First Lutheran Church History
The history of First Lutheran Church of Washington spans over 200 years of what is now known as Washington, Pennsylvania. Early settlers from German Lutheran Church and Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch) Reformed Presbyterian church sought a place of worship. These two denominations, sharing a language and similar beliefs met regularly in their homes for regular worship. Our church began in 1798, when these two groups sought “spiritual advice and comfort” at the home of Jacob Weuler. They became known as the German Lutheran and Presbyterian (Reformed) Congregation.
Building a Church
Two lots by Spruce, North Franklin and Walnut streets were purchased for $50.00. Walnut Street was then the northern boundary of the original plot of Washington as laid out by David Hoge on October 18, 1781. The church trustees made a contract with James Chambers to build a Meeting House for $170. Trustees furnished the materials. The congregation built a log school on the same property to be used for the children of early German Settlers. From 1818-1883 the church had two ministers who conducted the services in both German and English. This controversy over which language to conduct services was solved when Dr. G.A. Wenzel preached in both languages until 1895. After this all services were conducted in English.
In In 1842 the church was incorporated as the German Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Church of the Borough of Washington. This name was changed through a charter amendment of August 18, 1884 to First Evangelical Lutheran Church; and the congregation entered into the membership of the Pittsburgh Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran church.
In 1884 a lot was purchased on the corner of Beau and Franklin Streets for $800. In 1885 the church was erected at a cost of $4154 and dedicated. A parsonage was built and completed between 1900-1905.. Rev. CH Hemsath, who was pastor at this time, was a skilled cabinet maker, doing considerable work on the parsonage and made the altar that now stands in our sanctuary.
By 1918 having outgrown their present church a study was authorized for the erection of a new church. In 1919 five lots of East Chestnut Street were purchased for $21,500. The site was later found unsuitable for the third church building. Leave taking f of Beau street church was on October 26, 1919, having sold the property to the Christian Science Society of Washington. Church and parsonage sold for the sum of $12,500. The congregation worshipped in the Public Meeting Room fo the Court House from 1919-1926.
A building was begun during the pastorate of Rev. Frank C. Oberly (1920-1922). In 1921, the court granted a petition to vacate the old German Graveyard. After the plans were modified, a vault was completed in September 1924 at a cost of $31,350 and the remains of 373 bodies were recommitted on October 5, 1924 in small individual caskets made by the Brotherhood of the Church. This vault is directly under the altar in the present church. Ground breaking for the church was in December of 1924 during the pastorate of Rev. Harry, B. Ernest. The cornerstone was laid on April 19, 1925 and dedication services were held the week of June 20-27, 1926. Total completed cost was $200,000.
Our church life began as the German Lutheran and Presbyterian (reformed) congregation. Here these two faiths worshiped together. This German speaking community also erected a school in order to preserve their language and customs until 1831. On June 6, 1842, the Rev. P.H.R. Mueller incorporated the two different congregations (Lutheran and Reformed) under the name, German Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Church of the Borough of Washington. By the late 1860s the Reformed members of the congregation were absorbed into the Lutheran and were no longer mentioned in church records. In 1884, the church changed its name and became known as the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Washington. Again, in the 1960s, under the leadership of Rev. Reginald E. Dozer, the church name was abbreviated to First Lutheran Church of Washington, PA and remains so to this day.
Originally, the church conducted services in the German language and continued to do so for nearly 100 years. During the Civil War era, the congregation began to see changes. By 1870 the question of language for sermons became a major issue: should sermons be in German or in English? From 1871 to 1883, the Rev. George C. Friedrick preached in German and separate services were conducted in English by several other pastors. In 1883 Rev. G.A. Wenzel was able to address this issue by providing two services each Sunday morning: one in German and the other in English. After Rev. Wenzel all sermons and services were then conducted in English.
The first community Vacation Bible School was held o from June 11, 1928 to July 6, 1928 with a paid staff. The First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Washington was a part of the cooperative effort with the Junior Division meeting here under the supervision of Mrs. Maude Hootman.
From 1960-1966 the name of the Church was abbreviated to the First Lutheran Church of Washington, PA. The Frank C. Oberly Memorial Organ was renovated. Plans were adopted for the construction of an education wing. Ground was broken for this building December 15, 1968 and the building was dedicated on January 18, 1970.
Author/Hymn Writer – Reverend Paul Z. Strodach
He translated the 1523 Lutheran Order of Baptism from German to English, and wrote A Manual on the Liturgy, which became the standard liturgical reference in his tradition. He also served on the commission for the 1958 Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal.
His works include:
- The Church Year, 1924
- Oremus: Collects, Devotions, Litanies from Ancient and Modern Sources, 1925
- A Manual for Worship, 1930, 1946
- The Road He Trod, 1932
- The Collect for the Day, 1939
He also Wrote the lyrics to the Easter Hymn, Now All the Vaults of Heaven Resounds. This scripture based hymn is set to the tune of Lasst Uns Erfreuen , composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It can be found in the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal (SBH #103), The Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW # 143) and in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book (ELW #367).
First Lutheran Church is unique in that during a period of 92 consecutive years our church was served by 3 long-serving and dedicated pastors: Rev. Harry B. Ernest who was pastor at First Lutheran for 22 years, followed by Rev. Reginald E. Dozer who served for a period of 23 years and then by Rev. Kenneth N. Schott who was the pastor for 43 years. Both Pastors Dozer and Schott were honoured with the title of Pastor Emeritus from our congregation for their years of service.
Pastors of First Lutheran Church
- 1798-1810 – No regular ministers. However, this was a preaching site of Rev. Johannes Stauch & Reverend Demas Hertzler
- 1811-1816 – Reverend J.P. Mahnenschmidt
- 1834-1838 – Supply Pastors
- 1839-1854 – Reverand P.H.R. Mueller (1842 documented)
- 1855-1870 – Pastors unrecorded & Supply Pastors
- 1871-1883 – Reverend G.C. Frick
- 1883-1895 – Reverend G.A. Wenzel D.D.
- 1896-1899 – Reverend Charles B. Lindwed
- 1900-1905 – Rev. C.H. Hemsath
- 1907-1916 – Reverend R.M. Smith, PHD, DD
- 1917-1920 – Reverend R.E. Jensen
- 1920-1922 – Reverend F.C. Oberly
- 1922-1949 – Reverend Harry B. Ernest
- 1950-1973 – Reverend Reginald E. Dozer, DD
- 1971-2014 – Reverend Kenneth N. Schott, DD
- 2015-Present – Reverend Robert B. Grewe
First Lutheran Timeline
- 1798 – German Lutherans and Dutch Presbyterians meet at home of Jacob Weuler for “spiritual advice and comfort”
- 1812 – Rev. John Peter Mahnenschmidt first regular pastor of this group
- 1816 – First building erected by James Chambers at corner of West Walnut and North Franklin at a cost of $170. Materials supplied by trustees. A burial ground adjoined this building
- 1817 – Lutheran Congregation built a school house to teach children in German Language (1818-1831)
- 1842 – Congregation incorporated as the German Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Church of the Borough of Washington, under Rev. PHR Mueller
- 1884 – Under Rev. GA Wenzel name was changed to First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Washington, PA
- 1885 – The old building, having served for seventy years, a new one was built on the same site at a cost of $4954. A parsonage was also provided
- 1919 – The church and parsonage were sold and a property was acquired on East Chestnut street for a new site. Services were held in the County Court House
- 1920 – Building plans were terminated with the untimely death of Rev. Oberly
- 1922 – Under the leadership of Rev. Harry B. Ernest, plans were developed for an impressive church and educational unit at an approximate cost of $200,000
- 1924 – Burial vault completed at a cost of $1350. Three hundred seventy three bodies were recommitted to this vault on October 5, 1924
- 1926 – The Rev. Reginald E. Dozer, D.D. assumed the pastorate. Material assets were increased by purchases of the property adjoining the church and a replacement for the old parsonage
- 1953 – For the first time this congregation was home to the Annual Convention of the Pittsburgh Synod
- 1966 – Fortieth Anniversary year for the present building. Plans were adopted for a new Parish Education Building which included classrooms and offices
- 1967 – Marks the 125th anniversary of the incorporation of the congregation
- 1968 – 170th year of Lutheran Worship in this community
- 1998 – Celebration of 200 years of Lutheran worship in this community