Banner image            Home    What's New    Articles    Images    Subjects    Corrections    Advanced Search    Timeline    Maps    Multimedia    About
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

LUTHERANS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

LUTHERANS. When early Lutheran immigrants from Northern European countries settled in the WESTERN RESERVE, as elsewhere, they formed branches of the church that were as diverse as their linguistic, ethnic, and political backgrounds. Strains of the church differed according to orthodoxy, pietism, rationalism, idealism, and historical criticism. Such differences prompted one group of 45 worshippers in 1843 to leave Cleveland's first German church, Die Deutsche Evangelische Protestantische Kirche (formed in 1835, see SCHIFFLEIN CHRISTI), to create the city's first Evangelical Lutheran church, ZION EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH.

The 19th century was one of institution building and religious and ethnic controversy for the Lutheran church in the Cleveland area, as elsewhere. Zion, known as the "Mother of Churches," was instrumental in forming other area churches, such as Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (1858) and ST. JOHN'S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (1878). It also promoted Christian education, establishing its own Lutheran school by 1849 and a mission school in OHIO CITY (CITY OF OHIO) in 1853. In Sept. 1845 Zion hosted a meeting of pastors who criticized the Joint Synod of Ohio for "ecclesiastical and confessional" and "moral" reasons; they were especially concerned with language, preferring German to English. The pastors, including Zion's Rev. August Schmidt, renounced connection with the Joint Synod, beginning a process that led to the formation in 1847 of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, which Zion joined in 1852. Language often became the battleground as Germans and other Lutheran immigrants struggled to maintain their religious and cultural identities in a foreign land, opposing those who wished to "modernize" and Americanize their churches. Occasionally the traditionalists triumphed, as when Zion's Rev. HEINRICH C. SCHWAN† introduced the German tradition of a lighted Christmas tree during the Christmas Eve service in 1851. Despite much local criticism, Schwan maintained the tree, reportedly among the early trees displayed in church services in the U.S.

With the arrival of more Lutheran immigrants, many new churches formed during the city's industrial era (1870-1930), including First Scandinavian (1880), Bethlehem Church (Swedish, 1885), Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (the first Lutheran congregation of Slovaks in Ohio, 1892), Immanuel Danish-Norwegian (1894), Immanuel Church (Latvian, 1897), GESTHSEMANE LUTHERAN CHURCH (FINNISH) (Finnish, 1903), First Hungarian Lutheran (1906), and DR. MARTIN LUTHER EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (Slovak, 1910). These churches repeated much of the experience of the German Lutherans. For example, the Slovak SS. PETER AND PAUL LUTHERAN CHURCH (est. 1901) began using English rather than Slovak in 1935. In addition to, language, religious views and other issues prompted factions to establish the Pentecost Evangelical Lutheran Church (1918) and the Gethsemane Lutheran Church (1948). These Lutheran immigrant churches also established their own schools and other institutions. FIRST HUNGARIAN LUTHERAN CHURCH and its pastor, Rev. Steven Ruzsa, operated the Hungarian (Magyar) Orphans' Home (Rawlings Ave., 1914-20). In addition, the churches served as missionaries, helping found churches in other parts of the county and elsewhere.

As Americanization progressed, founders' descendants eliminated foreign tongues from worship. Divergences in viewpoints also dissipated, and several of the synods (the church organizational units) merged. Thus, Greater Cleveland's 108 Lutheran congregations belonged to fewer synods in 1994 than in the early 1900s, the 2 largest being the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (53 churches) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (51 churches); the latter being the result of a merger in 1988 of 3 other synods. In 1994 the Cleveland area also had 2 Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran congregations, 1 independent church, and 1 congregation from the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

During the first half of the 20th century, local Lutherans continued to spread the word of God to unserved populations. On 3 Nov. 1914 representatives of 14 Missouri Synod churches in Cleveland formed the City Mission Society, which became the Lutheran Institutional Ministry in 1929. By 1964 it provided ministerial services to 47 public and private institutions in the area, from private nursing homes to the Warrensville Workhouse. On 2 Oct. 1930 Dr. Walter H. Maier began broadcasting his "Lutheran Hour" radio program from the studios of WHK; the program, eventually broadcast worldwide, featured the Cleveland Bach Chorus (Greater Lutheran Chorus), which rekindled local enthusiasm for Bach's music. Pastor Horst Hoyer also broadcast a "Radio Gottesdienst" (Radio Worship-Service) in German over stations WADC-AM in Akron and over Cleveland stations WXEN-FM and WBOE-FM from 1958-78.

The post-World War II era witnessed the increased suburbanization of the Lutheran church locally as in other cities. In 1948 plans were laid for a million-dollar construction program of Missouri Synod churches in such communities as Fairview Park, EUCLID, CHAGRIN FALLS VILLAGE, Painesville, and MAPLE HEIGHTS With the formation of Lutheran Hospital (later LUTHERAN MEDICAL CENTER) in 1896, the local Lutheran church began slowly to expand beyond religious and educational activities. The annual Lutheran Charities Campaign, begun ca. 1941, solicited funds to support such institutions such as the LUTHERAN HOME (1936). These activities increased in the 1960s and 1970s in the wake of the 1967 Cleveland Summer Project, aimed at involving local, congregations in integration and welfare programs. Led by Rev. Richard Sering, the project developed the next year into the inter-synodical Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Assn., which formed other agencies to meet local needs, such as the Lutheran Housing Corp.

In 1972, under the leadership of Pastor Horst Hoyer, the Lutheran Council of Greater Cleveland was formed to coordinate all branches of Lutherans in the Cleveland area. This ministry extends to many Lutheran social agencies, including 8 centers for Crisis Ministry, the Housing Corp., 8 centers of the Urban Community Ministry, the Bethesda Group Home, the Community Reentry Program, the Immanuel Crisis & Hunger Center, the Nursing Home Ombudsman Program, and the Sexual Abuse Education & Assistance Program. The Lutheran Council, housed at 2031 W. 30th St., publishes the Cleveland Lutheran Messenger. Area Lutheran churches also maintain a kindergarten, 16 elementary schools, and 2 high schools, Lutheran East and Lutheran West.

Among Protestant denominations, the Lutheran educational program is outstanding. As a parochial school system it is surpassed in the number of schools only by that of the Roman Catholic Church Diocese of Cleveland (see CATHOLICS, ROMAN). Another laudable accomplishment of the Lutheran church in Cleveland is its cooperative effort in the formation of the Health Cleveland System, linking Lutheran Medical Center with FAIRVIEW HOSPITAL, the latter related to the United Church of Christ and having been founded in 1892 by the German Reformed Church. Another distinguishing feature of the Lutheran Medical Center is the development by its medical staff of a SPORTS MEDICINE program to service the needs of Cleveland's athletes.

In the number of Cleveland area Protestant congregations, the Lutherans rank behind only the BAPTISTS, if one includes all the different associations labeled "Baptist" (about 300 churches). There are 237 Roman Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Cleveland. Among Protestants, the United Church of Christ ranks third with 92 churches. The Lutheran educational and health programs, along with excellent facilities for aged persons and the maintenance of the Lutheran cemetery demonstrate that the Lutheran churches are fulfilling their mission in Greater Cleveland.

John R. Sinnema

Baldwin-Wallace College

Allbeck, Willard D. A Century of Lutherans in Ohio (1966).

Meyer, J. H. Early History of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, in Cleveland, Ohio, and Vicinity, 1843-1893 (1960).


Last Modified: 25 May 1998 05:12:52 PM

Related Article(s)
This site maintained by Case Western Reserve University