The once small flock of Lutherans in Baltimore had developed into a sizable congregation for which the old house of worship was becoming too small in spite of the large addition which had been built in 1785. The ever increasing number of baptisms at Zion seemed to insure the future strength of the Lutheran community. Every year, more than one hundred children were baptized into the church by Pastor Kurtz.
Altogether, a proud record of 1,364 baptisms, were recorded within a period of ten years. Would there be room in Zion for all those whom he baptized? Pastor Kurtz was deeply concerned about those who would form Zion’s congregation in less than a generation’s time. Under a list of baptisms which he entered in the register of the church, he wrote this prayer: “O Arch-Shepherd Jesus! Receive all these souls into Thy flock, and keep them therein unto eternal salvation, for the sake of Thy death! This is the prayer of their teacher, Daniel Kurtz.”
In the following years, he did not rest. His was the dream of a church which would not only be large enough for the congregation of his days, but also for that of generations to come. Knowing well the material limitations of his flock, he was patient in preparing his ambitious building program. True, a few of the members were quite wealthy, but most of them had little money to spare for anything apart from securing a moderate degree of prosperity for their own families. There were some outstanding businessmen of the city who were active members of his church: Philip Myers, a banker; Johann Machenheimer, the architect and builder; Johann Strobel and Henry Saumening, brewers and bottlers; Frederick Graf, a maker of leather goods; Frederick William Brune, J. H. Heidelbach, Daniel Diffenderfer and Peter Sauerwein, who were all engaged in wholesale and retail merchandising, and Peter Frick, a member of Baltimore’s first City Council and attorney-at-law.
The pastor, however, knew that the building of a church could not be .undertaken with two handfuls of well-to-do men alone, but would require the support and interest of the entire congregation. He preached to his congregation of the beautiful house of Zion and prayed to his Heavenly Father for His blessing.
His prayers were answered, and his preaching fell on fertile ground. On September 15, 1806, the Church Council announced its decision to build a new church and called on the congregation: “As every member of this congregation will easily realize the necessity of a new church edifice, the Council again appeals to the liberality of the members who have proved their willingness to help on previous occasions. Donations from other friends of church institutions will be accepted with thanks and with a prayer that God may bless them abundantly in return. If this building should be begun the subscriptions may be paid in four installments.” The subscription list was circulated, and in less than a year’s time 273 individuals pledged $12,559.60, practically every communing member having answered the appeal of the Council. In the same year, the lot on which the church was to be erected was bought for $8,600.
A busy time began for the pastor and Council of Zion. The architects, George Rohrbach and Johann Machenheimer, both church members, who were entrusted with the design of the church and the supervision of the numerous craftsmen who were constructing it, had to be consulted, informed and supervised. Early in 1807, the cornerstone was laid.
The short square tower marking the Gay Street end of the sturdy brick structure contained a simple bell which would call the flock of Zion to service on happy and sad occasions. There were two entrances—one on Gay Street, and the other one on the south side of the building. Both had rounded Roman arches, while the windows were pointed in the Gothic style.
On October 9, 1808, the great day had come of which the pastor had dreamed for a long time. The program of the service of dedication has been preserved. Pastor Kurtz proudly lead the guest ministers, followed by the Church Council, into the new house of worship. Specially written texts adapted to melodies of Lutheran hymns and an Ode of Praise exuberant with joy upon Zion’s contemplation were used for the singing of the congregation and of the choir during the three services on the day of dedication. The Church Council directed an appeal to the members, which, besides expressing overwhelming joy, revealed deep concern about the financial obligations in the future. “The Church Council rejoices with you on this day and exclaims with deeply moved hearts: Behold the handiwork of the Lord! Now German Zion stands before us in all its beauty! The Lord made you willing to contribute your share—you have done much, but you will certainly not hold back your generous hands, as the Lord has helped you so far. We are sure that you will reveal your joy in our Zion also in the future by increasing your contributions according to your abilities. We are firmly convinced that you will offer your gift generously today to the glory of Him to whom we are indebted for all that we possess. We still owe much, but we do not fear. We know your love, your patriotism, and your truly Christian attitude towards this House. “One more thing dearest friends! You love your forefathers, you love the evangelical teachings; the truth of salvation as you learned it in your mother tongue is especially important to you. Do you want to do less for your children than your parents have done for you when they brought you up in their mother tongue? No! Without doubt you will not let that happen. Do not rest until your school affairs are on a foundation which will assure that this House also remains a House of God for your posterity, where the preaching will be in German and where the name of the Lord will forever be praised in this language.”
There Zion stood and for the first time opened its gates to the congregation whose sacrifices had made the building possible.