St. Paul’s Church was organized on Nov.11, 1842, when eighteen members met in the home of Anton Friederich Bade for the purpose of founding a congregation, which would be truly Lutheran, in both name and spirit. These eighteen formerly had been members of Zion’s Evangelical Congregation, but had left it and followed their pastor, the Rev. Johann Georg Kunz, who had been discharged by Zion because he had urged that congregation to substitute the name “Lutheran” for “United Protestant.”
Services were held in a rented room of Evangelical Seminary in University Park near the corner of Meridian and New York Streets. For two years, the name of the new congregation was “German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana,” but on June 5, 1844, “St. Paul’s” was added. This name was maintained until 1921, when the word “German” was omitted from the official seal.
From the very beginning, a Christian day school was established. The members voted that the pastor teach four days a week. Classes were held in the pastor’s home. He also was busy preaching and doing mission work in the country around Indianapolis.
The need for a church building soon became apparent. The congregation bought a tract of land on Alabama Street, one-half block south of Washington Street at a cost of $300. In 1844, ground was broken for the first church building, a structure 30 by 50 feet and 16 feet from floor to ceiling. The cost was $1,630.12. To the pioneers this was quite a sum, considering that their daily wages averaged from 37.5 to 50 cents. Four hundred were present for the dedication of the church on Pentecost Sunday, 1845.
In 1847, the congregation was incorporated. The incorporators were: Ludwig Meier, Christian Buchhorn, Charles Hederhorst, Ferdinande Smith, George Smith, Gottlieb Kellermeir, and Charles Yobbe. During the same year, the first school building was erected at a cost of $125.
In 1850, Pastor Kunz left for Elk Grove, Illinois. A few months later, Rev. Carl Frinke, a charter member of the Missouri Synod organized in 1847, was installed as pastor. In 1852, St. Paul’s joined the Missouri Synod. A new constitution was adopted in 1853. In 1855, the Central District of the Missouri Synod was organized and held its first convention as guest of St. Paul’s.
The growth of the congregation was such that a larger house of worship was needed. A better school building and a regular teacher were still more necessary. Accordingly, a new schoolhouse was erected in 1853 and Andreas Zagel was called as regular teacher and organist. Instead of enlarging the old church the congregation decided to build a new one and for this purpose purchased a tract of land in 1859 on the corner of East and Georgia Streets. Here a two-story school was built and a second teacher called. In the following year, 1860, work was begun on a new church, which was completed in 1861, and dedicated November 3.
In 1868, Rev. Frinke accepted a call to Baltimore, Maryland. The Rev. Christian Hochstetter, who later wrote a history of the Missouri Synod, was installed. In 1869, the congregation purchased its own parsonage on the corner of Ohio and East Streets, the future site of Trinity Lutheran Church. A year later, the cemetery was bought and dedicated on August 1, 1870.
The time was fast approaching when St. Paul’s would have to make a division in the congregation. The growth of the city had brought many railroad lines into it. Children from the northern section attending our school were in peril when crossing these tracks. In order to eliminate this danger the most feasible plan seemed to be to divide the congregation into two districts. This was done in 1872. Two school houses were erected, one on Market Street and the other on a large site purchased at the corner of New Jersey and McCarty Streets. A year later separate congregational meetings were provided for each district, and in 1874, the North Side organized as a separate congregation under the name of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. They dedicated their new church building at Ohio and East Streets in 1876.
In 1877, Rev. Hochstetter accepted a call to Frohna, Missouri and was replaced by Rev. C. C. Schmidt from Elyria, Ohio. On April 18, 1882, the congregation suffered what at first seemed a severe setback when its house of worship burned to the ground. At first, the members seemed paralyzed and completely discouraged, but soon they set about with new zeal, planning another church, which was designed by renowned, Indianapolis architect D. A. Boehlen and Son. A key element of the new building was the Pulpit, Altar and statues of the Evangelists, which had been saved from the fire. The Altar was modified and enlarged for the new structure by the addition of the center portion, which included an oil painting of the Garden of Gethsemane. Pledges, which in most cases meant personal sacrifices, were made willingly, and by July 22, 1883, a new edifice, our present church, was dedicated at McCarty and South New Jersey Streets at a cost of $35,000. This was not all of the building program, however. When soon after the school again became crowded and a fourth teacher was added, a fourth classroom became necessary. A new parsonage was also built between the church and school about this time. In 1883, the Lutheran Orphans’ Home Association was organized by members from Trinity and St. Paul’s.
In 1887, Pastor Schmidt accepted a call to St. Louis. When the Rev. F. Wambsganss of Allegheny, Pennsylvania accepted the call in January 1888, St. Paul’s congregation numbered about 2,000 souls as the German immigration and the numerical growth of the congregation reached its peak. Of these 215 were voting members, and 367 children attended the school (in four classrooms!). To relieve this congestion the congregation built a school in the so-called mission district, east of Shelby Street at Pleasant and Spruce Streets, and called Rev. Paul Eickstaedt as teacher and assistant pastor in 1891. By this time, Rev. Kunz had again moved to Indianapolis, and assisted in the ministerial duties without pay.
In 1899, the veteran Pastor Kunz was taken away from the flock he had helped to gather after reaching the notable age of 86 years. He was buried in the cemetery at Zion Lutheran Church in New Palestine. When the mission school was abandoned, a fifth class was organized and in 1899 a sixth class was added.
The history of the congregation would not be complete without mentioning the chimes. They were presented in the years from 1883 to 1900. Three of the bells were given by the young men of the congregation and the other ten by Mr. William Wellmann. The largest of the group bears for inscription the words found in Ephesians 5: 14. One of the group is the so-called “Luther Bell.” According to the specifications, it is to be rung on Luther's birthday, on the anniversary of his death, and on Reformation Day.
In 1901 the Rev. Theo. Schurdel was installed as second pastor. Soon after, the organization of the present Emmaus congregation was begun. Pastor Schurdel was given charge of all duties pertaining to this new field. Services were held jointly in St. Paul’s for a time. The name “Emmaus” was adopted in May 1903, and the organization of the congregation completed in 1904. $17,000 was given to Emmaus by St. Paul’s for the erection of their church and school.
In 1902, English evening services were introduced on the second and fourth Sunday’s of the month. A year later Rev. Wambsganss accepted a call to Columbus, Indiana. The vacancy was filled by Rev. R. D. Biedermann of Kendallville, Indiana on May 17, 1903. A month later, a resolution provided for the publication of a church paper. The course of study at the school was extended to include eight years. Children were expected to finish the full course or be 14 years old before being eligible for confirmation.
In 1905, the interior of the church was redecorated and electric light and steam heat were installed.
In 1907, Christian Buchhorn, the last remaining member of the incorporators of St. Paul’s died and was given a special burial service. By this time, members of the congregation had moved farther and farther south and it seemed advisable to locate the school more in the center of the congregation. The “Stilz place” was purchased in 1910. However, nothing came of the plan and the land was sold.
In 1915, Pastor Biedermann accepted a call to become President of the seminary at Springfield, Illinois. Pastor R. F. Zimmermann was called. The German language was dropped from the school in 1918. In 1920, Teachers O. E. Schroeter and C. R. Nennert were installed on the same Sunday. In 1921, President Biedermann of Springfield died and was buried in the Lutheran cemetery in Indianapolis. Minutes began to be recorded in German and English and an English seal was purchased.
On January 1, 1922, Pastor Zimmermann resigned for health reasons. Rev. Hans M. Zorn was installed July 16, 1922. Shortly thereafter, a Sunday School and Bible class were organized with an initial enrollment of 234. Sunday evening services were resumed. During that summer the interior of the church was again redecorated, new art glass set in the windows (donated by the Ladies Aid), and the outside of the building repainted and the school and parsonage renovated at an approximate cost of $9,000. As the congregation celebrated its eightieth anniversary, after having branched off twice and lost members to other sister congregations, St. Paul’s had 1,300 souls, 195 voting members, and 105 children in school. English services were offered every Sunday morning, with German services twice a month.
In 1923, Teacher A. E. R. Mueller was installed. On October 17, 1926, the new school and recreation building at Weghorst and Wright Streets were dedicated. The cost was approximately $90,000.
In 1930, Pastor Zorn, a member of Synod’s Board for Foreign Missions, left for eight months to inspect the India mission field. Missionary Erwin Meinzen “supplied” the pulpit. Paul VonDielingen, a son of the congregation assisted with pastoral duties while a seminarian in 1939 and 1940. Rev. Frederick Markworth, upon completing 50 years in the ministry, much of it at Zion Lutheran Church in New Palestine, began serving as assistant pastor at St. Paul’s in 1940 and continued until his death in 1942.
In 1942, as part of the Centennial celebration, the church received a new roof, organ, wiring, lights, fresco, altar brasses and vestments, chancel furnishings, and carpet at a cost of $20,000. All were fully paid for at the time of the celebration and, by the end of the year, the debt on the school was paid in full, leaving the congregation debt free.
In 1944, now Doctor of Divinity, H. M. Zorn was again granted a leave of absence to inspect Synod’s mission fields in India. The Rev. Kurt M. Zorn, home on furlough from India, was engaged to perform the pastoral duties during his father’s absence and to serve as assistant as long as he would be available. He remained until 1946. September 11, 1945, Pastor H. M Zorn, D.D. tendered his resignation as pastor due to advanced age and health. He was asked to become an associate pastor of St. Paul’s and did so until his death in 1959. During these years, he assisted by visiting the sick, shut-ins, and conducting services in German.
Rev. Theodore C. Meibohm was installed May 12, 1946. In 1947, a constitution committee was appointed to revise St. Paul’s Constitution. The committee studied a number of Synodically approved constitutions of large congregations. A revised constitution was finally adopted in 1950. In April 1947 St. Paul’s congregation and the five participating congregations transferred 1/7th of all real estate of the Concordia Cemetery Association to Calvary Lutheran Church. Several months later, St. Paul’s ratified, along with other congregations of the Federation, an expenditure of $40,000 for the building of Our Savior Lutheran Church. The congregation further resolved to contribute $1.00 per year per member to the Our Savior Building Fund for a period of five years.
During the 1946-47, school year a fourth classroom was added to St. Paul’s School and a hot lunch program was inaugurated. In September 1950, Calvary built their own school making it unnecessary for their pupils to attend St. Paul’s School as they had done in the past.
In 1951, a public address system was installed in the church and an oil furnace was installed to replace the coal furnace. The church interior was repainted. That year also saw the beginning of the tape recording program for shut-ins.
In 1952, Pastor Meibohm was granted a peaceful release to accept the position of Executive Secretary of the Lutheran Children’s Aid Society of Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Zorn assumed the duties of acting pastor until the installation of Rev. Russel W. Harnack October 19, 1952. In the following year, a kindergarten was added to the school. During this period, the school building was extensively remodeled as part of the 110th Anniversary celebration of the school. In 1954 Mr. Arnold E. R. Mueller, who had served since 1923 as teacher and organist, died suddenly.
The St. Paul’s Scholarship Fund was established in 1957. This is to provide financial assistance to students from St. Paul’s who enroll in Lutheran Synodical Seminaries, Normal School, or Deaconess Training Institutions and who are preparing for the ministerial, teaching, or deaconess profession.
A Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) was formed in 1958 to consider the future needs of expansion and/or relocation of the congregation. A survey of the congregation was made as to age of membership, present location of membership and trend of membership movement. Using this survey, the LRPC recommended that the congregation relocate their present physical properties and negotiate with sister congregations for purposes of amalgamation. After a special meeting of the congregation, however, it was resolved that amalgamation should not be considered. Instead, the relocation of the present properties was to be pursued.
At a special Voter’s Assembly, August 1959, the LRPC gave detailed information of two sites available for relocation. It was agreed to purchase a seventeen-acre tract on Gray Road north of Southport Road. In June 1962, $11,500 was authorized for the building of an enclosed shelter area and any further improvements to make the property suitable for congregational fellowship and recreational activities. The service building was completed in 1963.
On June 19, 1962, Rev Harnack announced the acceptance of a call to Hickory, North Carolina. After a vacancy of several months, Rev. Wilbert H. Koenig was installed March 10, 1963. Near the end of 1963, a new parsonage on South Sherman Drive was purchased. Early in 1964, the old parsonage as well as the double next door were razed and the ground leveled making way for a parking lot.
In 1967, Rev. Koenig accepted a call. The School Boards of Emmaus and St. Paul’s began holding joint meetings, discussing the feasibility of consolidating the schools. The first step was the consolidation of the bus routes. As part of the preparation for the 125th Anniversary celebration, the church received new carpeting, repairing and painting of the windows, and refinished doors. New and additional fluorescent lights were installed at the school and the stairways were covered with safety treads.
On July 27, 1967, Mr. C. R. Nennert, who had tirelessly served St. Paul’s for 40 years as teacher and in many other capacities until his retirement in 1960, was called to his eternal rest.
Rev. William Thurber was installed June 30, 1968. In 1969, St. Paul’s and Emmaus consolidated their schools into Lutheran Memorial School. In 1972, Rev. Thurber was given a peaceful release.
Rev. William P. Henline was installed October 6, 1974. At his suggestion, the Planning and Research Committee was formed to study the congregation’s present status and its future direction. As a result, in 1978, a chapel building, which had been used by Ascension Lutheran Church, Beech Grove, Indiana before their new church was built, was moved to the Gray Road property. The service building was connected to the chapel and remodeled to include four classrooms for the Sunday School. Regular weekly services have been held there since that time.
St. Paul’s withdrew from Lutheran Memorial School in 1979 and adopted a tuition assistance program, which enabled members to send their children to the Lutheran grade school of their choice. The school building was sold in 1980 and the church office was moved to Gray Road.
In 1981, Pastor Henline’s health forced him to retire from the ministry. As an outgrowth of the Planning and Research Committee, on July 25, 1982, ground was broken for a new worship and multipurpose building which has come to be known as the Worship Center. The building housed a large worship/fellowship room, church offices, conference/choir room , kitchen and storage space. During the pastoral vacancy, the congregation received valuable assistance from the vicarage of the now Rev. Kevin Cramm and frequent guest pastor Rev. Karl Lepper.
On November 27, 1983, Rev. Mark A. Niemoeller was installed as pastor. A preschool for three and four year olds was offered in 1986 and 1987 under the direction of Mrs. Marilyn Niemoeller.
In May, 1991, as St. Paul’s approached its sesqui-centennial year, a Building Committee was authorized to begin planning the addition of an Education wing to the Worship Center at the Gray Road site. In September, the preschool was re-opened, under the direction Mrs. Barbara Sorgius, using the worship/fellowship room. Ground was broken for the new wing in November 1991 and the preschool was able to move into its new quarters in April 1992. The addition includes a large preschool classroom, a “great room” which can be split into two classrooms or used for large meetings, a conference room, nursery, Ladies Aid room, Youth room, library, archives, and new restrooms. The Lord blessed our Christian Education efforts with such demand that, in September 1992, we converted the conference room to a classroom and opened the 1992-93 school year with three classes, three-year-old preschool, four-year-old preschool, and Kindergarten.