On June 18, 1870
a group of zealous Christian men and women gathered in Wittmer’s Hall at the corner of 8th and Washington Streets and founded St. John’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church.
For a short time the newly formed congregation worshipped in the former English Lutheran Church at the Southwest corner of 6th and Madison Street now on the site of Union Square and ICC Railroad Depot. St. John’s also established a parochial school temporarily on the second floor of a building on the north side of Jefferson Street which is now occupied by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.
In November 1871, St. John’s purchased from the First Presbyterian congregation their historical church building located at the Southeast corner of 3rd and Washington Streets. It sat just east of the C&A railroad tracks and south of the present Amtrak Station. This church built in 1842 was known as LINCOLN’S CHURCH. Abraham Lincoln never formally joined the church, but Mary Lincoln became a member on October 13, 1852. Tad Lincoln was baptized in the church on April 4, 1855. The church bell was the only piece of property reserved by First Presbyterian in the sale of the church building to St. John’s. All of the furnishings (including Lincoln’s pew and Tad’s baptismal bowl) in the church belonged to St. John’s. Tad’s baptismal bowl is now on display at St. John’s Lutheran Church. The bell which was not sold to St. John’s now hangs in the First Presbyterian Church at Seventh and Capital Streets where it still rings today. St. John’s purchased a bell for the church in October 1873. This bell was relocated and rang at the College and Monroe Street church. It was refurbished in 1982 and is installed in church bell tower at 2477 Washington Street where it rings today.
St. John’s worshipped at 3rd and Washington Streets until 1911. A decision to move was the result of the high cost of maintenance, the increased frequency of train traffic interrupting services, and a livery stable on the east side of the church. In May 1910 a building site at the southeast corner of Monroe and College Street was purchased. On July 15, 1911, the congregation sold the old church to Mayor John Schnepp and others. Lincoln’s original pew was sold to John W. Bunn who donated it to First Presbyterian Church where it can be seen today. The Cornerstone for the new church at College and Monroe was laid December 31, 1911. The church was dedicated on October 28, 1912.
Services in German were conducted until 1910 when combined German and English services started. German services were conducted once a week and discontinued in 1935. On January 14, 1912 the church was incorporated as: THE FIRST GERMAN EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH OF ST. JOHN OF SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS. On January 7, 1940 the church name was reincorporated to: ST. JOHN’S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH OF SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS.
By 1945, St. Johns had grown to a size which made the Church and Sunday School rooms inadequate. It was not until 1952 that ground was broken and enlarging and renovating the church began. From May 1953 to March 1954 church and Sunday school were held in the auditorium of the State’s Centennial Building. On Easter 1953 the cornerstone was blessed. The completed church was dedicated March 14, 1954.
In the mid 1970’s it became apparent that the church’s location in the State Capitol Complex prevented all weekday activities (no funerals, organizational activities, luncheons, etc.). Street and State parking lots had to be used on Sundays and nights. In 1980, the Illinois Space Needs Commission declared its intent to purchase St. John’s Church building. The congregation then purchased a 7.75 acre building site located at Washington St. and Harbaur Lane. The State of Illinois purchased the College and Monroe Street church building in December 1981. The last service in this church was January 2, 1983. The church was turned over to the State of Illinois February 4, 1983. St. John's temporarily worshiped at Grant Middle School until the new church at 2477 West Washington Street was completed in 1983. The cornerstone was laid November 13, 1983. The first service in the new church was held November 27, 1983. Many items were salvaged from the College and Monroe sanctuary and have been incorporated into the sanctuary on Washington Street. The alter and back wall views in the old and new church are very similar. Many items salvaged and reinstalled were all stained glass windows, reredos with the carving of Jesus, pipe organ and pipes, ceiling light fixtures, doors, alter, pulpit, lectern, alter woodwork, and pews, etc.
During the 1980’s the congregation again showed considerable growth. Worship attendance grew and the educational program was taxing the space available. In 1990, St. John’s preschool was established which served several hundred students. To accomplish St. John’s mission, a large Parish Life Center was built to provide a facility for contemporary services, meetings, banquets, preschool classrooms, youth activities, Sunday school, music, staff needs, and a kitchen. The Parish Life Center was dedicated and the cornerstone laid on November 28, 2004.