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History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reading, Pennsylvania

This history appeared in Morton Montgomery's 1908 edition of The History of Berks County.


St. James Lutheran Church. St. James Church originated in a movement to establish a purely English congregation in harmony with conservative Lutheran doctrine and usage. Rev. F. A. M. Keller, its first pastor had for eight years been English assistant to Rev. Dr. Miller in old Trinity, which up to 1842 had been entirely German. Upon Dr. Miller's retirement in 1850 the congregation determined to call a pastor who could minister in both the German and English tongues. This action resulted in the withdrawal of a number of members who desired to continue enjoying the ministrations of Rev. Mr. Keller. Their organization into a distinct congregation soon followed.

The first effective steps were taken at a meeting held November 14, 1850, when the name was chosen and a call extended to Rev. Keller to become the pastor. A Sunday-school had already been organized, and the old Odd Fellows Hall at Fifth and Franklin streets, Reading, had been secured for the temporary purposes of the congregation. The property at Fifth and Chestnut streets was immediately purchased. The work of building was begun early in the spring of 1851, and so vigorously pushed that the Sunday-school was able to occupy its new quarters for the first time on July 13th of that year. The corner-stone of the main building was laid May 11, 1851, and its formal consecration took place March 21, 1852. It was, and is today, a building that attracts attention by the beauty of its architectural lines, which follow the Gothic throughout, whilst its interior arrangement is in full harmony with its sacred character. It has a comfortable seating capacity of about eight hundred. In 1892 the original Sunday-school room gave way to a more imposing chapel, and one better adapted to modern methods of work. The full graded system of instruction is now in use.

The ministry of Pastor Keller continued until 1864, and was remarkably successful and fruitful. A large and active congregation had been gathered by his faithful and diligent ministry, and many were the manifestations of sorrow at his funeral, which took place in the church on March 18, 1864. His name is enshrined in the affections of the parish, and a memorial tablet has been erected at the chancel to commemorate his ministry.

The Rev. F. C. H. Lampe was the next pastor, entering upon his duties October 1, 1864. His pastorate was short, extending to October 1, 1867. In that time, however, the congregation succeeded in clearing off a debt of over $20,000, the pipe organ was purchased, and a remarkably well executed copy of Raphael's Transfiguration was placed upon the wall as an altar-piece. Pastor Lampe resigned to accept a call to Wheeling, West Virginia.

The Rev. Beale M. Schmucker immediately became his successor, and was ready to enter upon his labors as soon as Pastor Lampe withdrew. He came to the church in the prime of his life, possessed of rare mental endowments and high literary culture. In the nearly fourteen years of his pastorate he devoted much time to literary work, particularly in the line of Liturgies and Church History. The Church Book was largely the fruit of his labors, and is his noblest monument today. At the same time there was developed in the congregation a type of religious life that was as devout as it was churchly, and which is still felt in all its activities. Dr. Schmucker left the congregation directly after Easter, 1881, to accept a call to the Church of the Transfiguration, Pottstown, Pa., where he died in the fall of 1888.

The Rev. M. C. Horine followed, entering upon his duties in September, 1881. His was a long and fruitful pastorate of over twenty-seven years, terminating October 31, 1908. During this time the parsonage on South Fifth street was purchased and remodeled, additional property was acquired on Chestnut street, and the new chapel built, several memorials were given, various agencies of the church were organized for specific work, a mission was established at Oakbrook, and the Jubilee Service of the congregation was fittingly celebrated. At the close of October, 1908, Dr. Horine, owing to ill health, retired to a well earned rest, having covered a period of nearly half the congregation's entire existence.

The congregation up to this time had furnished four young men for the office of the ministry, and one of these was called as Dr. Horine's successor. Rev. Mr. Luther Zweizig, baptized at the hands of Rev. Keller, confirmed by Dr. Schmucker and later ordained in the church at Pottstown during his pastorate, took charge of the parish at the beginning of February, 1909, its membership at that time numbering something over six hundred communicants.

[Supplied by Rev. M. Luther Zweizig.]

Gillis Sampler

Last Modified Thursday, 16-Oct-2008 21:07:50 EDT

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