In December of 1867, a group of local German immigrants purchased property on the north side of St. Francis Street, between Warren and Dearborn streets, for a Lutheran church. Within a year, a new church building had been constructed. The structure was made of red brick, and its interior featured a bay window of stained glass and decorative columns.
The congregation hired a pastor, Theodore Geisman, who was soon advertising in local papers that he was available to perform baptisms, weddings and funerals in the German language. In December of 1868, the congregation granted him permission to travel to California to raise funds for the church with the provision that his family would receive $30 a month in his absence. He was never heard from again, and just what became of the pastor’s family is unknown.
The church focused on catering to the city’s growing German population, and services were conducted in their native language. An 1872 provision in their constitution noted that services in English could be held only in “exceptional” circumstances. In fact, all meetings, church services and educational activities were conducted entirely in German.
City directories have a variety of names listed for the church. These include the German Lutheran Church (1891), the Evangelical Lutheran Church (1897) and the First German Evangelical Church (1906). In 1918, no doubt in part due to national anti-German sentiment, it was renamed Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Although as early as 1914 it was recognized that the younger generation was getting little out of services conducted in German, it was not until 1940 that English won over.
St. Francis Street, which had once been largely residential, began taking on a commercial tone in the early 20th century. By 1925, plans were underway to relocate, but it was not until 1942 that a fundraising drive began. Two years later, a large vacant lot on Government Street, just east of Espejo, was purchased, and in 1953 the newly completed Grace Lutheran Church was dedicated.
The original church structure became home to a Baptist congregation, but was ultimately demolished. The lot currently holds a nondescript commercial building.
The First German Evangelical Church was the first Lutheran congregation to be established in Alabama.
text by TOM MCGEHEE