Our History

The roots of First Lutheran Church sink deep in the soil of St. Joseph. Persons interested in forming a Lutheran congregation first gathered at Unity Chapel, located where the St. Joseph News-Press building now stands, in 1866. That meeting led to the formation of Christ’s Evangelical Lutheran Church which organized in September of that year with fifteen charter members. The group met in the old Court House for two years before moving to the Oak Hill School, south of St. Joseph. The change in location lost members and the congregation disbanded in 1870.

Twenty-four years later another attempt was made to organize, this one successful.  Reverend Edward Trefz was appointed missionary pastor by the General Synod.  Under his leadership the old Unitarian Church building was rented and on June 10, 1894 our congregation gathered for worship there for the first time.  The congregation was formally organized on August 26 of that year with fifty-seven charter members.  The church’s first name was First English Evangelical Church, a name proclaiming that worship services would be conducted in English rather than in one of the several native languages of its founding members.  Years later, that name was changed to First Lutheran Church.
The congregation worshiped for a time in the old YMCA Building at 7th and Edmond Streets and in 1896 erected its own building on Edmond between 8th and 9th Streets where the parking lot for St. Joseph’s main Post Office is now located.  The church’s present building at the corner of 10th and Charles streets was dedicated on January 18, 1914.  Dedication services were held each night the first week in German, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian.
Moving ahead over 100 years, early in the 21st century, members confronted by inadequate classroom and office space came together in a series of meetings to discuss whether the church should remain at 10th and Charles and build an addition there or relocate to some other part of the city.  Those discussions led to an affirmation of the church’s ministry in the neighborhood in which its building sits.  The old pastor’s residence, which sat just south of the church and was used for many years as office and classroom space, was torn down and replaced by an addition completed in 2011 which houses the church offices, meeting spaces, ADA compliant restrooms and an elevator that allow full access to the church’s lower level and sanctuary level floors.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

When founded, First Lutheran Church was a member congregation of The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of the United States of America or General Synod as it was called.  The General Synod merged with other Lutheran denominations in 1918 to form the United Lutheran Church in America.  Through a series of later mergers, the General Synod became part of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA).  In 1988, that body joined with the American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  Whew!  Lots of mergers.  Did you follow them?
The ELCA has a membership of approximately 4 million members in some 10,00 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  It is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. 
The ELCA is a church that shares a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. As members of the ELCA, we believe that we are freed in Christ to serve and love our neighbor. With our hands, we do God’s work of restoring and reconciling communities in Jesus Christ’s name throughout the world.
To learn more about the ELCA visit https://www.elca.org/