The History of St. Peter UCC

As compiled and reported by Verna Steinkamp in Celebration of 140 years as a congregation.

I have researched and compiled a history of the church for the past 140 years and trust it is accurate.

Centralia just 10 years old was growing with leaps and bounds which was traceable to the coming and establishment of certain industries. Illinois Central Railroad chose to locate its repair shops here and received certain federal grants. They offered lots for school and church purposes.

When the first public call went out to organize a religious body the response was not so promising. The story is told of several traveling by wagon to New Minden over rough and uncertain road where regular services were held. On May 13,1863, the following men—John Besant, Wm. Schroeder, Ferdinand Kohl, Peter Heiss, Casper Stelzer, John Merkelbach, and Jacob Kohl—pooled their resources in a religious enterprise. The first service was conducted in the Presbyterian church on May 17,1863 with Rev. Mueller of Okawville delivering the sermon. A week later an appeal was made to permit the pastor, Rev. Dr. R. John of Zion Evangelical Church in Central City, organized 5 years before, to minister to St. Peter also. Steps were taken to provide a house of worship. This was made easier when they succeeded in acquiring property on Third & Cherry Streets for church purposes from Illinois Central, provided the structure be erected within a year. When the first $600 was pledged they dared to continue. Church services alternated between Central City and Centralia. A constitution was adopted on October 1,1863, with the official name chosen "Deutsche Evangelische St. Petri Gemmeinde." Hardly a year passed when Rev. Dr. R. John was called to be the full time pastor of St. Peter although there was no parsonage so along with the building of the church a parsonage was built alongside of the church. The church building was dedicated to the glory of God on November 6,1864. In 1877 the congregation was incorporated which is an important legal step that permits a congregation to acquire property and to act as a unit in any legal transaction. The congregation grew and a larger house of worship was required, and it was feared this was too great an expense. However, on September 3,1877 building operations began, the cornerstone was laid on October 2,1877 and dedication took place on April 8,1888 with the original church becoming the church hall for social gatherings.

A parochial school was erected to the north of the present church and was known as "The Annex." The school did not prove successful, and the public school was enlisted to offer a course in German. The Annex was rented and used as a public school building until the erection of Schiller School in 1905 after which it was sold to a member of the church.

One of the injections into the construction of the new church by Mr. Freant, the contractor was a rooster as a weather vane. To many it seemed odd to connect a rooster weather vane with a church structure. But to the serious and thoughtful church member it is more than a weather vane. It is a solemn reminder of the disciple of when Jesus said: "Before the cock crows, thou shalt deny Me thrice that thou Knowest Me." It is an admonition, reminding us of the words: "Watch and Pray that ye fall not into temptation!"

In 1882 the first choir was organized with Mr. Jacob Kohl as the director. The choir is composed entirely of volunteer singers. Several junior choirs have been organized during the years along with a cherub choir.

The Ladies Aid knows as "Der Frauenverein" was organized July 6, 1883 which later became Circle A for the German speaking women.

In the year 1892 it was decided to become affiliated with the Synod.

The church was in need of a pipe organ as an aid to worship as vigorous singing is a trait of the German congregations, but to accommodate one an alcove had to be added to the north end of the church. It was dedicated in June of 1901 at a cost of $1250.

Late in 1903 it was felt the first modest parsonage built was not adequate, and a large two story frame building facing West Third Street was built. In addition to containing a study for the pastor it also became a shop for printing the church paper called "Our St. Peters Messenger."

For the 50th anniversary of the church art glass windows and a new heating system were installed, and the interior was redecorated. The congregation at that time gave promise of becoming one of the large and outstanding congregations of the city and of the entire South Illinois District. In 1912 the congregation was host to the annual conference of the South Illinois District—first venture of that kind.

In 1913 the Golden Jubilee was celebrated with all indebtedness paid and was a day of rejoicing according to The Centralia Daily Democrat. Eggs, strictly fresh, were 17 cents a dozen, butter, good stock, 19-1/2 cents per pound, wheat 95 cents per bushel, and you could attend the movies for 5 cents at the Pittinger Grand.

The year 1920 is remembered as the Storm and Stress period of the congregation as its very existence was threatened. A big problem was the language so a pastor was required to speak in both languages. The last class confirmed in German was in 1920. In 1922 Circle B of the Ladies Aid Society was organized for the English speaking ladies.

The Brotherhood was organized in 1922 with a charter obtained in 1947. They had a band which won the admiration of the District Federation and received the award for the largest representation at the District Federation Conventions. In line with progressive thinking "Individual Membership" was adopted as well as the "Weekly Envelope System."

In preparation for the Diamond Jubilee the church interior was renovated with the straight ceiling changed to an arched ceiling. A new fabric known as Celotex was used. A new lighting system was installed, new altar and pulpit coverings, changed choir loft, new carpeting, new linoleum, new swing doors, new hardwood floors, new hymn boards, and a new lecturn at a cost of nearly $2500. An orchestra also enhanced worship. Two rededication services were held October 31, 1937, both largely attended.

At first Sunday school was held every two weeks but soon changed to an hour every Sunday morning. In 1920 Beginners and Primary Department was organized. Each summer a daily Vacation Bible School was held for two weeks. The teachers were members of "The Centralia Sunday School Circle", an organization of teachers from nine surrounding Sunday Schools that meet once a year. They also sent delegates to the Annual Sunday School and League Convention of the South Illinois District which had meetings once a year for a two day session.

In January, 1911 the youth organization held its first meeting with meetings every other Sunday evening. An active Young Peoples League continued and also supported the Young People Union which created better fellowship and understanding not only among the young people but among the churches as well. The Union met the fifth Sunday of the month. They were part of rallies held with youth organizations in adjoining towns.

On November 12,1942 twelve girls met and organized the Evangelical and Reformed Mission Society for the purpose of keeping in contact with the boys in service and to help with Red Cross work.

In 1950 much building was undertaken including remodeling of the church and building an educational unit. The church was covered with Indiana limestone, the steeple removed and the entrance changed. A modernistic design dominated, and a new electric organ was installed together with a stained glass window in the tower of the church. The educational wing consisted of two floors and a basement with a dining room and kitchen in the basement. The dedication was held April 27,1952. The first couple married in the renovated church was Irvin and Tana Reichmann. A new parsonage was also constructed and dedicated April 28,1957. The house to the north of the church was acquired, rented for a year, and then torn down for a much needed parking lot.


Children's Worship area located in the educational building
Children's worship area, located in educational building

In 1973 the Board of Christian Education was organized. Air conditioning was installed in the sanctuary in 1978. In 1979 a chair lift to the basement was installed and a concrete ramp built. In 1979 VBS was again established together with Redeemer Lutheran and First United Presbyterian Church. In 1984 a quilt show was held, an outside planter installed, and pews were cushioned. In 1987 a lighted display case was installed donated by Olin and Pauline Bloemker. In 1988 the chancel was rearranged whereby the choir sits behind the communion table instead of the sides. In October, 1991 a computer was functioning and situated in the office. In 1994 a Covenant of Churches was adopted between St. Peter UCC, First United Presbyterian Church, Redeemer Lutheran Church, First Christian Church and Zion UCC. In 1995 the air conditioners were moved from the roof to the south side of building. In 1996 the back pews were modified to be wheelchair accessible with funds from the Florence Schumann memorial. In 1997 upon recommendation of the Seeds for Mission Growth Committee funds were deposited with the United Church Foundation, an agency of the United Church of Christ. A Mission Board was ultimately established in 2001. An elevator was installed to the basement in 2001, and a memorial garden for Olin & Pauline Bloemker was dedicated in 2003.

The current sanctuary of St. Peter U.C.C.

It is obvious the continuing work of St. Peter Church is due to the deep commitment of our members over the past 140 years. We serve Christ is so many ways and rejoice in the presence of the Lord who comes to us in fellowship with others. There are so many ways in which our church gives praise to God. May we continue to do so, and may God's hand lead us and make us willing to render service to our church and our Lord at all times.