In the Beginning
Hope, faith and hard work. These are the words that guided the lives of the early pioneers.
Many of the early immigrants to our community came from the area around Alsfeld in the Grand Duchy of Hessen-Darmstadt in the central part of Germany … the Wilkers from Wallersdorf, the Kalbfleisch family from Bieben, the Weickers from Leusel, the Mogks from Grebenau and the Schaefers from Eudorf. They would be joined by Heinbuchs and Hermanns, Bergs and Blums, Kaufmanns and Krugs, Yungbluts and Yauses, Sippels and Seltzers, Wettlaufers and Weitzels and Wittigs and so many more.
One of the first necessities for the early Lutherans was a spiritual one … a place to worship. Since they had no house of God, they gathered on the Lord’s Day at the home of a settler and held a service as best as they could manage.
These Lutherans formed the first congregation of any denomination of professing Christians in Perth County. In time they built a simple log hut to serve as both school and church on the northwest corner of the then-unnamed crossroads corners that is now called Sebastopol.
Sebastopol grew into a bustling little hamlet boasting a wagon shop and cider mill. While talk in the community was increasingly focused on the coming of the railroad, talk amongst the Lutherans was focused on the ever-growing membership and the ever-more-urgent need for a larger church.
In 1855 the cornerstone was laid for a new church … a simple post-and-beam construction with seating for about 500 people. This church, named St. Dreieinigkeits Gemeinde (Holy Trinity Parish), was more than a source of great pride to its parishioners. It was a sure and solid sign that their hopes and dreams for a new life in a new land had materialized.
Life for these early Lutherans was anything but easy. Success came with an over-abundance of hard work. As Reverend Veit was to write many years later …. ”Before they could sow and harvest their crops, a thick forest had to be cleared. This was heavy and hard work and at the beginning they suffered great hardships. They were not only lacking in implements to clear the bush and prepare the land but often they were short of daily bread and many other things. In particular, the beginning in the bush was a round of daily suffering and deprivation. Gradually better days came along.”
By 1867, when the Fathers of Confederation were celebrating the birth of Canada, the Lutherans at Trinity were confirming their second generation of church members.
A New Church Building
Early in 1882 the Lutherans at Trinity made a major decision. At a congregational meeting it was moved that a new brick church would be built, large enough to hold 800 people in the church and 200 in the Sunday School rooms.
September 7, 1884 was consecration day for the new church.
What a day it was!! There were three German festivals and an English service. Worship began in the old post-and-beam church with a farewell sermon and then, with trumpets playing, everyone walked to the new house of God. At the entrance to the new church everyone stopped while the Tavistock Band played the hymn “Saviour Jesus Christ, Turn To Us”.
What a church it was!! Built of solid brick, measuring 43 feet 4 inches wide and 78 feet 6 inches long in the nave with an inside height of 32 feet, the church readily sat 800 people. The attached Sunday School building measured 29 feet 6 inches wide and 49 feet 4 inches long … more than ample for the 200 children taught weekly by 16 teachers. The total cost of the building, with everything in it and on it, was $15,000.
Shortly thereafter, in the tall steeple that could be seen for miles, a four-faced clock was installed. Trinity Lutheran was now distinguished as having the only clock tower in Perth County on a sacred building.
More important than Trinity’s physical attributes was the role the church played in daily life and social life. A look at events and activities in the late 1920s illustrates how church and community were interwoven.
"The Luther League, now split into Senior and Intermediate Leagues, was going strong...participating in oratorical, debating and drama festivals, enjoying many socials and organizing several successful fundraisers. Sunday School teachers discovered they had acting ability and regularly produced three-act comedies for fun and also as fundraisers. Ladies Aid, the prime moneymaker at Trinity and a generous contributor to church causes, was more than busy with several teas, suppers, bazaars and bake sales each year along with the annual and hugely successful garden party that drew upwards of 1,000 attendees and, of course, their signature activity - quilting. The choir raised their voices in four-part harmony at every service and sang just for fun at their many parties. Sunday School was booming with 202 pupils (65 in English and 137 in German) taught by 35 teachers. It wasn’t unusual for a teacher to teach for 10 or 15 years with several reaching the 25 year mark and a few achieving 40 years. The yearly picnic when the entire Sunday School group marched to a nearby farm for fun and food and a good time was always a highlight."
The Path Forward
Attention turned to the future in 1935 with a special project to install memorial windows “with pictures” depicting stories from the Bible and religious symbols. And so began Trinity’s beautiful stained glass windows. These windows, still shining today, are the story of our faith.
Life and time marched on, at Trinity and in the world at large. German services and records changed to English. Women members were given the right to vote on church matters and decades later were represented on Church Council.
Special projects … a pioneer memorial cairn in the cemetery, a mausoleum, a new wing to the church, a new cross and a new clock on the steeple … changed the physical look of the church as did several interior redecorations.
Societal changes crept into church life. People started questioning current practices and old traditions. Things that had been going on for over a hundred years, like the ringing of the church bells every Saturday night at 6 o’clock, suddenly were up for grabs. Outside competition for people’s time and talent and interests took a toll.
Throughout all its many years, no matter what else was in play, Trinity has always celebrated its people and its rich history.
We take great pride in Trinity’s grand old church building and its beautiful well-maintained cemetery.
We honour our roots Every year at Christmastime the congregation still sings “Silent Night - Stille Nacht” in both English and German, a long-time tradition that continues even though the number of people who can speak German is now but a handful.
We adapt to the present.
We plan for our future. There is undoubtedly more history to write at Trinity Lutheran in Sebastopol.
Trinity Lutheran’s history is chronicled in words and photos in two books:
“Into The Light” (2012) showcases Trinity’s stained glass windows.
“Rejoice” (2017) tells the story of the church and the congregation.
Records available at Trinity to researchers include early church registers; baptism, marriage and death records; cemetery guide; congregational meeting and council minutes; and more. Trinity records are also available through the ELCIC Archives at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.