Historic German church adapts to times
Written by Gayle Starling-Melvin
German worship service tradition ends, but new traditions are just beginning at St Pauls UCC in Chicago.
St. Paul's UCC church school members march down the street during a kazoo parade in Chicago. St. Paul's UCC photo.
For more than a century and a half, St. Pauls UCC in Chicago, with historic German roots, has honored its German-American community by holding a weekly worship service each Sunday in the German language. On April 29, at the 11 a.m. service led by the Rev. Wilhelm Linss, that tradition came to a poignant end.
Beginning in 1843, when the church was founded, worship ceremonies were held at St. Pauls solely in German. The name of the church even recognized its heritage by using German punctuation and eliminating the possessive apostrophe from St. Pauls. In 1909, English services were introduced to the congregation in conjunction with the German services. Through the years, though, the non-German population of St. Pauls grew, while the German parishioners tapered off. Eventually, German services were narrowed down to the first Sunday of the month.
Linss, retired professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, conducted St. Pauls German worship services for more than 15 years. Now fully retired, he is no longer available to lead the services and St. Pauls was unsuccessful in finding a replacement. This, coupled with the diminishing number of German-speaking members, led to the German services to be discontinued altogether.
"It's a sad, emotional thing," says the Rev. Tom R. Henry, senior pastor of St. Pauls. "It was a tradition tied to our heritage."
Henry says he had hoped to be retired if the German services ever came to an end. "I just didn't want to be here to see it," he says.
Despite the decision, the German congregation expected it. "They're sad," says Henry, "but they knew the timing was right and they're very philosophical about it."
Both English and German were spoken at the last service, along with hymns sung in both languages. Linss and Maxine Joachim, who served for 25 years as organist for the German services, were formally commended.
German services may no longer be on St. Pauls' plate, but by no means is the church lessening its outreach. Numerous programs are still thriving, including Sarah's Sisters, a group that prepares lunch for the homeless; the 21/41 Club, a social and service organization for young adults; and the Faith and Public Issues Task Force, which sponsors monthly programs on such topics as the criminal justice system and advocacy.
The church also boasts a vibrant church school program. Last October, the entire church school, from preschool to high school seniors, celebrated Gospel Sunday at St. Pauls with the theme, "How Sweet the Sound." After church classes, a handful of youth group members began a melodic march, in "pied piper" fashion, picking up youth from other classes along the way.
With strength in numbers, the entourage played kazoos while singing, "When The Saints Go Marching In." They proceeded around the block, through St. Pauls' sanctuary and up the center aisle, still in step and in tune, in time for the beginning of worship services.
"We have 90 to 100 wonderful kids participating in our youth group," says Sharon Phillips, youth education director of St. Pauls. "It's been wonderful seeing them grow up and come into their own."