Monongahela has been a center of Lutheran labors for many years, but the establishment of the present congregation belongs to comparatively recent history.
Pastor J. H. Brown of Washington-Fayette parish lived here for three years but made no attempt to organize a congregation. Pastor George St. Clair Hussey organized a congregation here in 1841 but it soon disbanded. On February 7, 1869 thirteen persons united to form the “First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Monongahela City.” This organization was effected in an old Methodist Church, located at the corner of Third and Chess Streets, which had been purchased by Lewis Staib, a member of the congregation and presented to the Lutherans. It is not clear who organized the congregation. The first Pastor was Rev. D. L. Ryder, but he did not take charge until after the organization. He served until 1872 when he was succeeded by Rev. H. H. Hall who remained until 1877.
Rev. Hall, in speaking of his five years as pastor, said that the Sunday School had grown and the Church membership trebled. However, Mr. Staib had some financial troubles and as he had not yet given a deed for the property to the congregation, it was taken as part of his assets. The Church Board was unable to assist and Rev. Hall had to abandon the field. At a meeting of the Pittsburgh Synod in 1877 the church was referred to the Southern Conference for supply ministers.
Thus it continued until March 1, 1880, when the Rev. H. B. Winton became the regular supply until March 1, 1883, when the Rev. J. W. Breitenbach became the pastor. The church now began to grow again. Mr. Staib, having recovered from the his financial reverses, bought the Primitive Methodist Church in the First Ward and deeded it to the congregation on June 26, 1884.
Grace English Evangelical Lutheran Church
At a meeting on December 9, 1884, the name was changed to “Grace English Evangelical Lutheran Church” and under this name was chartered January 17, 1885. Rev. Breitenbach served until August 1, 1887, when he accepted a call to Freeport, Pa. The congregation now numbered 74 and the Sunday School 200 but no successor could be secured and the work languished and the congregation disbanded. For fifteen years the congregation was dormant. The Trustees retained control of the church property and rented it to other denominations.
Reorganization and Growth
In March 1902, the Rev. J. S. McDowell, Missionary Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Synod, visited Monongahela and took steps to reorganize the congregation. Levi P. Young, a theological student at Susquehanna University, was sent here for the Summer. As a result of his labors, the congregation was reorganized August 4, 1902 with 33 members. In 1904 the old church property was sold and work was begun on the new church which was dedicated March 5, 1905. The second story was completed and dedicated May 31, 1908.
During the pastorate of M. M. Allbeck the parsonage was purchased and the church enlarged and rededicated December 6, 1914. The congregation became self-supporting October 1, 1913.
In February, 1923 the mortgage was burned by G. L. Bayha, the last surviving member of the first congregation.
In 1925 a pipe organ was installed and a set of tubular chimes for it was presented by Mrs. Caroline Ostermier.
The church was without a pastor until June, 1931 when Rev. A. U. Gesler took up the work. A new heating plant was installed in 1936 and during the same year the pastor and choir began to wear robes.
During the pastorate of Paul L. Schmiedel vases were presented for the altar, the two lots adjacent to the church purchased, the kitchen moved to the first floor, a choir room installed, floor refinished, new lighting fixtures installed and a carpet for the sanctuary was presented by Mrs. Margaret Thompson. John H. Staib, the last surviving member of the 1883 congregation, died May 1, 1948.
The Rev. J. Allen Snyder became pastor on May 1, 1949 until September 1, 1952. A missal stand, set of stoles, white cottas for the choir, and a light for the chancel were presented to the church. The silver communion set which had been given to the old congregation by Lewis Staib was taken out of storage and refinished making a very beautiful set. Extensive alterations were made to the church and parsonage, a new heating plant installed, a garage built and many other improvements made. Rededicatory services were held November 11, 1951.
The Rev. Chester S. Bird, assumed the pastorate on January 1, 1953. The congregation was growing and much progress was being made. In 1953 the organ was rebuilt at a cost of $4000. A set of brass offering plates were presented to the congregation, a beautiful credence bracket built. An oak reredos was installed in 1956 which added greatly to the appearance of the chancel.
As of April, 1956, the membership was: 584 Baptized, 453 Confirmed, 323 Communing, 204 Sunday School enrollment. The Church property was valued at $75,000 with less than $5,000 debt.
A New Home
The property on which today’s church stands, at the corner of Howard and Meade Streets, was approved by the congregation for purchase on January 5, 1958. On April 5, 1961, the mortgage on this property was burned. To continue the quest to build a new church, the congregation decided on March 18, 1962 to purchase the property next to the new lot for a new parsonage. On October 10, 1971, the groundbreaking service for the new church building was held. December 3, 1972 would be a day of mixed emotions, for it was to be the last day of worship at the Second Street address of Grace Lutheran Church and the day on which the cornerstone would be laid at the Howard Street address. The dedication service for the new church took place on December 10, 1972. The Rev. William C. Hankey D. D. President of the Western Pennsylvania-West Virginia Synod of the Lutheran Church In America was in charge of the service. After seeing these many changes take place, Pastor Bird retired on December 31, 1973.
Pastor Bird was succeeded by the Rev. James F. Neal, who served as pastor from September 1, 1974 to June 30, 1979.
On March 2, 1980, the Reverend Richard F. Price was installed as the new minister of Grace Lutheran Church. During his pastorate, he saw the mortgage for the church burned in a service held on December 15, 1985, just thirteen years into a twenty year mortgage. In April, 1988, an $18,000 renovation took place in the chancel area. The chancel area of the church was remodeled and the organ was placed to the right of the Altar rather than right behind. A service for the purpose of rededicating the chancel took place on May 29, 1988, with the Rev. Donald J. McCoid, Bishop of the Southwestern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America as speaker of the day. The lower parking lot of Grace Lutheran Church was paved during August of 1989. The congregation, at this time was comprised of 484 baptized members, 327 confirmed members and 330 communing members.
Grace English Evangelical Lutheran Church celebrated its 125th anniversary on Sunday, February 6, 1994.
On August 6, 1995, the congregation held a retirement dinner for Rev. Richard Price. After giving his final worship service, on August 13, 1995, Rev. Richard F. Price retired.
Rev. Raymond Ursin, on October 8, 1995, delivered a sermon to the congregation. At the special congregational meeting following the service, the congregation voted in favor of Pastor Raymond Ursin as the new minister. Pastor Ursin officiated for the first time as the new pastor on November 5, 1995.
To make the church handicapped friendly, in 1997, handicapped accessible restrooms were installed upstairs and downstairs. During the spring of 2000, the church was completely air conditioned at a cost of $21,950.