Chicago Lutheran History: St. Stephen Lutheran Church- 1890

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.

An illustration of the first church and school building

The attendance patterns of urban Lutheran churches follow the demographics of German settlers in the city. While First Bethlehem in Bucktown peaked in 1900, St. Stephen had its highest membership in 1939 with 2,094 baptized members and 1,268 communicant members. When integration began in 1956, the congregation had dwindled to 950 communicant members.

The current church building

St. Stephen Lutheran Church still serves the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Those who live outside of Chicago are likely to think of Englewood only as a violent neighborhood. While it does have its challenges, the neighborhood is still strong with families and excellent community groups. St. Stephen has served this challenging neighborhood with programs for youth, aid for its neighbors, and other extensions to help residents use their strengths to overcome adversity. While it still struggles with numbers, like many of our urban churches, the congregation is dedicated to the ministry of the gospel in a difficult environment.

Evangelical Lutheran St. Stephen Congregation (Engelwood)

Among the suburbs that have been incorporated by annexation into Chicago in the year 1890, Englewood is one of the most important. Since this city, which spread out south from the beautiful Garfield Boulevard and west from State Street, already numbers nearly 100,000 denizens.

The pastors of St. Stephen from its founding to the publication of its 75th anniversary book.

A number of Lutherans lived here for a long time who had joined St. Martini congregation, apart from a few members of Trinity congregation. In the spring of 1886, this led St. Martini congregation to buy two lots on 59th and Green street for the sum of $550 to erect a school building (24 by 40 feet) on it. On the first Sunday in Advent, 1886, this schoolhouse was dedicated, at which Pastor H. Engelbrecht preached a school sermon and Pastor F. C. Leeb introduced the newly called teacher, H. Schulte. On the 1st of December this teacher opened the school with some 25 children.

The present sanctuary

On the 16th of January 1889, 9 members of St. Martini congregation, who had been peacefully released from the congregation a few days earlier, met in the schoolhouse on 59th Street and organized the “Evangelical Lutheran St. Stephanus Congregation U. A. C.” by adopting a congregational order presented by Pastor Leeb. In this first meeting, the number of voting members grew to 16. They strode immediately to the choice of their own pastor. The choice was Pastor A. J. Bünger in Steeleville, Randolph Co., Ill.

The stunning chancel with a wood relief of the Last Supper

St. Martini entrusted the congregation not just with the school for $500, but also their pastor who served the young congregation until the installation of their called pastor, which could only take place after three months. On the afternoon of Quasimodogeniti Sunday, the 28th of April 1889, Pastor A. J. Bünger was installed into his office. Since the congregation was still too small, and they needed to get a teacher in addition to the pastor, the new pastor also became the school teacher. Already in June, the congregation bought five lots on Englewood Ave (now 62nd Place) near Halsted Street for $3,500, and before the year of their founding came to an end, they raised a beautiful house of God next to the school, 45 by 70 feet large, which had cost $8,000. The joyful festival of the consecration of the church took place on the 15th of December 1889. At the celebration, the pastors L. Lochner and F. C. Leeb preached in German and Prof. W. Müller from Milwaukee spoke in English.

The nave of St. Stephen

Since the congregation and school grew in a pleasing way, the school candidate H. Wehrs was called in the following year. This first teacher of the congregation was installed into his office on the 10th of August 1890. Yet the congregation’s faithful and industrious young worker would serve only 8 months. On the 22nd of April 1891, the Lord called him through a blessed death in heavenly peace.

The second teacher at St. Stephen’s school

As the successor of the sleeping teacher, the congregation called Teacher O. F. Rusch from Ottawa, Canada, who entered his office on the 16th of August 1891. One month later (November) the second school class had to be set up, to which J. I. M. Merbitz was hired as a female teacher. For almost a year, this class was held in the sacristy of the church. However, In the summer of the year 1892, the congregation created enough room in the school by remodeling and enlarging the school building for a cost of $1,100. Pastor L. Hölter preached at the dedication of the school on the 28th of August, 1892.

The angel at the side of the altar

In July of the year 1896, the congregation felt it necessary to choose yet again to enlarge their school system. The district located south of the church seemed to them to be an area in which a successful mission could be begun through erecting a school. So, they then decided to establish a branch school on 67th and Loomis Street, temporarily located in a rented room. Teacher R. Erdmann from Lone Elm, MO has accepted the call to the school, and he should, God willing, be installed on the 30th of August.

The congregation presently numbers 120 voting members and 554 communicant members. The school is attended by 144 children.



A pastor, writer, historian, and photographer who lives in San Diego County, CA.

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