The Rev. Louis Edward Nollau and the founding of Evangelical Children's Home

DIAKONAL MINISTRY: A Passion Driven Movement

Diakonia is Christian passion, expressed in service to people in Christ’s name.  In 1817 King Frederick Wilhelm III of Prussia merged the Reformed and Lutheran branches of German Protestantism into the Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union (ECPU).  This church of the Enlightenment, a predecessor to the United Church of Christ, embraced theology informed by scientific reasoning unrestrained by biblical literalism.  It was committed to understanding what the Bible told Christians about God and about themselves, most especially the movement of the Spirit and its indwelling in every human being.   As a communion of spiritual beings on a human journey, our church has deep historical commitment to an expansive mission not confined in rigid doctrines or self-concern but one that promotes the compassion, grace, peace and service that the ministry of Christ exemplified. 

The Rev. Louis Edward Nollau, an ECPU missionary, initially was sent to the United States to minister among Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest.  However, his journey west stopped in 1852 in St. Louis, Missouri, where he became pastor of St. Peter’s Evangelical Church.  This was in the midst of a period of massive immigration of German settlers to the area.  In keeping with the theology of the Prussian church, Nollau devoted himself to works of compassion.  In 1857 he led the church in establishing Good Samaritan Hospital in St. Louis.  The hospital’s mission statement declared:

“No distinction of creed, race, nationality or color would be made in the acceptance or treatment of patients.  Nor was the hospital conceived as a proselytizing agency, but as a place of refuge for the needy, where poor patients were treated without charge and where everyone was assured of expert medical attention and friendly care.”

This remarkable, passion-driven mission statement was embraced prior to the Civil War in Missouri, a slave state!   Good Samaritan Hospital evolved into Good Samaritan Home for the Aging and, at the end of the 20th Century, proceeds from the closure of Good Samaritan Home were used to build Cape Albeon, an outstanding UCC-related retirement community.

In mid-Century, St. Louis suffered 3 cholera epidemics and 2 major fires that killed 20 % of the population, resulting in there being many orphans.   When Nollau passionately proposed to St. Peter’s Church the founding of an orphanage, a church member protested, “But, Pastor, we don’t have what we need to start an orphanage.”  Nollau responded, “Yes we do.  We have an orphan.”   In 1858, a young boy named Henry Sam was housed in the church parsonage and became the first resident of what would become the German Protestant Orphan’s Home, formally incorporated in 1861.  In the fall of 1866, 60 boys and girls moved to the country – a 65-acre farm, a half-day’s ride by farm wagon from the city on one of the highest points of St. Louis County.  The new orphanage had substantial buildings, farming fields and more than 1,000 fruit bearing trees.   Over its 150+ year history, the orphanage became Evangelical Children’s Home and, today, is ECH: Every Child’s Hope, providing outstanding services for emotionally challenged children and youth.

Louis Edward Nollau was but one of tens of thousands of faithful people who have understood and embraced the call to Diakonal ministry – the call to compassionate service to others in the name of Christ.  Today they serve people who  need affordable housing;  persons who are aging; those with developmental, emotional or physical disabilities; families, children and youth in need; persons who need acute or community-based medical care; those in need of food; persons fleeing abuse; and those needing transitional shelter and a new start.  The observance of Health and Human Service Sunday on January 29, 2012, celebrates such servant-leaders who daily expand the healing and service ministry of Jesus Christ as part of the contemporary mission of the United Church of Christ.


Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer
Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115