The Best of the Tradition With a Heart for Evangelism and Discipleship
On October 10, 2011, First Church experienced a fire, beginning in the sacristy and just starting to move into the nave before Houston's Finest got the blaze under control. The fire was electrical and the damage was substantial. The organ, a 1903 Kilgen was totaled, the sacristy was burned out, and the rest of the nave took on soot, heat and smoke damage.
By Easter of 2013, the restoration was completed, thanks to some of the finest contractors in Houston and indeed around the country. Here are some of the changes:
The congregation met from 1851-1854 in the schoolhouse of the Christ Protestant Episcopal Church. The first church building was erected on the southeast corner of Texas Avenue at Milam Street and dedicated Christmas of 1854. The second church building was built in 1901. Under the Rev. William L. Blasberg (1862-1935), the congregation moved to the northwest corner of Texas Avenue at Caroline Street, to a new red brick and sandstone edifice built in the Gothic tradition. After selling the second structure in 1926, the First Evangelical Church, as it became known, purchased the current site on Holman Street. Under the leadership of the Rev. Detlev Baltzer (1889-1962), the congregation hired architect Joseph W. Northrop, Jr., who had moved to Houston to oversee construction of the original Rice Institute, now Rice University. James West was general contractor for the new church campus, and J. C. Nolan and the Star Electric and Engineering Company held sub-contracts.
Northrop's Italian Romanesque styling features terra cotta roof tiles on the nave, education building and parsonage, as well as a campanile, or bell tower. The buildings were constructed of interlocking concrete tiles covered with buff-face brick and white sandstone trim. The campanile's bell, forged in 1880, has rung at each of the congregation's places of worship. The tower connects the nave to the seven-bay arched portals of the education building, which houses classrooms, offices, auditoriums and a stage. The nave's details include pulpit and altar made by master woodcarvers from Oberammergau, Germany. Pews and chancel furnishings, designed by Northrop, are by the American Seating Company. The north gallery of the nave housed a 1903 Kilgen and Son pipe organ. The Kilgen organ was destroyed in our October 2011 fire and has been replaced with a 16-stop organ designed and built by Pasi Organ Builders, Inc. of Roy, Washington. First Evangelical Lutheran Church was recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark in 2002.
First Lutheran's history since 2002 is as interesting as its founding. Through the 20th century, First Lutheran had moved through several different denominations. In early 2002, a Houston lawyer and civic leader discovered that First Church, the first Lutheran congregation in Houston was technically no longer "Lutheran". Virtually no Lutherans in Houston except those who had attended First Lutheran, knew that the "First Church" was still in existence. At that time the formerly thriving congregation had dwindled in size and worship attendance was paltry. The church faced the real possibility of having to close its doors.
Based upon extensive research, congregational forums, consultation with ELCA synodical representatives, and conversations with the pastor and congregational council, First Evangelical Lutheran Church voted to join the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, thereby reclaiming its Lutheran identity. In 2006, the Rev. Edwin D. Peterman, a distinguished Lutheran pastor and well-known teaching theologian, began to serve as Interim Pastor. Through the Holy Spirit, the congregation began to grow to viability again, and called a full-time pastor in December 2009 to help the congregation continue the work of the church into the 21st century. On October 9, 2010, one day before the fire, First Church joined the North American Lutheran Church.
The addition of Pastor Evan McClanahan in December, 2009, signaled the congregation's intent to become a significant presence and voice for Lutheranism in the community. As the Midtown neighborhood in Houston experiences a renaissance, so too does First Lutheran. It is expanding its outreach into the community, adding Sunday Church School and activities for children, becoming known for its excellent worship and music, and adding avenues for young adults to come to faith.
On July 1, 1851, a group led by the Rev. Caspar Messon Braun (1822-1880) founded the Erste Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Kirche, or First German Evangelical Lutheran Church. The State of Texas issued the church's charter on September 21 of that year. First Lutheran was the first Lutheran congregation in Houston and the second Lutheran congregation in Texas. First Lutheran is responsible for the establishment of no less than 8 daughter congregations in Harris county.
In November, 1851, just 2 months after its founding, six missionaries from St. Chrischona of Basel, Switzerland arrived in Texas. Along with the Rev. Braun, they established the First Evangelical Lutheran Synod in Texas, often called the Texas Synod. The purpose of the synod was to gather the many Lutherans in Texas that were without congregations and a churchly structure. The confession of the synod included subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, adopting unaltered symbolical books as found in the Book of Concord, 1580, accepting the Unaltered Small Catechism, and selecting the German Hymn book of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States.
- Replacing our wonderful old organ with a new organ, commissioned from Martin Pasi, one of America's finest builders. The organ was installed in March, 2014. - Replacing a faux travertine tile with real limestone, conceived and installed by Cangelosi - Restored stained glass by Freebird Glass, Inc. - Completely refinished or replaced woodwork by Megatrend Designs - Replacing an older sound system with a new one, designed and installed by Industrial Audio/Video, Inc. - Installing new fire protection by Classic Fire Protection - New electrical service designed and installed by Ty Co Electrical Service
It was important to us that we honor the architectural style of our campus and restore the building as accurately as possible. So a number of the choices we made, especially regarding the stained glass and sound system will highlight the simple beauty of our space, a simple beauty the architect intended when conceiving the space in the mid-1920s.