Celebrate the ending of the Christmas holiday season in the “Old Time” way, just like German immigrants to Minnesota did 130 years ago.
The Historic St. John’s German Lutheran Church of Bradford will be hosting two “Old-Time” Christmas programs on Epiphany Sunday, Jan. 9, which has been a tradition for many years.
The first service will be held at 2 p.m. and will be a German language service called Lesungen und Weihnachtslieder. The service will feature many favorite German Christmas carols and will be led by guest pastor Jonathan Larson from Cambridge.
The second service will be held at 4 p.m. and is an English language service called Candlelight Lessons and Carols.
There will be scriptural readings and singing of traditional Christmas carols. Each program lasts about an hour and will be followed by fellowship featuring authentic German treats, hot cider, and coffee.
Marilyn Cuellar will play the pump organ during the services while her husband, Rande, will play the accordion.
“The uniqueness of this event is that the church is on the National Historic Register and where else can you experience this country church feeling where we light up the stove in the morning to take the chill out of the air,” Cuellar said. “They install kerosene lamps and light those. The pump organ, which has been restored over the years, puts out a good sound and stays in tune.”
A brief history of The Historic St. John’s Church from Sharon Sheppard:
Epiphany (arrival of the Three Kings) is one of the top three or four celebrated liturgical events in the German Lutheran Church calendar (following Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter). Historic St. John’s was built and opened in 1882, and Epiphany was celebrated there (in the German language) until about 1946 when “all English” services were instituted. The historic church closed its doors for good in the mid 1950s and remained unused for many years.
In the late 1990s, Valorie Arrowsmith, then the executive director of the Isanti County Historical Society (and a “program” developer), reestablished the Epiphany tradition. At that time, Sharon and Ralph Sheppard volunteered to clean and decorate the interior of the building for services.
The Sheppards’ involvement grew into taking over the planning and programming of the Epiphany services in 2003, when Arrowsmith left the Isanti County Historical Society to pursue other opportunities. In addition to planning and executing the now fully restored German language Epiphany service (Lesungen und Weinachtslieder — Lessons and Carols, including favorite German hymns and scriptural readings), a couple of years later, a second totally English language service (Candlelight Lessons and Carols) was added for sundown in the same afternoon.
Separately, also resurrected was the longtime German tradition of Oktoberfest, now held annually on the historic church’s grounds on the first Saturday after Labor Day in September. Since the church and grounds had fallen into disrepair, the Sheppards along with many others created the Friends of Historic St. John’s Inc., now a 501(c)(3) IRS registered nonprofit organization to generate funds, which led to a complete renovation/restoration of the church and provides ongoing funds for maintenance and upkeep.
Friends of Historic St. John’s
Members of the board of Historic St. John’s are responsible for organizing the event and helping maintain the old church.
Cuellar said Isanti County Commissioner Mike Warring gets a real Christmas tree donated by Wolcyn’s Tree Farm and Nursery and the group decorates the tree and the church on the Saturday before the services.
“A huge part of this service is tradition,” Cuellar said. “These services are meant to allow people in the community to feel what an old-fashioned Christmas service was like; it’s like putting a red bow on the ending of the Christmas season. The ambiance is just so unique and beautiful. It’s worth participating in, and the church is really a jewel within the community.”
The Historic St. John’s Lutheran Church of Bradford is at 900 County Road 5 NW and anyone is welcome to attend either service.