The German Lutheran Church
Source: Centennial History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Maryland 1820-1920, Wentz
Church Website: http://www.stlukescumberland.org/about-us-1/history/
Photo taken during our research trip in April 2016
There are many instances in the history of the Lutheran Church in our country in which English congregations have been formed out of German congregations, but St. Luke's history is unique in that it was organized as a German congregation withdrawing from an English congregation.
St. Luke's Church was organized in January, 1838. For a decade previous to that the Germans had been settling in Cumberland in considerable numbers. As they were Germans they attached themselves to the only Lutheran Church in the city, which was St. Paul's. But all the services at St. Paul's at this time were in English. This language the newly arrived Germans did not understand. But the pastors of St. Paul's of that early period were more or less able to minister in the German language, and so they gave the German members of St. Paul's occasional services in German and performed ministerial acts for them in that language. This arrangement, it seems, was not always satisfactory to the English-speaking element in St. Paul's.
As the number of Germans increased they organized into a separate congregation in 1838 under the leadership of the Rev. John Kehler and held their services in St. Paul's Church but in the afternoons. In 1842 when the old log church became too small for St. Paul's the German congregation cooperated in the building of the new brick church. Two years later the Rev. Samuel Finkel held a confirmation service in German and confirmed a class of eighteen. But the next pastor of St. Paul's could not preach in the German language and the German congregation was obliged to call their own pastor. Rev. Peter Reizer of Somerset, Pennsylvania, accepted their call.
On New Year's Day, 1848, the German congregation was notified by the vestry of St. Paul's that they would no longer be permitted to conduct services in St. Paul's Church. This was a severe blow to the little flock; they now had their own shepherd but no place to worship. But it happened that the attention of the mayor of the city, the Hon. Thomas Shriver, was accidentally directed to the plight of his German citizens. He immediately called their leading men into his office, suggested to them that they build their own church, and offered to donate them the site for the church and the stones from his own quarry for its construction. The offer was accepted with enthusiasm and the new building was soon under construction.
The building was designed by Henry Smenner and is of Etruscan style. It is one hundred and thirty feet by fifty five feet with a steeple of one hundred and fifty feet high. The steeple extends one hundred feet above the roof.
Most of the work was done by the members of the congregation themselves. On June 1, 1848, less than five months after the separation from St. Paul's the corner stone of the new church was placed. The building was completed and dedicated March 17, 1850.
At the same time that this church was being built the German Roman Catholics were also engaged in the building of a church.
To encourage both operations the city council voted a town clock to the first to complete their church. This offer provoked a spirit of friendly rivalry. The Lutherans won the race. It is said that they won because the Lutheran women held lanterns at night so the men could work through the night.
Thus the German Lutheran Church came to be called
the Town Clock Church.
Rev. M. Kehler 1839
On June 1, 1901, the church became vacant once more. Rev. Professor E.J. Wolf of the Gettysburg Seminary filled in for several months.
Rev. J. Braren 1901 to 1911 (new stone steps erected and
exterior of the church painted)
Rev. David Wright 2015
The 'Old Clock Church' did house another congregation until this year, 2016. On a recent visit, we found the church property 'for sale'. It is our understanding that the church contains one of the first Moller organs.
In 1914 the congregation purchased lots on the corner of Bedford and Columbia Streets for $18,500 as a building site. Plans were complete, however, the war prevented the beginning of the work until about 1920. The German language was used at St. Luke's until 1920.
On June 5, 1927, the Saint Luke's congregation moved to a new home at the corner of Bedford and Columbia Streets. That Gothic structure served as both a sanctuary and an education building. Because of lack of space at the Columbia Street location, the congregation decided not to expand at that site.
On Reformation Eve, October 30, 1957, the congregation voted to relocate to
the present site on Frederick Street. The ground-breaking ceremonies on
June 1, 1958 marked the 110th anniversary of the corner-stone laying of the
original Town Clock Church. One year and one month later, on July 5,
1959, the corner-stone was laid. This handsome contemporary church was
dedicated on May 1, 1960.
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Church Location & Contact Information:
St. Luke's Lutheran Church
See also Maryland State Archives