First Lutheran Church dates its foundation in Carlisle to 1765. In 1765 Lutherans were the largest single denomination in the Province of Pennsylvania, but they were relatively few in the “frontier” areas of recently created Cumberland County and Carlisle. Early Lutheran ministers/missionaries on horseback rode circuit in the area, ministering to isolated members in a wide area of present day Cumberland, Perry, and York counties. According to a contemporary (1766) document “there are two or three congregations (the principal place is Carlyl…) adjoining the mountains, which are situated forty, fifty, and sixty miles from the nearest ministers.”.
Jacob Goering was our first minister of record, ordained by the Pennsylvania Synod in 1775 and sent to Carlisle and “congregations in the vicinity” to serve as pastor. Around this time as well, our congregation together with a Reformed Congregation jointly built a log church two blocks south of Carlisle’s main square where each church held its own separate services. Our services were conducted in German, the native language of Martin Luther and the Lutheran reform.
By the beginning of the 19th century, what was to become First Lutheran in Carlisle was growing and becoming more distinct. Regularized parish records began in 1788. The joint arrangement with the Reformed Congregation dissolved. In 1806 the “wardens of the German Lutheran Church of the Borough of Carlisle,” acting for the congregation, paid $150.00 to purchase a lot in the northeast quadrant of town. The lot, bounded by East Louther Street, North Bedford Street, and “by an alley which divides the same from the prison wall…” became the site of our new church, with the cornerstone being laid in 1807. Sunday school began in 1816. The church itself was incorporated in 1811 and was to remain in the Bedford Street area for almost a century.
This first church (probably brick but possibly log) burned on March 11/12 1851. Only the walls remained. The congregation pulled them down completely and rebuilt an entirely new structure, worshiping in its new sanctuary by May 1852.
Accompanying the physical destruction and reconstruction in the 1850s was a language controversy. The use of German as the liturgical language continued into the middle of 19th century, when the growing use of English precipitated a split in the congregation. Though the 1825 church council mandated that English should be alternated with German as a preaching language, the Reverend Jacob Fry, called to the pastorate in 1854, could not preach at all in German. Those members still seeking a German speaking pastor withdrew from the congregation to form their own church. There was now a German language Lutheran Church and an English language Lutheran Church in town—the latter by 1876 known as the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Carlisle Pennsylvania.
By 1899 First Lutheran’s congregation decided to relocate once more. They purchased a large lot on the corner of East High and South Bedford streets, one block south of their then current location. Demolition of the old factory buildings on site began soon afterward. The cornerstone of the new Italian Renaissance church was laid in May 1900, and the congregation dedicated the new structure November 10, 1901. A modern building, housing an office and classroom complex and attached to the rear of the church, followed in 1966-1967.
First Lutheran celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2015 with a year of community outreach and celebratory events. In 2016, we adopted a new purpose statement to guide us as we move into the next 250 years of ministry: “We worship, welcome, witness, teach and serve in the name of Jesus Christ.” Thanks be to God!