Notes About the Early Churches

The Early Churches and the Germans

The early churches were developed by many denominations. Many of the German immigrants played a huge role in the establishment and success of the early churches. Things were very different in the mid-1700s . The churches were the ‘center’ point in the lives of the immigrants and played a crucial role in their day to day living. They operated not only as their ‘faith’ center, but also as their community center and many times, their school. It was not uncommon for churches to enjoy membership in the hundreds (sometimes even the thousands). What were the early denominations:

Catholics-1755 (Arrival of the Acadians [descendants of the 17th-century French colonists who settled in Acadia, which was a colony of New France in northeastern North America that included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and modern-day Maine to the Kennebec River.] This group was serviced by the Jesuit Fathers. America’s first Cathedral, The Baltimore Basilica was built in 1806-1821. The German Marylanders, however, were serviced primarily by the Redemptorist, which formed in Baltimore in 1840. At that time there were about 5,000 German Catholics in Baltimore that had not been provided for due primarily to the language barrier and politics. The Redemptorists began by taking control of St. John’s in 1840. Subsequent Catholic Parishes in the next two decades including the formation of St. John later becoming St. Alphonsus (Cornerstone laid 5-1-1842), St. James, St. Michael’s in East Baltimore (Cornerstone laid 10-30-1850), Holy Cross in South Baltimore and Fourteen Holy Martyrs (Cornerstone laid 7-1870), which was later released to the Benedictines. The Redemptorists also Built and were in charge of the St. Anthony’s Orphan Asylum (1852) as well as St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital (1864). There is also an excellent book, published in 2013 by John Foertschbeck about the German Catholic Parishes in Maryland.

German Reformed-1756. Two great religious bodies were the result of the German Reformation. Those two bodies, the German Reformed and the Lutheran were very strong in Maryland. Initially they worked together in Maryland, most churches being known as ‘Union Churches’ where the two faiths either worshipped together or arranged specific times using the same facilities. They existed initially here as the German Reformed Church. The first German church was on North Charles Street at the corner of Saratoga..opposite St. Paul’s. As both denominations strengthened and congregations grew, they would separate.

Lutherans-1760. The first Luther followers arrived in Deleware in 1638. The German Lutherans came later and as a result of persecutions at home, came in large numbers. They established themselves first in Pennsylvania, but smaller groups began to emigrate to Maryland and as far south as Florida. Being hard workers and people of high moral standards, they were welcomed wherever they settled, however the language barrier again became an issue and set them apart from many of their new countrymen. They began to form into their own congregations, with their own houses of worship, using their own language. A big problem was that of pastors. They were neglected by their mother church (she having many problems of her own in her own country). The German Reformed were sent pastors from the Palatinate Consistorium, giving them an advantage over the Lutherans. It is not known when the German Lutherans began to come in large numbers, however, letter written by Lord Baltimore in 1732 stands as an invitation to the Palatines and Salzburgers to act as an asylum for the Lutherans. The most likely explanation is that large numbers of Germans, landing in Philadelphia began to gradually cross Maryland borders. They aligned themselves with the German Reformers in 1750 and formed a congregation..the first church being called the First German Reformed Church’, later becoming Zion Church.

United Brethren-1789. This denomination traces its roots in to Philip William Otterbein who came from Dillenburg, Germany in the middle of the eighteenth century. Otterbein was a German Reformed ordained minister who in 1774 he was asked to take charge of the Independent Reformed Church of Baltimore, formed after a serious division from the First Reformed Church. The first church, located at Conway and Sharp Streets, built in 1784, still stands today. In 1789 "The Doctrine of the United Brethren in Christ ", with its five articles, was developed. Formal conferences began in 1800 and it was then the name of the new church was fixed and bishops elected.

Swedenborgians-1792. Swedenborgians is the name for several historically related Christian denominations that developed as a new religious movement, informed by the writings of Swedish scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).

Evangelical Association-1816. The Evangelical Church or Evangelical Association, also known as the Albright Brethren, is a "body of American Christians chiefly of German descent". It was founded in 1800, by the Rev. Jacob Albright, a German-speaking Christian native of Pennsylvania (1759–1808). This religious body had few congregations in Baltimore. It was strong at one time, however a split occurred in 1893 and several congregations separated from the Evangelical Association and aligned with the United Evangelical Association [created in 1891 when some members of the Evangelical Association left to form the new church. Thirty-one years later the two groups reunited in Detroit and renamed themselves "The Evangelical Church." (Those congregations who chose not to re-unite formed a body called the Evangelical Congregational Church.) In 1946, the Evangelical Church merged with the United Brethren in Christ at a meeting in Johnstown, PA to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church. This body, in turn, united with the American Methodist Church in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church.]

None of their churches in Maryland were strong numerically. Those attached to the Evangelical Association here were all German.