The long and colorful history of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, located on a hill in the countryside 20 miles east of Ponoka along Highway 53, goes way back to Wohlynia (then Poland-now Russia). Because of the ongoing political unrest, economic and religious oppression in their homeland, some people decided to make the long trip across the ocean to Canada, and by 1897, great numbers of these hardy immigrant families, many of them Lutherans, had settled in the fertile and rolling Red Deer Lake area.
While establishing their new homesteads, these proud and ambitious people soon began to practice their religious faith in their newly found land, and on July 22, 1897, Pastor F. Bredlow would form and organize the initial membership of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Congregation in the Manitoba Synod. At first, the services were conducted in the homes of the parishioners, and when Pastor Bredlow wasn’t present, the all German Sunday services were led by Andreas Siglet, a lay reader. As interest throughout the district in the new church grew at a rapid pace, the first church council was formed and included Gottlieb Hensh, Carl Riske, and Adam Scheurman.
An exciting milestone for the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church to celebrate in 1903 was the availability of 40-acre plots, on which interested new congregations were encouraged to build their first churches. Work began on their new piece of land at the NW of 34-42-22 under the direction of Mr. Donaldson, a carpenter, with leadership and faith provided by the church board and Pastor Runge of Wetaskiwin, who was serving St. Peter’s at that time. With the new church building in place, the congregational life improved very quickly, with the pastor providing religious direction for the children, as well as German language instruction, Sunday services, Sunday church school, and confirmation classes. Adam Scheuerman would serve as the first Sunday school teacher, while the first baptisms conducted at St. Peter’s were those of William Hensh and August Schultz (Shingles), and the first wedding ceremony would unite Joseph Weins and Ottlilie Radke on April 10, 1904.
In 1911, a parsonage committee consisting of Henry Scheurman and August Schultz was formed, and while plans were finalized to complete the new house for the resident pastor by July 23, 1911, the unfinished structure burned down on September 11. Not to be discouraged, the members of the congregation took turns sharing their homes with the new pastors, and also worked together to complete a new barn in 1918. Under the leadership of August Resler, the first St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Choir of 19 voices was formed, and as activities increased and membership grew, the congregation would vote to become self-supporting, and 20 acres of the church property were later cleared and broken. Their strong faith, friendships and dedication going into the tougher times of the 1930s would result in the enlargement of their church as well as the addition of a full basement. A St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Ladies’ Group was formed in 1932 with the encouragement of Pastor Siegfried Cyrus, and the first members would include Mrs. R. S. Schultz, Mrs. Julius Smaltz, Mrs. August Schultz, Mrs. S. Cyrus, and Mrs. Samuel Radke. The first English language adult confirmation class was conducted by Pastor Winter, and the first English services were introduced in the early 1940s, with everyone welcome.
In those very early days in Alberta, the early German settlers would bury their loved ones on the homestead of Heinrich Stadel and later at the Frank and Emil Orom farm, but with the acquisition of the new land for St. Peter’s in 1903, the cemetery was established near the church building the same year. The first Lutheran to be buried there was Martha Schultz, the daughter of Fred and Agatha Schultz, and in 1906, the remains of other congregation members and families were moved to the new location. Over many decades, the cemetery and grounds around the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church have been well maintained and kept in immaculate condition by several generations of the church family, with a groundskeeper hired in the 1950s and working together many high school students throughout the summer. The introduction of a beautification plan in 1998 has resulted in the expansion of the cemetery to the south as well as the addition of countless tree memorials in honour of those who are buried there. Following are only a few of the many milestones and blessings that the congregation and the pastors of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church have celebrated over the years.
*In 1944, a parsonage was built in Bashaw, and then early in the 1950s the interior of the church was decorated and electricity, a new furnace, and many other amenities were slowly added.
*In 1957, the congregation honoured its diamond jubilee, an electric organ was added in the 1960s, and the gala celebrations of the 70th anniversary on October 29, 1967 and the 100th anniversary on July 20, 1997 both played host to several generations of church members and families, as well as many of the dedicated pastors who have served at St. Peter’s over the years.
As farms changed hands in the district, the older members moved to nearby towns and many of the younger people moved away, resulting in a decline in congregation numbers at the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church over the years. Worship services are now held two Sundays a month, and since 2010, the pastor has also served residents of Edberg, New Norway, Zion and Bashaw. Those who continue to worship have always faithfully carried out the lofty dreams of their forefathers with great pride, diligently working together to look after the interior and exterior of their cherished 112-year-old church, including the pristine grounds and the cemetery. Along the way, with the support of a long list of dedicated pastors, the congregations have hosted 154 marriages, 830 baptisms, 222 burials, 453 confirmations as well as countless annual activities for family and friends from near and far, and will surely continue to do so into the future.
Many hundreds of members through several generations at St. Peter’s have been truly blessed to have had the privilege of worshiping and serving God in this friendly little country church, while gathering precious memories that will be shared and never forgotten.