Lifting High the Cross for 200 Years

by Mark Smith, Edited by Robert C. Carpenter

St. John&aposs Lutheran Church

Celebrating St. John's Lutheran Church 200th Anniversary




UPDATE - July 18, 2001

OUT OF THE ASHES: Progress in effort to rebuild church 'beautiful,' says pastor.

Grateful to all who've helped, St. Johns plans to break ground this year.

Smoke rises from the burned-out shell of
St. Johns Lutheran Church in Conover.
The congregation lost its sanctuary to fire in February. The sanctuary, built in 1951, replaced another destroyed by fire in 1950.

CONOVER-- After St. Johns Lutheran Church burned in February, church members wondered about the fate of the church bell tower with the neon blue cross on top.

The tower still stood, just as it had remained standing the last time the church burned in 1950. But they wondered how much structural damage .the fire had caused.

Weeks later, the congregation learned that the tower and cross, which had become a symbol of the historic Conover church, would be roved. And Easter Sunday, they rang the bell for the first time and lit the cross.

"You talk about tears being shed once again," church member Randy Baker said. "We were so happy to hear that the tower would be saved."

The church congregation, like the tower, still stands and has become even stronger since the fire, the Rev. Scott Johnson said.

And they'll need that strength as the church begins to rebuild the sanctuary. Building committee members saw the first sketches recently and hope to finalize the building plan and break ground before the end of the year. They need to raise more than $1 million to finish the project.

But so far, progress has been promising. "It's really been a very positive experience, other than the shock and the initial pain," Johnson said. "It just comes across as God providing for us in a time of need."

The congregation still holds Sunday services on church property - in the gym - and has gained members since the fire, Johnson said. The new sanctuary will fit twice as many people as the old one.
And they can't count the number of people and entire church congregations that have donated money or equipment.

"It's just been a beautiful experience - but we wish it had never happened this way," Johnson said.

The insurance settlement was about $25 million, short of the estimated $4 million the church needs to rebuild, Johnson said. So far, they've raised about an additional $100,000, he said.

The proposed sanctuary, which still must be approved by the congregation, would look a lot like the one that burned. It will still be shaped like a cross, with a pipe organ, stained-glass windows and a cathedral ceiling with big rafters.

Scott said he hopes the church can break ground on the sanctuary in November.
Harold Baker, chairman of the building committee, said he visits the church every day to see progress on a new building, which was supposed to be done the week after the fire. He enjoys the work, but gets choked up when he thinks of the efforts of so many people.
His voice broke when he described an event Saturday when six churches held a large fired-raiser for St. Johns. "Words won't express it," he said.

Want To Help?
Donations can be made to the

St. Johns Lutheran Church Rebuilding Fund
 2126 St. John's Road, Conover, N.C. 28613

by Erica BESHEARS, Staff Writer, Charlotte Observer, July 18, 2001, Page 1V

Early-morning blaze destroys St. Johns Lutheran Sanctuary


For the second time-in 50 years, the bell tower of St. Johns Lutheran Church stands in front of the charred  remains of the sanctuary below. 
Stunned church members watched as an early-morning fire today claimed the brick church building. The church was ablaze when firefighters arrived on the scene at 1:30 a.m. today, said Conover Fire Chief Eric Hall.
Firefighters spent the next several hours trying to control the fire, which destroyed the sanctuary.
The bell tower was left, just as it was after a fire that gutted the church a half-century ago.
Church member Bradley Hunsucker said he could see the fire from his house off Dairy Farm Road. 
"All you Could see last night was the bell tower engulfed in flames from: both sides," he said.
About 150 church members arrived in the dark to watch, and even held a brief worship service about 3:30 a.m.
The fire apparently started in the center of the church building, said Fire Chief Hall.
The charred remains of the sanctuary can be seen through the church's front doors,
No one was injured:
The church's new education wing, recently completed and scheduled to be dedicated April 1, wasn't burned but had smoke damage.
Conover fire officials, with assistance from the Catawba County Fire Marshal's Office and the State Bureau of Investigation, will spend the day trying to determine the cause of the fire.
St. Johns celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1998.
The first church was built in 1798. A second structure was erected in 1883. The third building, constructed in 1948, was destroyed by fire in 1950. It was rebuilt by church members in 1951.
Willie Yount, a longtime member, remembers the 1950 fire.
"The members rebuilt the church then, he said. "They went into the woods and found the wood to rebuild the • church."
Church member Patricia Huffman was in tears. "I keep thinking how happy we've been here," she said. "It (the church building) was so solid ... It meant everything to me. The rebuilding will start today." 
Jim Johnson, president of the congregation, arrived on the scene about 2:30 this morning. "Church members will rebuild," he said.
 "You can count on this - this church will be built back. It will be."
Johnson, who was born and raised at St. Johns, said his 80- year-old mother has attended the church all of her life and her father and brother were among those who helped rebuild the church 50 years ago.
"These people are amazing." Johnson said. "Well rebuild...I'm always amazed at what these people can do."
Membership at St. Johns is more than 700, Johnson said, with average Sunday attendance been 320-350.
Johnson said he's not sure where church members will hold Sunday services, but they're talking about possibly meeting in the gym of one of the nearby schools.

Observer-News-Enterprise , Wednesday February 21, 2001.
Story and photos by Jennifer Miller and Jon Alverson

historic sign An impressive work on the history of the Lutheran Church in Western North Carolina. More than just a church history, Mark's efforts document the influence of Lutheranism and its people throughout Western North Carolina.

 St. John's, the mother church, heart and conscience of the community, shared the trials and tribulations of the Palatine German pioneers who formed her. Triumph and turmoil, building and burning, this is a rich history with a wealth of insight on those whose influence would be felt for two hundred years.

Make check payable to:


$30.00 (includes postage and handling)

Mrs. Wayne Smith
P.O. Box 123
Conover, NC 28613-0123

For more information, contact:
Pat Caswell Cloninger

The OFFICIAL St. John's Lutheran Church site is located here

Here is the new page describing the book:

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