It was a long arduous trek when John Martin and his family came to Menomonee Falls from Montgomery Pennsylvania in 1838. When they came, as members of the Evangelical Brethren they brought their faith. The first circuit rider missionary, John Lutz from the Ohio conference, visited the Martins in 1840. Soon other German speaking families from the same area in Pennsylvania joined the first settlers: the Frey, Balheim, Werly, Lininger and Leister families. Then they were joined by new immigrants from Germany, the Schlafer, Lichter and Nickel families. These families had no church building but worshiped regularly in their homes. Members served as “class leaders” in the absence of a local pastor. The Nehs and Barnes families came from Pennsylvania in 1844 for the intentional purpose of building up the congregation and in 1846 Emmanuel’s Congregation of the Evangelical Church was established with Rev. Andrew Nicolai as circuit pastor. Services and preaching by Rev. Nicolai remained in homes until 1851 and then as the church grew quickly, they moved services to the school house. In 1856 the Conference began to explore building a church with the local English Methodist Congregation. Although the doctrines of the two churches were similar, their language, culture and social status were very different and the effort failed. But the idea of building a church for the growing congregation took hold. In 1859 Frederick Nehs donated an acre of land on what is now the northwest corner of Appleton and Roosevelt roads and agreed to pay for half the cost of the building. On August 23, 1860 the cornerstone was laid for the church, 30 by 40 feet and 15 feet high. The cost of the carpentry and masonry was $697. The church building was dedicated on February 24, 1861. The members listened to the message on the above scripture in German and in English. This church became the red brick church on the hill which served the congregation for 100 years.
What does this heritage reveal to us?
Our congregation was born of the hardship of long journeys, of immigrants clearing the land and breaking the sod for farms. We rejoice that we need not fear hardship, because out of hardship we can grow.
Our church thrived and grew without a church building for fifteen years. We rejoice in the faith and hope that we can also thrive without our church building for now.
From the very beginning our church leaders were willing to explore working together and worshiping with people of different languages and faith backgrounds. We rejoice in opening our doors and hearts today with radical hospitality.
Our forefathers were intentional about growing and building the church and they made sacrifices to do so. We rejoice and celebrate the joy of giving back to God from our abundance and encouraging disciples of Jesus.
How does this story of our roots bring comfort and purpose to our family of faith?