Chicago Lutheran History: The 50th Anniversary Worship Service

James Huenink
6 min readAug 11, 2021


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.

The Inside of First St. Paul. The angel hanging from the wall to the left of the altar is the only piece of the old church that survived a fire.

This is the second to last section, which recounts the worship service on May 31st, Trinity Sunday, in 1896. As you’ll read, each church had its own celebration on Sunday morning, but First St. Paul held the city-wide worship service. They spared no expense to decorate the sanctuary, importing garlands from South Carolina to string up the pillars and along the roof.

They had a lot to celebrate. Like today, most religious thinkers believed that the future of Christianity was to keep up with the times. That is, Christians should modify the faith to appeal to a modern people using the prevailing philosophy of the day. The Missouri Synod went the opposite direction, clinging fiercely to their doctrine and practice as they saw it. As this book of history shows, they were also wildly successful in planting churches and attracting members.

Note: This chapter mentions several songs. I have noted the translation in the text, but I also found the English versions in current Lutheran hymnals. You can find them at the end of the article.

The angel pictured in the illustration above is in a meeting room at First St. Paul.

Celebration of the 50 year jubilee of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chicago on Trinity Sunday 1896

The year 1896 is the jubilee year of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of Chicago. After all, on the 12th of April this year, half a century has passed since the first Lutheran sermon was held in this city. What a turnaround has taken place in these 50 years! At that time, Chicago was an insignificant city. Today it is a world city of nearly 2 million inhabitants. At that time, only a few souls earnestly sought salvation and dared to give something for the pure preaching of the word of God.

The exterior of First St. Paul’s church building at the time.

Today, we see a whole host of large congregations which commit themselves, their pastors, and their teachers to the symbolic books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and have built and received churches and schools at great cost! At that time, it seemed doubtful that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chicago could gain a firm foothold, and today, it is a power in this great city! Considering all these things, the Lutheran congregations of the city have high cause to give glory to God with thanks and praise.

Trinity Sunday, May 31st, had been chosen for this community celebration. In the introduction, the jubilee edition of City Missionaries prepared for this by presenting a brief history of the mother congregation, St. Paul church and rejoicing with thanks and praise for the great things God has done.

On the Jubilee festival, divine services of praise and thanksgiving were also held in all our churches in Chicago and the area, and the cause of the joy of the day was considered in sermons on the basis of the divine word. A collection for the inner mission was also gathered in the divine services.

The true chief festival, however, was to be held inside the mother congregation, in St. Paul. Invitations to participate were sent by Pastor Wunder to every pastor and congregation belonging to our synod.

In the morning, the mother congregations celebrated by herself; Pastor Wunder preached about the parable of the mustard seed, Mark 4:30–32. He demonstrated the great things the Lord has done for them, and he encouraged them to appropriate thanksgiving.The congregation praised God by singing the song, “Halleluja Lob Preis und Ehr” (Hallelujah, Let Praises Ring!) no. 146 in our hymnal and no. 144 “Gelobt sei der Herr” (The Lord, My God, Be Praised).

Hymn 146, sung at the morning service.

Yet the chief divine service was to be in the evening. Especially the old members of the congregations, with their pastors and teachers, gathered together here in this divine service.

The church itself was decorated with majestic, beautiful spruce garlands, more beautiful than any of our other churches at any festive occasion. The youth group of the congregation bought it at some cost and the decoration of the church was done by a landscape gardener. All of columns were wrapped up to the ceiling with beautiful garlands of fresh leaves, which had come from South Carolina,and they came together in a thread in the arch.

Expensive precious flowers were placed on the balcony railing, on the organ, and particularly on the chancel and altar and were surrounded by a forest of palms and ferns. The golden numbers, 1846–1896, blazed on both sides of the altar niche, and large golden ribbons held the thread of leaves together on the pillars. In this way, the house of God was solemnly and splendidly decorated for the golden jubilee.

The aged Pastor Selle preached the sermon at the 50th anniversary festival.

And the celebration itself took place with as a high sense of occasion as we Christians can festively and jubilantly celebrate here on Earth. The congregation, which filled the house of God until the last place, sange the jubilant song, “Nun lob mein Seel den Heeren ( My Soul Now Praise Your Maker) and others. After that, the 113 Psalm was read by the first pastor of the congregation, who was now 77 years old, Prof C. A. T. Selle. Next, the congregation’s men’s choir sang the song 341, “Lobe den Herrn, den mächtigen König der Ehren” (Praise to the Lord! The Almighty”) under the direction of Teacher L. Döring. Then Prof. Selle entered the chancel and spoke a jubilee sermon with youthful vigor and power about Psalm 103:1–5. He demonstrated the points 1. Why we should give thanks and rejoice. 2. How we should give thanks and rejoice.

Hymn 341,

Although the terrible news of the fire at Christ Church and the destruction of the churches in St. Louis by a great storm was known to the festival congregation, these accidents, which the hand of God had permitted, could not hinder the festive atmosphere, since it had brought only earthly harm and loss.

The congregation’s mixed choir sweetly and beautifully sang a festival cantate under the direction of Kantor L. Döring. While the congregation sang hymn 441 “Lobe den HErrn, o mein Seele” vs 1–3 (Praise The Almighty, My Soul, Adore Him), a thank offering was collected for the benefit of the German Free Church. After the aged preacher had finished the rest of the service, they sang 9th verse of the song, and the unforgettable celebration, which edified every participant, came to an end.

Halleluja Lob Preis und Ehr” (Hallelujah, Let Praises Ring!) no. 146 The Lutheran Hymnal #23; Lutheran Service Book #822

Gelobt sei der Herr” (The Lord, My God, Be Praised) The Lutheran Hymnal #38; Lutheran Service Book #749

Nun lob mein Seel den Heeren ( My Soul Now Praise Your Maker) Lutheran Service Book #820

Lobe den Herrn, den mächtigen König der Ehren” (Praise to the Lord! The Almighty) The Lutheran Hymnal #39; Lutheran Service Book #790

Lobe den HErrn, o mein Seele” (Praise The Almighty, My Soul, Adore Him The Lutheran Hymnal #26; Lutheran Service Book #797)

The Lutheran Hymnal #38 Lutheran Service Book #749



James Huenink

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