St. John's Lutheran Church, Hagerstown, was organized in 1770, its constitution was signed by sixty members. Its first pastor was the Rev. Mr. Wildban (also shown in other sources as Wildbahn), and within-one year after its organization it had one hundred and sixty communicants, and a year later two hundred and seventy-one. From 1772 to 1779 the pastor was the Rev. Mr. Young, and it is believed that the first church edifice was built during his pastorate. In 1782 a collection was taken to purchase an organ.
There are no records in existence of the proceedings for the ensuing eleven years, except that in December, 1791, the congregation held a lottery for raising nine hundred and sixty-five dollars. There were two thousand two hundred tickets at two dollars, with seven hundred and forty-one prizes and fourteen hundred and fifty-nine blanks. The trustees and managers were:
Trustees, Peter Hoeflich, Henry Shryock, Peter Woltz, Baltzer Goll, David Harry, and Jacob Harry. Managers, William and John Lee, Rezin Davis, Alexander Clagett, Nathaniel Rochester, Henry Schnebly, William Reynolds, Melcher Beltzhoover, John Geiger, John Protzman, Adam Ott, Michael Kapp, George Woltz, John Ragan, Abraham Leider, Robert Hughes, Henry Shroder, Henry Eckhart, William Van Lear, Jacob Miller, F. T., Frederick Stemple, Peter Whitesides, Andrew Kleinsmith, Philip Entler, John Ney.
In 1793 the Rev. J. G. Schmucker, D.D., became pastor. Dr. Schmucker was educated at Halle, Germany, and was twenty-two years of age when he came to Hagerstown. Previous to his acceptance of the charge of St. John's he had been engaged in religious work in York County, Pa., among his charges being " Quickel's." The new pastor of St. was very successful. In 1795 another building was erected. The congregation numbered one hundred and eight members at this time, and ten years afterwards it had increased to two hundred and eleven. A new constitution was adopted in 1806. Dr. Schmucker resigned in 1810, and was succeeded by the Rev. Solomon Schaeffer, who died young and was buried beneath the church. A marble tablet in the aisle near the chancel marks his resting place.
In 1815, Rev. Benjamin Kurtz, D.D., became pastor. He also supplied the congregations at Funkstown, Williamsport, Beard's, and Smithsburg. In 1816 there were one hundred and seventy-nine communicants; in 1800, three hundred; and in 1822, four hundred and two. In 1825 a second bell was purchased, the congregation having paid off an indebtedness of thirteen hundred dollars in the previous year. During Dr. Kurtz's pastorate, which lasted sixteen years, preaching in English and protracted prayer meetings were introduced.
During the first century and more of its existence this congregation had had fourteen regular pastors and four temporary supplies.
The older pastors took a prominent part in the organization of the General Synod, and in St. John's Church the delegates from the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina Synods met on the 20th of October, 1820, to adopt its constitution. Here also the committee met to determine the location of the General Theological Seminary, and the congregation of St. John's subscribed the largest bona-fide sum, two thousand five hundred dollars, to secure it. Three of its pastors became editors of the Lutheran Observer, while others were prominent in educational works.
Its Ladies' Benevolent Association aided a number of clergymen in obtaining their education. The congregation numbered three hundred and twenty-five members and made many additions and remodeling changes over the years. The old church, built in 1795 and 1796, stood on South Potomac Street. Its pulpit was shaped like a wine-glass, and had six sides. It was twenty feet high, and entered by a door from a circular stairway, which led down into a latticed room which was used by the minister. Above the pulpit was a sounding-board, on which was emblazoned a large eye. There was no carpet on the floor, and the church was unheated, it being considered improper that the congregation should enjoy the comfort of a fire while listening to the minister and performing their devotions. The collection-bags were attached to rods about ten feet in length, and had a silken tassel and a bell, which was used to attract the notice of inattentive or sleepy members. At this period the attendance was not as large or as regular as desired, cockfighting, horse-racing, bull-baiting, and similar sports proving attractions too strong to be resisted by some of the members.
[From the church Website]
On July 4, 1844, a group of the Germans who, under the plea of “being aggrieved and unkindly dealt with,” had withdrawn and organized their own congregation, asked to rejoin St. John’s and were “permitted again to enjoy the full priviledges” of membership.An amicable agreement was reached in 1848 whereby the German portion of the congregation were given control of collections made at services conducted in German by their preacher, the Reverend Mr. Behrend. The Reverend Mr. Behrend supplied the pulpit of the English-speaking congregation at times, by agreement then preaching “Union discourse.”
However, it was distinctly understood that the Germans were to continue to regard the pastor of the English-speaking congregation as their pastor and they were to sustain by their contributions as heretofore the Lutheran Congregation.
According to the Minutes of Council for April 25, 1848, the following was agreed upon:
. . . It is further distinctly understood that there is to be no prosolyting either directly or indirectly from the Lutheran Church to the German Reformed, nor from the German Reformed to the Lutherans, nor any church amalgamation either by uniting all in a German Reformed Church or in a Lutheran Church, or in a separate or independent church nor is there to be any interference whatever between the members of the two Churches or their Children—German Reformed are to remain German Reformed, their children are to attend their Sabbath school & [be] catechized of the pastor of said German Reformed church and in the same manner the Lutherans are to be and remain Lutherans their children are to attend their Sabbath school & be catechized by their pastor.
Still later, on May 20,1850, a special Church Council meeting was held to discuss the German position in St. John’s. The minutes [as per their records] recorded that:
A delegation from the German portion of this congregation made application to this Council to grant them the privledge to make the effort to have and support a minister and to form a German Lutheran congregation subject to the Evangelical Lutheran synod of Maryland and also to grant them the privilage of using the Lecture Room for devine services until such a time as they may feel themselves able to build a house of worship and also to have a vestra [vestry?] of their own and the privledge of the grave yard as heretofore. On motion it was resolved unanimously that the Ghermans have their request granted as mentioned and that the Council wished them Godspeed in the same. On motion it was resolved that we give Revd Frederick R. Anspach a salay [salary] of Eight hundred dollars a year if the German portion of our congregation continue with us and if not to give him the sum of Seven hundred dollars if he accepts the call of this congregation. On motion it was resolved that Br. Conradt wright to Mr. Anspach to ascertain weather he will accept the call of this congregation.
The Reverend Dr. Anspach accepted the call with the understanding that “no change be made in the amount which you have been giving.”
The German Lutherans continued to use the Lecture Room and, on occasion, the Audience Chamber of the Church, for worship. From time to time they appealed to the English-speaking congregation for financial assistance and received permission to ask for subscriptions or special collections.
Eventually, in 1871, the German group withdrew completely from St. John’s and formed St. Matthew’s German Lutheran Church. However, in 1917 St. Matthew’s disbanded and many of its members joined St. John’s by personal invitation.
In March, 1870, the old church was remodeled, so that the internal dimensions became seventy-five by sixty feet, and access was afforded by means of two spacious stairways to the chief hall of worship on the upper floor. The lower floor was fitted up with new seats, and was used by the Sunday school, then containing five hundred students and teachers. The auditorium on the upper floor was fitted up with the newest style of seats, very handsomely upholstered in crimson damask and soft cushions. The old organ gave way to a new one of later pattern and better tone, which cost sixteen hundred dollars. The old pulpit and chancel were taken out and replaced, the new ones being of solid curled walnut. Previous to this, in January, 1870, the two old bells had been taken down, both cracked and useless. One of these bells had been cast in London in 1788, and the other in Boston in 1824. The inscription upon the older bell, although in English, had the German spelling.
Previous to 1834 the charge of St. John's included Williamsport, St. Paul, Clear Spring, and Martinsburg.
In November, 1869, Rev. S. W. Owen, D.D., LL.D., became the pastor of this church. Dr. Owen was the faithful and beloved pastor of this congregation for nearly half a century. He passed away on April 16, 1916.
It was during Dr. Owen's pastorate that the church made its most substantial growth. Dr. Owen was one of the most forceful and eloquent preachers in the Lutheran Church. His death was a great loss to the Lutheran Church in America. The following extract is taken from a sermon preached by Dr. Owen upon the occasion of his 45th anniversary as pastor of St. John's: ''Allow me to give a few statistics of my pastorate here. I have preached between three and four thousand sermons during the 45 years, baptized 562 infants, married 1,514 couples, and have added to the membership of the church 1,376 persons. The relationship between pastor and people during these years has been most peaceful and loving. The current expenses of the church have been met, and to-day we have no debt except that which we owe to our heavenly Father for His protection and care. Of the 12 pastors who have served the church, I am the only one remaining. Let me but be enrolled with such Worthies, and I will say to any sorrowing friends, ' Carve not a line, raise not a stone, but leave me alone in my glory.'
Rev. J. Edward Harms, D.D., was called to the St. John's pastorate January 15, 1917. At the time of his call here he was serving the First Lutheran Church of Dayton, Ohio. In 1920, the communicant membership of the church was 715. The Sunday school membership was 660. The following members served the 1920 Church Council: Elders Edward Oswald, secretary ; M. P. Moller. George W. Fridinger, J. Frank S. Beck, J. Harry Schueler, Richard S. Oswald; Deacons John H. Jones, Frank R. Middlekauff, E. Bane Snyder, Hugh N. Garver, Harry D. Burger, John S. Kausler, treasurer.
St. John's Hagerstown 1920
ITEMS OF INTEREST
1. In this church the delegates from the Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and North Carolina Synods met on October 20, 1820, to adopt a Constitution and formally organize the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
2. In this church a committee appointed by the General Synod met to determine the location of a Theological Seminary, this congregation contributing the largest amount toward the establishment of it.
3. Three of the pastors of St. John's became editors of the Lutheran Observer.
4. One of the pastors of St. John's was the founder and first president of Wittenberg College, Springfield, Ohio.
Pastors of St. John’s Hagerstown
Rev. Mr. Wildban 1770
(also shown in other sources as Wildbahn)
Rev. Mr. Young 1772-1779
Rev. J.G. Schmucker, D.D. 1793-1810
Rev. Solomon Schaeffer 1810
Rev Benjamin Kurtz, D.D. 1815
Rev. Samuel K. Hoshour 1831-1833
Rev. C.F. Schaeffer, D.D. 1834-1840
Rev. Ezra Keller, D.D. 1840-1844
Rev. B.W. Conrad 1844-1850
Rev. F.R. Anspach, D.D. 1850-1857
Rev. Reuben Hill 1857-1859
Rev. J. Evans 1860-1866
Rev. T.T. Titus 1867-1869
Rev. S.W. Owen 1869-1916
Rev. J. Edward Harms, D.D. 1917-1950
Rev. Luther Hamm 1951-1957
Rev. George Edward Whetstone 1958-1966
Rev. Martin Luther Rothenberger 1967-1985
Rev. Roland Langford 1986-1989
Rev. Russell Fink 1990-1994
Rev. Edward Henry Heim 1995
Transcriptions of the St. John's Hagerstown Cemetery prior to 1920:
The Lutheran Cemetery grounds were sold in 1888 and the bodies moved. Bodies buried in the 'Old Cemetery' behind the church were also moved in 1920. The bodies were moved to 'Rose Hill' cemetery. The ground was used to erect a new Sunday School.