St. Paul's Lutheran Church has a rich history. The congregation has worshiped in four different buildings. The present church building was built in 1959. The sanctuary windows provide a Biblical story as well as a history of the congregation.
The first church building for St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, then called the German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, was constructed late in 1794, just months after the congregation was organized and the lot was purchased in downtown Cumberland. This building faced Center Street, not directly on the corner with Baltimore Street, as the two subsequent churches were. Cumberland was beginning to make the transition from frontier town to settlement, and this congregation attracted German, mostly farmers, many via earlier settlements in Pennsylvania, where churches there helped nurture this new congregation, a favor that would be returned later. The first pastor, the Rev. Friedrich Wilhelm Lange, had started out serving a wide area in Pennsylvania and Western Maryland. Rev. Lange served the congregation until 1805. Services were held whenever the pastor made it to town (his home was in Berlin, Pa., and he served churches as far away as Somerset), apparently every six to 10 weeks, based on the clusters of child baptisms recorded in the Kirchen Buch. It’s unlikely that there were catechism classes or funerals, but baptisms and marriages were performed at the end of the occasional service. There are no good estimates of the size of the congregation in those days. The log church continued to serve the Lutheran congregation, and on occasion the Episcopalian and Presbyterian congregations until both had built their own buildings, the last around 1839. It was around this time that the Lutherans started to recognize the need for a new building, as the log church was suffering from age and neglect. Nonetheless, the new building took many years to build, until the unsafe nature of the old building forced their hand. But that did not prevent them from turning the log church into a parsonage, where it was renovated to house the pastors and their family for a number of years until the pastors finally refused to live in it because of the state of disrepair. The building was finally taken down in the 1850s. Fun fact: For the 175th anniversary in 1979, someone created a scale model of the log church, which sat in the corner of St. Paul’s parking lot next to Smallwood Street for a period of time. (Does anyone know who built it and what happened to it?) *Source: From Generation to Generation - St. Paul's Lutheran Church - 1794-1994
225 Tidbits - Whose Language is it Anyway?
Most, if not all, Lutherans in the days of St. Paul’s founding were German immigrants. While they were slowly learning English for commerce and other interactions, when they were at Christ’s Church (St. Paul’s original name), the German language ruled the day. Preaching, scripture readings and record-keeping were all in German at first. It was more than a decade into the life of the congregation before English began to creep in, during the ministry of Rev. John George Boettler – or Butler, the first pastor to preach in English … just not all the time. The next pastor, Rev. J.F.C. Heyer, who came in 1818, and especially his wife, Mary, recognized that English was going to be the dominant language in their community, and if they were to serve the community – and keep the congregation’s young people – services should be in English. Rev. Heyer, however, did not speak English well, but he struggled along with his wife’s encouragement and tutoring. While English had taken hold within the congregation, another wave of immigration from Europe began in the 1830s, many from Germany. Wanting to hear the Gospel in their native tongue, the asked the pastor at the time, Rev. John Kehler, to preach to them in German. He agreed, forming a German Lutheran congregation that would share the same roof and pastor with the English one. By 1841, the German Lutheran congregation had organized its own vestry, which met jointly with the English vestry. However, as the German congregation grew and wanted more designated time for services, conflicts grew as well. Things finally came to a head when the English congregation wanted to call a pastor who spoke German poorly, then the Germans suggested a pastor who could not speak English well. Ultimately, each congregation called its own pastor, and the groups co-existed under the same roof for a little while longer. Ultimately, however, the English congregation felt the pressure of four other English-speaking Christian churches, and decided that the German congregation could stand on its own, “disinviting” that congregation, giving them about a year to build a church and vacate. The church they dedicated in 1849 was the Town Clock Church,* which still stands on Bedford Street. That the congregation continued to grow, building a church on the corner of Bedford and Columbia streets (which later became Beth Jacob Synagogue), and finally ending up in a modern building on Frederick Street. We call it St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, one of our sister congregations. Cumberland trivia: When the first St. Luke’s was being built, Sts. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church was also under construction. The city of Cumberland offered a clock to the church that was completed first. St. Luke’s won. Next time you are in the St. Paul’s parking lot, look up at Sts. Peter and Paul’s steeple. You’ll see a blank space where their clock would have gone. *Source: From Generation to Generation: Two Hundred Years in the Life of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
225 Tidbits - The Second Church: Built in Pieces By the 1830s, the log church that had been Christ (St. Paul’s) Lutheran Church’s home since 1794 had become dilapidated, and congregations from other denominations that had been “incubated” in the old church had left and built churches of their own. By 1836, the Vestry had begun discussions about building a new church home, but an effort to raise funds from the congregation failed, then the banks failed a year later. Banks and businesses closed, so the plan was delayed. Nevertheless, time and decay marched on. While the Vestry considered whether to renovate or replace the old church, it was deemed to be in “run-down condition, unfit and unsafe for worship.” The decision was made to build anew, and the space next to the log church, which faced Centre Street, was designated for the new church, oriented to front on Baltimore Street. The congregation agreed that the new church would be 70 feet long and as wide as the lot would allow, with a 20-foot setback from Baltimore Street. (Incidentally, one vestryman felt a larger building was necessary, and since he could not sway the Vestry, he simply arrived at the site overnight and moved the stakes designating the building’s dimensions forward by 10 feet. The building was under way when the deception was discovered.) This church building was a work in progress for better than a decade. Much of the work was donated by members of the congregation. The cornerstone was laid in 1842, (the same cornerstone found in the front of the current St. Paul’s near the Smallwood Street door). By 1843, a single room to hold services had been achieved. In 1844, a basement lecture hall was added, along with pews and a pulpit in the sanctuary. In 1845, another basement room was created for the Sunday school primary department. The exterior was simply a plain front until the Vestry adopted a resolution saying that, “in view of the unfinished and unsightly appearance of the Church Front,” a new one “shall be completed in a style demanded by the growing importance of the town and the central position occupied by the church.” A new women’s group, the Ladies Organization, raised the funds for the new church front, but not trusting the Vestry to act, they held back the money until a definite plan was in place. That didn’t happen until 1848, and the work was completed in 1854. The steeple was another sticking point, as a halffinished structure topped the building until 1859, when a more-imposing steeple costing $450 was installed. Gas lighting was installed in 1860. The final church was a two-story brick building, with a narrow yard between the church and the street enclosed by an iron fence. The first story, housing two gathering rooms (one called St. Paul’s, the first use of that name by this congregation) and a kitchen, was partially below ground, entered by stairs from Centre Street. The main entrance was from Baltimore Street. The front of the church held a vestibule that covered the width of the building, with doors leading to the “auditorium” at either side. The chancel was formed by an altar rail setting off a 12-by-20-foot space. The Pulpit stood on a platform in the center of the rear of the chancel. A table in front of the pulpit served as the altar. *Source: From Generation to Generation: Two Hundred Years in the Life of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
225th Tidbits – The Church Struggles to Finance Itself The second half of the 19th century for Christ’s Lutheran Church was definitely a challenge financially – many of its issues self-inflicted, and some of its solutions a little puzzling. In 1842, when the second church began construction, the church housed two congregations – one German and one English, and it also supported two rural churches, one at Murley’s Branch near Flintstone and Union Church on the Bedford Road. Those four congregations’ support maintained the church building, which included new debt for construction, as well as the salary and parsonage for the pastor. With the departure of the German congregation a few years later, the English congregation was left with the full debt for the new building and the pastor’s support. The two “country churches” were left to wither. Debt grew, as the church often borrowed to pay creditors. The members of the congregation were generally not wealthy, nor was there much of a tradition of financially supporting a church among them. Instead, a variety of schemes were attempted:
Subscriptions, in which vestry members, at the beginning of each “pastor’s year” (pastors were engaged by the year), called upon members of the congregation to pledge a certain sum of money to be given to the church “at some
convenient time during the year.” This method was used to handle other expenses that arose, as well. The Vestry frequently had to ask the pastor to mention unpaid subscriptions during the church service. Vestrymen would also have to make the rounds to members to collect the subscriptions, which they became increasingly reluctant to do.
Pewletting, in which pews were rented to members of the congregation. The choicest pews went for $20. Others were $15 and $5, but about half the pews remained free. One member, Gustavus Beall, condemned the practice early on as “un-christian-like and discriminatory,” saying, “the best seats in God’s sanctuary should not be occupied by those who were best able to pay for them.” The practice continued for another decade, but it was abolished by 1871.
Charging for lectures or selling homemade articles during pre-Christmas “fairs,” one of the more lucrative practices.
Due-bills, which served as a letter of credit, assuming a merchant would be willing to accept it. The church relied greatly on merchant Jonathan Butler, who was the son of the Rev. John George Butler, as well as an elder of the congregation. He generally carried about $400 in debt for the church in his account each year.
Selling property, carving off pieces of the original one-acre lot, in 10 separate transactions, starting in 1844. By the time the third church was built, the only piece left was that on which the building sat.
And then there’s the church’s foray into the real estate rental business, which will have to wait for another edition of “225th Tidbits.”
*Source: From Generation to Generation: Two Hundred Years in the Life of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.