St. Pauls Evangelical Lutheran Church
San Francisco, CA Biographies

The Rev. J. M. Buehler, graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary of St. Louis, Missouri, landed in San Francisco on the 25th of August, 1860, having been ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other states to take up the work of gathering the Lutherans of San Francisco into a congregation. His work was chiefly among the Lutheran people speaking the German language, although he was also prepared to serve others, Scandinavians, for instance, the majority of whom are of the Lutheran faith.

On September 2, 1860, Rev. Buehler held his first Lutheran service in San Francisco in a vacant church building on Greenwich street. Then, on November 8, 1860, the first Lutheran congregation in this city was organized, this having been a German speaking congregation. The Rev. J. M. Buehler was formally elected and called to serve this congregation, which was named the First German Evangelical Lutheran Church.

When, in the year 1867, the congregation made certain demands of its pastor which he could not conscientiously fulfill according to the doctrinal principles and teachings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rev. Buehler resigned as pastor of this congregation and on May 17, 1867, he organized the German Evangelical Lutheran St. Paulus Church, with a small number of members of his former congregation who were anxious to organize a church on strictly Lutheran Confessional standards and principles.

Services were held regularly in Congress Hall on Bush street, but when the attendance increased to such an extent that this meeting place proved to be too small, the church rented Dashaway Hall on Post street, where services were held for two years. In 1869, a vacant Presbyterian Church on Mission street between Fifth and Sixth streets was purchased for twenty four thousand dollars. This church served as a place of worship for twenty four years. Most of the candidates for the holy ministry who were called to serve the Lutheran Church on the Pacific coast during this period were ordained in this church, which became a landmark in the history of the Lutheran Church on the Pacific coast.

In 1879, an assistant pastor was called, and he organized a congregation in Oakland, California, in the year 1882, with a nucleus of members released from the St. Paulus Church. This church is the Zion Lutheran, now situated at Twelfth and Myrtle streets in Oakland.

In October, 1886, another assistant pastor was called, the Rev. J. H. Schroeder, who labored in the Mission district of San Francisco and organized the Lutheran St. John's Church, now situated on Twenty second street near Howard, and served by the Rev. Arthur Bohm.

In 1887, the pastors and congregations affiliated with the church organized the California and Oregon District of the Missouri Synod, the organization having taken place in the old church on Mission street. At this time the church had a Sunday school numbering about eight hundred children.

In 1890, the piece of property one hundred and twenty by one hundred thirty seven and a half feet at the corner of Eddy and Gough streets was purchased for thirty five thousand dollars, and on February 11, 1894, the present church building was dedicated, with a seating capacity of one thousand. In the fire and earthquake of 1906, the church was miraculously saved from destruction. The fire approached to a point within two blocks on the east (Van Ness avenue) and within two blocks on the south (Golden Gate avenue). About one half of the church members lost their homes in the fire, but the church was only slightly damaged.

In gratitude to God for His divine protection, St. Paulus Church offered its spacious social rooms and school rooms to the city as an emergency hospital, and during the two months in which the church was used by the Red Cross and volunteer physicians more than three thousand patients were provided with beds, and more than ten thousand received medical attention in this building. Jefferson Square, the refugee camp, adjoins the church.

Numerically, the church never recovered from the loss of members due to the fire, since many of its former members moved to distant parts of the city. The church was active in missionary work, however, and on November 18, 1900, opened a Sunday school in the Richmond district. Zion Lutheran Church, now situated at Ninth and Anza streets, was organized in 1903 with a large number of members released from St. Paulus Church. It is now served by the Rev. M. H. Liebe.

Christ Church, situated at Fifth and Irving streets, in the Sunset district, organized in 1913, and now served by the Rev. T. C. Pieper, was also the result of direct missionary activity of St. Paulus Church, and the nucleus of its membership was secured by transfer from St. Paulus congregation.

Bethel Lutheran Church, France and Vienna streets, now in charge of the Rev. H. Schroeder (Excelsior district), and Calvary Lutheran Church, Faxon and DeMontford avenues (Ingleside), and a mission in the Marina district are also among the Lutheran churches supported by St. Paulus Church. The present pastor of St. Paulus Church has also been conducting services in San Anselmo since November, 1930, and these are the only Lutheran services held in Marin county, California, at this time.

St. Paulus Church has had three pastors during the sixty four years of its existence. The Rev. J. M. Buehler served the congregation from 1867 until 1901. The Rev. G. A. Bernthal was pastor in charge from 1902 until 1928, when the present pastor, the Rev. G. E. Kirchner, after serving as assistant pastor from 1920 until 1928, in charge of the English work, was called as regular pastor.

Services are conducted every Sunday in English at 9:30 A. M. and in German at 11 A. M., the attendance usually being about equally divided between the English and the German services. The Sunday school has an enrollment of over two hundred children. Since 1872, the church has also been conducting a Christian parochial school (accredited). At present it is attended by sixty five children, has eight grades, and the teachers are Professor Frederick Gruber, principal, and Miss Emma Heilemann. The church also owns and operates a school bus for the transportation of the children.

The Ladies' Aid Society of the church, organized in 1869, has always been a very active body in the church. Its object is to lend a helping hand in beautifying and improving the church property and assisting in the charitable endeavors of the congregation. Its president is Mrs. A. Rehmstedt. There are also three societies of young people in the congregation, affiliated with the Walther League, an international organization of young people's societies in the Lutheran Churches of the Missouri Synod. St. Paulus Evangelical Lutheran Church is now a member of the California and Nevada District of the Missouri Synod.

The History of San Francisco, California
Lewis Francis Byington, Supervising Editor
Oscar Lewis, Associate Editor
The S. J. Clark Publishing Company
Chicago-San Francisco 1931

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