St. Paul's Lutheran Church
A Brief History of St. Paul’s
By Lilly Olsen

As described in the history book prepared for St. Paul’s 75th Anniversary in the year 2005, this church now
located at 6100 Cottage Hill Road was born in the throes of the Great Depression. The little congregation that
became officially first known as the “United Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Advent”, a congregation of
the ULCA, a predecessor of the ELCA, was served by mission developer Reverend John T. Gillison, a native
of England. The very first worship service, prior to actual organization of the church, was held in a
Presbyterian church on South Broad Street on June 22, 1930, at 3 P.M. Fifteen worshipers were present, and
an offering of $2.48 was received. Subsequent worship services were conducted in the chapel at the YMCA,
until chapel property on Carlen Street near Dauphin Street was purchased from Dauphin Way Baptist Church
for $6250. The first service in the new chapel was held on November 15, 1931, with sixty-five people

This church seemed born to ups and downs, and the down times were really down to rock bottom. Just over a
year after that first service, fire partially destroyed the rear building, and there was no insurance coverage.
Being deep into the Depression times, the Pastor was hard pressed to get money for the payment of bills, most
members being unable to keep up their contributions, and offerings were severely decreased. The same year,
the Pastor’s car was stolen; and when recovered, it had been badly stripped and damaged. 1935 went on
record as the hardest year since organization, however, despite the hard times, the congregation managed to
give residents of the “Poor Farm” a Christmas program and stockings filled with fruit, candy, and nuts.

Another charitable venture launched by Pastor Gillison was an arrangement with Smith’s Bakery whereby
once a week he would be given day-old bread to distribute among the needy. The Pastor also managed to
publish regularly several hundred copies of a little magazine, “The Lutheran Messenger”, for distribution in
the surrounding area. The magazine brought some extra income from ads sold to local merchants, and this
went toward utility bills and support of the pastor himself at a time when the congregation could not afford to
do so. Troubles reached their peak late in 1936 when Pastor Gillison finally collapsed from strain and
overwork. This remarkable man had given of himself with no relief, no vacation, for such a long time that at
last he could tolerate no more. While the pastor was recuperating, services continued regularly, conducted by
Mr. Olin T. Hanson, Sr. (father of Barbara Grovenstein). The parish record book carries the notation:
“Strenuous efforts have been made in 1936 to keep things going.” Slowly the pastor’s health began to mend,
and in time the economic situation nationwide began to improve. At the end of the decade, upon the
resignation of Pastor Gillison, a new pastor was at the helm when a period of growth began. In 1940, the
name of the church was changed to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The nation entered World War II on December 7, 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and several members
went into military service. After the war, the congregation acquired in 1948 an Army chapel from Camp
Shelby, Mississippi, which was moved to property already purchased on the southwest corner of Government
and Houston streets, across from Memorial Park. This would be the new home of St. Paul’s for almost 38
years. 1950 saw the beginning of the eleven-year pastorate of Waldemar H. Lefstead, D.D., possibly St.
Paul’s most beloved pastor. During his service to the congregation a parish building annex was built to the
rear of the church. The new Lutheran Church in America (LCA), a merger of the United Lutheran Church in
America, the Augustana Lutheran Church (Swedish), American Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish), and
the Suomi Synod (Finnish), began its official functioning on January 1, 1963. On December 13, 1981, during
the pastorate of the Reverend Paul R. Haffly, the congregation voted to relocate again and erect a new church
building at 6100 Cottage Hill Road. The last service in the historic Army chapel housing St. Paul’s
Government Street church was held on June 29, 1986, with 154 in attendance. The pastor was then the
Reverend James W. Nipper. Besides a number of interim pastors, twelve called pastors have graced St. Paul’s
with their service.