Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in 1835-1836 to accommodate those Lutheran residents of Gettysburg who preferred to have their worship services conducted entirely in the English language. The older Lutheran congregation in the community, which was known as St. James and which dates from the early days of the town, was then sharing a church building at the corner of South Stratton and High Streets with the German Reformed congregation. Most of the services in this union church were in the German language.
Many of the early worshippers at Christ Church were faculty members and students of the local seminary and college, where the instruction was entirely English. Among the early members were also townspeople who had no direct affiliation with either of these institutions, but who wanted to be part of an “English Lutheran” church.
Following the custom of the time, the Rev. Samuel Simon Schmucker, who founded both the seminary and the college, and who was one of the chief founders of the congregation, turned to persons in the community of different religious persuasions, as well as to outsiders, for financial help in building the church. One of those who responded to his invitation by renting a pew was Thaddeus Stevens, a well-known lawyer whose residence was across the street from the church. Stevens never became a member of the congregation, but he paid his annual pew rent until he moved to Lancaster in 1842.
During the battle of Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863, virtually every building of any size in the area was used for the care of the wounded and dying. Christ Church was no exception. It was one of the first to be pressed into service. All available space was quickly occupied, and for some time more than 100 men were being cared for. On the afternoon of the first day Chaplain Horatio S. Howell of the 90th Pennsylvania Volunteers was shot and killed while standing on the church steps. A plaque near the site commemorates this event. Our Songs and Stories of a Civil War Hospital is a live performance which tell the authentic history of how Christ Lutheran Church was used as a Civil War Hospital. Follow the Songs and Stories link for more information.
For many years, the congregation was widely known as the College Church, even though its identification with the seminary was equally close. Until the first full-time pastor was called in 1893, members of the college and seminary faculties occupied the pulpit and performed the other pastoral duties. Long after that, students of both institutions were still required to attend Sunday services in one of the town churches, and many discharged this responsibility by attending Christ Church. More recently, and for a number of reasons, the influence of both institutions in the life of the congregation has been altered. Membership and leadership in the congregation now come chiefly from the community.
The congregation continues to use the original building constructed in 1835-1836. Over the years, it has been enlarged and it has been repaired and renovated many times. Today, it is the oldest church building in Gettysburg which is still being used for worship services. In 1957 the congregation purchased the Hill property next door, and converted it into a parish house. Shortly after, an addition for educational purposes was constructed on to the rear of the Parish House. This made possible the expansion of activities not only for the congregation but also in service to the community. A renovation of the lower floor of the Church building was completed in 1974. In 1985 and 1986 the congregation celebrated its sesquicentennial with special programs.
In early 1999, a formal plan for upgrading and expanding the facilities of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church was developed to meet the needs of its members, the local community, and the fulfillment of our baptismal call to ministry. Construction began on the major initiative titled Moving Forward in History in the spring of 2004. Highlights from the project include a more inviting narthex and the linking of our two buildings with a bridge, combining our facilities into one coherent campus. Overall access to the facility with the installation of a new commercial-grade elevator and handicapped access provides admittance to all areas of the property for all persons. Other, less apparent but equally necessary improvements consists of the addition of a fire detection, reporting, and suppression system to protect our historical buildings, enhancement of energy conservation, modernizing of the wiring, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems, and replacement of the church roof.
Christ Church is currently a congregation of the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As its name indicates, it is dedicated to preaching and teaching the good news of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and to ministering in His name. All are welcome to join with us for worship and service and to participate with us in programs of study and activity.