St. James Lutheran Church
THE HISTORY OF ST. JACOBUS KIRCHE/ST. JAMES CHURCH
According to tradition, the Lutheran Nehs family worshipped together possibly in a log church near the old Mark Neas farm. The Reformed Ottingers may have worshipped together in another church. Baptisms were recorded as early as 1804, but no documentation exists about these congregations. Some of the early settlers joined other denominations because they had organized churches. Because the Nehs, Ottinger, and Easterly families had trouble finding ministers to assist the two churches, they later merged into one church. A dispute arose over the language for the services, and the people were said to have sold the logs first collected for one unified church building because of their disagreements as to whether the services would be in German (Reformed) or English (Lutheran). They finally built their log church, and services were held in both English and German until the 1830s.
St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church is one of the oldest Lutheran churches in East Tennessee. St. James was organized by Charles Zacharius Henry Schmidt, a lay preacher who was also responsible for organizing Solomon and several other churches. The church was received into the Lutheran Synod of North Carolina on September 24, 1811. The church bore the German name St. Jacobus Kirche. Forty-seven adults were recorded as members; no children were listed. Years later the church was given the English name, St. James Church. Delegates attending the Synod from St. James were John Nehs, Philip Oesterly, John Ottinger, and John Renner. Other pioneers include George Nehs, Ambrose Oesterly, John Bauer, Isaac Rader, William I. Lentz, Jacob Ottinger, and John Hauk. The original deed for the land was executed in 1816 when Jacob Ottinger sold two acres of land to John Nehs and Philip Oesterly, Trustees, for burial and church purposes. Three years later another deed for 20 acres was issued to Jacob Ottinger, George Nehs, and John Renner as Trustees of St. James Seminary. This deed covered all of the present-day church, cemetery, and public-school grounds (now the Community Center.)
An early document of organization in the church records was signed by Missionary Philip Henkel with Johannes Ottinger and Jacob Ottinger, architects and trustees of the church. On February 3, 1821, the following officers are listed:
Johannes Nehs (Sr.) Elder Lutheran
Jacob Ottinger Elder Reformed
Phillip Easterly Director Reformed
Johannes Ottinger Director Reformed
Johannes Nehs, Jr. Director Lutheran
Daniel Ottinger Clerk
The first building was of hewn pine logs, 40 by 40 feet with a gallery built on three sides with high banisters and raised seats. On the remaining side was the pulpit, high and narrow, with a two-by-three-foot floor, walled up in front, and a window cut out in back 18 inches by 2 feet with shutter but no glass, built high on the wall where the parson might look over his congregation. The first building had no heat of any kind.
The second building replaced the first one in 1870. Jacob W. Neas described the building in 1945: “It was a frame building 45 by 60 feet square, a low one story building with low overhead ceiling, and low more modern pulpit in the back end. It had two doors in the front end, and two aisles running from doors to the pulpit. It had three rows of seats and ten large windows. About the year 1878 or 1879, a large heating stove was put in on one side near the back end and a few years later another one was put in on the other side.” This building survived the ravages of wind and storm until it became very much dilapidated in 1901.
In 1901 an effort was made to erect a new church building, and this idea met with much opposition. The majority of the congregation was in favor of building, so within a few weeks the project was begun. On the third Sunday in May, 1901, The Rev. F. M. Harr preached from Nehemiah 2:20: “The God of heaven, He will prosper us, therefore, we His servants will arise and build.” The next day 93 members met to tear down the old building. Three days later, 104 people gathered to raise the frame of the new building. The enthusiasm was so great that it silenced the sneers and objectors. They fell in line with the others, and the work went forward with leaps and bounds. Pastor Harr said, “Have the entrance by the pulpit, and the congregation will never sit in the back of the church.” Two months later, on the third Sunday in July, 1901, the new church was dedicated complete and free of debt. The dedicatory sermon was preached by The Rev. C. B. Cox, and the service was read by Pastor Harr. It had a seating capacity of about 400 and was valued at $3,500. Adam Ottinger, Dolph Love, Major W. J. Lintz, and Adam Neas helped split the boards for the church. According to Jacob W. Neas, it was “a frame building in much more modern design. It was 30 by 60 feet in dimension, the main part, and additional rooms on either side on the front end, 12 by 20 feet in dimension, and a small addition on the front end of the building, back of the pulpit, with doors on either side for entrance to the church on either side of the pulpit. It had a raised floor at the back and eleven large windows. It had two large heating stoves, a belfry high up on the front end, a very high one story but most convenient building.” The two doors in the front were separate entrances for men and women. Inside, there was a single row of seats lined by aisles on either side with a dividing rail in the center, so that men and women would not sit together during the service.
After 30+ years of use, the third building became outmoded and weakened. In 1935 a congregational meeting began planning for a new building. Pastor Dufford recommended a three-year plan for pledging. Actual construction would begin only when receipts exceeded $8,000. He said, “Not to go forward is convincing evidence that we are not walking with God.” In 1937, the congregation elected J. Paul Neas, Sr. treasurer of the building fund, and after one rejected plan, the final plan was approved on Sept. 5, 1937. One hundred men responded to help demolish the building. Dunk Neas, his wife, and three children, Charlie Neas, J. Paul Neas, and Audrey Neas laid the block for the new church. Walter Ottinger built the pews. The final cost was $21,000. Less than one year later the building fund had over $18,000. On July 17, 1938, The Rev. R. Homer Anderson delivered the sermon for the dedication. The church was completely paid for by the dedication service. A new front containing an elevator was added thanks to a generous donation. This building still serves the congregation’s needs. To celebrate our country’s bicentennial, we created a replica of the first church