Chicago Lutheran History: First Evangelical Lutheran Deaf-Mute Congregation of Our Savior-1896

James Huenink
3 min readJun 17, 2021
The First Evangelical Lutheran Deaf-Mute Congregation of Our Savior began at First Bethlehem Lutheran Church

In 1896, the German Lutheran churches of Chicago published Geschichte der Gründung und Ausbreitung der zur Synode von Missouri, Ohio und Andern Staaten gehörenden Evangelisch-Lutherischen Gemeinden U. A. C. zu Chicago, Illinois, a history of their growth in the city beginning with First St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, now located on LaSalle and Goethe streets in Chicago. As far as I know, there is no English translation of this document, so I offer this translation to share this history with you. Follow me to get updates about the rest of this work.

Most people who recall the history of ethnic immigrant Lutheran synods believe that they were built mostly on immigration from Europe. Norwegians, Swedes, Fins, and Germans travelled across the sea to settle in the western frontier of the United States, and they formed immigrant churches based around their country of origin. The immigrant who formed Midwestern Lutheranism typically came from the 1840’s until World War I with a trickle of people after World War II.

The first pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Deaf-Mute Congregation of Our Savior

But Lutherans also created innovative and exciting ministries outside of their ethnic immigrant boundaries. In 1877, the Synodical Conference–a group of ethnic synods- sent missionaries to the freed slaves of the south. Their efforts would grow into a large Lutheran presence from North Carolina to Louisiana. Then the Great Migration spread black Lutheran congregations to cities in the North.

This chapter of the book describes the first of several Lutheran churches for the deaf. It began in Chicago, but eventually spread out across the Midwest. For many years, deaf ministry was publicized in The Lutheran Pioneer, the Synodical Conference’s missionary journal, but deaf ministries began publishing their own missionary monthly, called The Deaf Lutheran, in 1909. Between 1896 and 1909, the Board of Missions for the Deaf of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States planted 26 congregations for the deaf.

First Evangelical Lutheran Deaf-Mute Congregation of Our Savior

“First ev.-lutheran deaf-mute Congregation of our Savior [English original].” That is the name which the deaf-mute congregation has adopted in these days (August 1896). This congregation is the marvelous fruit of the deaf-mute mission, which Pastor August Reinke has begun several years ago, facing great difficulty, but accompanied by God’s support and blessing. For two years, Pastor Reinke regularly preached to the deaf-mute people of Chicago in sign language, and soon, they clamoured for this preaching in other cities. And so, Pastor Reinke proclaimed the word of God to the poor people in Louisville, Kn. St. Louis, Mo. Milwaukee and Sheboygan, Wis., Fort Wayne, Ind., Peoria and Galesburg, Ill. In these year, the Synod has taken this mission into its own hand, and has appointed two missionaries: Pastor W. Bentrup for Louisville, Kn. and Pastor F. Wangerin for Milwaukee, Wis. Here, under Pastor Reinke’s blessed work, the above- named congregation has formed with about 25 members, which gathered every fourth Sunday afternoon of the month at Bethlehem Church (N. Paulina and McReynold Str.) for divine service. May God’s help and blessing be with this new congregation and also with the deaf-mute mission and their work!