Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Minneapolis’ oldest Lutheran congregation has “good genes”

At 150, Trinity First Lutheran is also the oldest LCMS congregation in Minnesota

Trinity First Lutheran Church is what you would call a survivor. The congregation once thrived, and now hangs on — some would say just barely — in a rough south Minneapolis neighborhood with diminished resources.

But the plucky 150-year-old parish, planted at 11th Avenue and 19th Street, continues to do ministry in and with its near neighborhood with tenacity. And, in the best tradition of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the congregation still operates a parish school.

Trinity First’s Congregational president prepared the following reflection for Metro Lutheran, on the significance of the oldest Lutheran congregation in Minneapolis and the oldest LCMS parish in the state of Minnesota.

By Katherine Doepke

Trinity First Lutheran Church of Minneapolis was planted in 1856 — and based on a rumor at that! Word came to Michigan that there were two possibilities for mission work in Minnesota: first, among the Chippewa Indians; and, second, among some German Lutherans, new immigrants to the territory that would in time become the State of Minnesota.

Pastor Ferdinand Sievers was sent to investigate and is considered the congregation’s founding “mission developer.” Now, 150 years later, Pastor Jacob Gillard is the latest missionary to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on another frontier: postmodern culture in 21st century America.
The first resident pastor, the Rev. John Horst was installed three years after Sievers’ August 1856 visit. That same year Trinity First Lutheran School was established. The importance of Christian education continues to this day with a thriving multi-ethnic school — a vital asset indeed.

According to religious demographer John Mayer of cityvisiontc.org, the Phillips Neighborhood (the 1.6 square-mile neighborhood where Trinity First is located) is the most diverse single neighborhood in the entire country. God has brought the nations to our doorstep.

Trinity First has responded by seeking a new vision: serving as an Urban Mission Center for reaching the many nations in our midst. As the only LCMS church and school in the heart of Minneapolis, our site is crucial and our ministry is vital.

The vision of ministry for Trinity First has taken dramatic steps in faith over the last decade, especially since the arrival of Pastor Gillard. Grandmother Trinity First has changed her comfortable shoes for New Balance running shoes. The old Trinity First has been supplanted with a new kind of church. New ministries in the past 10 years include:

* A street ministry, begun by the Rev. Tom Gundermann, who served as Missionary-at-large, that led to a Sunday night neighbor-hood worship gathering. (This work was made possible by a strategic partnership with the Minnesota South District and other LCMS congregations.)

* Adding a Special Education teacher and making a descriptive video to promote the Christian day school.
n Using a monthly summer garage sale ministry to meet new neighbors and initiate evangelism calls.

* Pastor Francis Stephanos has launched Addis Hewot Ministries (it means “New Life” in Amharic, a language spoken in East Africa) to reach Ethiopians.

* Starting a Muslim ministry, led by Community Teacher Kevin [last name withheld, by request], among Somalis from East Africa living in our neighborhood.

The Grandmother must have good genes, because she’s still reproducing and bearing daughter congregations! If the above weren’t enough, the following ministries are also in various stages of development: Vintage, Hispanic, and Tibetan.

All the sons and daughters of the Mother Church are invited to celebrate with us throughout this 150th Anniversary year. From January through July the seven former pastors who are still living have returned, one each month, to take a turn preaching and reminiscing on their ministries at Trinity First.

For more information about Trinity First, visit trinityfirst.org or phone (612) 870-9487.