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History Timeline
1830-1839 1840-1849 1850-1859 1860-1869 1870-1879 1880-1889 1890-1899 1900-1909 1910-1919 1920-1929 1930-1939 1940-1949 1950-1959 1960-1969 1970-1979 1980-1989 1990-1999 2000-2009 2010-2019

If it hadn't been for the Reverend F. W. Emil Boeckelmann, Waterloo might never have known the benefits of the two world-renowned universities. 

A pastor at St. John's in the early 20th century, Boeckelmann was a pivotal figure in the establishment of a seminary in Waterloo in 1911. The new training institution for Lutheran pastors soon expanded to become Waterloo College and began offering locals a chance at a post-secondary education. Eventually, the college separated into the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, paving the way for Waterloo to become the thriving university city it is today. 

To learn more about the extensive history of St. John's and the church's influence both locally and further afield, explore the time line above.


1833 - The first worship services begin in Waterloo, led by Rev. Friedrich W. Bindemann. Bindemann, a missionary of the Union Church of Old Prussia, establishes preaching points within a 40 kilometre radius of his home (near the present-day Kitchener Collegiate Institute) in Preston, New Hamburg, St. Agatha, Berlin (now Kitchener) and Waterloo.

1837 - Sixteen German families arrive in Canada to escape famine and unemployment in Europe. Settling in what would eventually become the village of Waterloo in 1857, they establish the area's first Lutheran congregation. The first church is built a year later.

1841 - Rev. Jacob Huettner, minister of the Preston congregation, agrees to serve the fledgling congregation of St. John's on a part time basis.

1851 - St. John's welcomes a new pastor, Rev. J. Wurster of Germany. Class also begins at St. John's Sunday School.

1857 - St. John's welcomes its first full-time pastor, Rev. Jakob Hoelsche, who is a member of the Ohio Synod. At this point, the church has only 55 voting members.

1865 - St. John's installs the first pipe organ in the church. Also this year, a Ladies' Aid Society is organized.

1873 - Pastor Hoelsche retires, and the congregation interviews potential candidates to find another preacher with 'good moral character and a college and theological education of the Lutheran persuasion.' They find all this in the form of Rev. J. Schneider, recently arrived from Russia.

1882 - A year of change for St. John's. Now affiliated with the Canada Synod, formed by a group of Ontario Lutheran churches in 1851, the congregation has outgrown the first church building. Plans are made for a larger church to accommodate the teeming Sunday School and overflowing parishioners. The congregation donates $6,618 towards the cost of the new building (which ends up with a final price tag of more than $14,000), and members donate their time and skills to help with construction. The church is completed a year later when the three bells, Faith, Hope and Love, are placed in the steeple. Also this year, pastor Schneider decides to return to Russia, and Rev. J. L. Braun takes his place.

1883 - The second church building is constructed at King and Laurel streets in Waterloo.

1886 - Pastor Braun severs ties with the Canada Synod, and a few months later St. John's also withdraws. The church introduces the envelope system to help members contribute to church expenses and help with debt reduction.

1890 - Rev. B. Christiansen now serves St. John's. He is soon joined by choir director Charles Froehlich and organist Mrs. Spady; both will bring music to the church for more than 30 years.

1895 - The church is redecorated and a new parsonage is built, just in time for the new pastor, Rev. M.G.W. Arendt. St. John's once again resumes its relationship with the Canada Synod.

1900 - Due to health concerns, pastor Arendt is forced to retire. His successor, Rev. E.A. Schultz, shuns any affiliations with Lutheran Synods. Once again, the Canada Synod and St. John's part ways.

1903 - St. John's begins to offer one English worship service each month, to accommodate the English-speaking children of the original German settlers. Sunday School lessons continue to be taught in German, however.

1911 - St. John's re-establishes ties with the Canada Synod.

Reverend F. W. Emil Boeckelmann, a pastor at St. John's in the early 20th century, establishes the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada in Waterloo. The new training institution for Lutheran pastors soon expands to become Waterloo College and begins offering locals a chance at a post-secondary education. In 1955, the college would separate into the University of Waterloo and Waterloo Lutheran University (later Wilfrid Laurier University.)

1912 - In its 75th year, the church now offers services in English every Sunday evening, and English Sunday School classes in the afternoon.

1914-1918 - St. John's does its part for the war effort. Church youth send gifts to soldiers fighting in Europe, with funds raised by fining young people for speaking German at their League meetings. In a display of patriotism, the youth also hold regular 'Victory Cabbage' dinners - in place of the standard 'Sauerkraut Supper.' The rest of the congregation also gets into the act, collecting hundreds of dollars and clothing for European relief. Church member Clayton Fenner was among 11 local soldiers and nurses who did not return from the war.

1921 - Women are granted the right to vote in congregational meetings.

1923 - Pastor Boeckelmann, the church's longest serving pastor of 17 years, accepts another call. Replacing him is Rev. Clifford S. Roberts. The St. John's Men Society is started, and the last German Sunday School class is disbanded.

1926 - The congregation purchases an Essex automobile for the pastor to make his parish calls.

1927 - St. John's goes ahead with the construction of a parish hall, with a main auditorium, space for small rooms, a kitchen and a meeting room.

1935 - Despite the years of Depression, St. John's manages to liquidate its debt.

1937 - St. John's celebrates 100 years with eight days of festival services and rallies.

1938 - Rev. Lloyd H. Schaus is installed as St. John's first assistant pastor.

1939 - Rising tensions in Germany brings about the end of all German forms of worship. A vacation church school, one of the first in the area, is also established this year, although it will not held again until after the war.

1945 - World War II comes to an end. St. John's celebrates with V-E and V-J services, and holds a memorial service for five members lost in the war: Oscar Christiansen, Jack Ernst, Harold Kalbfleisch, Robert Rahn and Robert Stahle. The church gives its support to a missionary, Rev. E.F. Rohlfing in British Guiana (now Guyana) in South America.

1948 - Rev. Arnold L. Conrad, of Rose Bay, Nova Scotia, becomes the church's sixteenth pastor.

1949 - The two-year Confirmation program is introduced. St. John's members pledge monetary support to the Waterloo College Expansion and two missionaries, Rev. Martin Ruccius and his wife, in Liberia, Africa.

The first Estonian service is held at St. John's by pastor Karl Rausepp.

1953 - The church building is renovated and expanded, and the church is insured against fire for 80 per cent of its value. The Messenger notes "The cost of the insurance will be slightly over $800 per year, but in view of the devastating damages that could happen through fire, wind, water and storm, this action was deemed advisable for the good of us all."

St. John's begins to hold two morning services, one at 9:30 a.m., the second at 11 a.m.

1957 - Rev. Clifford S. Roberts returns to St. John's as associate pastor. Also installed this year is the church's first deaconess, Sister Velma Pomrenke.

1959 - A raging fire on Halloween night completely destroys the second church, built in 1883 at King and Laurel streets in Waterloo. For the next three years, the Waterloo Theatre on King St. (now the Waterloo Stage Theatre) serves as a temporary home for the St. John's congregation.

1961 - Construction begins on a new church, located at the present site bordered by Willow and Allen streets.

Pastor Roberts retires and is named pastor emeritus.

1962 - On Oct. 14, the new church is dedicated. Special new features include a five-panelled gallery window of St. John and a high stone tower. The tower contains replicas of the three bells destroyed in the 1959 fire; the bells are named Love, Hope and Faith. The site also includes a fellowship hall, an educational wing and a parsonage.

1965 - St. John's starts up monthly Danish language worship services led by pastor Paul Overgaard-Thomsen of Toronto.

1968 - Due to decreased demand, German services are now held twice a month.

1975 - Luther Manor, St. John's senior citizen's home with 24 one-bedroom units, completed construction on its first phase.

The church library opens its doors.

1977 - On Oct. 30, the twenty nave windows depicting a chronological retelling of Christ's life are dedicated. They were designed and constructed by Russell C. Goodman and his family from thousands of pieces of imported glass.

1979 - Rev. Eric Weber begins his St. John's ministry.

Estonian services begin at St. John's.

1982 - Rev. Jacob (Jack) Dressler is called to St. John's, to assist pastor Weber upon the retirement of pastor Conrad.

The second phase of Luther Manor, adding 21 units to the senior citizen's home, is completed.

1983 - Sister Anne Keffer joins the ministry team.

1985 - The church youth, together with Our Saviour's youth group from Owen Sound, travel to New York City. They visit the Lutheran Church in America headquarters, and spend time communing with youth groups at local Lutheran churches.

1987 - Wilfrid Laurier University professor Barrie Cabena composes a musical work, 'The Windows of St. John's,' to commemorate the church's 150th anniversary.

1988 - The Sixty-plus Fellowship group is formed.

1989 - St. John's retirement community, Luther Manor, expands yet again with the construction of the third phase. The growth requires the demolition of the parsonage.

1990 - The St. John's congregation welcomes refugees from El Salvador and Honduras through the Inter-Lutheran Refugee Committee.

1991 - Rev. Judi Harris becomes interim senior pastor, upon the resignation of Pastor Weber. She is later replaced by Rev. Eric Reble. Pastor Peter Thomsen of Delta, B.C. is installed as the church's senior pastor.

1992 - Rev. Linda Thomsen is called to part-time service at St. John's.

1993 - Church members start an alternative worship service in the Fellowship hall. This informal service is led by vocalists and musicians from the church community.

1994 - Pastor Jonathan Schmidt is called to St. John's as youth minister.

1996 - Pastors Doug Kranz and Joe Habibullah arrive at St. John's to minister to the congregation.

The church youth group travels to Alberta to take part in a youth encounter and week-long camping trip. Two year later, youth embark on a similar bus trip to Halifax.

1998 - Pastor Steven Weber is called to St. John's.

2001 - St. John's website is created.

2002 - St. John's celebrates 165 years as a church and 40 years in the new church building.

St. John's 165th Anniversary
(The Eastern Synod Lutheran - February 2003)

With trumpet fanfare and a church packed to the last row, St. John's Lutheran Church in Waterloo, Ont. ushered in its 165th year this past November.

Joining in the festivities was Bishop Michael J. Pryse of Canada's Eastern Synod. Bishop Pryse followed the processional of celebration dancers into the church, where he led the congregation in worship.

"The Lord truly has done great things with you and for you," he said in his sermon to the congregation.

In addition to celebrating over a century and a half as a congregation, the church building itself was marking 40 years at its current location. A fire in 1959 completely destroyed the former place of worship, home to the congregation since 1883.

Following the service, the congregation marked the occasion with a potluck dinner and historical slide show. Former and current pastors were on hand to reminisce.

Bishop Pryse praised the congregation for thriving in the face of adversity, and encouraged St. John's to continue with its good works.

"You've used your talents wisely and made beautiful music," he said. "Continue to do good things with the gifts that have been given you."

- Martin Kuebler

2009 - Pastor Rebecca Klages is called to St. John's.

2012 - St. John's Lutheran Church celebrates its 175th Anniversary.

2013 - Rev. Fred Ludolph is called to St. John's in spring of 2013.


  • St. John's 125th Anniversary Commemoration
  • St. John's 150th Anniversary Commemoration
  • St. John's 160th Anniversary Supplement
  • Moser, Paul. "St. John's Lutheran Church," The Record, April 15 2000.