Over the course of the past 150 years, Saint Paulus Evangelical Lutheran church has seen its share of disasters and crisis. Such events in the life of our congregation has deeply affected its ministry and empathetic spirit. One of the most dramatic was the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire which destroyed so much of San Francisco and disrupted hundreds of thousands of people including its own membership. It turned out that after the fire was extinguished and the destruction was being reviewed, the only structures which remained in the, then, business district of San Francisco was a distillery, the US mint, and Saint Paulus Lutheran Church. Why Saint Paulus was spared is quite a story. As the fire consumed block after block of homes and businesses along Van Ness, the fire fighters had laid dynamite around the church in order to create a fire break to stop the raging flames. Before the explosive were detonated, Saint Paulus’s pastor, August Bernthal, plead with the fire fighters to try the lone fire hydrant that stood next to the church. It seemed laughable to imagine that it would work, but they tried it and miraculously the water gushed forth, saving the church from destruction. Out of gratitude for this amazing grace, Saint Paulus provided its building to the care and shelter of victims of the disaster. The First National Guard Emergency Hospital use the church facilities in treating over 10,000 people, with another 3000 sheltered. Surely this event planted in the heart of Saint Paulus, a deep appreciate for those who suffer the bitterness of loss, the tragedy of homelessness and their need for spiritual care.
Since 1982, the Sojourn Chaplaincy located in the Zuckerberg General Hospital has “provided a ministry of presence offering compassion and understanding to patients and their loved ones as well as the staff at SFGH.” In the process of this ministry it has exemplified a spirit shared by Saint Paulus Lutheran Church throughout its own mission and ministries. Serving persons without regard to status, religion, culture and ethnic background – with special attention given to the poor and oppressed – the Sojourn Chaplaincy has integrated a spiritual dimension into the medical care and treatment provided by the hospital, increasing the blessing that is given to those under their care. The Chaplaincy not only pursues its work among the patients and staff of the hospital, it has shared its gifts and advanced its offerings through training programs (complete with scholarships when needed), public health awareness, volunteer opportunities, and recently in partnering with SF Night Ministry in offering Clinic Pastoral Education credits for those seeking theological degrees.
Celebrating “Amazing Grace – 150 Years of Saint Paulus Lutheran Church”, we affirm and lift up the work done by Sojourn Chaplaincy, acknowledging a shared spiritual foundation cultivated in practice and delivery. It is our delight to both celebrate this amazing ministry for all to see (and support) and to include it in our thanksgiving donation of $30,000 to sustaining and extending their work. In making this contribution to the Sojourn Chaplaincy we challenge others of good-will and shared values to do the same. Amazing grace extends to all to be sure, but financial and moral support for the work of Sojourn Chaplaincy depends on your generosity.
During the 150+ years of Saint Paulus Lutheran Church there has been no lack of conflict and struggle over issues related to how the church engages the pressing concerns of the day. When Saint Paulus was called on the carpet for its ecumenical and neighborhood outreach by its denominational authority, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the congregation met the rigid demands for exclusiveness and doctrinal purity with a Reformation like declaration: It would not allow its ministry to be limited by institutional exclusion, but rather open itself to the diversity of this city and reach out with service and ministry to all. As a result, Saint Paulus Lutheran Church, the “mother church” of the Missouri Synod on the west coast having been the original founding church established 109 years earlier in 1867, chose to separate itself from its roots at significant cost in membership and finances. The action, though, was well worth the cost as ministry and witness was freed and enhanced.
Years later in 1990 this same spirit was revealed in Saint Paulus’ sponsorship of the extraordinary (illegal) ordination of three gay candidates to the Lutheran ministry. Because of the unbending recalcitrance of the denominational authority which had banned ordinations of openly gay candidates, Saint Paulus Lutheran church provided its sanctuary for the event, filling its 1200 seat capacity to overflowing. This historic milestone was heard throughout the church (and the world) – celebrated by some and condemned by others. It took the church until 2009 to welcome gay clergy among its leadership. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with these and others in our community who have been excluded. We have, by experience, practiced the importance of diversity and championed the inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ community into the mainstream of our faith tradition.
We realize that common experience and mutual relationships are critical in uniting bonds of humanity that sustains a community, particularly among the various expressions of religious faith. Given this truth, we are blessed to partner with the San Francisco Interfaith Council in their ongoing devotion to the excluded, the under-served and the neglected in our city. As part of our anniversary celebration “Unending Grace – 150 years of Saint Paulus Lutheran Church,” we wish to lift up their founding and ongoing mission to care for those in need regardless of creed or race, and to support their advocacy on behalf of minorities be they economic, racial, religious, or personal orientation, particularly in this day when the threats abound to their rights and dignity. Therefore, we will donate $30,000 to the San Francisco Interfaith Council to strengthen their inclusionary advocacy for LGBTQIA+ community and their protection and defense of all faith expressions. We also urge other communities and institutions of like mind to join us in this financial commitment.
One day early in November, 1995, the grand and iconic building that was Saint Paulus Lutheran Church caught fire and in a matter of minutes, our 18th century building was consumed and destroyed. It was, for most, the single most devastating experience of their lives. After serving as a spiritual home for more than 100 years, the building was no more. It was a tragic and deeply felt loss. The congregation retreated to an old-school house next door to the burned down church for the next 11 years. The loss shook its understanding and dependence on space and location. Reactively, the congregation sought without success a way to retrieve what had been lost. The process ultimately forced the congregation out of its temporary site on Gough St. and into a time of homelessness which has characterized the last eleven years. Storefronts in the Fillmore district and then on Polk St. have taught the congregation by way its proximity to the streets that for many more than we know homelessness is a condition not just physical, but more so, spiritual. This understanding has shaped the character and quality of the church’s ministry. A growing sense of empathy, presence, compassion, and inclusivity has been the fruit of our life as a “church without walls.”
We have had the honor of serving alongside the San Francisco Night Ministry, especially during our extended time of homelessness. Their commitment and passion in working among the “least of them my brothers and sisters” reflect the common life we share. Compassion is not an abundant presence on the streets of San Francisco. Loneliness, fear and hopelessness, however, are not only present but seemingly magnified in the darkness of the night. The San Francisco Night Ministry has graced the streets of San Francisco with at least one minister of compassion present between the hours of 10 pm and 4 am every night without exception for more than fifty years. It is into this world that the ministers of the night bring non-judgmental, caring and stable presence. In addition, crisis line counselors attend phone lines for those in turmoil and confusion. When social services are hours away, these ministers provide a listening and encouraging bridge for many who would be lost in the darkness of the night, and their own spirit, until the day breaks. Mostly unseen, these ministers of compassion carry a light in the darkest corners of our city. It is our hope that through our support they can be seen for the amazing grace they extend every night.
In addition, recently their ministry reaches into the day as well, providing outdoor Open Cathedral worship experiences on Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings; training for candidates for pastoral leadership; volunteer opportunities for nurses; a wellness program; a community-building program to extend its outreach to others in need.
We are delighted to lift up the San Francisco Night Ministry, as part of our celebration of Amazing Grace – 150 Years of Saint Paulus Lutheran Church, with a gift of $30,000. We encourage others to join us in this gift so that the light which sustains the spirit can continue to shine brightly in the streets of San Francisco.
Saint Paulus Lutheran church is arguably best known for its grand, ionic Gothic looking cathedral which stood at the corners of Gough and Eddy Sts. Despite the fact that it was destroyed by fire nearly 25 years ago, it still exudes fond and knowing memories. Built in the early 1890s, it was for founding Pastor Jacob Buehler a fitting structure for confessional Lutheranism on the West Coast. Both Buehler and the church building were the first of their kind on the West Coast, Buehler “the father of Lutheranism” and the building, the home base for the mission spread of the Lutheran Church on the West Coast. The church itself was modeled on European expressions ala Chartres in France, built totally of north coast redwood, with three towering spires, an interior in the shape of a cross, a high altar, and beautiful stained glass. As grand as it was, it cost but $65,000 in 1892 dollars, not much today, yet quite a debt burden back in the day. The church building was only 11 years old when the Great Earthquake and Fire consumed a good portion of San Francisco. By a clearly providential stroke the building was saved from destruction and served as a hospital and shelter for the thousands displaced. Not only did San Franciscans suffer greatly from the quake and fire, hundreds of the 1400 members of the congregation lost their homes and livelihood and were forced to relocate, a diaspora of sorts. As a result, the debt impact of the church nearly choked the ability of the remaining membership to pay to outstanding church debt. Interestingly, among many others, it was the church’s Ladies Aid which was recognized as responsible for raising the majority of funds to save the congregation from impending financial doom. Saint Paulus survived both the earthquake and fire alongside financial destruction as well.
From this historic perspective, and given both our brush with fiery destruction and the near demise of the congregation under the weight of debt, we are deeply grateful for the blessing not only of survival, but that we have been given the opportunity to continuously serve in the City of San Francisco for 150 years. So in our 150th year we wish to recognize the work and passion with which the Lutheran Social Services of Northern California has engaged the under-served, broken,and less fortunate of our city. Over the past 50 years their work has touched and secured the lives of thousands. They have dedicated themselves to the people of San Francisco in so many ways, advocacy, money management, and special needs housing. Their present location in the Tenderloin demonstrates their intense devotion to being present among their clients, and walking with them in ways that provide security, care and empathy. We celebrate their work and honor their dedication.
However, we are particularly sensitive to the cost which has been incurred and carried by Lutheran Social Services in the pursuit of this work. Particularly, the renovation of their current location from which they deliver their blessings, a facility at Leavenworth and Golden Gate, represented a risky leap of faith for LSS because they reached deeply into debt to make themselves available to their clients. This debt stands in the way of fully applying the resources of Lutheran Social Services to the people who need their help. We wish to alleviate this debt so that the full measure of their resources can be applied to their real work.
As part of our Anniversary Celebration “Unending Grace – 150 years of Saint Paulus Lutheran Church,” we lift up the Lutheran Social Services as a model of caring ministry and seek in our effort to assist in removing the debt of LSS. We will do so by committing up to $30,000 in the form of a challenge to those of good will and shared empathy who would join us in this support.
In responding to this challenge, please note that your contribution should be made to the Lutheran Social Services of Northern California – San Francisco and designated for debt reduction/elimination. In consultation with LSS, Saint Paulus will match the contributions received.
Santa Maria y Santa Marta/St. Mary and St. Martha Lutheran Church situated in the heart of the Mission District in San Francisco has a long and rich history.
The Church was founded in 1887 and given the name of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Originally it was a German speaking congregation, affiliated with the Missouri Synod. For many years, St. John’s boasted over 600 members and 150+ children enrolled in the Christian Bay School.
It was founded by the congregation of Saint Paulus Lutheran Church which is still thriving in San Francisco. Back then, Saint Paulus wanted to form a secondary church in the Mission district since many of their German speaking members lived in the Mission district.
The beautiful church building and structure located at 3134 22nd Street was completed in the early 1900’s. The church was just out of reach of the fire that razed much of the city following the 1906 earthquake.
After World War II, German, Italian and Irish families began moving from the Mission to the west side of San Francisco and out of the city. During the 1950’s the neighborhood continued to undergo additional change as more African-American and Latino families settled in the Mission District in greater numbers.
In 1991 the Synod suggested the church become a “Fresh start parish” and in 1992 the congregation voted to serve the neighborhood’s growing Latino population, moving to a new church around the corner and renaming itself St. Mary and St. Martha Lutheran Church as a mission church.
In 2002, the old church on 22 St. was purchased by the United International World Buddhism Association and so, the Hua Zang Si Temple was born in the historic St. John’s building with its rising spires and Christian architecture. In front, the building’s cornerstone carries an inscription in German referring to a New Testament text about the house of God, built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, the apostles and prophets. Beside the cornerstone, in gold Chinese characters on black background, a sign reads: This temple will teach you how to become a better person.
Our current building is from the 1960’s and the church Sanctuary was built in 1996. The building, except for the Sanctuary was at one time, St. John’s Christian Bay School since 1963.
Our Sanctuary can accommodate 100 people and it is a multi-use space. Dolores Street Community Services are one of three tenants the church has. Dolores Street runs a homeless shelter out of the Sanctuary and also occupies several rooms in our main building. The church and building are in use 24/7.
For much of the 1990s, San Francisco’s Mission District maintained a precarious balance between its colorful Latino roots and a gritty bohemian subculture. Then came the overfed dot-com years. Rising real estate prices not only threatened the Mission’s working-class enclave, but also its status as the city’s center of all things edgy and artsy. Sleek bars moved next door to divey taquerias. Boutique knick-knack shops came in alongside fusty dollar stores. But prosperity did not sap the district of its cultural eclecticism. With a population that is about half Latino, a third white and an estimated 11 percent Asian, the Mission still remains a wonderful mishmash. Where else can you find epicurean vegan cafes, feisty nonprofits and a Central American butcher shop that, for a memorable time, anyway, had women’s undergarments in the window?
Numerous Latino artistic and cultural institutions are based in the Mission. These organizations were founded during the social and cultural renaissance of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Latino community artists and activists of the time organized to create community-based arts organizations that were reflective of the Latino aesthetic and cultural traditions. The Mission Cultural Center for the Latino Arts, established by Latino artists and activists, is an art space that was founded in 1976 in a space that was formerly a furniture store.
Due to the existing cultural attractions and commercial space, and the high density of restaurants and drinking establishments, the Mission is a magnet for young people. An independent arts community also arose and, since the 1990s, the area has been home to the Mission School art movement. Many studios, galleries, performance spaces, and public art projects are located in the Mission, including the Project Artaud, 1890 Bryant St Studios, Southern Exposure, Art Explosion Studios, City Art Collective Gallery, Artists’ Television Access, and the oldest, alternative, not-for-profit art space in the city of San Francisco, Intersection for the Arts. There are more than 500 Mission artists listed on Mission Artists United site put together by Mission artists. The Roxie Theater, the oldest continuously operating movie theater in San Francisco, is host to repertory and independent films as well as local film festivals. Poets, musicians, emcees, and other artists sometimes gather on the southwest corner of the 16th and Mission intersection to perform.
March 18, 2017
Dearest Rev. Dan, St. Paulus Congregation and Members of the Amazing Grace – 150th Anniversary Team,
It was a cold and gloomy day in February, when several members of our Council and I, were trying to figure out how in the world would we be able to send at least three of our youth to the long-awaited and projected trip to Germany this year for the Luther 500 Anniversary. Even if we held many more fundraisers, we feared that we may not have the necessary funds in time.
Suddenly my phone rings and instead of letting the call go to voicemail due to the meeting underway, I know it was the Spirit prompting me to answer the call when I saw it was Pr. Dan. After a cheery, “hello,” Dan begins to talk about St. Paulus’ 150th Anniversary and then…. I hear something about an Amazing Grace financial gift…our youth….the trip to Germany…well, I just could Not Believe It! The Council members said I almost fell out of my chair! I put Dan on speaker as I wanted him to clarify what he had just said and for the Council to confirm if I had heard correctly.
In the midst of “Oh my God” …and translating everything Dan was saying into Spanish and translating in English what the Council was saying – I do not really recall the rest of the conversation – I simply remember the feelings of disbelief for such a miracle and profound gratitude enveloping the room and our hearts!
In awe of how God’s Amazing Grace and that of our sister Church, St. Paulus could touch us so deeply and have the potential to change lives, renew the spirit, revive hope, strengthen our commitment, resurrect brotherly and sisterly love, build bridges and make an almost unattainable dream of our youth and congregation come true!
As many of you know, St. Mary and St. Martha is a bilingual mission Church of the Sierra Pacific Synod, and the only Spanish/English speaking Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Although, we are not a large congregation, we consider ourselves blessed to have babies, children and youth in our church family. Most of our members are immigrants from Latin America and Mexico. They work two and three jobs to make ends meet and therefore, it is nearly impossible for the parents of our children to financially contribute toward the Luther 500 Festival we envision.
The survival and future of the ELCA depends upon our children’s faith, the belief that they are a salient part of the Body of Christ and in their love, passion and understanding of their Lutheran heritage.
Therefore, as our children are and hold indeed, the future of Christianity and our denomination in their hands, hearts and being, we feel there is no better way to instill in them the passion and excitement that will lead them to gain a complete understanding of our history and roots and to revitalize and transform their personal faith journeys. The Luther 500 Festival is a seven-day cultural-immersion experience, religious and educational pilgrimage that promises to bring the Reformation to life as our youth serve, learn and celebrate in the places where Martin Luther did the same 500 years before.
St. Mary and St. Martha’s mission is very much in alignment with your history’s mission as we too, are grounded in the gospel principles of love, justice, inclusion, equality, compassion, forgiveness and to serve and love “the least of these.” Yet, I would venture to say, “The least of these,” include as well, a large number of our congregation as our immigrant sisters and brothers struggle not only to survive, but to have a voice, to feel accepted and not be looked- down -upon in a country that clearly carries now more than even before, a spirit of discrimination and ill-will toward Latino immigrants.
Our immigrant children and youth experience this ill spirit and at times, even during wider church (ELCA) gatherings and Synod youth events. Therefore, we have an additional challenge aside from inspiring in them an interest in their Lutheran roots, as well as to have them feel that they are an intricate part of the Body of Christ and that they also have a voice and the right to use it and the right to be here!
Our sister church, St. Paulus, with your rich history, you know all too well this country and our churches were built with and by immigrants. Moreover, as you have persevered through 150 years in spite of deep losses, seemingly unsurmountable obstacles and profound hardships, God’s Amazing Grace has made you even stronger. We, at Santa Maria y Santa Marta will also persevere for the spirit of St. Paulus lives with us as we are and have been directly an extension of you. since 1887 when St. Paulus founded St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Mission. Although, we were renamed St. Mary and St. Martha as a mission church, and had to relocate around the corner from the beautiful Church and building you founded in 1887 – by God’s Amazing Grace and yours, we too are still standing, loving, and serving God’s beautiful children.
And now, with your unending grace, seven of our youth and four adults will be able to attend The Luther 500 Festival this summer in Germany. We realize we have not done anything to deserve such a blessing — yet, this is how God’s Divine and Amazing Grace works for each one of us. It is a gift without having done anything to deserve it. It is God’s love in action!
Rev. Dan and St. Paulus congregation, from the depth of our being, we thank you profoundly for God’s Amazing Grace and love in action is indeed magnified in each of you!
Praise and bless the grace that whispered,
“¡Si se puede!” “Yes you can!”
¡Desde lo más profundo de nuestro corazón, muchísimas gracias!
May God’s Unending and Amazing Grace be upon you eternally!
With our most profound gratitude and love,
Pr. Monique and St. Mary and St. Martha’s youth and congregation