Our Deep History
ZION LUTHERAN CHURCH/FIRST LUTHERAN CHURCH LUTHERAN MINISTRIES
A Historical Overview- 1887-2012
- First Lutheran sermon delivered by Rev. C. Burkhart in a Methodist Church in Elyton, Alabama on January 2, 1886- In German at a Methodist Church.
- Zion Lutheran Church was founded October 9, 1887, when Rev. C.E. Scheibe was installed. A member, William Schaefer, donated the land in Elyton. Membership was 70 souls.
- Construction of the first church in the fall, 1888 and the Building was dedicated October 12, 1889, including altar, pulpit and organ. The first Church cost $1,200. Pastor Scheibe also was organist and Headmaster of the school.
- Rev. Scheibe accepted a call to Cullman in 1889, but continued to serve both Zion and his Church in Cullman until 1895.
- Rev. Alfred Moeller was ordained and installed at Zion on September 29, 1895. A member committee of Zion advised the congregation to build a new Church at a more suitable location and with more adequate facilities in 1899. Pastor Moeller accepted a call to his home in Ohio in 1900.
- Rev. Henry Heise was installed in September 1900. Membership was 94 souls and 45 communicants. He guided the young Church for 5 years, a period of great expansion for the Church and the City of Birmingham. He also presided over the construction of a new and expanded Church facility at Avenue B and 19th Street. The new Church facility was dedicated on October 12, 1902 with two services; the evening service was in English, a first for the Church. (This Church was located where Adamson Ford now exists and is now a vacant lot on the corner of 19th Street and 2nd Avenue S.)
- Pastor Heise accepted a call to Missouri in 1906, and Rev. Frederick W. Weideman was installed at Zion on June 24, 1906. He also taught in the School, co-located behind the Church. Enrollment in the school climbed to 30 pupils. The Southern District subsidized the congregation, helping them to pay the Pastor’s salary. The Young People’s Society and Ladies Aid were active during this time.
- Rev. J. E. Wunnenberg was called in 1908 to serve as a full-time teacher; the District also subsidized his salary. He organized the Choir and a Church Band and served as Director of two German Benefit Societies in Birmingham. Pastor Weideman accepted a call to a Church in Farmington, Missouri in 1909.
- Rev. Hans Reuter was installed as Pastor on May 19, 1911 after a two-year vacancy at Zion. This began the 50-year tenure of Pastor Reuter. That same year, a brick school and fellowship hall was dedicated. Support for the school came from fellow Christians in Birmingham, members of Zion and from the Synod, even though Zion had not formally joined the Synod at that time. During that period, the school sent 5 students to Concordia College in New Orleans. Rev. Wunnenberg continued to teach here until he joined the Army in 1917. There were 260 souls and 140 communicants in 1910.
- Suspicions against German speaking people during the years of WWI compelled the Congregation at Zion to discontinue the German service and to conduct its affairs in English. German Services were resumed in May 1919. In 1920, there were 260 souls and 170 communicants.
- The 1920’s Birmingham had become an urban center with all of the problems that went with urbanization and growth, including crowding and crime. This also was a time of great growth for Zion Lutheran Church. Martin J. Kaste, a graduate of Concordia River Forest, was called in 1925 to re-open the school, which had closed at the beginning of WWI in 1917. His monthly salary was $125,” sufficient for an unmarried man…” He was Head Master, Organist at the Church, youth director and Sunday School Superintendent
- THE CHRONICLE, a monthly newspaper, made its debut in 1921. It became a major factor in drawing members to Zion and into the service of the church.
- In 1923, Zion voters resolved to begin a church building fund. In 1927, Zion purchased and financed the purchase of a piece of property at the corner of Cotton Avenue and McConnell Street, for an 8-year term. The stock market crash came in 1929, and Birmingham was labeled the hardest hit city in America. Zion had 300 souls and 200 communicants in 1930. The Church defaulted on its note in 1932, losing both $6,000 and the purchased land. Even though the church had lost the land for a new Church, it began a branch Sunday school in Roebuck Highlands and achieved enrollment of 20 pupils. It was abandoned, however, in 1934. Economic times were bad until 1940. The congregation recognized the need for a new house of worship and educational facilities, but the beginning of WWII halted such plans. Many members joined in the war effort as soldiers and sailors. Activities during this time centered on war-related service. The Walther League was active in keeping touch with “our boys away from home”. In 1940, Zion had 405 souls and 305 communicants.
- Zion School was closed permanently in 1943 when Prof. Kaste was given his peaceful release to accept a call from Markus Lutheran Church, St. Louis, Missouri.
- In April 1948, 69 communicant members were granted releases to open a second Missouri Synod congregation in West End, Trinity Lutheran Church. This was the first of three daughter congregations begun by Zion. In 1950, Zion had 337 souls and 245 communicants.
- In 1949, Zion’s congregation bought lots on Highland ad Caldwell Avenues for $15,000. Construction would begin in 1950, and the name was changed from Zion to First Lutheran Church, marking the beginning of a new era in the Church. Membership included 337 souls and 245 communicant members. The last service held at Zion at Avenue B was on April 22, 1951.
- The Third Building, the present house of worship of First Lutheran Church was dedicated on the Feast of Pentecost, May 13, 1951. The Sanctuary was designed by McCauley & Associates to seat 375, and the educational building consisted of 10 classrooms, an auditorium seating 225, Pastor’s Study, Reception room and kitchen. Cost of the building and furnishings was $150,000.00. The first wedding conducted in this building was for Dot Seibert and Thomas J. “Buck” Halbrooks, a week prior to the dedication of the new facility on May 5, 1951.
- In 1958, five more classrooms were added and the entire structure was air-conditioned and was dedicated in February 1959. It was a time of prosperity for First Lutheran Church.
- In 1960, First Lutheran Church had 350 souls and 252 communicants. It also was a time of civil and racial strife for our congregation. Pastor Reuter announced his retirement in 1961. Rev. Martin Buerger was installed on July 16, 1961 and resigned in 1963.
- The Pastorate was vacant until Rev. A. Gerald Quiram was installed on April 25, 1965. He resigned in 1967. The pulpit was vacant for over 2 years.
- Rev. J. Mark Kuehnert was installed as pastor of First Lutheran Church on June 8, 1969. Mark had been Pastor of an African-American congregation at Mt. Calvary Lutheran in Kannapolis, N.C. and of Our Savior Lutheran in Columbus, Mississippi before accepting the call at First Lutheran.
- In 1970, First Lutheran Church reached a peak in membership with 410 souls and 339 communicants.
- Membership leveled off and began to decline in the 1970’s, but much was accomplished during those years. The Altar Guild was formed on May 5, 1971. The Pascal Candle, processional cross and sanctuary lamp were all purchased during this time. Also the Trinity Window (May 28, 1976) and the 24-aisle stained glass windows were installed, the last being dedicated on October 9, 1977.
- The Mission and Ministry Study was begun in February, 1978 as a serious attempt to look at where the congregation was going and included a review of the Church’s By-Laws and Constitution. What emerged was a Church with a more active membership. Also, the Hans Reuter Library was dedicated on November 19, 1978.
- In 1980, First Lutheran had 403 souls and 307 communicants, and it marked a period of growth in members and programs.
- In 1981, the Constitution was revised to grant women the right to vote on church matters. Lisa K. Keyne was hired in 1981 as Director of Christian Education and she started and directed many programs. A Youth Choir was formed. Many activities such as the Wednesday Night Suppers was begun, Carnivals in the Park and Oktoberfest Celebrations became symbols of a more energetic membership. Lisa was given release in 1985 to continue her education.
- More space was needed, so in December 1985, the Voters approved $210,000 to purchase two homes adjacent to the church property. On September 9, 1984, First Lutheran hired Kathy Shackleton as Secretary to Pastor Kuehnert and to work with “the Sunset’ers”, a Senior Citizens Ministry. On January 12, 1986, C. Michael Twiss was hired as a part-time lay minister to serve as Executive Assistant of Parish Services.
- In 1987, First Lutheran reported 500 souls and 390 communicants. This was also the 100th Anniversary of Zion Lutheran and First Lutheran Church. To celebrate this event, a celebration, “ Gifted to Share God’s Love” was planned with Dr. Oswald C. Hoffman, senior speaker of the Lutheran Hour, as guest speaker at a 2:30 P.M. Festival Service to mark the event.
- In early 1987, the voters approved a plan to begin a childcare/pre-school center at First Lutheran. The Highland Park Neighborhood Association opposed this plan. The City of Birmingham refused to grant the necessary zoning therefore First Lutheran was not allowed to use the homes or the land adjacent to the Church for such purpose. One of the homes was used to house a staff person, the other for Sunday School and other activities. Both homes were sold later when there was no loner a use or need for them.
- In January 1994, Rev. Kurtis Schultz was installed as pastor of First Lutheran Church. The congregation voted to establish a preaching station in Shelby County. This mission church was named Emmanuel Lutheran and dedicated in the fall of 2002. Pastor Schultz served our congregation until August 31, 2003, when he was elected as the Southern District President of LCMS.
- Pastor Terry Grund served the congregation and mission as the temporary interim pastor from September 2003 until June 2004.
- A graduate of Concordia Seminary and newly ordained pastor, Rev. Nathan Schuetze was installed in July 2004 as pastor at First Lutheran and Emmanuel. This was his first call and he served until June 2009.
- On June 7, 2009, Rev. Travis Thomas Lackey, Jr. was ordained and installed as Associate Pastor of First Lutheran Church. Pastor Lackey had served his dual vicarage at First Lutheran Church in Birmingham and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Shelby County. Twilight Song, a contemporary service for Saturday evenings, began in February 2010. This service was designed to attract students and young adults to worship in a blended setting. During this time also, First Lutheran began celebrating Holy Communion every Sunday.
- Services at Emmanuel were terminated on Oct. 8, 2008, due to the congregation’s decision to combine the two congregations. Emmanuel was officially closed in June of 2012.
- Rev. Dr. Arthur L. Porter was contracted to serve First Lutheran in June 2011 as an associate pastor. He was called in January 29, 2012 as senior pastor. His installation in March 2012 is significant as Pastor Porter is the first African-American to serve as pastor of First Lutheran Church. Pastor Porter emphasized pastoral-led Bible studies especially for adults.