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Looking Back . . .

The history of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church goes back through many generations. Although the congregation considers its founding date as 1849, when it called its first resident pastor, Rev. Johann Adam Ernst of the Missouri Synod, its roots go back to the 1830’s.

Early Congregations . . .

The town of Eden’s earliest congregation containing Lutherans was formed shortly after 1830. This was twenty-two years after Eden’s first settler, traveling with a team of oxen along the lake shore and up Eighteen Mile Creek and its South Branch, arrived at Eden Valley. In 1808 the valley was surrounded on all sides by wild timberland, some of the giants of this forest measuring as much as seven feet in diameter. By 1822 the settlers’ axes had cleared the land for farms. Small hamlets were to be found at Eden Center (now Eden Village), Eden Valley (now spanned by the lofty U.S. Route 62 bridge), and Clarksburg. Eight years later many of the settlers’ log cabins had been replaced by frame houses, and farms were now well established.

Beginning about 1830 immigrants from Alsace (France) and Germany, perhaps attracted by the countryside’s promising farm land, found their way to Eden and began to settle in the eastern section of the town. They were a tiny part of the two major waves of German immigrants to come to America in the 19th century, the second major German immigration occurring about 1848. These immigrants came to the United States to escape the religious bondage many of their congregations were experiencing. Others came to escape political persecution because of their faith.

Soon after the immigrant families settled in Eden, many of them gathered together as a congregation, meeting in private homes and schools whenever they could. Though 1836 is the date most commonly used for the erection of their church in East Eden, land records show that after their “burial ground” was acquired, Balthasar Zittel deeded a lot to the congregation for a church structure and school in May 1840. Property for a parsonage was not secured until 1872.

The Missouri Synod officially came into being in 1847.  It is the date of August 1849 that our present congregation recognizes as its founding date when the existing congregation had called its first resident pastor, Pastor Johann Adam Ernst. Adam Ernst, a cobbler’s apprentice from Germany, had come to America in 1842 at the age of 27 and was trained as a Lutheran parochial schoolteacher. He was a charter member of the Missouri Synod and was instrumental in its organization. 

When Pastor Ernst came to Eden, it was a period of prosperity and what some historians called a “golden age of agriculture” in New York State. One farm after another lined Eden’s fertile valley and the old Indian trail, now known as Gowanda State Road. The center of the East Eden German Protestant population had begun to shift westward, moving onto the richer, more productive farms of the valley. These people were thankful to be well out of the strife and disturbances that had taken place in Europe in 1848. Here in Eden they had found religious freedom, freedom to form their own congregations and determine their synodical affiliations.

One of the notable figures in the history of the Eastern District, Missouri Synod, Pastor Ernst was known as a man of “vigorous action.” When the Eastern District, Missouri Synod, was founded in 1854 there were only ten Missouri Synod pastors in the East. Pastor Ernst was one of these.

The first thirty-eight years in the history of Eden’s Lutheran congregations had been filled with troubles. Families and friends had been alienated from one another because of disagreements within their congregations. Congregations had divided and separated. Eden had become one of the battlegrounds for doctrinal disputes between synods. Pastors had left one synod for another and painful legal action had stripped the united Missourians of a place of worship. It could only be hoped that time would fade the memories of strife, hard feelings, and bitterness. These years belonged to the past. It was now time to plan for the future.

Meeting on June 3, 1878 at District Schoolhouse Number 7, located on Sisson Highway not far from the site of the present St. Paul’s Church, the founders of the St. Paul’s congregation attacked their current problems with determination and their plans for the future with optimism and vigor. It was decided at this time to name themselves “St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eden, NY.”

At their second meeting, on June 16, 1878 the founding fathers decided to build a church. The trustees were empowered to buy as much land as necessary for the church, school, parsonage, and cemetery. The site agreed upon for the church property was on the southwest corner of Sisson Highway and North Boston Road. The land was secured from the Jacob Hickman farm. The school was the first structure completed.

In February lots for the cemetery were laid out in the following pattern, according to the church minutes: “one row for older people, one row for young people, and one row for children.” Although some older graves were moved to St. Paul’s from other cemeteries, the first burial in the new cemetery was Mary Bley, who died in 1879 at the age of 17.

A roomy two-story frame parsonage, large enough to accommodate a pastor, his family, and the occasional visitor was built. Construction work on the church, which was attached to and in front of the school building, was well underway by early spring 1879.  On May 4, 1879 the dedication services were held with much jubilation. Gathering at the church on this festive Sunday, the men, women and children of the congregation filed into their new freshly painted white frame church edifice. They entered through the doorway beneath the centered bell tower, which was topped by a high pointed steeple. Once inside, according to the custom of the day, the ladies were seated on the left side of the nave, facing the altar; the men sat on the right. The children did not sit with their parents, but were required to sit in the front pews.  

Until World War I, the German language had been used almost exclusively in church at St. Paul’s. However, recognizing that the younger generations would increasingly have more and more difficulty, as the years passed, understanding the liturgy and sermons in German, Pastor Wehrs (1901-1905) had introduced for the first time at St. Paul’s a regular English service. This was held once a month, in the evening, and was intended especially for the young people of the congregation. After 1915 use of the German language in the parochial school was discontinued, and all subjects, including catechism, were taught in English. The Sunday school, established during the war years in 1917, was an English Sunday school.

In 1916 use of the English language was introduced in the regular Sunday services. By 1924 there was only one German service a month. In 1929 the congregation resolved to introduce the full English form of service, and finally in January 1940 the last service in German was held.

The postwar years of World War I brought to St. Paul’s various building improvements. These years also brought an optimistic outlook on the future and new plans for growth. On January 7, 1930 the congregation unanimously resolved to build a new church, and on April 1, 1930 the architect’s plans were approved and accepted.

On July 27, 1930 the cornerstone of the new St. Paul’s church was laid. By January 1931 construction on the building was well enough advanced so that services could be held in the basement of the new church. The last service in the old frame was held January 18. The new church was dedicated on April 12, 1931.

In its history, St. Paul's has been served by seventeen Pastors, starting with Rev. J. Adam Ernst, who was Pastor from 1849 until 1857.  The longest Pastorate was that of Rev. Louis D. Zimmerman, serving from 1915 to 1950 and then Rev. Fred C. Jacobi, serving from 1971 to 2004. Currently serving as Pastor is the Rev. Thomas S. Lutz. 

Looking Ahead . . .

St. Paul’s congregation continues to carry on its ministry to the Lord, Jesus Christ. The care of the building and the well-kept grounds are a testimony of the concern of all its members.

Many of the younger generations and newer families are not aware of the struggles that our congregation had to go through. It is our hope that this history will serve to remind us of our rich heritage.

Although there were disputes and doctrinal disagreements in the past, there is nothing of which we should be ashamed. It is an inspiring history. The conflicts in our early period did not bring total despair. Instead they produced strength and character. Despite the many obstacles that were in its path, the congregation survived where many others might have dissolved or disappeared from the scene. It always seemed as if there was a core of faithful men and women who were ready to build and rebuild.  

The long history of St. Paul’s is not the product and planning of men. But, it is God’s history - His guiding of our congregation and His working in our individual lives.

Understanding the past will bring us a great blessing as we look to the future. The same Lord who led us through all these years will guide, direct and strengthen us, so that more and more we become a congregation that reflects His love for us.

Many chapters of our history are behind us. God willing, there will be many more chapters to come. The important chapter for us is the one in which we are now involved. May we continue to show the same vision and courage as the long line of members who preceded us. We, too, have a glorious Gospel to share with those in our generation. We have a legacy to give to those who will follow in our steps.


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