When Pastor Daniel Kurtz led the people of Zion into the new century, the pioneer days for the Lutheran Church in Baltimore were finally over. Sons had taken the places of the founding fathers. Emigration from Germany suddenly died down to a trickle as a result of the European wars. The city of Baltimore had grown to more than 40,000 inhabitants with an export trade volume of more than $15,000,000 in merchandise per year, thus becoming the third largest port of the young American Republic. Zion had grown with its city.
In 1794, the pastor had recorded 162 communicants; in 1795, there were 283; in 1804, Zion Church had 318 communing members. Within one decade, the membership had doubled. In a single communion service, on Whitsunday of 1807, 195 communicants were counted. 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.
On June 5, 1803, Zion was again host to the Synod of Pennsylvania for its annual meeting. Again the pastor had to ask the other two German denominations in Baltimore to extend their hospitality to the synodal delegates, since his own church was too small to hold the meetings of the clergy and lay delegates of the Lutheran Church from far and near. Although the Reformed and the United Brethren gladly cooperated, Pastor Kurtz would much rather have received the leaders of his church in a new and larger Zion.
Early in 1807, the cornerstone was laid. The annual synodal meeting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had to be attended. Besides all regular services, Pastor Kurtz solemnized 64 marriages, officiated at 57 funerals and baptized 150 children during that year. All the work culminated in 1808. A class of 43 confirmands was to be accepted into the communion of the church. The number of communicants increased to 313.
The Synod at Lebanon in Pennsylvania required his presence because he was to be elected secretary of the Synod for the year. He had to travel alone to the convention, since all the money was needed for the building fund. In previous years a member of the Church Council had always accompanied the pastor to represent Zion at the synodal meetings. Pastor Kurtz’s regular duties in those days were in themselves of considerable dimensions. Many members lived at distant points. Since there were hardly any means of public conveyance, the pastor had to ride on horseback to visit the sick who lived outside of the city.
The work on the new church was nearing completion when fall arrived. The organ was transferred from the old church, adorned with wood carvings, and installed in the new building. The red brick structure with the white trimmings was ready for use on October 9, 1808.
Pastor Daniel Kurtz’s work as a spiritual leader in the largest city of Maryland did not remain unechoed on the outside. In 1816, the University of Pennsylvania bestowed upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity for his outstanding work as a clergyman. He was the first Lutheran pastor in Maryland ever to be thus distinguished. His excellent articles on Justification in the Evan-gelisches Magazin found wide acclaim. Thus acknowledged as a man qualified for leadership, he could begin to reach out successfully for an active part in the reorganization of the Lutheran Church as a whole, and pave the way for an end to the spiritual deterioration which had befallen many congregations in the country. He kept in close contact with the other Lutheran pastors in Maryland and northern Virginia, where the congregations had grown in numbers and the particular interest of the churches required a strong organization to prevent them from losing their denominational consciousness. Special conferences, although they were held occasionally in that region until 1817, could not perform the mission that a regular Synod would fulfill.
Most of the conferences of the Mother Synod of Pennsylvania were held at distant places. The time was ripe for a separate organization for the churches in Maryland and Virginia. Pastor Kurtz, who was instrumental in the preliminary steps to this end, wanted to see the new Synod created in full harmony with the Pennsylvania Synod, of which he had been a faithful member ever since he entered the ministry. The simultaneous creation of a General Synod which would unite all bodies of the Lutheran Church in America seemed the best guarantee that the formation of the Maryland Synod would not be divisive or schismatic.
On Trinity Sunday, June 6, 1819, the Seventy-second Convention of the Pennsylvania Synod met in Zion Church in Baltimore. For the first time, new Zion received the leaders and delegates of the church. The attending pastors and lay representatives assembled in the parsonage and, led by the host pastor, went in procession to the church. The main business on the agenda of this meeting was to act on the proposed formation of a General Synod. The Synods of North Carolina and New York had requested to become members of such a central body. A committee of six was appointed, two of them being from Zion, Pastor Daniel Kurtz and John Schorr, a member of Zion’s Church Council. Their draft of a plan for the creation of the General Synod met with the approval of a majority of the delegates. The walls of new Zion resounded with hymns of praise and gratitude. Now Pastor Kurtz and his co-workers could proceed to rally the Lutheran churches in Maryland and Virginia into a separate synod, which would subsequently become a member of the General Synod.
On October 11, 1820, the clergy and lay delegates of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of Maryland and Virginia assembled in Grace Church at Winchester to organize their Synod. Pastor Kurtz was elected its first president. He occupied that high office for four consecutive terms and for thirty-two more years continued to be a member and advisor, always being considered “The Patriarch of the Synod.”
In the same year, the General Synod became a reality at a conference in Hagerstown. This first national body of the Lutherans in America also chose the Pastor of Zion Church as its first president and twice thereafter re-elected him. Thus his untiring work was crowned. Suddenly Zion, once a little charge which had to plead hard for the occasional services of itinerant ministers in order to hear the Word of God, had a pulpit and a parsonage of national significance. Zion had reached its zenith. It had become the Mother Church of the Maryland Synod, and the quiet, pious Doctor of Divinity in the Baltimore parsonage was the president of the national body which at that time united nearly 45,000 Lutherans on the American continent.
While Pastor J. Daniel Kurtz was leading Zion to the height of its importance, the congregation was shaken by disturbances caused by the German and English language issues. Every church founded by immigrants from non-English-speaking countries sooner or later in its history has been confronted with the problem of introducing the English language without denying the use of the old tongue to the services for those members who have not yet, or will never, acquire a command of the English language.
If the German Lutheran congregation had heeded the far-sighted advice of its elders, Charles Wiesenthal and George Lindenberger, who as early as 1771, had advocated the tolerance of the English language, at least for the coming generations, the language transition would have taken place through a slow process of evolution. The unique location of Zion, however, in one of the nation’s largest immigration ports, contributed largely to the fact that German remained the only language of preaching and teaching at Zion for many generations, in fact, until the First World War. This exclusive use of the German language was bought at a high price—a price which seemed so high to many members of Zion Church in the first decades of the 19th century that a conflict ensued which finally ended only after a pitiful period of strife and the loss of many a faithful parishioner.
In order to accommodate those members who could not understand German, he asked his nephew, the Rev. Benjamin Kurtz, to become his assistant at Zion. The young clergyman, who was perfectly bilingual, advocated English preaching for the sake of maintaining the ranks of Lutheranism. He left, however, a few months afterwards to accept a call in Hagerstown. His departure meant that again there were no services at Zion in the predominant language of the country.
In May 1816, a renewed request was submitted to the Church Council by the members favoring the English language. As no action ensued, a petition was circulated in the summer of the same year, signed by all those who opposed the continuation of monolingual services. The Church Council remained silent. After several weeks of waiting, an extraordinary meeting was called, which delegated Philip Uhler, Friedrich Leypold, Philip Endler, Daniel Hoffmann and Wilhelm Warner to incorporate the argument in favor of the introduction of English in a printed pamphlet, which was distributed to all members of the congregation. The authors of the pamphlet went on to offer to let those who opposed the English language decide which part of the Sundays should be reserved for the English preaching. They even went so far as to pledge their continued financial support of the German services after they should have found an English Lutheran co-pastor, whom they would pay out of their own pockets, in order to avert a final split of the congregation. Touching and heart-rending was their final word: “If we should not succeed, we shall be forced to leave the congregation against our will, for the sake of the bread and water of life for our children. Your children and children’s children will follow us.”
In 1822, during a temporary absence of Pastor Kurtz, whose synodical activities required much of his attention, a young and attractive German clergyman preached several sermons. The congregation was very much impressed by the Rev. Johann Uhlhorn, who had arrived from Germany a short while before, where he had been assistant pastor of the Lutheran church in Mannheim. The suggestion to offer him the co-pastorate at Zion found general approval. A memorandum signed by many members and “even those who were not members” was submitted to the Church Council. The Council conferred with Pastor Kurtz, who gladly consented to serve the congregation together with Pastor Johann Uhlhorn. The Council voted on this matter but could muster only a majority in favor of calling Pastor Uhlhorn, and not the two-thirds which the constitution required. Despite this short vote, on December 16, 1822, a formal invitation was extended to the Rev. Uhlhorn, which he accepted subsequently.
This hiring of a second German Pastor was the final signal for the English faction of Zion’s congregation. Their vote against engaging the German co-pastor, led by John Reese in the Church Council, had been completely ignored. Despite the continual neglect of their wishes by the majority, they had remained in the communion of Zion, hoping for an eventual change of mind on the part of their brethren. Now, the time had come when even the most faithful among them despaired, and together with John Reese several families of long standing left their old church. In October 1823, John Reese met with seven other former members of Zion to found the first English Lutheran congregation in Baltimore. They approached the Synod of Maryland, built their own church, and in 1827 had their first regular pastor, the Rev. John Gottlieb Morris who wrote about the attitude of Zion: “Some of the influential members opposed us directly, but I had the satisfaction not many years after, of receiving some of these very men and their large families into my church.” Pastor Kurtz did not put any obstacles in the way of the new English Lutheran congregation, hoping that it would contribute to a restoration of peace at Zion and at the same time prevent the anglicized Lutherans from losing their old faith.
As Pastor Uhlhorn felt that his presence at Zion had against his will led to the disruption, he wanted to prevent the break-up of the venerable church. He was determined, out of his respect for his elder colleague, to leave Zion rather than to see Pastor Kurtz forced out of his position. He submitted his resignation. On July 29, 1830, the combined Church Council met under the chairman, Philip Muth, and refused this sudden resignation.
Under the guidance of both pastors, the congregation was finally united again. One Council was elected on August 24, 1830, and a new constitution was adopted.
At the same time a new “Plan of Incorporation of Zion Church of the City of Baltimore,” was adopted, based on the constitution and in pursuance of the Act of 1802, which had superseded previous regulations under which Zion Church was incorporated for the first time in 1800.
The new constitution defined clearly the confessional character of the church, the language used for the services, the competence of the two pastors and the Church Council.
The first section stated expressly:
The presently engaged preachers and their duly elected successors shall at regular times on Sundays and holidays, at funerals and other solemnities publicly, implicitly, and edifyingly announce the Word of God according to the apostles and prophets, and the unaltered Augsburg Confession.
The divine services should forever be conducted in the German language, and, as Article 1 provided expressly, “this clause of agreement according to which the preaching in English is prohibited shall never be subject to change.” The Church Council should henceforth consist of eight elders, four deacons and the pastor. In the case of the church’s having more than one pastor, the elder pastor alone should belong to the Church Council. At the same time, all Council members were designated as the trustees of the church’s property.
The constitution was signed by President Dr. J. Daniel Kurtz, by Peter Sauerwein, Carl Bohn, Philip Muth, Christian Capito, Christoph von Hollen, Johann Super, Carsten Torney and Carl W. Karthaus as elders, Gottlieb J. Medinger, George Sauerwein, Friedrich Kummer and Johann J. Medinger as deacons.
For almost three years after the restoration of peace the two pastors worked side by side, alternating the services. But Pastor Kurtz soon felt that the labors and the quarrels had taken his old vigor from him and the years had eaten his strength. Much of his energy, which could have been employed toward a further build-up of his church both locally and in the Synods which he served, had been wasted by the unfortunate dissensions of his flock.
Upon reaching his seventieth year of age, Dr. Daniel Kurtz submitted his resignation in 1832. The Church Council accepted it at once. The grateful congregation who owed him so much, but who had also filled his last years at Zion with deep sorrow voted him a considerable annuity and the use of the parsonage for the rest of his life.
With Pastor Kurtz’s resignation in 1832, the first distinct phase in the history of Zion Church came to an end. Up to this time, the Baltimore congregation had undergone the same ups and downs, the same conflicts and upheavals which we find in the histories of other Lutheran congregations. The presence of strong characters among the leadership, such as John Siegfried Gerock and J. Daniel Kurtz among the pastors, Charles Wiesenthal and Moritz Woerschler among the laymen, contributed an extraordinary accent to the events which had shaken the congregation. The last major issue, the language question, although unnecessarily dragged along for several decades, and finally disposed of in a rather inglorious manner, was also common to all other Lutheran churches in America. All of them, at one time or another, faced the painful necessity of accommodation to the language of the land. For Zion this problem was now solved. The English-speaking members had been forced out of the communion, and as the result of this clear separation the church could now develop as a German-Lutheran church.
We have traced the history of Zion Church from the early beginnings to its zenith, when Zion’s pastor was the president of the General Synod and of the regional synod. It was a clear, straight road upwards. After the first loss of substance due to the language issue, the membership still remained very strong in numbers, and the common attachment to the use of the German tongue in worship and teaching could only serve as an additional moment of strength. Thus, the language issue alone could not be the cause for the deep rift that divided the congregation, nor could it be personal loyalty to the old spiritual guide on the one hand, and the young, attractive clergyman on the other hand, those two who for ten years, had worked, at times side by side and at other times on opposite sides, but always serving the same congregation.
The Rev. Johann Uhlhorn, who was now the sole spiritual leader, had a considerable following among the congregation after his ten years as co-pastor. To win the other part of the congregation was his immediate task before he could consider any other undertaking. At the outset of his pastorate he had the advantage of being fully familiar with the problems and needs of Zion.
When he first came to this country, he was described as a rather polished, fashionable ecclesiastic, whose appearance caused concern to many old timers at Zion. He wore rings in his ears, and in his attire were other evidences of more expensive and scrupulous attention to his person than was common among clergymen in the American Lutheran churches. His gradual adjustment to the simpler customs of American life was gratefully acknowledged by his friends and his opponents at Zion. He was admired for his remarkable knowledge, and many exuberant tales are recorded of his preaching ability and his familiarity with classic culture. His delicate nature was likened to that of Melanchthon. In all respects, he seemed to be the right man for Zion Church.
Before effecting any plans of his own, he desired to visit briefly his native Bremen. The Church Council granted him a leave in 1833. On March 22, 1834, he died from a sudden illness, soon after his arrival in his old home. Zion was left a flock without a shepherd. Now it became evident that during all the bickering over formalities, the unfortunate eruptions of pride, the malcontent and discord of a few, the spiritual needs of the people had been slighted. The congregation had lingered from Sunday to Sunday, but the emphasis on their confession of faith had been neglected under the impact of other problems.
Pastor Wilhelm Domeier, whom the Church Council had engaged during the absence of the Rev. Uhlhorn, did nothing to improve the situation. As a successor to the man who had died so unexpectedly, he was highly unsuitable. Charged with repeated and excessive drunkenness, he was sent on his way. For many Sundays the pulpit of Zion remained empty. The Church Council alone bore the responsibilities of continuing the existence of the congregation. It assumed a position of absolute rule, seemingly with little authorization from a large segment of the congregation.
A new pastor was finally found, the Rev. John Peter Haesbert. Now something became evident that so far had never come into the open: the confessional foundation of Zion Church was shaky. Pastor Haesbert, an unusually orthodox minister, began violently to rebuke the Church Council for its lax attitude toward the doctrines of the church. Without regard and understanding for the position which the Church Council of Zion had acquired traditionally, he attempted to swing the church over into orthodoxy. He encountered an opposition which was just as violent as his own actions. For the reasons that his own character was not without reproach and that it was “a disgusting fight which he led against the church council,” he was dismissed. Now an unexpected, tragic episode occurred in that about 150 members announced their resignation from membership in Zion Church. After some hesitation, Pastor Haesbert organized a new congregation to gather together all these former members of Zion. On November 1, 1835, the “Second German Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession” came into being and bought a vacant brick church building on the corner of Holliday and Saratoga Streets. The words “Augsburg Confession” were inscribed in large, ostentatious letters on the building. Again members of Zion provided the membership for a new Lutheran church in Baltimore. Pastor Haesbert, the leader of this spectacular exodus, otherwise a humble, upright and honest man, became involved in family difficulties which caused his removal to New Orleans. After a short pastorate there, he left for Brazil where he became a prominent Lutheran organizer whose memory is still today held in high esteem.
Pastor Daniel Kurtz, though 81 years old, stood by his former parishioners from Zion and preached to them until March 1845, when he installed the Rev. F. C. Wyneken as the pastor of the Second German Lutheran Church.
But there was still Zion Church. There was an altar without a servant, a pulpit without a preacher. The cantor and the regular schoolteacher had also left. The loss of a large percentage of the membership raised the question whether Zion would continue to exist. The communion records in the church register end in 1833. No hand had made any entries since that year. The school, for which the Church Council once had far-reaching plans, was without a regular teacher.
The old Zion was doomed. There was little left of the Zion that three generations had built with their labors and their sacrifices. Strife and hatred now had broken away the firm foundation on which the congregation of Zion had rested. A new builder had to come, or the year 1835 would have been the sad end of an eighty-year history of Zion Church.
The new builder came in September 1835.
A member of the consistory of Zion Church, while visiting New York in the summer of 1835, attended a service in St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church and heard the sermon of the young assistant to the venerable, old pastor, Frederick William Geissenhainer. Upon inquiry, Dr. Geissenhainer informed the visitor from Baltimore that his assistant, Henry Scheib, had just come to New York from Germany in April and as he was without a charge, had been taken in by him until some congregation would call him. Zion Church, or better the skeleton of the old congregation which remained after the cleavage of 1823 and the mass exodus of 1834-35, did not hesitate for long to call the Rev. Scheib to deliver several sermons at Zion.
One month after his coming to Baltimore, on October 18, 1835, the Church Council elected Scheib as the regular pastor of Zion Church. His sermons had met with the approval of a majority, and besides, the church could no longer wait for a permanent minister, lest it dissolve completely. There were still a few members of the old conservative stock who had not left when Pastor Haesbert drew a large segment of Zion’s congregation into the whirlpool of a confessional battle.
Most members, however, who had remained were recent immigrants from Europe. They had gone through the many decades of war. They had been exposed to the liberal ideas that had spread over Europe after the French Revolution. For them, orthodoxy as Pastor Haesbert represented it, and pietistic conservativism as Pastor Kurtz had preached it, were utterly alien. They sought a church that would provide something to hold on to in the tribulations of the immigrant’s life, until the final adjustment. They expected a church that would open its doors on Sunday morning, that would instruct their children and, apart from edifying its members during the services and requiring the usual contribution, would leave them alone. They were generally better educated than the pioneers of the 18th century, and elaborate, sophisticated sermons such as Pastor Uhlhorn had provided corresponded more to their taste than did the gospel ministry of Father Kurtz.
The congregation which Pastor Scheib began to serve in 1835, although described as “down-trodden, upset by ugly obsessions”, received him with much good will. But the cleavage which had been left so wide open and all the mutual distrust that divided the flock remained. With his great energy and his uncompromising faith in the victory of truth over ignorance, of light as he saw it over the darkness, the young pastor made a healthy start toward better relations within the congregation. “To win them for the better seemed hopeless enough at the beginning. But surrounded by theological accusers and blackmailers, under blame and shame, so low and loveless, he sowed the seed of peace, of love, of education and of morality; what he had to tell his congregation, he demonstrated in his own blameless life,” his consistory testified for him when he was called to defend his beliefs and his actions.
The sermons he preached from the pulpit of Zion were something new. These people had to be lifted up again to hope and love and neighborliness. He put before them the man Jesus Christ, who loved, and helped and admonished. He gave them the example of the woman Mary, who brought up her child Jesus to believe in the good, the beautiful, and the true. He called on the people to think for themselves while reading the Bible. He baptized and confirmed, married young couples and buried the dead, truly only a few, as his flock was small; but every Sunday new hearers came, some to shake their heads in bewilderment, others to stay and join Zion Church.
Almost four years went by, and on April 14, 1839, Pastor Scheib stood up for re-election by the congregation. There had been some grumbling and some warnings from older members who could not accept what the new pastor preached. It was so different from anything which they had heard before. They respected his personality and the fine work of reuniting the congregation that he had done, but conscience would not let them rest.
Why did old Pastor Kurtz, who was still occupying the parsonage, no longer attend the service? Why, on Sunday morning, did he go to the English Lutheran Church to listen to English services instead of the German preached at Zion, the language to which he had clung to the last? They began to question the things they heard from the mouth of the pastor, and finally on the eve of his proposed re-election they wrote a pamphlet which was circulated among all members of Zion Church.
Some who read this circular urging the congregation not to re-elect Pastor Scheib were stunned; many filled with anger. How could anyone so openly denounce the young and forceful pastor who had devoted all his days and many of his night hours to bring the church back to life and restore the congregational peace? Why was this upright man suddenly accused by members of his own church who had silently attended his services for four years? The circular went around from hand to hand:
“We claim that the Rev. Scheib, who is the candidate for the pastorate of our Zion Church, is by no means a true Evangelical Lutheran preacher, but in his beliefs approaches heresy and therefore he cannot be re-elected in accordance with our constitution. For our constitution requires that our minister be not a Unitarian or Universalist but a pious, faithful, decided Lutheran, which the Rev. Scheib is not, as we think is quite evident.”
How could anyone dare to pronounce such judgment on the man whose kindness and frankness had won him the respect and love of so many among his members? Here were people of the same Zion Church imploring their brethren to send their young pastor away; “Would it not be infinitely better if our church remained empty, and our children were left without religious instructions instead of helping to propagate these false, un-Biblical, soul-murdering doctrines? Would you not rather abjure the Lutheran church, abandon our beautiful house of God to the Unitarians, and declare yourself publicly against the Lutheran catechism, the Augsburg confession, and the divine teachings of the Gospel?”
This pamphlet was not signed by anyone. Its anonymous character contributed much to the violent rebuttal which it provoked from the large majority of the congregation.
Immediately after it was circulated, the vestry and the directorium of Zion School convened, and on the following day the reply, endorsed by 175 members with their signatures, was given to the printer and soon afterwards distributed to all members of the church who could be reached.
Under the date of April 10, 1839, the vestry under its president, Conrad Lindemann, consisting of Johann Berger, D. H. Allers, Otto Torney, Henry Huber, W. Mcusel, and G. H. Wetter, and Carsten Torney, president of Zion School directorium, Dr. A. Wegncr, C. Simon, G. H. Mittnacht, and Gottlieb Medinger, members of the directorium, adopted the resolution which was embodied in the reply to the anonymous charges: “We consider that pamphlet as an attempt of ill-willed people who intend to spread unrest and discord among a peaceful congregation. First of all because the authors of this libelous writ have not the courage to mention their names, and secondly because an honest man who might not have been content with the teachings of Pastor Scheib should have stood up against them a long time ago.” Rebuking the various charges of the accusers, the reply went on: “Resolved, that the vestry considers it its duty to declare publicly:
1.) that Pastor Scheib has always endeavored by his preachings to spread the conscientiousness of virtue and true Christ-love according to the Augsburg Confession among his listeners. He has just as vigorously presented vice and sin in its infamy. 2.) that he always supported these teachings by his own blameless example. He has not only most faithfully tended to his office as preacher but also has proved by his manifold acts of charity that he is not a hireling in the vineyard of the Lord. Furthermore has the church council the great pleasure to state that the public and private character of Pastor Scheib is above any reproach.”
Four days later the congregation assembled to vote on the motion to re-elect Pastor Scheib for the next four years. With 254 against 38 votes, his ministry was approved by the vast majority of Zion’s congregation.
Pastor Scheib’s unorthodox sermons and beliefs led to trouble with the Synod of New York. Since much earlier when Scheib began his work as an assistant at St. Matthew’s Church in New York City he was accepted by the New York Ministerium. After his coming to Baltimore, he retained his membership with this synodical body in New York. After he was reinstated for an additional period of four years as the pastor of Zion Church, in April 1839, he decided to declare his resignation from membership in the New York Ministerium “out of a sense of duty, as the considerable distance and the expenses connected with the journey would not permit him to attend the required annual meetings of the synod.” This resignation was refused by the Ministerium and followed up by a letter to the Ministerium from disgruntled parishioners who made accusations based on Scheib’s preaching and teaching at the Scheib School.
The Ministerium forwarded a copy of this plea to Pastor Scheib with the request that he present himself to a committee of investigation to answer the charges brought against him with regard to his preaching and conducting the instruction in Zion School. Scheib was willing to appear before this committee provided it could prove that it had a right to refuse his previous resignation. The Church Council, however, was so indignant at this interference by the Ministerium that they wrote immediately to the committee which was to have investigated the activities of Pastor Scheib. The letter was written in sharp, unmistakable terms: “It is the express desire of the Church Council that Pastor Scheib shall not follow the demand to appear, as the Church Council will not concede the right to any Synod to interfere with the affairs of Zion Church, which has always been independent and will remain so. According to the constitution of Zion Church, nobody had a right to demand justification from the preacher in matters of the church without having informed the Church Council or upon the request of the Church Council, and neither of these requirements had been fulfilled.”
The New York Ministerium never answered this letter of the vestry of Zion Church. Instead The Lutheran Observer, a church paper edited in Baltimore, several weeks later published a resolution of the New York Misterium to the effect that Pastor Schcib was “stricken from the roll of the Ministerium.” This publication caused Zion’s Church Council to issue a lengthy statement reiterating the various events that had led to severing the relations between the pastor of Zion Church and the New York Ministerium. Among all these polemics stand the words regarding Pastor Scheib’s personal conduct, which formed a part of the resolution issued by the Ministerium: “Not a whisper was breathed against your moral conduct, and testimony was borne to much that is highly laudable in your deportment and life.” This testimony was the most encouraging and reassuring factor of the entire controversy for Pastor Scheib, The Church Council stood by him firmly and he felt responsible to his own Council alone, for his work as the minister of Zion Church.
The Maryland Synod did not interfere at all. It watched the happenings closely, and from the fact that the resolutions of the New York Ministerium were published in The Lutheran Observer, which was edited by the Rev. Benjamin Kurtz, who under his uncle, J. Daniel Kurtz, once had been an assistant pastor of Zion Church, we can infer that its attitude coincided with that of the New York sister synod.
Thus, from 1839 on Zion Church belonged to that class of religious bodies which Is characterized in ecclesiastical language as “having adopted the ‘Independent’ or ‘Congregational’ form of church government without being subject to the jurisdiction or control of any synod composed of delegates from different associated churches.” Zion Church had become Scheib’s Church.
Rejected by the Lutheran ecclesiastical authorities and desiring to stand alone, Zion’s flock and its lone shepherd were not spared further tribulations.
In the spring of 1837 a flash flood had swept over the premises of the church, severely damaging the school house and the parsonage and also impairing the foundations of the church itself. The school, was repaired at once, and subsequently enlarged. Not so the parsonage. It was still occupied by the old pastor, J. Daniel Kurtz, to whom the use of the parsonage had been granted for his lifetime by the congregation when he retired in 1832.
Pastor Kurtz wrote a letter to a friend in the church documenting his deplorable conditions, but as no reply came nor any action was taken, the old minister quietly packed up his belongings and moved uptown. He never said nor wrote any word of complaint. Once, when a friend asked him about the humiliations he had suffered at the hands of the church in the service of which he had spent his life, he remarked: “We will say nothing about these. I have long since forgiven all my enemies, and prayed God also to blot out their sins. They no doubt think they were right and intended not so much harm to me as might be supposed.”
Three years later Philip B. Sadler and a group of some fifty older members of Zion also left the congregation. Some of their names are on the list of those whose contributions built the church in 1808. “The last troublemakers left in 1840,” the Church Council observed later, and in the brief history of Zion Church published in 1905, we read: “The malcontents were to a large degree eliminated; the last of them left in 1840.”
Again, the elements broke loose over Zion. An old, well-thumbed newspaper file gives us the eye-witness report: “At about half-past three o’clock on Monday morning, March 30, 1840, the inhabitants in the neighborhood of Gay Street were alarmed by the cry of fire. The flames at the time of the alarm were breaking through the roof and windows of the workshop in the rear of Edwin S. Tarr’s cabinet warerooms on North Gay Street, next to the German Lutheran Church. In a short time the roof of the church caught fire from the intense heat, and the venerable edifice soon became a heap of ruins. Owing to a heavy fall of rain, which prevailed during the whole time the fire was raging, the fire did not extend.”
While the ruins of the church were still smoldering, Pastor Scheib called upon the people of Zion to rebuild their house of worship without delay. As the outside walls had been spared, he decided upon a plan of reconstruction that would largely preserve the outward appearance of the old building. On November 8, 1840, the church was reopened with a dedication service under the motto “To Strive for Reason’s Victory.” The tower on the front, however, was not rebuilt. The inside was considerably changed. Pastor Scheib radically applied the Reformed concept of simplicity. Pulpit and altar, both painted white, were separated from the rest of the room by a simple iron railing. The walls and the ceiling were given a light grey coat, while all the woodwork was kept in a yellow shade of oak wood. The interior, in its box-like shape, reminded many a visitor of a Puritan house of worship. For Pastor Scheib and many of his parishioners, this expression of utmost simplicity fully coincided with their private lives outside of the church and was in complete harmony with their endeavor to approach religion with an open and critical mind, devoid of any ornaments and mystery.
Less than one decade after Pastor Scheib’s arrival in Baltimore, Zion Church had undergone such a complete change that the new church can justly be considered a successor to the Old Zion rather than its continuation. The old membership, as we have seen, had turned away from Zion, and even the elements had contributed to bring into being a house of worship that very little resembled the Zion of 1808. At first Pastor Scheib and his vestry had attempted to conduct the affairs of the church according to the constitution of 1830, by interpreting its provisions in the light of the new events at Zion. More and more, however, this constitution proved to stand in the way of the many innovations. Several sections had been suspended by unanimous action of the congregation.
After several weeks of deliberations, the vestry met, in January 1844, and adopted a new constitution. The president of the vestry, D. H. Allers, and the secretary, Johann Bruehl, wrote in the preface to the published edition of this constitution that it was merely a renewal of the 1830 constitution with “such alterations as have become necessary since.” Upon closer investigation, however, we find that this document is a far cry from any constitution which Zion Church had had during the past. Section 2, Article I defined the purpose of the congregation as follows: “The purpose of the church is the propagation of reasonable religiosity and genuine morality according to the principles of the Gospel.”
In the absence of communion records and other evidence of membership, we have to rely on the entries in the church register for a clue to the membership of Zion Church in those years. There are several indications that the average member was young, recently immigrated, with almost no family ties. While Pastor Scheib baptized 120 children from 1835 until 1840 (when the conservative members left), between 1841 and 1848 there were seventy-eight baptisms, and from 1849 until 1855 only eight children were baptized into Zion Church. The comparative youthfulness of the membership in the forties and fifties of the last century becomes evident from the records of burials: from 1835 to 1840, 85 burials; 1841 to 1848, 34 burials; 1849 to 1855 only 2 burials.
Marriages as recorded by Pastor Scheib in the church register also show a great decline. From 1835-1840 the Pastor married ninety-five couples; from 1841 until 1849, thirty couples.
With so little pastoral work at hand it is not at all surprising that the Rev. Scheib turned his energies to a field of endeavor which was ever dear to him: the education of the youth.
The growing reputation of Zion School won Pastor Scheib and his flock the respect of a wide segment of the German and also the Anglo-American element in Baltimore. But there was still an atmosphere of suspicion which surrounded Zion Church. Some members never got rid of the suspicion that two fires (in 1839-1840) had been acts of arson by ill-meaning fellow-citizens. Pastor Scheib publicly discouraged such a belief.
This was the decade when the foreign-born population in many American cities had to run the gantlet of political rowdies who opposed the enjoyment of equal rights by immigrants. Zion, being an exclusively German immigrant church, was naturally in the center of these natavistic attacks. Many a Sunday, ruffians of the Know-Nothing Party disturbed the services. Picnics of the congregation in city parks were branded as “drunkards’ meetings” because the participants did not frown upon the consumption of beer on Sunday afternoons. Rowdies, using sling-shots, bowie-knives and revolvers to intimidate the peaceful gatherings, almost invariably appeared on the scene.
Pastor Scheib and many Zion members had an active part in arousing the Germans and other foreign-born citizens of Baltimore to form protective guards. The leaders of the German-Americans decided to stage a political demonstration with the purpose of directing the attention of the native Americans to the share the German element had had in the historical development of the United States. Zion Church, being the oldest German institution of the city, was best qualified to demonstrate how a church could preserve its German character and still be an integral part of American life.
Pastor Scheib, who along with other members of Zion Church (Albert Schumacher, a prominent layman of Zion, was the leading spirit behind the demonstration) had taken such a conspicuous part in it, became henceforth one of the unchallenged leaders of the German-Americans in their political, cultural and social life, a position also held by his successors, Pastors Hofmann and Evers. From the isolation of a heretic and discredited congregation, Henry Scheib had led Zion into the foreground of German-American activities in the city.
The liberal Germans who settled in Baltimore in great numbers in the early fifties were attracted by the clear and intellectual preaching of the spirit who occupied Zion’s pulpit. Pastor Scheib was not a political man. When the Civil War broke out and Maryland was caught between the two warring factions, his sympathies were with the Confederacy, which for him was not the symbol of slavery but the manifestation of an aristocratic, social order in contrast to the rowdyism so often evident on the Northern side. He was liberal enough to rally his congregation, which was largely pro-Union in sentiment, around him, and he guided church and school through the difficult war years without any mentionable loss.
More and more, Zion Church was able to develop peacefully. Occasional attacks from all-too-eager clergymen could be warded off without abandoning the dignity which alone makes controversy and debate on differences of opinion a gain to both parties concerned. There was, however, one group which waged an unrelenting, bitter campaign against Pastor Scheib and his church. The Missouri Synod, a body of Lutherans that held most obstinately to the old dogmatic orthodoxy, untiringly denounced Scheib’s preaching and practices throughout the years.
When, in 1879, the Pastoral Conference of Baltimore, Missouri Synod, inquired into Scheib’s practice of baptism, it was told curtly, “Please show the authority which gives you the right to demand a confession of faith from me and which permits you to subject me and the Church Council of my congregation to a court of inquisition. Until such proof has been brought in clear and irrefutable manner I have neither the time nor the inclination for another word in a fruitless correspondence.”
Whereupon the Pastoral Conference of Baltimore in conjunction with the Theological Faculty of St. Louis condemned Scheib and “his crowd” and warned people against Scheib’s baptism. The Conference had 500 copies of its vitriolic declaration printed for distribution.
In 1881, the Church Council of Zion published a pamphlet, most likely written by Scheib himself, entitled Zion Church and the Recent Charges of Heresy by the Baltimore Pastoral Conference and the Faculty of St. Louis, which closed with these words: “We cannot help but express the wish that when the Pastoral Conference and the Faculty publish their next bull against Pastor Scheib and Zion congregation, they have a very large number of copies printed in order that we too may benefit from it without too much trouble. With this request we take leave forever of these two reverend institutions—the Baltimore Pastoral Conference and the Faculty of St. Louis.” This pamphlet also contained a forceful and outspoken explanation of the faith as it was being preached and lived at Zion Church.
In his sermon preached on March 27, 1881, on St. John 18:37, Scheib drew a masterly sketch of every doctrinal dispute and religious war from the early beginnings of the church until his day. With perfect clarity he named and explained all the doctrinal battles of Christendom, in a sermon which took him hardly more than 45 minutes to deliver. After throwing light on the dark and bloody chapters of Christian history, he concluded with this challenge: “Pray if you want to: I thank thee Lord that I am not like other people. Say grace before every meal. Confess your sins on Sunday. But beware that during the week you do not deny the great soul who admonishes us so earnestly: Love your neighbor, judge him not. Praise the Savior in the company of the chosen, and when you hear his word, cry with Herod, the parasite: This is the voice of a God and not of a man; but be careful not to strike your neighbor in his face with your right or your left hand in your zeal for the Lord, when he does not join you in the Amen. What is truth? Not religion in this form. Religion is more than a rush of words. Religion is life. Examine yourself whether your life is religion.”
Pastor Scheib has inspired three generations with his faith. Among the German immigrants who came to Baltimore between 1840 and 1870, there were a large number who did not adhere to the creed of any church for their moral guidance. He gathered them into his fold and prevented them from joining the millions of unchurched and unbelieving men and women in America. To them he appealed, and he drew them to Christ as a moral guide. It is a testimony to his merit that today we still find the names of numerous descendants of those intellectual German immigrants on the roll of Zion Church and of other Lutheran Churches in the country.
The long incumbency of Zion’s pulpit by Henry Scheib after 1840 was characterized by the harmony which he preached so consistently. Before his days, Zion had been a congregation of Sunday Christians. By founding the Liederkranz he created the first organization connected with the church which accorded members the opportunity to meet outside of the regular services. His Bildungsverein, a cultural association, likewise served the purpose of interesting his parishioners in activities centered around Zion Church and School. After the Civil War the membership increased steadily for a decade. At a time when women took very little interest in active church work, the pastor’s wife, Mrs. Lisette Scheib, in 1868, founded the Frauenverein, which became outstanding among the church organizations of Zion and in times of need and of war extended its benevolent help in a most generous manner.
Due to his theological views, Pastor Scheib remained isolated among his brethren of the cloth. Men of similar persuasion seldom shared the pulpit with him, even for occasional sermons. Seldom during this period and only for brief terms, were assistant pastors working by his side.
The first of these assistants, the Rev. John C. Hoyer, was engaged by Pastor Scheib with the consent of the Church Council in 1841. He was a young and extremely capable minister, who had severed his synodical connections prior to his coming to Baltimore. He stayed with Zion until October 1844, when he received a call to Richmond to take over the newly founded German Lutheran St. John’s Church. St. John’s, the only German church in that part of Virginia, was likewise an independent congregation. Pastor Hoyer carried on his work much as Scheib did in Baltimore.
Throughout the year 1869 Zion again had an assistant pastor, the Rev. Dr. Rudorf, a missionary who had come to Baltimore after fourteen years of service in Australia and Asia. He had been rejected by the Lutheran authorities for his liberalism and found himself in full conformity with Pastor Scheib’s views. His sermons were much acclaimed, but the congregation was reluctant to support two ministers. With the help of Scheib, Dr. Rudorf attempted to found both a church and a school in nearby Washington, patterned after the institutions of Zion. After a brief stay in the Capital, however, he found out that the German Lutherans there did not respond to his persuasions, and he left for the Midwest.
The anniversaries of the Zion School and of Pastor Scheib’s services to Zion became, for the congregation, the occasion for the expression of its deep gratitude to its spiritual guide. The noble enthusiasm and the inspiration with which his words were endowed stirred the throngs which filled the church. But to the observer of the every-day life of Zion Church in the eighties it became evident that there existed a distressing gap between the festive occasions and the ordinary life.
Soon the entire life of the church was again limited to the service on Sunday morning. The Bildungsverein had ceased to exist; the Liederkranz developed into a social singing society. In 1888, Mrs. Scheib died, and much of the work which she had shared with her husband went back on his shoulders. The labors necessary to maintaining the outward life of the church and the personal responsibilities involved in guiding the inner life of a Christian family had become so manifold that it required almost more than the energy of a single individual to give every detail due attention. While other churches in the city provided a wide range of social activities for their members, which especially attracted the younger generation, Zion Church did not keep up with modern concepts of church activities.
Pastor Scheib was growing old. Most of the older members stood faithfully in the ranks, but younger people broke away until there was an almost total absence of young men and women on the church roll. Compared with the hundreds who had once pledged their vows and taken first communion at the altar of Zion, the number of actual members was decreasing constantly. Henry Scheib, saddened by the closing of Zion School, opposed any attempt to introduce a Sunday School. Despite the pastor’s warnings that a Sunday School would contribute to undermine what he called the “spirit of Zion,” Mr. W. Theodore Schultze of the Church Council and the young assistant pastor, Wagner, founded Zion Sunday School on December 2, 1888. Pastor Scheib never was reconciled to this action. His assistant had to leave after only a few months of service.
In the fall of 1889 the candidate Julius Hofmann was called from Germany to assist Scheib. He arrived in December of the same year and for seven years labored under great difficulties at the side of the venerable old man, who, at the last, was growing bitter and stern after his many tribulations. Once again the conflict between young and old broke out, tempered only by the respect for the lone giant who had devoted his lifetime to Zion Church.
For decades Pastor Scheib had borne the whole burden on his own shoulders. Among his colleagues of the ministerial profession in Baltimore he was shunned. This loneliness became especially evident when Pastor Scheib had to perform the funeral rites for his own immediate family, his wife and several of his children, who preceded him in death. Now it was hard for him to share his office with a young man whose views differed to some extent from his own.
Upon completion of his 88th year of age, Pastor Scheib resigned, on November 15, 1896, after 61 years in the pulpit of Zion Church. He died on the same date of the following year. “When the news of his death spread through the city, thousands of people were deeply moved. How much had come to a standstill with the death of this man! How many memories were connected with his life. Gratitude and veneration were the sentiment of the large assembly in the church that had come to mourn his death.
On the first anniversary of his death, the congregation and a multitude of friends from all over the city assembled once more, this time to dedicate a monument which they had erected on the burial lot of the Scheib family in Lorraine Cemetery. It bears the inscription: “Truth, Justice, and Love.” Among the manuscripts which Henry Scheib left behind, this prayer—completed by the octogenarian after being revised several times over a period of fifty years—was found:
Upon the foundation of unity and of peace rests the structure of our well-being. Unity, harmony of our powers is strength; Harmony of forms is beauty; Harmony of thinking is truth; Harmony of conscience and will is virtue; Harmony of conscience and feeling is love. And love of God and man is religion. That, Father, we seek. For that we pray. Grant it to us thy children.