It is a generally accepted fact that Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Taneytown, is the oldest Lutheran congregation in Carroll County, although the actual date of its founding is difficult to establish. It does pre-date the Revolution.
German Lutherans, driven out of the Rhineland by the persecutions of protestants under Louis XIV, moved through the Low Countries of Europe and then on to England. Upon the invitation of William Penn, some came to America and settled in Penn's Woods – largely in the Colebrook Valley of Eastern Pennsylvania. In the early 1730s, many of these German Pilgrims in Eastern Pennsylvania, harassed by Indian attacks, began migrating to Virginia, traveling south on what during Indian times was called the Monocacy Trail, (later called the Monocacy Rd., an important road in the colony leading north and south). Some of them apparently liked the area that is now Taneytown and decided to go no farther. Established in 1740, Taneytown is the oldest town in Carroll County. The name Taneytown is credited to Frederick Taney, who in 1740 was among some of the first settlers. In 1743 Raphael Taney and John Diggs were granted "Brother's Agreement" a tract of 7900 acres.
The German settlers brought with them their Catechisms, large German Bibles, Prayer Books, and, of course, their strong faith. It is logical to assume that these stalwart people were not long in arranging meetings in homes and barns. The first Lutheran pastor, John Casper Stoover, visited the Monocacy settlement on June 23, 1734, to hold services, distribute Communion, and baptize. The Reverend Stoover reportedly conducted services in a hayloft. Rev. Solomon Sentman, in a synopsis of the history of the congregation, written in 1844, says, "This congregation was doubtless organized at a very early period in the history of the Lutheran church in America". During this period, the faithful were served by a number of other itinerant clergymen, including a Dr. Melsheimer, of Hanover, and a Dr. Runkel of Gettysburg. Surely, the names of others were not recorded or the records were lost.
The Maryland Synod has accepted the year of 1750 as the probable time of the birth of the Taneytown Lutheran congregation, although there are no records to indicate that an official church building existed prior to the Raphael Taney land grant in 1762. In other printed sketches reference is made to the date of organization as 1780, but no record of organization can be found. Immanuael Lutheran church, Manchester, was organized in 1760, St. Benjamin's, Westminster, 1761, and St Mary's Silver Run, in 1762.
About 1788, the year before George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States of America, John Guenther Wingandt, the first regular pastor, was called, A baptism in 1788 was the first Baptism recorded. After 1792 a more complete record was kept, very likely due to Rev. Wingandt's diligence. This book, known as "Book A" gives not only the name of the pastor but also the names of the church council: Michael Null and Ulrich Reaver, elders; Matthew Shriner and John Zumbrum, deacons.
The pastorate, while known as the Taneytown charge, included other congregations and preaching stations which changed over the years. It should be pointed out that in those early days Taneytown was not only a voting place, but a post office for a large portion of what is now the upper half of Carroll County. Some other congregations included in the charge at different times were Baust Church, Winters' Church, Fountain Dale, Emmitsburg, Keysville, St. Mary's, Silver Run, Mt. Union, and Mt. Joy. It was not until 1878 that this church became a separate pastorate.
The first Constitution and By-laws of record was adopted May 4, 1805, when the church was incorporated as the German Lutheran Congregation of Taneytown. It provided for a vestry of 6 members, without distinction of rank. The pastor was made president ex-officio and the annual election was to be held on Easter Monday, a provision that continued for well over 100 years.
All records during those early years were written in German, and services were conducted in German. English was not used at all until approximately 1813, and even then it did not entirely replace German. It is reported that one of the pastors at the cornerstone laying for the first brick church in 1811 said that they hoped no English would ever be spoken in this church. Not long after that first brick church building was completed in 1813, some of the congregation began clamoring for Services to be conducted in English. By the 1820s the congregation was involved in a period of change that was difficult for some of its members, including the pastor, to accept. From the beginning the church had been deeply rooted in its German heritage and so the services had been conducted in German. Now there was concern that the church was losing the English-speaking younger generations. Rev. Grobp was unable to preach effectively in English, so in 1826 the congregation hired an assistant, Rev. John Hoffman, to devote himself to the English language. Two years later, on May 10, 1828, at a meeting of the vestry, a resolution was passed that half of the Services were to be conducted in English and half in German. Rev. Grobp, possibly a bit miffed, resigned and his assistant, Rev. John Hoffinan succeeded him. From then on the transition was made gradually with German being dropped completely in 1876, after the Civil War.
Apparently a number of changes had come about between 1805 and 1843, since that constitution provided for two elders, four deacons, and six trustees to be elected, and the proceedings were recorded in English. It might be noted that the Maryland Synod had been organized in1820 and it is possible that this conformed with the formula of government adopted by the General Synod.
An act of incorporation was approved at a special congregational meeting held February 19, 1900, making the name, "Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Taneytown, Carroll County, Maryland." The act was acknowledged before Henry C. Wilt, Justice of the Peace, on March 5, 1900, and duly recorded according to law on March 6, 1900, at the county seat.
It is interesting to note that in the early history of the church women were not allowed to vote, but a woman might send her husband to vote, even though he was not a member of the church. The right for women to vote at Congregational Meetings was afforded in the new Constitution and By-laws enacted in 1900. In 1969, during the pastorate of Rev. Maurice Arsenault, the first woman was elected onto the church council – Mrs. Elwood, (Naomi), Baumgardner. The first woman to serve as President of the Church Council was Mrs. Theodore (Melba) Fair in 1975.
Many also remember when the Tressler Orphan's Home Band would present a concert in Taneytown, with members of Trinity hosting a few of the youngsters overnight. In 1925 the concert was held at the Taneytown Fair Grounds with an estimated 2500 people in attendance. The free-will offering, which went to the Band, amounted to $218.00 and the boys sold almost $28.00 worth of pictures.
A tradition for many years was the "White Gift" Service held on a Sunday evening near Christmas. Gifts, wrapped in white, would be brought to the service by parishioners. There would be a Christmas drama, special music, an offering, and then near the end of the evening the white gifts would be gathered by youth, often dressed in white, and stacked inside the chancel railing. In the earlier years the gifts were taken to the Tressler Lutheran Orphanage for the children there, and in later years to other homes. On one of these nights in the mid-1930s as participants entered the very dimly lit church nave they were astonished to see the Altar Table covered with silver. It turned out that Pastor Sutcliffe had saved the aluminum foil from chewing gum wrappers for many years and had covered the altar table with that foil. (This was before the time of aluminum foil.) A labor of love which made for a very special memory.
Sunday evening Services were discontinued in 1946.
Two members of Trinity were killed in World War II: Paul Copenhaver and Richard Sell. A "Service Flag" honoring the 68 men and women of Trinity who served their country during World War I1 was enclosed in a glass case and placed alongside a brass plaque in the front vestibule. It was dedicated June, 1949.
A 200th Anniversary Pageant, "The Seven Books of Trinity", was presented in the church nave, January 22, 23, and 25, 1951, to standing-room only crowds. Written by Miss Dorothy Elderdice, of the Westminster Seminary, it traced the history of the congregation from the first German pilgrims coming down the Monocacy Trail, to the shining, new, book VII, still to be written, presented to the young people of the pastor's confirmation class.
The summer of 1962, an 8:00 A.M. Service, to be held in the Chapel was authorized. Council voted to discontinue those in 1965, only to be reinstated in 1967, when they were offered in June, July, and August. In 1976, during the pastorate of Rev. Emil Gustafson, this Service was expanded to year-round, using a spoken Service.
A "Coffee Hour" following church the last Sunday of each month was tried in 1964, but was discontinued a few months later. This was begun again some years later and continues as a monthly occurrence to this time.
In 1965 a number of ladies of the church, under the direction of Mrs. Merle (Fannie) Ohler, made "Chrismons" using white styrofoam, glitter, jewels, and gold braid. These were used on the Christmas trees placed in the church during the Christmas season. They have been used nearly every Christmas since then, although the number still in good condition are diminishing.
Trinity church joined the Red Cross Blood program in 1967 – affording coverage of all members of the congregation with their blood assurance program. Although now a community-wide program, the church is still very much involved.
The first Strawberry Festival was held June 5, 1971.
Historically, the Pastor served as President of the congregation and church council. At a congregational meeting in 1972, the decision was made to have a layman serve as President. Herbert Bowers was the first layman so elected.
The use of wine instead of grape juice for communion was discussed in the fall of 1973, between pastorates. There was still a good deal of opposition. By common consent of council, wine replaced grape juice, November, 1974.
After a great deal of negotiating and consideration of using the church's facilities for a community day-care center the proposal was put before the congregation in July, 1976. The proposal was defeated 81 to 70. Also in 1976, at the urging of Pastor Emil Gustafson, the Church Council was expanded from a 12-person board to 18 members by electing six members each year to a three-year term. The expressed intent was to increase interest and involvement. This was changed with the adoption of a new Constitution and By-Laws in 1992, which provided for only four members to be elected to three-year terms each year, thereby reducing Council back to a 12-person governing board over a three-year period. That same Constitution and By-Laws also mandated a change in the organizational structure of the congregation from a "Committee" structure to "Boards" for carrying out the mission of the congregation.
An Advent Workshop was conducted in 1974, a tradition which has continued for almost every year since. In 1984, an Ash Wednesday Lenten breakfast was initiated.
In November, 1998, the congregation voted to change the time of the late Service from 10:00 A.M. to 10:15 A.M. to allow more time for Sunday School and musical instruction.