2019 marks the 135th anniversary of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was founded in 1884.
St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church began as a mission of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church downtown. Its first incarnation in 1882 was as a German Sunday School. (Evangelical, by the way, is simply the name of the Lutheran church in Germany, Evangelische Kirche.) It was founded as a congregation in the fall of 1884 with Athanasius Stuckert, a Swiss immigrant, as its first pastor, and formally incorporated in January 1885. Pastor Stuckert was still serving St. Paul's Lutheran Church when he died in 1896, at 46 years of age. The 60th anniversary booklet of 1944 notes that his daughter was at that time still a member of St. Paul's.
In the beginning, the Sunday School and then the congregation met in the Second Congregational Church on St. Paul’s and Summit Avenues. St. Paul's built its own church building on that site in 1885. According to church records, the congregation paid $2,450 for five lots and $12,740 for the building, organ, and furnishings. In 1905, the church sold this property to the Erie Railroad Company, so much of the original church site is now part of the rail line cut that runs behind the present church property.
The congregation worshipped in German. An English Sunday School and monthly English worship services were instituted in 1898. The German and English Sunday Schools merged in 1925, but it wasn’t until 1930 that the congregation began to hold English worship services every Sunday morning, retaining a German service as well. In 1949, German services were reduced to three per year.
The cornerstone of the present church building was laid in 1906 and the building dedicated in May 1907. The church bell, dedicated in 1893, the baptismal font, dedicated Easter 1900, and other appointments were brought from the old building.
The Odell two-manual pipe organ was dedicated in 1908; it was restored and rebuilt with an electric motor in 1949. The stained-glass windows, from the famous studio Mainz of Munich, were installed from 1909 to 1922. The tower clock, paid for mostly by local businessmen, was dedicated in 1912. Various anniversary booklets indicate the difficulty we’ve historically had in keeping those four separate clocks running, subject as they are to Nor'easters and bird droppings.
By 1934, the congregation had a communicant membership—meaning that young children were not counted—of about 500. The Sunday School had 250 children. The candlelight Christmas Eve service, which continues to this day, was instituted in 1938.
In the 1940s and 1950s St. Paul's supported missionaries or churches in Japan, Argentina, India, and British Guiana. The church supported many home-grown ministries including men’s clubs, the Christian Young Ladies Society, ladies’ aid, youth groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and others. A mortgage-burning ceremony in 1943 celebrated the congregation’s freedom from debt. The 1944 60th anniversary booklet notes that 110 young men and women from St. Paul's were serving our country in World War II.
The parish hall was built in 1966-67, funded primarily by member donations. No mortgage was taken. It was later dedicated as the Richard W. Heins Memorial parish hall in honor of the pastor who served the congregation from 1938-1972. The parish hall has served not only as a Sunday School and meeting room for church activities but also as the site of a senior citizens lunch program, several Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups and many community meetings.
The Sharing Place, St. Paul’s hunger ministry, was established in 1982 and has grown steadily. The Sharing Place currently serves over 200 households per month, operating the third Saturday to Friday of every month and staffed almost entirely by volunteers. We believe it to be the largest food pantry in Hudson County and one of the largest in New Jersey.
In 1988, the church purchased the current parsonage. The former parsonage has since been leased to Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey as the Lutheran Home for Children, which currently cares for children and teens while their parents or guardians undergo drug or alcohol rehabilitation. During the 1980s, we also hosted the St. Paul's Shelter for homeless women and children in the church basement.
Since 1988, the year the present churchbody was founded, St. Paul's has been a member congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the fourth largest churchbody in the U.S. Previously the congregation was part of the Lutheran Church in America, one of the ELCA’s constituent bodies.
The church has published a newsletter since 1889. In 1999 the name was changed from Hausgast (house guest) to In Common, based on Acts 2:44: “All who believed were together and had all things in common.”
St. Paul's Lutheran Church has had ten pastors in 134 years. The current pastor, Jessica Lambert, was called in 2007.
In 2008, the congregation began a major renovation project designed to provide more space for social service organizations in our neighborhood. As part of this project, Hudson County CASA (court appointed special advocates) established its offices in the parish hall in 2009. Renovations in the church basement have made space for the church office, Sunday School rooms, offices for other nonprofit groups, and a meeting room for community groups.