St. Thomas German Evangelical Lutheran Church

On November 29, 1889, in the home of Mr. John Schmitt, 1942 McHenry St., a meeting of a small number of earnest Christians was held, the object being the founding of a fourth German Evangelical Lutheran congregation in the southwestern section of the city. A temporary organization was effected by election of Mr. Frederick Scwartz as president and Mr. Ferdinand Korff as secretary. In addition to these two officers there were present the Messrs, Richter, Carl and Ludwig Rossman of St. Paul's Church, George Seippel, John Schmitt of Martini, Frederick Kowalleck of Immanuel, Fehrman, Ritz, Moellman, Neubauer, Wietrychowski, and Wolf unattached.

The Reverend William Schaller, who had been ordained as city missionary on the 13th Sunday after Trinity, 1889, in Martini Church, had been instrumental in gathering this number of devout Christians, living in this section of the city referred to above. The membership continued to grow steadily through God's blessing, while little the band worshiped in the old Y.M.C.A. building at Union Square, corner of Lombard and Stricker Streets, until the building concluded that a church building of their own was an absolute necessity to accelerate the expansion of the Master's Kingdom.

Encouraged by the three mother congregations in their efforts to secure for themselves and their children a church home, steps were taken to erect a house of worship on the site finally chosen at the southeast corner of Pulaski and Mary Anna (now Ramsey) Streets, at the cost of $7,600. The corner-stone was laid on September 7, 1890. Services were begun in the Sunday School room on December 14, 1890, pending the completion of the entire project, which culminated in the dedication of the entire project, which culminated in the dedication of the completed structure to the worship of the Triune God on the second Sunday after Epiphany, January 18, 1891.

From its organization services were conducted in German, though sporadic attempts were made during Reverend Schaller's pastorate to introduce English services too. However, on September 11, 1905, the subject of English services was finally disposed of by a resolution to reserve alternate Sunday evenings for them. In the meeting of May 6, 1918, English services were shifted to Sunday mornings. Since that date several time adjustments were made as to the sequence of German and English services until the schedule now observed was adopted. According to this schedule Sunday School is held at 9:00, English service at 10:00 and German at 11:00 0'clock, respectively.

In 1901 Pastor Schaller, who had established the congregation, accepted a call to Quincy, Illinois. On December 5th of that same year, the Reverend Henry Guckenberger was installed. He served the congregation faithfully for 40 years till ill health caused his resignation on October 28, 1941. These years are remembered for his study. There was no church kitchen at this time for that sort of fellowship was forbidden. The building was used exclusively for worship and Bible study. In fact, Vernon Rey was the rebel who sat with his fiancée breaking the tradition of men and women sitting on the opposite side of the nave.

God brought joy again to St. Thomas when the Reverend George Horn accepted the call and was installed on January 11, 1942. Through Pastor Horn the Holy Ghost put new life into St. Thomas. Membership that had dwindled drastically was swinging upward. A kitchen was installed in the corner of the Parish Hall. The church sanctuary was renovated and modernized. The leadership was soon to change again for in November of 1952 Pastor Horn accepted a call to Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Irmo, South Carolina. During the nine month vacancy, the Reverend H.G. Spilman, the first president of the Southeastern District of the LCMS, served as vacancy Pastor.

A strong wave of enthusiasm was sent to the congregation through the new Pastor, the Reverend Richard J. Wukash, who was installed on August 9, 1953. Upon his arrival the parsonage was moved to a duplex in Catonsville, replacing the old row house across the street on Pulaski. His musical wife and dedicated father-in-law left lasting impressions on many parishioners. It was during this period that the church under-croft was hand dug out by men of the parish and finished off. This doubled the building's floor space giving a new large kitchen and restrooms, Pastor's office, Sunday school rooms, etc. The organ was expanded to two manuals with electric action. The fruitful ministry of Pastor Wukash came to close when God called him to New Castle, Delaware. His farewell sermon was delivered on August 16, 1959.

The Reverend Enno Lohrman served as vacancy pastor for the next 10 months. Hillers was installed as Pastor. He terminated his pastorate at St. Thomas to take part in archaeological excavations in the Holy Lands late in the spring of 1962. By October 14th of the same year the pastorate was filled by the Professor Alex W.C. Guebert, who was an orthodox member of the faculty of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. His wife's health required the parsonage to be a one story dwelling, thus the parsonage at 209 Glenmore Avenue in Catonsville was purchased. For 10 years he served faithfully, until his resignation; the farewell sermon given in October of 1972. After leaving St. Thomas he sought retirement. However, Grace Lutheran in Nigeria Falls, New York called him out of retirement to serve them, followed by Good Samaritan Village, Mosco, Idaho, where he served until he was called into the church triumphant in the 1980's.

Again the vacancy was nine months served by the Reverend Richard Brandon of Redeemer Lutheran in Irvington and other local pastors to fill the pulpit. Desiring to reach out and meet the needs of the socially changing neighborhood, the congregation decided to call a candidate from the seminaries, with the desire that the new young blood would once again rejuvenate the congregation that was now growing elderly, with most of her sons and daughters moving to the suburbs.

The Reverend Lee C. Sodowsky was installed on July 17, 1973. Pastor Sadowsky worked closely with the local community organizations and the ministerial fellowship of Southwest Baltimore. The city's Eating Together Program met in the church's undercroft during these years and the level community awareness grew. It was clear that in order for the church to grow it must happen by outreach. Pastor Sodowsky arranged for Charles Wildner, Jr., a native of Baltimore from Calvary who was studying for the ministry, to work at the church during the summers. Vacation Bible School was reinstated and birth was given to the Hot Summer Kool Klub, a religious summer camp for neighborhood children. The Hot Summer Kool Klub became the feature article for the Lutheran Witness of August 1979. Each summer Vicar Wildner supervised the other college students employed along with Baltimore City summer core workers hired to run the programs. During this period, Pastor Sodowsky recruited men to join the studies of the order of St. Stephen, a pan Lutheran program, training lay men to be better assistants to the pastor. On July 13, 1978, Pastor Sodowsky gave his farewell sermon after accepting a call to become the new camp director and coordinator of Raven Rock Lutheran Camp for the southeastern district in Sabillasville, Maryland.

The next long vacancy was served by several ministers in succession; the Reverend Michael Hagebush; the Reverend Duff and the Reverend Bielenberg.

A 23 month vacancy was broken when the Reverend Charles Louis Wildner, Jr. than a candidate at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana was assigned St. Thomas as his first call upon the request of the congregation. At this point what has been described as a tornado, entered the church. The phrase "sure we can do it" was heard time after time. In his thirty one years, every room in the building has been dramatically affected. the Sanctuary is being restored, by painting, to its Victorian charm, the pipe organ was rebuilt into an 11 rank tracker action, a new Kimble piano was purchased, an altar of paraments was added, the original candle stick holders from the alter were rebuilt into processional torches, and the addition of stained glass windows have begun. The Narthex was refurbished and a maintenance shed built onto the building. A conference room was set up in the under-croft along with a lounge and a secretary's office complete with the modern office equipment. The bathrooms have been remodeled, water fountains added and a new furnace installed. Upon Pastor Wildner's arrival, Mrs. Hilda Bowles was stricken ill, concluding her 40 years as Choir Director of the Church choir she had founded. Pastor then succeeded her as Director of the senior and junior choirs and added a quartet and bell choir.

Today St. Thomas has an active Sunday school and year around Kool Klub. Weekly there are adult Bible classes, LYF, Ladies Aid, Concordia Club, monthly newsletter, Concordia House (a recovery house for men), Walther Hall (a N.A. & A.A. meeting place), a Blind Ministry. The social need of the community are being addressed via Christmas Baskets, Tree of Hope, Free Thanksgiving Day Dinners, The Emergency Food Pantry, Concordia house and The Ministry of the Blind.

Additional ranks of service to the parish and the church at large have been the first son of the parish ever to enter the office of the Holy ministry was the Reverend Harry Mark Krolus. He was ordained at St. Thomas on June 17, 1984. Pastor Krolus's first calling was to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Yonkers, New York. Pastor Krolus is presently the pastor at Christ the King. In 1982 Marie Myer graduated from Concordia college becoming the parish's first daughter to become a Lutheran school teacher. On June 7, 1980 John Schmidt, Steven Robinson, and David Carnes were set apart as deacons to serve in St. Thomas. Two years later, Frederick Shutte, Sr., on May 20th, joined the deaconate also. Their service to the congregation and the parish in Word and Service has been immeasurable.

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