German Lutherans began settling in Baltimore Town shortly after it was laid out in 1730.
Some of the first Germans in Baltimore had come straight from the Old Country, others from the German settlements of Pennsylvania, especially from nearby York County. For the most part they were pious people.
As with all the other settlements of Germans in colonial days, devotional life was, at first, centered in the home. Many had brought their Bibles and hymnals with them from Germany. Several of these original well-thumbed volumes remain in the library of Zion Church.
Their devotional books were read in the family circles of the first Lutherans. As had always been the custom in German families, the father would lead the prayers. Soon several families began to gather together for devotions, and their meetings became regular. The humble dwellings of the townsfolk were the first places of worship.
Legally, the position of Lutherans and those belonging to the Reformed tradition was difficult in Baltimore. Maryland was a colony of the British crown and the Church of England alone was established by law and supported from the public treasury. There was no restriction on founding any other religious body in the Maryland colony, but the tax for the support of the Anglican Church had to be paid regardless. These laws eventually faded into non-enforcement, but created difficulties between groups of early Christians in the area.
The Lutherans in Baltimore thus belonged legally to the Anglican St. Paul’s parish. In about 1750, they briefly held their worship in St. Paul’s Church together with their Reformed brethren. The arrangement did not last long.
The Baltimore Germans had almost no access to their Mother Church. Their need for ministry lead to their being abused by “itinerant preachers of bad reputation and conduct” on several occasions. Reportedly, several de-frocked ministers from Europe and vagabonds pretending to be clergy misrepresented themselves to the German Lutherans, taking advantage of their good nature and generosity before abandoning them. The Baltimore Germans needed a minister they could trust.
There were many Lutheran congregations in the country pleading for the services of a pastor. Only a few groups in Pennsylvania had consolidated to carry on a regular existence as Lutheran Churches. Untiring ministers were constantly roaming four or five counties in order to keep the congregations together until ministers should come from the Mother Church in Germany to take over these charges.
The faithful Lutherans of Baltimore could not offer much to their first pastor, the Reverend John George Barger, who for three consecutive years came down from Pennsylvania six times a year, administering the spiritual rites in preaching and sacraments, for five pounds a year. Up until the time of the first congregation, the Lutherans and Reformed had banded together. In 1755 all those among the Germans whose faith was founded on the “Augsburg Confession” formed the “Evangelical Lutheran Congregation at Baltimore Town”.