn’t the angels. It was the Kufahl family singing ‘Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense.’” Biebert said that upon waking, the pastor looked for a mirror and razor with which he could shave with. All he found was a small, triangular piece of mirror and a razor that cut “like a saw.” After that, Biebert reported, Strieter concluded that “our dear God” wanted men to grow beards and never again brought a razor to his face. “My beard grows as it pleases,” Strieter later wrote.
Biebert said Rev. Strieter’s first horse was named Charlie. The horse limped and would stubbornly refuse to move at times. The pastor traded him for a second steed, Rocky, who was a joy to ride. “He gallops like a rocking chair,” Strieter said in his writings.
Rev. Strieter braved deep snow, wild animals and freezing temperatures in his second trip to Berlin township. Worse yet, he tangled with Methodists who had also started settling the territory.
Following a meal of bacon, rye bread and brandy (in moderation), Rev. Strieter provided a “black and white” Gospel-based, winning argument that a local Methodist held “fanatical” views concerning the essence of baptism. The theological victory was defended later in a terse tavern conversation with other Methodists.
On his Jan. 25 return home during a third trip, Rev. Strieter nearly froze to death. He lost his way while Rocky trudged through three-foot deep snow. As temperatures plunged, the minister contemplated his death. He called on God to preserve his life in order to take care of his wife and four children. He continued to move his arms and legs to keep from freezing. Within 15 minutes, however, he found his way home and, with teeth chattering, warmed himself by the family hearth. “This is what you guys were worth” to Rev. Strieter, Rev. Biebert told members of the St. Paul’s congregation. The Rev. Strieter introduced the Rev. J.J. Hoffman to the Berlin settlers and in a March 11, 1861 meeting, 57 men met in a log school to organize St. Paul Lutheran Church. By August, Hoffman was officially installed as church pastor.
Rev. Strieter didn’t return to St. Paul’s for 50 years. He came back for an anniversary service in 1910 attended by 2,000 people.
Rev. Biebert said several Lutheran churches started up in the area as a result of the establishment of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.