St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church celebrated its 175th anniversary Sunday with a commemorative service and banquet at Lutheran High School.
The Rev. David Shadday has served as pastor since 1998, and he says the church’s message is the same now as it was 175 years ago. “We bring the Gospel to the people. We do the best we can to meet the needs of the people. If someone comes to our door and needs something ... if we got it, they get it.
“Our congregation is very welcoming,” said Shadday, whose grandparents were baptized and raised in the church. “And for being an older congregation they are open to change in a stunning way. They don’t say, ‘Why are we doing it?’ They say, ‘How do we do it?’ ”
“Our congregation is great with the kids,” said parishioner Tim Comerford. “I tell new members that their kids will have 20 sets of ‘grandparents’ here at St. Paul’s. “Being a small congregation (about 200 members), we can be very intimate in terms of knowing each other while still being very open.”
The church operates a food and clothing pantry and a Sunday school and allows a group of Burmese residents to use its facility for their worship services. There is also a picnic shelter and a youth center.
“And we are known for having a terrific choir,” member Don Amt said. “Music plays a big role in our services.”
St. Paul’s first service was held 175 years ago in a rented room of an evangelical seminary near Meridian and New York streets.
Founded in 1842 by the Rev. Johann George Kunz, the church was complemented by a school from the start. Classes were held at Kunz’s home.
The need for a church soon became apparent, and land on Alabama Street about a half-block south of Washington Street was purchased for $300. Ground was broken in 1844 on a 30-by-50 foot church, which cost $1,630, quite a sum considering the average daily wage was 43 cents.
Due to a growing congregation, a bigger church and a better school were built at the corner of East and Georgia streets in the early 1860s. The church burned to the ground in 1882 and was rebuilt adjacently at McCarty and South New Jersey streets in 1883.
With the congregation growing to more than 2,000 and 367 students crowded into four classrooms, a new school was built in 1891 at Pleasant and Spruce streets.
As the church celebrated its 80th anniversary in 1922, it did so with a membership of 1,300 – the smaller number resulting from St. Paul’s establishing two sister congregations – Trinity Lutheran and Emmaus Lutheran. English services were offered every Sunday, with German services twice a month.
As part of the centennial gala in 1944, the church received a new roof, organ, wiring, lights, fresco, altar brasses and vestments and carpet at cost of $20,000.
Ground was broken for the current worship and multipurpose center in 1982 at 3932 Mi Casa Ave., just north of Southport Road off Gray Road. Plans called for a school, but it was never built.