Born of a rich German heritage in the years just prior to the Civil War, St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church is a small rural church with deep roots. Located in the rolling hills of Southeastern Indiana, the church is a landmark known by travelers who frequently travel State Road 129 between the towns of Versailles and Cross Plains. St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
By the late 1500s the Reformation had spread throughout Europe. Followers of Martin Luther’s teachings were labeled “Lutherans” by their enemies and adopted the name themselves. Lutheran beliefs became widespread, especially in Germany and the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland), later spreading throughout the world as early explorers took their faith with them on their voyages. Lutheranism came to the Americas that way; some of the earliest settlers in the Americas were Scandinavian, Dutch and German Lutherans. Their first permanent colony was in the West Indies, and by the 1620s there were settlements of Lutherans along the Hudson River in what are now the states of New York and New Jersey.
As people migrated to the New World they continued to speak and worship in their native languages and use resources from their countries of origin. Europeans from a particular region would migrate to a particular region in America and start their own churches. As the number of these congregations grew, scattered groups would form a “synod” or church body, and as the nation expanded so did the number of Lutheran church bodies.
By the late 1800s the 20 or so Lutheran church bodies that would eventually merge to become The American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America had been established. Massive immigration from traditionally Lutheran countries had started, and between 1840 and 1875 alone 58 Lutheran synods were formed in the U.S.
There were revivalist and confessional movements within Lutheran churches in Europe and in America, and as Lutherans migrated to this country they were influenced by the evangelicalism of various Protestant sects. Consequently, a wide variety of expressions of Lutheranism developed in North America. Nineteenth-century Lutherans still looked to their homelands to supply pastors and worship materials, but as second and third generation Americans spoke English more than German, Norwegian or Danish, a need arose to provide formal theological training, hymnals, catechisms and other materials.
Next: The First Fifty Years
(For more information about the history of the Lutheran Church, please click here.)