Chicago Lutheran History: The Epilogue

James Huenink
9 min readAug 16, 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.

This is the last chapter, the epilogue, in the book I have been translating. Until now, every chapter focused on one place and time. Each one was about a single congregation and the story of its founding and growth. Together, they told the story of the whole church body.

This chapter leans back to look at the theological and sociological implications of the work of these German Lutheran churches. It answers a question I have had throughout my research: “What is the difference between a voting member and a communicant member?” It leads to other questions, too. I didn’t know that there was a political struggle about Christian education in 1892. I also didn’t know that the German Lutherans published a quarterly periodical, called Stadtmissionar. If anyone knows where I can find a copy, please help me out.

Most of all, this epilogue helps show how many Lutherans there were and how well they worked together, whether celebrating the Reformation or protesting for school freedom. It puts each individual story in context to show how important the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States was in Chicago.


We have briefly reported on the foundation and growth of the Lutheran Church in Chicago, have conducted a review of the history of our congregations and recounted how 30 true confessional congregations have been created, one after the other, from the first Lutheran by God’s special blessing.

Now the question arises: What is the outlook for all of these congregations in the future? How many of the organizations that are so large and well-established in the eyes of the world have arisen in these 50 years only to decline or disappear? Have we not cause to worry about the same for our congregations?

Despite the distressing times in which we live, the outlook for our Lutheran church is still the very best, as long as the congregations remain on the foundation on which they are built; For as long as the word applies to them: It is firmly founded on the holy mountain (Psalm 87:1). That is why it will certainly remain.

So that it stands on the true foundation, every one of the evangelical Lutheran churches of Chicago confesses it in the chief article of their constitutions. The paragraphs about external provisions may be different, but this is the same in every constitution. Namely, “In our congregation, we recognize all canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as God’s revealed word, and every symbolic book of the evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Word of God, as the form and norm by which, because it is taken from God’s word, all religious disputes that arise should be judged and settled. These are: The three chief creeds, the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, Dr. Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, and the Formula of Concord.”

A common symbol for the phrase “Verbum Dei manet in Aeternum” or The Word of God Endures Forever.

So, the foundation of our congregations is God’s word, the pure unadulterated doctrine of the same, as it is deposited in the symbols of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. But:

Verbum Dei manet in Aeternum!
Gottes Wort Bleibet in Ewigkeit
The Word of God Endures Forever

“But the one who strays on their crooked path, will the Lord drive away with the evil doers; but peace be to Israel” Psalm 125:5

Because the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States stands on this foundation, as recounted in the first chapter from its founding in 1847–because it is an association of only the congregations which hold this faith as their public confession, so each Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Chicago, immediately after its founding, has considered its duty to join this orthodox synod as a member; and because this is so self-evident, so there is not a special mention of it in the histories of the congregations.

A 1916 constitution from St. James Lutheran Church which has the same stipulations, except the one about secret societies, as written below.

To the 30 congregations in Chicago, which the previous chapters describe, belong 43,408 souls and 5,236 of them have a vote. “No one can (according to the rules of every congregation) become a member, much less an officer, of the congregation unless he: a. Is baptized b. Confesses all of the canonical books of the Old and new Testaments to be the only rule and guide of faith and life; and c. in case he doesn’t know all of the symbolic books, at least knows the Augsburg Confession and the Small Catechism of Lutheran and confesses them d. Does not live in openly in the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19–21), but leads a Christian life; e. Does not belong to a lodge or a secret society; f. And submits to the constitutions which are and should be established together as long as they are not contrary to God’s word, and allows himself to be rebuked in brotherly love when he is in error.”

An example constitution from Holy Cross Lutheran Church, which has the articles mentioned above.

As God’s word says, the Christian church is mixed with the evil, godless, and hypocrites, and the experience of all time has also confirmed this, so it can be no other way, the congregation must also practice church discipline according to the word “remove the one who is evil from among you.” 1 Cor. 5:13. They want to remain a different Cristian community and, “do not participate in another’s sin.” 2 Tim. 5:22) — For that reason, church discipline is practiced in our congregations on those who live in open sin in accordance with the command of our Lord Christ, “When your brother sins against you” and following Matthew 18:15–20.

Since the evangelical Lutheran congregations of Chicago are now united in one and the same faith, so together they also follow one and the same goal, namely the building of the reign of God, not only in the congregation but also outside it in mission. That is why we not only regularly make a collection for the betterment of the mission, but, to encourage ourselves for this work and to keep in step with it, we also gather with our neighboring congregations for an annual mission festival, which has not been without rich blessing.

“Der Evangelical Lutheran Stadtmissionar” [The Evangelical Lutheran City Missionary] a quarterly missions paper, published by the pastoral conference of Chicago, has this mission: To draw in all outsiders to the evangelical Lutheran church and for the church to win them.

To promote the building of the kingdom of God, we have established various groups in the various congregations for this goal. The women’s guild, which in addition to doing various kinds of service in each one’s congregation, have made the situation of poorer students their main task. The young men’s and young women’s group have also organized for the same purpose, and not the number of the children of Chicago congregations is not small who are now in the preaching and teaching office in higher school or congregation schools, who, along with God, owe a great debt of thanks for the loving service
of these groups that made it possible for them to study.

These two photographs of the Senior Walther League and Junior Walther League, from First Bethlehem’s 75th Anniversary Booklet, show two examples of the many societies that existed in a congregation. The Walther League was a national organization for youth.

So these groups have worked together with great blessing until now for the building of the kingdom of God. There is also a singing group in almost all our congregations that celebrate the chief services and festival services of the congregation through Psalms and songs of praise to the glory of God.

Each of the 30 congregations manages their own budget. In monthly congregational meetings, the welfare and best interests of the congregation are being advised, the acts of love are ordered according to circumstances and need, and the decisions necessary for the good of the church and school are expressed. Because these churches know that they are bound by the one faith and are intimately united by the love, and they also pursue one goal, they also take part in the joys and sorrows of each sister congregation, and: “When one member suffers, so all suffer with it; and when a member rejoices, so all members rejoice with it.” 1 Cor 12:26.

At the extraordinary opportunities, the great crowd of all the members of the congregations of Chicago regularly gathered together. So, in the year 1883, when Luther’s 400th birthday was celebrated by the church on 10th of November, at that time, on the 25th Sunday after Trinity, at the joint celebration in the great hall of Battery “D” that held 6000 people, they could scarcely comprehend gathering crowd of Lutherans.

A map of Chicago Lutheran Churches prepared for the 1933–1934 World’s Fair, A Century Of Progress. From the archives of St. James Lutheran Church.

When, during the school struggle of 1892, the Lutheran Christians of Chicago made a united front against the common enemy, who threatened to rob them of their freedom, when thousands of congregation members repeated flocked in and filled the huge assembly hall, for example Central Music Hall, Battery “D” etc, until the last seat was filled.

And when it came time to spread out and lift up the banner of the faith of our evangelical Lutheran confession at the opportunity of the Worlds Fair in 1893, the 3rd of September, on the 25th Sunday after Trinity, at the so-called “Lutheran Day,” the two great halls prepared for such conventions, each of which could hold many thousands, still proved to be too small to hold the crowd of Lutheran Christians from Chicago and the area.

The Administration Building at the 1893 World’s Fair. Public Domain.

Oh! How it roared through the hall, “Ein feste burg ist unser Gott, ein gute Wehr und Wassen” [A mighty fortress is our God, a good shield and weapon] and so forth. On such days, even the feeble-hearted Lutheran Christian held his head high! Oh, may the Lutheran Zion never forget that it is always able to rejoice, even in the persecution of the last days: “God is within her, so she will truly remain!”

And now to the conclusion, dear reader: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and all be glad for her, who have love for her.” Is 66:10. God, the Lord recognized his word yet today and gave it power! Psalm 86:8 He has sealed the confession of his word, such as our fathers established it in the symbols of the evangelical Lutheran Church and especially in the unaltered Augsburg Confession. And since the unbelievers threw this confession out of their church fifty years ago, God allowed it to fall on fruitful soil. It grew up and became a large tree which spread out its branches, not only over Chicago but also over all of northern Illinois, a tree that has produced his fruits and does so today. Matthew 13:31–32

And now: “Desire good things for Jerusalem. It should go well for those who love you.” Psalm 122:6

Pray: “And do not take the word of truth from my mouth, for I hope in your rules.” Psalm 119:43

Believe the promise of Christ: “If you remain in my word, you are truly my children; And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 9:31–32 [Translator’s Note: The book writes John 9:31–32, but the actual verse is John 8:31–32]

The Word of God and Luther’s doctrine never passes away.
To God Alone Be Glory!