As a church planter – I’ve been deeply involved with several church plants during my 30+ years of pastoring – I’m intrigued at the story of three church planting pioneers who came to Iowa City between 1856 – 1866 -starting what eventually became Zion Lutheran Church.
So, allow me to start this three-part story with Pastor Josias Ritter, his wife, Christiana, and their church-planting work here in Iowa City in 1856-1858.
But, before I get ahead of myself, allow me to, first, present the postal cover that started my journey into the life and ministry of Josias & Christiana Ritter.
Josias Ritter was born March 8, 1823 in the same region of Germany where historians place the beginnings of the Boller family. Josias hailed from Strümpfelbach, located 26 miles to the northeast of Bad Boll, the little community that birthed the Bollers. Both communities are located east of Stuttgart in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, less than 150 miles southeast of Mainz/Darmstadt, the area where my ggg grandfather, George F. Boller was born in 1794. Read more about my German Boller connection here.
Family records indicate that Josias was trained in ministry (1844) in Basel, Germany before coming to America in 1849, where he was assigned as pastor in Hollowayville, Illinois (Selby Township of Bureau County).
On November 12, 1851, Josias married Christiana (Nannie) Doretha Swartz in Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio. Christiana (or Nane as she is called in our letter) is from Winnenden (Württemberg) Germany, and was born on November 3, 1829. According to her good friend, sibling, or cousin Marie Strübel, Christiana’s parents and family continued to live there.
Josias and Christiana had three children together: Emma (1854), Frederick (1859), and Adolph (1862); all born in Hollowayville, Illinois.
Now, allow me here to tell you a bit about the German Lutheran community that came to Iowa City in the 1850’s, using several different versions of their documented history…
But sadly, like it is with so many church-settings, disagreements over church polity split the English-speaking and German-speaking communities, causing each group to form two separate congregations. It’s at this point in the story when Josias & Christiana Ritter enter the picture…
Iowa City church records indicate that in 1856, the German Lutheran community in Johnson County desperately wanted a church in their new home, inviting Josias to come to Iowa City to lead them. Over the next two years, with Ritter overseeing the new congregation, a lot of good ministry certainly happened…
Apparently, in 1858, after two years of church planting, Josias stepped away from his leadership role with the Iowa City church. Records aren’t clear if he returned to pastoring immediately upon his return to central Illinois, but by 1865, he was leading a church once again, this time in Davenport (1865-1868).
Back in Iowa City, the loss of Pastor Ritter did cause a temporary setback…
As the saying goes…”All’s well that ends well.” As one church historian wrote…
As for Josias, 1862 was a disastrous year. Returning to Hollowayville in central Illinois after leaving Iowa City (1858), both his eight-year old daughter, Emma, and his wife, Christiana (Nannie), died, leaving Josias with one young son, Frederick (age 3) and a new-born (Adolph). Later that year (October 1862), Ritter married Charlotte Sophia Strangmann of Caledonia, Wisconsin, having three children; John (1863) Mary (1865), and William (1868), before eventually moving his family to Nebraska.
Living in various communities (Rock Creek, McWilliams, and Talmage) of Otoe County, Nebraska until his death (age 77) in March of 1900, Josias listed himself on U.S. Census reports as minister/farmer. Family records indicate that Josias and his second wife, Charlotte Sophia, in their final work in ministry, started Faith Lutheran Church in Talmage, Nebraska, a church that remains, like Zion Lutheran in Iowa City, to today. Both are buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Talmage.
Godspeed, Pastor & Church Planter Josias Ritter and your family. Godspeed.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.