In 2013 St. John’s celebrated its 100th Anniversary as a legal, religious entity. Our start, however, came well before 1913 when our congregation was founded in 1901 in the living room of Ludwig Miller. At the time, it consisted of a handful of families all of which were like Ludwig: recently arrived German-Russian immigrants looking to express their shared Lutheran faith. By 1906, the congregation had outgrown the Millers – or anyone else’s – living room and arrangements were made to rent the Depot School, a schoolhouse owned by the Mamaroneck Board of Education. Built in 1865, the building was sparse and barely functional: a pot belly stove, hard wooden benches and a makeshift altar against the chimney. The services were in German and the pastor was borrowed from St. Luke’s in New Rochelle.
The Depot School gave our congregation much needed space not just for worship, but for education. German language reading and writing lessons were taught to our youth after school and, of course, Sunday School and confirmation classes were held there on Sunday afternoons. The congregation continued to grow rapidly, pushed along by an increasing number of immigrants and a baby-boom. In just over ten years, the congregation had grown from the handful of families in the Miller’s living room to more than thirty. It was time for the faithful to get serious and they did: our charter, which legally identifies us a church in New York State was received in late 1913.
We were now, in name as well as function, a church in every sense of the work except for one: we lacked a church building. So as real as 1913 was in terms of building St. John’s into a church, “St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church” was still a bit of a misnomer. In 1914 a building committee was formed and fundraisers immediately followed. By 1918 a plot of land had been identified and by early 1919 the purchase was complete.
And then…nothing. This is not to say that the congregation was inactive; on the contrary, the congregation was busy building a spiritual community and many of the activities and traditions that we still follow today. And yet, the issue of a building remained until the Town of Mamaroneck informed us that the Depot School was needed for other purposes. Pushed into action, the congregation was on the hunt again for suitable property, it’s first purchase having been deemed unsuitable due to its proximity to the fire station. In 1926, the land at the corner of Fenimore and Courtland was purchased and ground broken for a new church. On May 1, 1927, with the service that dedicated the new structure, St. John’s completed its metamorphosis from a congregation of a few into a community in Christ that was nearly one hundred families strong.
Over the years, much more would change at St. John’s. English-language services were introduced in 1921 and even then, only at one service per month. Over time, however, English services supplanted the German ones and the last German services were held in 1954. In the 1940s, the original church windows were replaced with “traditional” windows that trace the life of Christ. Continued growth in the congregation through the 1930s and 40s prompted the construction of an annex in the 1950s to house the church office and Sunday School. This same annex was enlarged and updated in 2015 in order to accommodate our modern needs. Worshippers have adjusted to the changing Lutheran liturgy and hymnals and our services are now a reflection of our Lutheran tradition and contemporary practices. At the same time, our congregation has shifted to reflect the changing diversity of our community. But as the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” and our founding forefather’s established more than just a congregation or a building. They established traditions that continue to this day: the annual Christmas pageant and Easter egg hunt; a summer picnic which now incorporates an outdoor, contemporary service; service projects for our youth such as the Midnight Run; and fundraisers for the church and community such as the Tag Sale and Blessing of the Animals. In short, they established a place of worship that prides itself on its sense of community, not just within our walls but outside of it as well.
Since 1927, many people have come through our doors to recognize the momentous events of their religious lives. We have rejoiced at baptisms, wept at funerals and tossed rice and flower petals at beaming newlyweds. These events are, however, the exclamation points of faith. For the last 100 years we have welcomed generations of families looking to share the entirety of their Christian faith in weekly celebration of our Lutheran beliefs. We invite you to join us and continue to “make history” with St. John’s.