A History of Saint Paul's Church | Erie

In 1850, twelve families left St. John's Lutheran Church to establish St. Paul's United German Evangelical Church. At first, these families met at First Presbyterian Church and were joined by about twenty six more families. Together these families decided to build a new church. They purchased the land that our church now stands from the Charles Reed estate and built a small brick church that forms our current church.

The Earliest Days

The first pastor served for two years, and after charges of heresy regarding communion, baptism, and confirmation were dismissed, a founding church leader left, but was soon followed by the founding pastor. The congregation had to decide if it was to continue and eventually called Rev. C. Goehling in 1852. 5 different pastors served the congregation in the first 10 years. One, a 23 year old, died in his first year as pastor to a heart attack. 

After 10 years, Rev. Semler was called and the church joined the Evangelical Synod of America and began to stabilize. Rev. Semler served for 10 years until his death and the church added a Sunday school building and pipe organ during this time.

After a couple pastors, Rev. Kern was called in 1876. Under his leadership the church grew considerably. His ministry lasted 30 years and he served as the President of the New York District. During this time a janitor, Sunday school Superintendent, organist, and eventually a young pastor to lead the English service were added. The debate over English or German services caused many rifts during this time.
Various disagreements led to the congregation to divide and start St. Luke's Church in 1897 and after Rev. Kern's resignation led to the starting of Christ's Evangelical Church on W 16th and Sass.

Rev. Eiereman was then called and served until 1918, leading the church through major renovations and the installation of electricity!

Mid-20th Century

Rev. Eiermann helped the church through a season of disorganization and spiritual depression into a season of enthusiasm. Rev. Oberkircher was installed as pastor and served for over twenty years. Updates continued with lighting fixtures being added and our ornate pulpit was installed by Dr. Edwin Jarecki of Philadelphia in memory of his mother. The denomination also went through changes as The Evangelical Synod of North America merged with the Reformed Church in the United States to form The Evangelical and Reformed Church. Our Ninetieth Anniversary History describes the denomination, "The Evangelical and Reformed Church, true to its name, believes in the Bible. It believes that the Bible is the Word of God, that God hath spoken and revealed Himself in His Word and in Jesus Christ the Word made flesh." After Rev. Eiermann's resignation there was a season of pulpit supply until the calling of Rev. Tepas in 1940.

As many churches at the time experienced, Saint Paul's saw great growth in membership following World War II, but also saw many of the German families begin to spread out through the region during an era of suburban sprawl and white flight. The German traditions of the church became more of a history than an identity. The church began a ministry supporting Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Eden Theological Seminary. St. Paul's hosted YMCA Forum Series and participated with Erie churches in voting drives. An Usher's Society was formed with an an annual communion breakfast. There were ministries to support Army Chaplains. Family ministries grew with a Boy Scouts Troop, Junior Choir, Married Couples Club, and Family Nights. In the 50s, this all led to a need for our Sunday School building to be expanded. Other innovations included a steam furnace and radio broadcasts. Rev Kratz lead through much of this season from 1951-1961. His slogan was "TEACHING-REACHING-PREACHING".  He was elected a member of the General Council of the denomination as it was forming.

In 1957, The Evangelical and Reformed Churches saw another merge, this time with the Congregational Christian Churches and Afro Christian Convention to become the United Church of Christ. The churches remain independent and autonomous, with a shared belief in the divinity of Christ and the Trinity. Beliefs otherwise vary greatly with the motto from John 17:21, "That they all be one." Many still hold to historic confessions, in either from the Puritan Congregationalist Churches or German Reformed Churches.

Late 20th Century and Today

From 1961-1987, Rev. Kneller and Rev. Hershberger each had tenures that lasted over 11 years apiece. The church choir was a strong feature of the church during much of this time. Rev. Kneller was very civic minded and involved in community affairs, sometimes even to the chagrin of some members and eventually leading to his resignation. The church was smaller by the 1980s after shifts in population to the suburbs and failed urban renewal projects. St. Paul's worked in cooperative parish ministries with Community United, First Baptist, and First Christian Churches. Church improvements included a restoration and relocation of the chapel to the second floor and handicap accessibility projects.

Pastor Edmunds came in 1987 and served until 1999. He was particularly loved for his work with the young people in the church. During this time the church began hosting The Upper Room in a co-sponsorship with St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. The Upper Room has been housed in the top floor of the Education building since 1995 as a refuge to unhoused neighbors. 

In the 21st Century, there has been been interim pastors and pulpit supply. Rev. Swope had been attending St. Paul's for a season, ended up providing pulpit supply at times over three years, and was eventually called to the the pastor from 2012-19. In 2018, St. Paul's began renting the church facilities to a downtown church plant called The Cross with an evening service. The Cross also hosts short term mission trips, as our zip code became the one with the lowest median household income in the nation. As St. Paul's has had a storied history in downtown Erie throughout many changes in the community, The Cross has been a younger congregation with a particular passion for the poverty in the community now. In 2022, St. Paul's called the pastor of The Cross to be their own pastor and the congregation began joining St. Paul's in worship.

As much as things have changed, you still find a faithful witness to Christ today! Even the founding members would find a familiar song in "Stille Nacht" (German for "Silent Night") sung to candle light during a Christmas Eve Service.