Church History

St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church
Established 1894
Tacoma, WA
by Stefan W. Green

As the city of Tacoma began to grow in the 1880's, people came from all over America, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, China, and many other parts of the world to benefit from this new city. The people that came to Tacoma brought many aspects of their culture with them. Today, our city is full of buildings, neighborhoods, landmarks and churches that are distinct to these different ethnic groups.

The early German population of Tacoma brought their skill of brewing beer and establishing breweries. In fact, the area that surrounds University of Washington (Tacoma) is home to a number of old breweries that were built and operated by Tacoma's early German population. However, these people also brought something with them that is much greater then their love for beer. The early German immigrants that came to Tacoma also brought their love for their Christian faith. This Christian faith was what guided the establishment of the first German speaking Lutheran congregation in Tacoma and eventually a unique brick church building which still stands today.

St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church is the congregation that was established by Tacoma's early German population. These German Americans, many of whom worked, operated, and built Tacoma's first breweries, had a common desire to worship their Lord in a church building that resembled those in their native Europe.

The Establishment of the St. Paul Congregation

The establishing of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church began with the work of Pastor Freidrich N. Wolf. Pastor Wolf was sent to the Washington Territory by the Ohio Synod of the Lutheran church to answer a call from seven local, German Speaking, Lutherans. On Saturday March 22, 1884, The Daily Ledger, a Tacoma newspaper, printed a small article regarding the arrival of Pastor Wolf. The announcement is as follows:

The Rev. F. N. 'Wolf, German Lutheran Minister from Freemont Ohio, arrived here last Wednesday with his family, for the purpose of organizing a German congregation. As soon as arrangements shall have been made for a place of meeting regularly, Sunday Services will begin, announcement of which will be duly made.

Pastor Wolf did not initially establish St. Pauls congregation when he first came to Tacoma. In fact, he was quite busy with numerous missionary journeys throughout western Washington. His missionary journeys took him to Seattle, Olympia, Whatcom, Wilkeson, Rosy1n, Ellensburg, Spokane Falls, the Grays Harbor area and also Victoria British Columbia. Pastor Wolf kept busy and by his third year in Tacoma he had established a mission congregation in Orting. In 1889 Pastor Wolf began to work in the area of Tacoma which was then called the New Addition. Lots were purchased in this area the same year. The pastor bought the lots for $2200.00, sold two of them for $2000.00 to Mr. Barkow, and erected a church at a cost of $1050.00 on one of the others. The exact location of this property isn't clear from the records. This was the first of three church buildings that these German Lutherans would use as a gathering place for worship.

The responsibilities of tending to his Tacoma flock, the mission congregation, and all the other visits to Lutheran families throughout the region took a great toll on Pastor Wolf. By 1889 an exhausted Pastor Wolf, who acknowledged that he was "over-worked", was under a doctor's orders to seek rest. Pastor Wolf did seek rest and was given much needed assistance at the year's end. The assistance that was given to Pastor Wolf eventually resulted in the establishing of the St. Paul congregation. Assistance came from the Rev. A. Krause. Interestingly, at the time of his arrival, Pastor Krause was not yet an ordained pastor. The arrival in December of A. Krause, a mission candidate for the ministry, was a blessing to the congregation and pastor. Mr. Krause was eventually ordained and installed by Pastor Wolf and a Pastor Lembke. Pastor Krause was responsible for a mission congregation on "P" street, which may have been the mission Pastor Wolf earlier started in July 1889. Pastor Krause tended to this congregation until 1893.

On October 29, 1893, it was decided that Pastor Krause's mission group and Pastor Wolf's congregation should unite and form a single congregation under the pastorate of Pastor Wolf. On April 29, 1894, this newly formed congregation formally organized and called their church the "Evangelishche Lutherische St. Paulus Kirche" which has been translated to read: St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church. The April 29, 1894 date is also significant because it is the date of dedication of the new St. Paul congregation's first church building. This structure was reportedly located on the southeast comer of South twenty-fifth and Tacoma Avenue and is believed to presently house a Pentecostal congregation. Church records do not tell what happened to Pastor Krause. He is not included in St. Pauls records (other than merging his mission with Pastor Wolf), and most likely accepted a call to another congregation.

Construction of St. Pauls Present Day Church Building

The work and dedication of Pastor Wolf resulted in the establishment of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church. Just as the 1880's were a busy time for him, the 1890's were even more eventful. Although he was sent to Tacoma by the Ohio Synod, Pastor Wolf broke fellowship with this synod. In 1895 Pastor Wolf and St. Paul congregation became members of the Wisconsin Synod (The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is still the synod that St. Pauls enjoys fellowship today). In 1898 the congregation bought the corner lot on Tacoma Avenue and S. 27th Street for $512.75. In 1903 the adjoining lot was bought for $250.00 and the same year the parsonage was built. This house is still standing on 27th Street directly behind the church.

Pastor Wolf was a faithful and energetic worker. Advanced age brought about his retirement from the ministry in 1902. H. Viestenz, a pastor from Baraboo, Wisconsin, who was in the West for his health at the time served St. Pauls Church for about a year. Then A.G. Ernst was called to Tacoma and was installed in August 1903; he served until July 21st 1907. Just as his arrival in Tacoma was noted in the paper, on July 27, 1902 The Daily Ledger reported Pastor Wolf's departure from Tacoma by writing: Rev. and Mrs. F. N. Wolf left for San Francisco last Tuesday to make their future home with their son, Carl. The faithful work of Pastor Wolf led to the establishment of St. Paul Lutheran Church and eventually, under the care of the church's fourth pastor, the building of the brick church which is still used today.

The construction of the St. Paul's present day church building came about in 1910, sixteen years after the congregation was founded. Pastor Reinhold C. Ave-Lallemant was installed as pastor on September 15, 1907. Pastor Ave-Lallemant assumed his duties as a pastor to St. Paul congregation at a time when the church was growing and expanding, It was during his pastorate that a decision was made to construct a new church building which the congregation still occupies today. Moreover, Pastor Ave-Lallemant was very active in helping build the brick church. The Daily Ledger, reporting on St. Pauls building progress, reported on August 28, 1910 that: "One of the hardest workers is Rev. R. Ave-Lallemant, the pastor who came from Barboo, Wis. three years ago". Before we report on the construction of the "new" church, however, we will look at the decisions that made its construction possible.

Without the decision to purchase property on 27th and Tacoma Avenue, which was made by Pastor Wolf and the congregation in 1898 , St. Pauls could not have built the brick church. This decision was made, though, and The Daily Ledger reveals something very interesting which is somewhat unclear from St. Paul records. The August 28, 1910 article from the Daily Ledger reports that: "The congregation is 16 years old and in later years has had fast growth. The old building which was moved back last spring to make room for the construction work on the new edifice." This is of note because records show that in 1889 Pastor Wolf purchased land in Tacoma's New Addition and had a church built for $1050. This was the first church building. Yet, it is unclear from church records when the building (St. Pauls second church building), that stood on the same lots as the current church, was built. There are no records, to this writers knowledge, that tell of the church moving from Tacoma's New Addition to the 27th and Tacoma Avenue lots. This move and building must have taken place after 1898, this being the year the Tacoma Avenue lots were purchased, and the second church may have been built before or at the same time as the parsonage in 1903. Nonetheless, everything was in place for St. Pauls third and longest lasting home.

The plans commenced on fall of 1909. Gifts poured in from congregants, a principle sum was borrowed, and noteworthy amounts were pledged by congregants Dr. E. Schwartz, E. Otto, Carl Arnold, and C.C. Miller, so that construction could begin in spring 1910. These four men were brewmasters of Columbia Brewing Company and Pacific Brewing and Malting Companies downtown; they employed many of the congregants who made up the neighborhood around our church. Now that the funds were secured to construct the new building, all that was left was finding someone who could design the new church. Help was not far away. Paul Bergfeld, architect and congregant (who was later made the assistant city building inspector), designed the red-brick church with a Roman bell-tower for a fee of $125. Another member, C.C. Miller, was appointed and hired as the building contractor. The news of St. Pauls plan to build a new church was reported in The Daily Ledger. A few lines from the March 13, 1910 article titled St. Paul's Will Build New Home, describe the plans for the new church:

Handsome Romanesque Edifice for German Lutherans Will Be Ready in Autumn-Tower to Have Bell. Bids will be invited tomorrow morning by the designing architect for construction of a new edifice for St. Paul's German Lutheran church at the corner of Tacoma Avenue and 27th street.

Finally, after all the preparation, everything was in place for construction to begin. Almost a month after the Daily Ledger announced bidding for building the new church, ground was broken and construction began on April 1, 1910. Construction lasted throughout the summer and into the fall. Once again, The Daily Ledger reported on the St. Pauls new home; this time regarding the progress. A few lines from the August 28, 1910 article state:

Structure Will Be Completed Within Few Weeks at Cost of $11,000. Every member of the church has been working hard both to get the new church started on the road to completion and in putting the finishing touches upon it.

The finishing touches that were brought about in the church's interior can still be seen today. Although its precise origin has not been determined, it has been reported that the altar was acquired from St. Martin's Lutheran congregation in Winona, Minnesota. St. Paul congregation's octagonal, stained oak pulpit was purchased in 1910 from the firm, West End Manufacturing Company, in Tacoma for a total cost of $82.50. The unusual pews which have served St. Paul congregation since the present church's construction are constructed of stained maple. They were acquired for the church by early member and successful Tacoma businessman Anton Ruth. They reportedly served an early Tacoma movie-theater before being relocated to St. Paul Lutheran Church. The Kimball pipe organ was purchased in 1910 for $1,650.00 and has served the congregation since that date. The stained glass windows are one of the most beautiful things about the church. Records show that they were designed by the Povey Brothers of Portland and purchased for $700.00. The three separate windows depicting Christ the Good Shepherd, Christ at Gethsemane, and Christ Knocking at the Door were dedication windows purchased by various members for $100.00 each. The Daily Ledger reported on the beauty of these windows and who they were dedicated to by writing:

Beautiful art glass windows distribute a pleasing broken light to every part of the building. Especially attractive are the picture windows set as memorials to the founder of the congregation, the Rev. F Wolf, and two of the old time members and workers of the church, S. Barkow and C. Bastrow.

At last after years of planning, months of building, and countless hours of work the new church was finally finished. Dedication of this building took place November 20, 1910. Records show the cost of the building to have been $14,147.53, of which $5,000.00 were borrowed funds.

St. Paul's Mission and Present Day Plans

The mission statement of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church is as follows: We at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church consider it our responsibility and privilege to grow in the Word of God ourselves and to reach out to others with that Word. In His Word, the Bible, God reveals his mercy, love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ, salvation and eternal life are given to all who trust in Him. This faith is what guided the early German members of St. Pauls, and still guides the church's members today.

Barbro McKee's words from the November 1994 edition of Bob Lane's Tacoma Express Magazine best describe what is taking place at St. Pauls today. She writes, "Today, the church family at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran thrives in much the same spirit as always. It is growing and beginning once again to burst at the seams" This was true on St. Pauls 100th anniversary and especially today.

The year 2000 brought about the St. Paul "From Darkness to Light" Capital Campaign. Phase one consisted of renovating the church interior, adding additional lighting in the sanctuary, improving the sound system, installing an upstairs restroom, installing a new mother's room, building new handicap assessable front steps and acquiring land north of the church. Phase two of this campaign will involve adding additional facilities on the newly acquired land to enable St. Pauls to better serve church members and the community with the Gospel. May God grant today's members wisdom, faithfulness and strength in their efforts as He guided the members of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in the past.

Growing in God's Truth, Sharing God's Love ~ Mission Statement