St. John’s History

Old ChurchWe trace our beginnings to the 1790’s. Our nation was in its infancy when about 1795 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 this fact of this early church.

But then, the early 1800’s, the state of Pennsylvania, in an effort to encourage settlement of the land, offered land grants of 400 acres to those who would settle and till the land. Two men, Alexander Murray and William Miller received such a grant. They then agreed in writing with their attorney to give part of this land for erecting a church for the worship of Almighty God and for the purpose of a burial ground. Four acres were deeded to the church (in all probability to the German immigrants described above) by agreement and the payment of one dollar.

Again little is known about the church from the early 1800’s until a petition for incorporation dated May 30, 1829, and signed by 31 persons was filed. The petition was approved by the Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania and by its Supreme Court. The pastor at the time was Jacob Winter. We do not know anything about him other than his name. The official name on the charter was “The German Church of St. John’s in Allegheny County.” From 1829 to 1845 there are no records at all about the church. In 1845 the Rev. Michael Schweigert, the first pastor ordained by the newly formed Pittsburgh Synod, was called to serve the congregation as well as Trinity Church on Brandt School Road, that had just been started. Pastor Schweigert was to serve the church for six years. Following his departure and the failure of his successor the congregation permitted Cumberland Presbyterians to preach here. It was during this time that the congregation was “pegged” with the descriptive name of “The Cumberland Church”, which name was to last until the late 1940’s.

From 1860 to 1866 the congregation was served by three Lutheran pastors. But from 1866 until 1878 the congregation was without a pastor. But attesting to the perseverance of the members of St. John’s the congregation was held together.

In 1878 the congregation was reorganized by the Rev. G. H. Gerberding, pastor of Mt. Zion Church on Perrysville Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA and from that time on St. John’s has had a continuous Lutheran Pastorate. From 1878 to 1895 St. John’s had a shared pastorate with Mt. Zion. In 1895 to 1922 St. John’s had a shared pastorate arrangement with Trinity congregation on Brandt’s School Road. Beginning with the pastorate of the Rev. Willard D. Allbeck in 1922, St. John’s became a self-supporting congregation and its connection with Trinity Church was discontinued.

In its life-time St. John’s has had four or five church buildings. In its early history it had one or two log churches. We aren’t certain of the number. A new frame church was built in 1861. That building was to serve for 34 years until 1895, when a new church building was built. The building of 1895, was extensively remodeled in 1912. Then in 1932, an addition to the church building was made for the Sunday School.

In 1923, a parsonage was built on land donated by Mrs. Margaret Espe (across from the former Espe School), which was to serve as the parsonage until 1948, when a new parsonage was constructed for the new pastor, The Rev. Luther E. Fackler and his family. The parsonage was built by more than 50 craftsmen from the congregation who gave willingly of their time, energies and talents for the new parsonage.
Old Church
In 1951 ground was broken for a new church building. The final service in the old church and 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 1970, following the departure of Dr. Fackler and the arrival of the Rev. Elwood Leister a new parsonage was purchased in the Breezewood II neighborhood. The former parsonage was then converted into the administrative office building.

Through the 70’s and 80’s we were served by Pastor Leister, with a number of Associate Pastors, including Bishop Donald McCoid.

Pastor David Koppel arrived in 1991. In the early 90’s we began Contemporary Services along with the Traditional Liturgical ones, and we began to focus on the five purposes of the church: Worship, Ministry, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Fellowship. In the late 1990’s our entire congregation met to pray and brainstorm what God might be calling us to do in order to live out those five purposes, and a five-year plan was adopted and our Mission Planning Group was born. While we have accomplished a great many of our goals, some remain until our building project is complete.

This is an exciting time in the life of St. John’s.

We have an exceptional history of service to our community and to making a difference in the lives of those we serve. The people of St. John’s have been instrumental in ministering to and benefiting the people of the North Hills, not the least of which has been our close association with North Hills Passavant Hospital.

Yet the past is merely a prelude. Presently we offer several worship opportunities, educational programs and fellowship events for all ages, several choirs, and programs to meet a wide range of interests and needs. In addition, we house St. John’s Preschool.

Furthermore, our ministry includes financial support of ELCA seminaries and colleges, missionary work, the North Hills Youth Ministry, the North Hills Counseling Center, North Hills Community Outreach, and the World Hunger Appeal.

There is a place for you to serve God and His people at St. John’s. Whatever your interest, whatever you need, you are an important part of this family.

That’s just where we are today! Who knows what tomorrow will bring? God calls us to do His will in many new and exciting ways. Let us step into the future together, not knowing where we are going, but that God’s hand is leading us and His love is supporting us.

Thanks be to God!