Church History

Founded in 1852, St. Paul's has quite a history.  As we approach our 160th anniversary, it's nice to take a look back at just how far we've come.


"O God, our Help in Ages past, our Hope for Years to Come" was our hymn theme for St.Paul's 150th Anniversary celebration. The text was written by Isaac Watts; the tune by William Craft - both in 17th century. How fortuitous of Mister Watts and Craft to give us our song statement, and a short one too! Getting to know our church history has been an unfolding adventure to some and old news to others. Our celebration was divided into twenty-five year time periods. (For easier digestion of our "ages past".) Also included were special themes such as Christian Education or Music. This is a brief history of St.Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church.


"Richmond was laid out as a town in the year 1806... the first Lutheran families began to arrive about 1835," so says a 1902 golden anniversary recollection. The migration of German settlers showed up in Cincinnati by the way of New Orleans and Baltimore, looking for new homes. There were three major reasons for leaving the "Fatherland".                                                             
     A) Lack of land ownership and opportunities. (This is especially true in Hanover, where most of Richmond's immigrants came from.)
     B) Resistance to the military draft. Some had sons drafted at an early age, 12 to 14 years.
     C) Revolutionary movement. Napoleon invaded the German states unsettling the feudal system.

     The first Lutheran Church was built on Front Street (South 4th) in 1844. They joined the Joint Synod of Ohio. As St.John Lutheran Church grew, so did Richmond's German population. There are several versions of the trouble that came about at St.John between 1850 and 1852. Most state that it was due to "restrictions of personal liberty and doctrinal difference." Parishioners did not want to be told what to do, especially by the Joint Synod of Ohio. It was to much like the "Fatherland". The pastors were educated in Germany raising questions about pesonal freedoms, (Such as the Freemason Lodges.) Questions were raised about St.John Church government and school discipline. There was also a cholera epidemic in 1849, and 24 deaths reported; many were affected. One historian states that five members of St.John "made issue" and walked out of the service. St.John's history stated they "were asked to leave." St.Paul's German Evangelical Lutheran Church was born in 1852.


     The first service was held at the old Fisk schoolhouse on South 7th and A Streets, then moved to South 7th and D Streets. It was on Reformation Sunday, October 25, 1852. The first building had the sanctuary on the second floor. This was a strictly independent church although its members were Lutherans. Sometimes they referred to the church doctrine as "Free Protestant". The constitution "provided that any pastor could preach in its pulpit as long as they weren't connected with any Synod." Some of the St.Paul's early pastors were erratic and unorthodox in thier preaching. In 1865, Pastor J.D. Sweringhouse was invited to give a sermon by some members of the congregation. Mr. Chris Bartel sent the invitation in January.
     Others of the congregation opposed his preaching because of his membership in the General Synod. This group locked the doors and wouldn't let him in. A compromise was made the following week- he could preach on the steps, but not from the pulpit. In february, Dr.Sweringhouse won the congregation over with his charm and strong leadership. He resigned his General Synod membership and became St.Paul's pastor from 1865 until 1870. He was remembered for organizing St.Paul's parochial school into a public school. He also enlarged St.Paul's Sunday school; due to overcrowding during the church services. The children would stay for the lessons during the services then leave for Sunday School. The lessons were further explained in English, not German. The younger ones understood the lessons better. In 1868, 300 pupils attended Sunday School. Three more pastors came and went, with the hiring of Pastor G.W. Enders in 1876. The chuurch greatly prospered with "his splendid personality".
     In 1876, times were desperate. St.Paul's asked Dr.Sweringhouse to recommend someone to lead them. His friend, Dr.George Enders was issued a call. Although very ill and in a wheelchair, he accepted the Call. He served until 1882, his health steadily improving. It was through his efforts that the congregation joined the Olive Branch Synod. He was also a member of the Richmond City School Board. He persuaded the school board to sponsor a German School. Hibberd German School was established with his influence.
     The Reverend J.J. Young was St.Paul's next pastor, from 1882-1893. During this time a debt of $2,700 was discovered, (left over from building the 7th street Church) and immediately cleared up. (St.Paul's always pays its debts.) It was during his pastorate that the German/English problem became serious. English services were permitted once a month in the evening. Many young people were dissatisifed and left to form the First English Lutheran Church in 1844 and Second English in 1892. An English Divine Service was strictly forbidden. Article 2 of St.Paul's Constitution said, "Since our congregation speaks German, the service shall be held in only German."
     The Sunday School at St.Paul's was the largest in the city with Mr. George Knollenberg serving as it's superintendant for over 25 years. The chapel was built in 1892 on South 7th Street, with Sunday School funds. They also established a graded Sunday School system from the Cradle Roll to the German Bible class(grandparents).
     Dr. Conrad Huber succeeded Dr. Young in 1893 and served until 1916. St.Paul's growth at this time was amazing! Communicant membership in 1900 was 566. Sunday School enrollment was 600, topping 700 a little later. It was also at this time that St.Paul's was the largest church in the District Synod. Dr. Huber served as a traveling missionary in Nebraska before coming to St.Paul's. He sponsored major benevolence and relief projects, including a train-car load of hay for drought stricken Nebraska and famine relief for India.

     During Dr. Huber's pastorate, three deaconesses served the congregation. Sister Magdalene, Sister Louise, and Sister Elise made lives better for all of the ill and homebound. Besides massages, they would cook dinner and give "spiritual comfort". The district called Sister Louise to another church in 1906 and grumbling members wrote many letters to the district in discontentment. They did not get her back.

     English was beginning to be more and more the language of choice, but St.Paul's was still heavily German influenced. With the looming of World War 1, many German Americans were suprised that the United States supported Great Britain and it's allies. When the U.S. entered the war in 1916. The Women's Missionary Society abruptly conducted thier first meeting in English, changing from German with a short "We will now write in English", in thier 1916 minutes.

     Dr. F.W. Rohlfing succeeded Dr.Huber in August 1916. It was three trying years for the congregation, when anti-German sentiment was at it's peek. Over fifty members fought  in WW1, one was buried in France. Before Dr. Rohlfing left in July 1919, he retired an unknown redecorating debt of $6,000 and saw the start of St.Paul's endowment fund. When When Mr. George Knollenberg died, Mrs. Knollenberg's gift of money was for "young men in ministry, young women for Deaconess work and as well as any other worthy object". It also supported students at Wittenberg College. In December of 1919, Dr. J.P. Miller accepted a call to St.Paul's. Before he came, St.Paul's was having difficulty with leadership. They sought a merger with First English Lutheran Church in 1919, then again in 1928 when Dr. Miller left. After WW1 St.Paul's gave a large quantity of  donations to the Lutheran Relief for war ravages. St. Paul's also adopted a new Constitution in 1921 deleting the German references. Up to 1924, German night services still existed bimonthly and then discontinued.

     By 1924, the Church Council gave serious consideration to finding a new church. A new church committee was formed and $69,247.50 was pleged as seed money. A second committee was formed to collect the seed money after a few years of difficulty in collections. The annual dues billing system was stopped and the voluntary weekly pledge system was adopted in 1920. During this time period the United Lutheren Church of America was formed, and St.Paul's became apart of it. 


     Dr. C. Franklin Koch served St.Paul's with a "dynamic leadership" from 1929 to 1940. With the Great Depression looming, he focused on the possibility of building a new church and finding the right property. In 1939 the property of Mr. Dudley Foulke at 18th and A Streets was purchased for $20,000. This price was available only if the property was used as "a church location and memorialized in some way to perpetuate the name of Foulke". Part of the front gates from the Foulke property on South 18th Street is still standing today. An architect was hired, plans were made, and the architect died. By 1940, World War II was imminent and supplies were short. The new church at Linden Hill, Lot#1 had to be postponed.

     Dr.Koch introduced the Common Service Book of the ULCA. This became a beloved spiritual resource for the congregation. Dr. Koch left in 1940 to become an Executive Secretary for the United Lutheran Church in America.

     Dr. Albert H. Keck became pastor of St. Paul's in 1940, retiring in 1957. Serving as Pastor Emeritus until 1966. During World War II, two "Honor Rolls" of St.Paul's indicated that 97 congregation members served in World War II. Pastor Keck personally wrote a letter to each of them with special newsletters on holidays. After the war, the church moved forward with it's building project. Funds of $300,000 were raised to build the 14th century English Gothic style building. Dr. Keck presided over the January 7th, 1951 ground breaking for the "new" St.Paul's church. It was extremely cold that day with a sudden snowfall. The laying of the cornerstone was on August 26th, 1951. The dedication of the just finished limestone church was on October 19th, 1952 in St.Paul's 100th Anniversary year.


     Pastor Charles Masheck accepted St.Paul's call in 1957 and stayed until 1966. Dr. Masheck and Mrs. Clara Sowers started St. Paul's Christian Nursery School in 1961 and it still serves the community today. During the baby Boomer time period, the church achieved it's largest membership with over 1,000 baptized members  in 1962. There was a nation wide post-war revival of church interest and church attendance was up everywhere. The final debt on the new church building was paid off and a mortgage burning service was held in January of 1962. An outdoor chapel was added in 1963. Due to vandalism, it had to be taken apart  many years later.

     After Dr. Masheck  left, Dr. Robert Linstrom served the congregation through many changes. One of the physical changes was the addition of Schutte Hall in 1972. The chancel was renovated in 1972. The communion kneeling cushions were handmade by many members. The beautiful needlepoint theme was "Great Stories of the Bible".

     During the late sixties and early seventies, turbulence seemed to rule American society. Radical social changes, the Civil Rights movement, an the Vietnam War impacted St.Paul's. During the first year of his pastorate Dr.Linstrom officiated at services for three servicemen killed in Vietnam. They were Karl Klute, Terry Hines, and Robert Person. Also, St.Paul's sponsored a Vietnamese family in Richmond.

     Highlights of this twenty-five years included the celebration of St.Paul's 125th Anniversary. A festival of Faith was held in Civic Hall with a large  Lutheran choir. An anniversary quilt was made in commemoration of 125 years. 



     During the years of Pastor Christoff Armiger's service to St.Paul's, 1980-1986, organization was implemented. Our council structure and committees were put in place by Pastor Armiger. His encouragement and design gave St.Pauls a way to handle problems and pressures of running a church.

     Pastor Steven L. Schwier was installed on September 26, 1986. His emphasis was a rebuilding program, infusing St.Paul's with younger families. Attendance improved and outreach programs were added. Sunday evening basketball added a certain allurement to young and old. The Vaile school outreach program was started and still exists. Pastor Leslie Yeager came out of retirement to assist Pastor Schwier in many capacities. Sister Sally Burk was an assistant who served from 1990 through 1993. In 1995, Gail Zehme was hired as a new Parish Coordinator, arranging volunteers and programs. Later she took over secretarial duties, doing both jobs as parish administrator.

     Many building improvements were made. In 1988, St.Paul's raised money to refurbish the pipe organ. It was dedicated on December 3, 1988. This organ replaced the "new" organ from the old church. The "old" organ from the old church was sold to Zion's Luthern Church in Pershing, Indiana in 1933. Zion still uses the "old" organ today. Air-conditioning was installed in the Sanctuary, lounge, and library in 1994. The rest of the building had air-conditioning installed later. The Sunday school second floor halways were painted wih an oversized Noah and his Ark peeking around the corner. Conni and Barry Harrison lovingly painted the animals in 1992 and 1993. Since 1995, Derek Rehmel has taped the 10:30 a.m. service for replay on television.

     Pastor Schwier left in January 2000 and we were without a pastor for about one year. Intern Elizabeth Nickel and Pastor Robert Meckley stepped in to help. St.Paul's has always been fortunate to have dedicated people.

     Pastor Martin Gehring was installed in Novenber 2000. Pastor Gehring's Call to God's service came later in life. He is able to share his other work and life experiences during his lively sermons. In 2001 a new mission statement was written: "Invite to know, (Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit), Learn to Grow, (Teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you), Send to Sow, (Go therefore and make disciples of all nations)" - it is grounded in the Great Commision. St.Paul's  also put in a new driveway and frontdoors. As usual, St.Paul's was able to raise the funds during a capitol improvement drive.

     After Pastor Gehring accepted a call to a church in Fort Wayne, Pastor Jerald Mielke came to St. Paul's as an interim pastor.  He was installed as our full-time pastor in 2006.  Upon Pastor Mielke's retirement, Pastor Robery Meckley again became our interim pastor.  After more than a year of service in that capacity, Pastor Meckley was installed as our current pastor in November of 2011.


History of the ELCA

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed over 20 years ago. This new church was formed from three separate and well-established North American church bodies:

  • The American Lutheran Church
  • The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and
  • The Lutheran Church in America.

Beginning January 1, 1988, these churches, with shared beliefs and missions, officially formed the ELCA. Two decades later, this energized church is composed of 4.8 million members and nearly 10,500 congregations across the U.S. and Caribbean. Today, the ELCA reflects the rich and diverse heritage of the people it serves.


But to understand our heritage fully, one must trace our roots back through the mid-17th century, when early Lutherans came to America from Europe, settling in the Virgin Islands and the area that is now known as New York. Even before that, Martin Luther sought reform for the church in the 16th century, laying the framework for our beliefs.

Read about Lutheran Roots in America on the ELCA website >>


Go to our own What is the ELCA page >>

March 19, 2018
August - May 
Sundays at 8:00 and 10:30 a.m.
June and July
One Sunday Service at 9:30 a.m. 
Sunday School takes place 
during the service,
following the children's 

Nursery Provided

Sunday School takes place during the service following the children's sermon. 



About St. Paul's Lutheran

Come to the About Us section to meet Pastor Bob, and find out what we're all about!


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If you're curious about what a truly nurturing community of believers is like, then you should come to the Join Us section to find out how you can get involved. We hope you join us.


What is the ELCA?

Find out about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the history of this wonderful organization on our What is ELCA page.

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