16 July 2017

Concise History of German Lutheran Churches in Albany

German Lutherans were immigrating to Albany as early as 1644.  According to language historian Heinz Kloss, in 1655 the Lutherans of New Amsterdam sent a delegate to Holland in order to procure a minister that might preach to them in High German.  A Lutheran minister from Saxony, Johannes Ernestus Gutwasser, arrived to serve the High German congregations of New Amsterdam and Beverwyck.[1] He came to Albany in July 1657, but the Dutch forced him to return to Europe in 1659.  
At this time Lutherans were numerous enough to form a Lutheran congregation, but the Dutch government denied them permission to do so.  No religion except the Reformed Dutch Church was tolerated.[2]  Lutherans were not allowed the freedom to worship until the English took control of Beverwyck in 1664.  Eventually, circa 1668, the first Lutheran church in North America was built on South Pearl Street between Howard and Beaver Streets.  The congregation was under the pastoral care of Reverend Johannes Fabriens.  The church was incorporated as the First Lutheran Church, or Ebenezer Church, in 1784. The worship language of services changed throughout the years at the Lutheran Church.  Services were held in the Dutch language from 1669 until 1784, when they were held in German, only to surprisingly change again to English by 1808.  
However, by 1795 the Ebenezer Church was predominantly a German church.  After service language was changed and held in English, only one German service was held, but disagreements regarding the time and location that the German service might be held arose.  In 1832 single Sunday German service was conducted at the First Lutheran Church, in the lecture room instead of the church.  But by 1837 the Germans had become so numerous again that they were already outnumbering the established congregation by three to one.[3]  Therefore on August 8, 1841, the German Lutherans seceded from the First Lutheran Church and organized their own German language parish.  Two days later on August 10, 1841, the society of German Lutherans was incorporated, as the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche der Stadt Albany, or German Evangelical Church of the City of Albany.  The first services were held in a building located on the southeast corner of State and Green Streets.  The congregation, numbering 250 members, purchased the Albany West Station Methodist Church, located at 249 State Street for $1700 and dedicated it on May 10, 1842.[4]  
Soon after the congregation was organized, a parochial school was created.  By 1884 the school had 115 students and two teachers.[5] In 1904 the parochial school closed.  Eventually the church became too small for the congregation, and the church building was sold to the Universalist Church.  At a cost of $8000 a new church was built at 10 Western Avenue, opposite Lexington Avenue.  
On September 5, 1855, the church was incorporated as the Second German Evangelical Lutheran Church.  The new church was officially dedicated on January 13, 1856.[6]  In 1872 the present church was built, and the church changed its name to the Deutsche Evangelische Lutheran St. Paulus Gemeinde.[7]  As of 1886 the parish included 158 families.[8]  For $500, five acres of land, on upper Western Avenue, was purchased for use as the parish burial grounds. The grounds were consecrated as the Eagle Hill Cemetery, on November 26, 1859. The site is reputed to be the highest ground in the city of Albany, hence, its name.  The previous parish burial grounds were situated on Quail Street, between Central Avenue and Sherman Street.  That lot was purchased in 1846 and was no longer viable since its boundaries were unable to be enlarged.  
St. Paul's, 2000
The first regular English services were introduced in 1892; however, sporadic English services were held since 1867.  After 1903, Sunday school was only conducted in English.[9] The final German service was held in 1951.  Interestingly, by 1935 all of New York’s 161 Lutheran congregations were using English.[10]
Vereine associated with the parish were the Jünglingverein, or Young Men’s Society, organized in 1890 and the Männerverein, or the men’s society.  An Unterstützungverein was created in April 1865 and the Frauen Missionsverein, or the ladies mission society, was established in April 1875, and a Jugendverein or Young People’s Society formed in 1893. 
The parish of Saint Paul’s divided twice, with offshoot churches formed from the divisions.  The first split occurred on August 13, 1854, at the urging of Pastor Friedrich Wilhelm Schmidt.  On that date, the First German Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized, with twenty-seven parishioners from Saint Paul’s.  The new church was established because South End German Lutherans complained of the lack of a German Lutheran parish in their neighborhood.  
The new parish had humble beginnings.  The first religious services were held in the homes of various members and then at the CTS mission house until a church was built.  A parish school at 77 Franklin Street, costing $500, was dedicated on February 11, 1855.  The school consisted of eighty students.  In 1884 140 children were enrolled, and by 1886 the school registered 171 students.[11]  
Soon, land was purchased and a frame church was built for $2,000.  The church was dedicated on August 12, 1855, and located on the northeast corner of Franklin and Nucella Streets.  In 1875 the church adopted the name of The First German Evangelical Lutheran Saint Matthew’s Church.  Church services were conducted exclusively in German until 1911, when concessions were made to introduce services in English to hold the attention of the younger generation.  
In 1874 Saint Matthew’s purchased roughly five acres of land in Bethlehem Center, New York for use as a parish cemetery.  In 1885, a lot on Delaware Street was purchased for $5,000.  Many years earlier, this parcel of land was once part of the spacious gardens surrounding the mansion of Major General Phillip Schuyler.  

Costing $21,700, a two-story building was constructed with the plan to later build a church on the grounds of the former Schuyler gardens.[12]  The dream was not fulfilled because many families relocated out of the South End, and the school closed in 1905.  But a new church was eventually built at 75 Whitehall Road and the Delaware Street property sold to the Wall’s Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1945.  After the sale of the South End property, the church discontinued German services, save for a German communion service every Good Friday until 1950. [13] 
Societies associated with the church included the Frauen Missionsverein, or the Ladies’ Missionary Society, which was organized in 1852, with sixty members to support local and foreign missions and charities.  The Frauen und Jungfrauenverein or Ladies’ and Young Girl’s Aid Society, was organized on May 4, 1876, with thirty-four members to financially assist the church.  The Männer und Jünglingverein, with one hundred members, was also established before the turn of the century.[14] The church also had a Saint Matthew’s Maennerchor at the beginning of the twentieth century.  
The second division of Saint Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church occurred when thirty-two communicants withdrew from the congregation because of differences of opinion regarding the synodical connection of the church.[15] Saint Johannis Kirche, or Saint John’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church was thus organized on June 2, 1857, by the seceding members.  
The first services were held in the City Mission’s Building on State Street.  The church was incorporated on October 25, 1858, and the congregation resolved to build its own church, located at 160 Bowery, today Central Avenue.  On May 1, 1859, the new church was dedicated.  By 1864 Saint John’s began a German School with sixteen children enrolled; by 1884 the school enrolled 125 students.  
St. John's
In 1873 the church purchased twenty acres of land on Sand Creek Road, in Colonie, for use as a parish cemetery.  As of 1886 the parish counted 130 families.[16]  In October 1929 regular English morning services were introduced.  Thereafter, German services were held sporadically and were finally discontinued in 1949.  
Societies enrolled in the parish included the Maenner und Jünglingverein; both organizations were formed on April 11, 1865.  In November 1888 Saint John’s Luther-Liga, or Luther League, was founded under the title Jugendverein with five hundred members.  Saint John’s also established a Choral Club with forty members in January 1896 and a Deutscher Literarischer Verein, or German Literature Society, in September 1896.  The literature group numbered twenty members.  The group met in Saint John’s school hall.[17]  In 1907 additional associations included the Men’s Society, the Ladies Society, and the Missionary Society.
On December 9, 1918, at a church council meeting, it was resolved,
That this corporation change its corporate name from The German Evangelical Lutheran Saint John’s Church of the City of Albany to Saint John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Albany, N.Y., for the following reasons: viz., that at the present time the majority of religious services and practically all meetings thereof are held in the English language, that the new constitution and by-laws recently adopted by said corporation are entirely in the English language instead of the German language as heretofore, and that such proposed new name will more fully describe the status and character of said corporation.[18]

St. Francis' Verein of St. John's Church

A further division within Albany’s Lutheran churches occurred in 1888 when approximately fifty young men and women from the exclusively German Saint John’s and Saint Paul’s parishes dissented and formed their own English language church, the Church of the Redeemer, formerly located on the corner of North Lake and Western Avenues.



[1] Heinz Kloss, “German-American Language Maintenance Efforts,” in Language Loyalty in the United States: The Maintenance and Perpetuation of Non-English Mother Tongues by American Ethnic and Religious Groups, ed. Joshua Fishman (London: Mouton and Company, 1966), p. 215. n. a. The Story of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church: Its Roots and Its Fruits, 1832-1957 (Albany: n. p., 1957), p. 3.
[2] Reynolds, Albany Chronicles: A History of the City Arranged Chronologically, pp. 29-30.
[3] Heins, Swan of Albany: A History of the Oldest Congregation of the Lutheran Church in America, pp. 83-84.  n. a. The Story of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church: Its Roots and Its Fruits, 1832-1957, pp. 5-6.
[4] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, pp. 58-59. n. a. The Story of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church: Its Roots and Its Fruits, 1832-1957, p. 7.
[5] Phelps, comp., The Albany Hand-Book, p. 105.
[6] Weise, The History of the City of Albany, New York, p. 498. Joel Munsell, Annals of Albany, Volume I (Albany: J. Munsell, 1869), pp.168-169.
[7] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, p. 59.
[8] Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., p. 763.
[9] Roberts and Cockrell, eds., Historic Albany, pp. 194-199.
[10] Leonard William Heidemann, “Acceptance of the English Language in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod” (Masters thesis, Iowa State College, 1950), p. 138.
[11] Phelps, comp., The Albany Hand-Book, p. 105.
[12] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, pp. 97-99.
[13] Bowers, “The Texture of a Neighborhood,” pp. 19-21. Weise, The History of the City of Albany, New York, p. 497. n. a., St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church: Centennial 1854-1954 (n. p.: 1954), pp. 13-16.
[14] Brief History of St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Albany (Albany: n. p., 1929), pp. 10-12. n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, pp. 97-99.
[15] Heins, Swan of Albany, p. 93
[16] Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., p. 763.
[17] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, pp. 115-121, 187-189.
[18] Church Council Minutes of Saint John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (Albany: Saint John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1918), p. 79.