Marylou Gjernes, Historian

A Brief History


Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession

By Marylou Gjernes

In 1876 a group of young families, wishing to teach their children the tenets of the Lutheran Church in the English language, established a congregation they called the Grace English Lutheran Church. The first service was held August 22, 1876 at First Trinity Lutheran Church, where they were members. On March 8, 1878 the congregation was incorporated in the District of Columbia as “Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession". E. G. Tressel accepted the call as the first pastor in May 1877.

The first chapel and Sunday School building were located at 13th and Corcoran on donated land. By 1897, the small congregation had outgrown the original chapel. The congregation chose to tear it down and construct a larger building on the same property. During the years spent at 13th and Corcoran, services were held twice on Sunday and one evening during the week. Sunday School was held every Sunday. A Ladies Aid sponsored many activities and donated funds for the purchase and maintenance of the organ. They celebrated the liquidation of the debt in April 1922 with a congregational dinner.

By 1923, the third pastor Gerhardt Lenski and the Church Council realized that they needed more space for their growing congregation. In 1923, they purchased land on the corner of 16th and Varnum. The first service was held in the new church on March 25, 1928. Although the Great Depression had a serious effect on the congregation, dropping its annual offering income from $25,000 to $12,000, the congregation continued to meet both its financial and its spiritual obligations. In addition to regular services and activities, the congregation and its young pastor started several mission congregations throughout the area.

From the time the congregation moved to Sixteenth and Varnum Streets, it intended to build a parish house to provide office space and church school facilities. With the arrival of the fourth senior pastor, Pastor J. Victor Murtland, the planning for such a building got under way. The Parish house was completed and dedication on July 1, 1956.

The stained glass windows in the nave of Grace Church were designed with Biblical teaching in mind. The clerestory windows show characters and scenes from the New Testament. The aisle windows portray characters and related scenes from the Old Testament. The windows dating from 1942 are memorials. When the congregation celebrated it’s 100th anniversary in 1976 enough memorial funds had been received to complete the stained glass windows with the installation of the Centennial Window above the balcony.

Beginning in 1985 with the leadership of Pastor Dean Moe, the congregation expanded the programs of outreach to the African immigrant population. Today the Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church shares the worship space and participates in many joint activities. The Mission and service of the congregation continues to be to preach and to teach the Word of God and to be good stewards of all He has given us.

From a small ethnically German congregation in 1876, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church has become a multicultural, ethnically diverse congregation sharing God’s love with each other and the world.