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The History Of St. John Lutheran Church

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The history of St. John is really a history of the Reitz family. James and Sarah Reitz lived with their children in Washington Township, Pennsylvania. The year was in the 1910’s. James and operated a general store. He suffered from some health issues and was discussing with his family regarding moving to a warmer climate. In 1920, the decision was made to move to a little known area of Sunset Harbor, Florida where James was informed he could get land for cheap. So, it was settled. James sold his general store and fourteen Reitzes made the journey from Pennsylvania to Sunset Harbor, Florida. When they arrived, Sunset Harbor was pretty much uninhabited. However, a few neighbors werespread around here and there. The Reitz’s first thoughts were of the Lord, and they began attending church at Weirsdale Presbyterian Church. 

The distance was an issue for them and they began searching for a Lutheran pastor to conduct services in their home. With some luck, they were able to locate a Lutheran pastor willing to travel to Sunset Harbor to conduct services. Will Reitz opened his living room to family and a few neighbors. Thus, the first congregation of St. John Lutheran was born. The year was 1922.As the congregation began to grow, the need for a church building was inevitable. In 1927, a church building was erected at the corner of present-day Sunset Harbor Road and SE 158th Place.

It started out as a skeletal building with just four walls, a door and a piano. However, it was a real building and everyone was grateful. The church saw a lot of ups and downs from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. Interim pastors came and went but the church did not see its first full time pastor until 1984 when Reverend Hugh Mozingo III accepted the calling. Pastor Hugh led services at St. John from 1984-2001. In 1992, the Church Council met to discuss the need for a new church building. The fellowship hall had been added in the 1960’s which provided some relief for a growing church but a new church building was again inevitable. Around this time, church member Esther Anderson passed away peacefully in her home. She left her property to St. John Lutheran Church.

Construction shortly began for a new church building that would house such a growing congregation. Not to mention, a parsonage and beautiful view of Lake Weir. Construction was completed in 1997 and the new church building was ready to be moved into. In April, 1997, the congregation of St. John Lutheran held its final service in the old church building at the corner of Sunset Harbor Road and SE 158th Place. The service began in the old building and the congregation proceeded down the street to the new building singing, “Lift High the Cross.” Stuart Reitz, grandson of James and Sarah Reitz had reported a heavy heart on such a move, but understanding of the need and gladness to see growth. Since then, St. John has served its community by praising God, sharing the Word, and proclaiming Christ.

I can personally attest to having many happy memories in this church and am overjoyed to watch my children make the same kind of happy memories I did. From youth outings, plays, seafood boils, and congregation picnics, this congregation is its own family. It has been 94 years since my great-great grandparents James and Sarah Reitz and their family organized the first congregation of St. John. I fully intend for another 94 years of history to unfold itself. Thank you for reading about the history of my family, the history of St. John Lutheran. If you haven’t already, I hope you will visit this unique part of Sunset Harbor history very soon. We look forward to seeing you.

In Christ,

Heather Reitz-Depalma


A Day to Remember

St. John celebrated "A Day to Remember". This was a day to look back at where St. John began and an opportunity to shape the vision for tomorrow at St. John. A historical timeline was created by members marking important times in the church history and important dates of members of St. John. A historical presentation was given and members shared personal stories about their experiences at St. John.