The East District, Lutheran Church-Canada and the House Church (1835-1964)

The Lutheran Church has used the house church model in order to start churches.  In Grace and Blessing (Malinsky) there is information concerning the beginnings of many churches in the Ontario District.   Much of the information that follows was taken from that work.

The Nineteenth Century

In the late 1840s, Lutherans from New York and Pennsylvania settled in the Fisherville area.  Upon their arrival they established their most necessary shelters.  They felt a need for spiritual care for themselves and their children.  Since they had not built a church building and since there were no pastors available, they conducted services “in private homes from time to time” (Malinsky 53) and were served by itinerant preachers with no synodical affiliation. Gradually a church building was erected and a congregation organized.

In 1848 Lutherans settled in Middleton Township, Norfolk County.  “Every Sunday they assembled in the various homes for reading services, in which a layman read the sermons.” (Ibid. 54)  The situation was not satisfactory but on February 28, 1854 Rev. Johann Adam Ernst, pioneer and father of the Ontario District, conducted the first Lutheran service.[1]  In 1855 the congregation called their first resident pastor who continued to conduct services in the public school until 1858 when a log church was built (Ibid. 55).

Pastor Ernst was instrumental in starting churches in other parts of Ontario.  In 1863 he was installed as pastor of the Floradale-Elmira Parish.   Ernst served Floradale, Salem, Linwood, Kitchener, Petersburg, Wellesley, Poole, and Wallace from his home base in Elmira.  Services in Elmira were first held in the public school until the members built a church building in 1862 (Ibid. 62-63).

The Lutheran Church in Wellesley held services in the schoolhouse in 1848.  By 1852 the first Lutheran congregation was organized.  For a short time the Wellesley church was without a pastor.  As a result a school teacher was engaged for a three-month period to conduct reading services until the services of Rev. Ernst were obtained (Ibid. 67).

Services in Poole were held in the homes of Lutherans in and near Poole from 1850 to 1862.  These services were led by itinerant preachers with no particular synodical affiliation. In 1862 a log church was built (Ibid. 67-68).

The Lutheran Church in Seebach’s Hill (Sebringville) held reading services in homes in 1835.  For a time traveling preachers served the group but in 1836 they called their own pastor (Ibid. 71).

Some of the members at Seebach’s Hill had to travel five miles or more over primitive trails.  About 1850 a group of people invited the pastor of Seebach’s Hill, Pastor Hengerer, to conduct services for them periodically in the public school in Wartburg.  As a result a congregation was established (Ibid. 71).

First Lutheran Church, Logan Township, held their first services in two separate schoolhouses.  The two units of this congregation were unable to reach an agreement as to the location of the new church building, a separation occurred which led to two congregations and two church buildings (Ibid. 73).

During the 1880’s a Lutheran group met in Monkton for services.  “For three years services were conducted in a room used by commercial travelers to display their wares.” (Ibid. 74)  A small brick church was built in 1891.

From baptismal records it would appear that Lutheranism arrived in Mitchell around 1858.  Malinsky writes,

It would seem that services were held in the homes of various members, possibly by Rev. J. A. Hengerer, about the year 1857 or 1858, when he was in charge of the Seebach’s Hill congregation. (Ibid. 74)

The congregation was organized as Grace Lutheran Church in 1862.

A number of Lutheran churches were started in the Queen’s Bush.[2]  In 1860 Lutheran worship services were held in a schoolhouse at Shipley led by Rev. H. Wichman at that time pastor of the Floradale-Elmira Parish (Ibid. 82).  The Lutherans in Normanby (1850) erected a private school so that their children could receive an education.  Divine services were held in the school house they had built for their children.  A church building was erected in 1865.  Mount Forest, the “gateway to the Queen’s Bush” (Ibid. 84), was home to “St. John’s.”  “Services were conducted in an old English church, later in a vacant store, and for over thirty-five years, in a public school three and a half miles northeast of the town.” (Ibid. 84 emphasis added)  Beginning in 1894 Sunday School sessions in Clifford were held in private homes.  “Church services were conducted in the town hall until 1901.  From then on the Sunday School room in the blacksmith shop was used also for services.” (Ibid. 85)  In 1905 the congregation built a building (Ibid. 85).  The church in Hanover (1859) had its beginnings in private dwellings but by 1862 the church conducted services in a little frame church which was built on a lot purchased for the sum of one dollar (Ibid. 85).

The Ottawa Valley was settled by Germans in the 1860’s.  Like the other Lutheran communities they worshipped in other buildings until they could build a church building.  In Augsburg (1862), services were conducted in settler’s homes (Ibid. 95).  In the Pembroke-Petawawa (1875) area services were conducted in a private home for fourteen years (Ibid. 97).


[1]Johann Adam Ernst (1815-1895) has the distinction of being one of the first emissaries sent to North America by Wilhelm Loehe.  Loehe had written an article in a Bavarian church paper in which he challenged his readers to consider journeying to the new frontier of North America to serve as a missionary.  Adam Ernst was the lone volunteer.  Heintzen writes,

From an unexpected quarter, there was a volunteer — Adam Ernst, a young shoemaker who had once been Pastor Wucherer’s parishioner.  Pastor Wucherer remembered Ernst as a pious, diligent, and alert pupil in religious instruction classes.  But he had little formal education, and certainly was not the pastor, ministerial candidate, or school teacher they had hoped for. . . .  Still, he might be trained to be a missionary school teacher, and Adam Ernst was better than no volunteer at all. So Pastor Loehe agreed to prepare Ernst to teach school on the American frontier. . . .  So the Neuendettelsau parsonage became also a seminary to train missionary school teachers for America.  Pastor Loehe set up a one-year crash course that one graduate later referred to as “the Neuendettelsau purgatory.”  It consisted of a quick overview of English and German grammar, penmanship, piano, singing, world history, church history, the Lutheran Book of Concord, Christian doctrine, Bible history, the beliefs of American denominations (especially Methodism, the source of greatest competition), pastoral theology, catechetics, homiletics, liturgics, and practical experience (in teaching, conducting services, and visiting the sick).  As Loehe noted, he was not training theologians but readying men for an emergency situation. (17-18)

The story of this saint is a witness to us that God can use all kinds of people, from various educational and occupational backgrounds, to accomplish the missio.  For additional information on Ernst see: Heintzen 20, 44-45; Malinsky 14-21; Baepler 4, 67-68, 82-91, 95, 104, 107, 215; Threinen 1989:1-29; Meyer 1964:97-98, 101, 143, 146-148, 177, 193; Cronmiller 249-253.

[2]The Queen’s Bush “extended roughly in a square from Listowel north to Meaford, thence westward to Sauble Beach, south to Kincardine and back to Listowel.  This tract was ceded to the Crown by the Indians in 1836 in a treaty with the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, Sir Francis Bond Head.” (Malinsky 81)  By 1850, paved highways had been laid and many people settled the land, including a large number of German Lutherans.

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