St. John’s History

St. John’s Lutheran Church of Highland has been serving the North Hills of Pittsburgh for nearly 200 years. While there has been much that has taken place in that time, here is an overview of our history, which is ever being written.

Our nation was in its infancy when a number of German immigrants found a need to worship in their German language and customs. They built a log church. Little is known beyond the existence of this early church.

Alexander Murray and William Miller received a grant of 400 acres from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the purpose of settling and tilling the land. They donated four acres of their parcel for the establishment of a church and burial ground. The land was deeded to the church with the payment of one dollar. In 1829, the church was incorporated with the official name “The German Church of St. John’s in Allegheny County.” In its lifetime, St. John’s home has been in one or two log churches and four or five church buildings — we aren’t certain of the number. We do know that a new frame church was built in 1861. That building served the congregation for 34 years, and a new church building was built in 1895.

A parsonage was built on land donated by Mrs. Margaret Espe, across from the former Espe School on Highland Road, which served as the parsonage until 1948. In 1932, an addition to the church building was made for a Sunday School. In 1951, ground was broken for the current church building and an on-site parsonage. The first service in the new church was held on Sunday, November 23, 1952. A second educational wing was added to the church and dedicated on May 22, 1960.

In the early 90s, we added contemporary services to our traditional liturgies, and we began to focus on five purposes: Worship, Ministry, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Fellowship. In the late 1990s our entire congregation met to pray and conceive of what God might be calling us to do in order to live out our purposes. A five-year plan was adopted, and a Mission Planning Group was born. Based on their ideas, a Building Committee was formed to make recommendations on modernizing our building in order to better serve our members and the community.

During the 1990s our congregation also began a ministry known as “A Visit to Bethlehem,” in which our lower fellowship hall becomes the living community where Jesus was born. It has become an Advent tradition not only for our members but also for the North Hills community.

In the early 2000s, two capital campaigns raised pledges of nearly three million dollars to begin building renovations. Additional financial assistance came from the ELCA’s Mission Investment Fund. On June 3, 2007, ground was broken for a major building effort that razed the existing parsonage, relocated the church offices and added a gymnasium, church library, conference room, meeting hall and galley kitchen. An elevator and additional restrooms were added to bring us into ADA compliance.

This building addition not only expanded our church ministries, but also our engagement with the community. With this new space our congregation was blessed with new ministries such as an after-school program, a senior exercise program, a sewing group, and a musical theatre group. In addition, various community groups utilize our many spaces, including Highland Hall and our arena gymnasium. Our space has also become a resource for our Synod to gather people from local churches.

We are grateful for all of the ways that the Spirit has guided the people of St. John’s of Highland in the past two centuries of “Making Christ Known,” and we look forward to how the Spirit will continue to move us forward in the work that we have been called to do, all for the glory of God!


Historical Photo Gallery