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The German-speaking Church of St. Paul‘s has had an extremely varying and vivid history, influenced largely by international developments in the world – but it still exists! Out of more than twenty German-speaking churches in New York, it is the only one left, with a program all in German language. Through many difficult times God has given his protection and “increase”, as Paul puts it in his letter to the Corinthians.

kirche1It all started on August 15th 1841: Presumably due to lack of space, a group parted from the German-speaking St. Matthew’s Church. Despite three services every Sunday St. Matthew’s couldn’t serve all Germans who were looking for a place to worship. So a group of Germans met for the first time on August 22nd, 1841 with Pastor Friedrich Wilhelm Geissenhainer in hall No. 148 on 8th Avenue to have their own worship service.


About one year later, on October 17th 1842, the founding stone of the first Church building was laid at the corner of 6th Avenue and 15th Street. On Christmas the same year, the building also serving as school, was opened to the public. More and more Germans immigrated to the USA, so the membership numbers of the young parish increased rapidly. Soon they had to consider building a bigger church.

Not even eighteen years after its erection, the first church saw its last service on May 6th 1860. It had to make place for an impressive new church building that seated nearly 1000 people. On the 20th und 21st of March 1861 the new church was handed over to the use of the congregation. But its fortune in this part of the fast growing city of New York didn’t last long. Due to the elevated train, which had a station at 6th Avenue/14th Street, the noise became intolerable. So the eldest of the church were soon in search for a new location.

sp grundsteinIt was founded in 1897 on 22nd Street. The German architect Francis A. Minuth was commissioned to build the third church in a neo-gothic style. The old church was sold for $190.000. On July 4th 1897 the corner stone was laid and the church choir sang. Only seven months later, on February 13th 1898, the church was opened for service. And the most amazing fact was, that on its day of inauguration al bills had been paid for – up to the last cent!

The next few world events affected the history of the parish in a very direct manner. Fluctuating with the numbers of German immigrants to the USA the church sometimes grew and during other times it fought for survival. In 1923, the year of hyperinflation in Germany, 115,500 Germans immigrated into the USA - and the church was doing well. In 1941 on the other hand, after Germany declared war on the USA, the parish letter in German language was not allowed to be published and many members were interned until 1947 – so the future was anything but certain. For many church members it was a very hard time because on the one hand their sons had become Americans and were fighting against the Nazis in the US Army and on the other hand, they were treated with suspicion.

A new era began after the war. Ten months after the capitulation of Germany the pastors of St. Paul’s addressed an „Appeal to the parish members, friends and relatives, as well as the clubs in New York and neighborhood, to take part in the love service to assist Germany through the Lutheran World Relief“. During that year, more than 6000 pounds of clothing and $10,500 were raised by St. Paul’s Church to fight hunger and the misery in post war Germany. Fundraising and charitable events now were very common! A big movement of love and compassion not only provided help for Germany but also resulted in a boom for the parish. In an American publication of that time it said: „St. Paul’s was the center for information about Germany after the war“.

Many well-known Christian personalities from Germany, like Niemoeller, Dibelius, Lilje and Thielicke, now were guests of St. Paul’s.   The picture shows a visit of the Federal President of Germany of that time: Theodor Heuss. A boom-time with increasing numbers of German emigrants (more than 600,000 from 1950 till 1960) gave St. Paul’s a new boost. But the connection of the new emigrants to their church was no more the same as it used to be in the 1920’s. In a record of the church eldest in 1966 a notice tells about a significant drop of church visitors.

Had the main character of St. Paul’s as a church so far been mainly influenced by the German emigrants, it now was shifting. The number of Germans who worked for a certain time period in companies, embassies or schools in the US grew rapidly. To meet the needs of these so called »Expatriates«, the EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany) sent an own pastor to New York. In 1978 this Pastorate was „merged“ with that of St. Paul’s. Since then the letterhead reads: St. Paul's Church - in association with the EKD. And since then the Program of St. Paul's is extended to all Germans living in New York.

So, with the help of God St. Paul’s managed to solve all problems and unforeseen events for more than 150 years. We are confident and believe that St. Paul’s will step to the challenges of the future and be a location where people will not only find a German home for themselves, but will also experience what a church, in a mysterious way, always is: a piece of everlasting home on earth!

The pastors of St. Paul's Church:

Friedrich Wilhelm Geissenhainer
1841 - 1879
Johann Friedrich Christian Hennicke
1874 - 1880
Leo König
1880 - 1919
Heinrich Arend Kropp
1919 - 1940
Heinrich Paul Suhr
1940 - 1985
Max Preilipper
1978 – 1986
Sönke Schmidt-Lange
1987 - 2002
Hinrich Buß (Interim pastor)
Wilfried Wassermann since Dec. 2003

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P.O. Box 1971
New York, NY 10113-1971

315 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011
Tel: +1 212 929-1955
Fax:+1 212 929-2947

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