Growing in Grace
Evangelical Lutheran Church Looks Forward While Celebrating its Historic Past
Whether you’re a Frederick native, a transplant or tourist, the twin spires of Evangelical Lutheran Church have surely caught your gaze during a Downtown walk. While many marvel at the architecture, few probably know the history of the East Church Street house of worship that dates back 275 years.
The congregation was established in 1738 by German families from Pennsylvania settling in the Monocacy Valley. Parishioners worshiped in log cabins in Creagerstown and Frederick before completing a limestone church in 1762—now the site of the church’s Trunk Fellowship Hall. The lot for that church, tucked between Church and Second streets, was donated to the congregation in 1752 by Fredericktown proprietor David Dulaney. Today, the campus has eight buildings and a small courtyard area with a playground for children who attend the church’s preschool.
On a recent afternoon, Pastor Robert Driver-Bishop stands in the courtyard happily pointing out historic facts about the church. (He actually shares pastor duties with his wife, Terri Driver-Bishop.) The bricks at the base of Trunk Hall were laid before the French and Indian War, which began in 1754. The Star-Spangled Banner composer Francis Scott Key taught in what is now the Schaeffer Center. “The joke is he wrote ‘O say, can you see?’ on the blackboard,” he says with a chuckle. Gesturing at the spires, Driver-Bishop says a specialist from Boston said they are the most perfectly balanced towers in the nation.
He also tells the story of how the congregation in the 1850s needed the bells hoisted into the towers. “They needed a lot of muscle power,” he says. So they filled the bells full of beer and encouraged the men who showed up to drink. “Then they said, ‘Now boys, we need you to lift the bells’” that were made at the same foundry as the Liberty Bell.
Once inside the worship center, Driver-Bishop points to photographs on the wall showing how the site served as a hospital after the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam. With a temporary floor built over the pews, both Union and Confederate soldiers were treated together. Hundreds of people came to the church to help tend to the wounded and dying. “That’s Frederick at its best,” the pastor says.
This month marks the congregation’s 275th anniversary and members have found a number of ways to note the occasion, including an exhibit at the Frederick County Historical Society headquarters just across the street from the church. In fact, the view from the exhibit’s room overlooks the church.
“This was a wonderful opportunity to get to be a part of the Frederick museum community,” says Marcia Powell, a church member who helped bring the exhibit to life. Powell worked for years at the Smithsonian as an exhibit designer so she was up for the task. The exhibit includes a timeline of Evangelical, the Lutheran Church at-large and historical events spanning nearly three centuries. A Bible given to then-Pastor David Schaeffer’s daughter in 1839 is in a case. A key and a bell-ringer are also on display. “Those were marked as having been from the original church and I didn’t
think too many people were aware of them,” Powell says.
A notable piece is a chair believed to have been sat in by President John Adams, who attended services at the church on June 1, 1800, while en route to the city of Washington. Opened in June, the exhibit can be viewed until the end of the year.
The Washington Bach Consort, a renowned group of musicians and vocalists dedicated to the study and performance of works by the famous composer and his contemporaries, will also perform at the church at 3 p.m. on Nov. 2. Other events include “One Minute of History” presentations at weekend services all year and an anniversary banquet at Dutch’s Daughter on Nov. 3.
Powell and her husband Bill have been members since both retired from the Smithsonian in 2010. “It had always been his dream once we retired to find a church and work on maintaining it,” she says. Bill Powell joined the garden club and a group that maintains the buildings. When he overheard Pastor Terri Driver- Bishop was looking for a designer to modernize Trunk Hall, he knew who to call. “After being retired for a couple years, I was looking to find a project. It was what they needed and they were what I needed,” he says.
Powell and a team of volunteers helped to renovate the hall with different paint colors and placing historic photos and stories in chronological order. “It was a group effort. It’s all in service to Jesus and that’s really what we are all there for,” Powell says.
Mjach Designs owner and parishioner Melissa Lentz helped create a new logo about two years ago featuring an angel— a word found in Evangelical. “[Pastor Robert Driver-Bishop] felt that the angel was a symbol anyone could connect with,” she says. The primary objective was to make the new logo seem timeless.
Lentz moved from Baltimore to Frederick seven years ago. While Evangelical is bigger than her previous church, she was quickly impressed by the outreach to visitors and new members. “It’s a really open, welcome place,” Lentz says.
The church offers four services, one Saturday night and three on Sunday, which give parishioners the option of choosing a traditional or contemporary service. Evangelical also offers a wide variety of smaller groups, including seasonal Bible classes like “Men, Bible & Brew at Brewer’s Alley” and “Women, Word & Wine.” “We have a very remarkable service option,” says John Grove, vice president of the church council. “We are not just looking to the past; we are looking toward the future.” A 20 year member, Grove was married in the church and had both daughters baptized there.
Meghan and Matthew Wyant had been looking for a new church after their son Nathaniel was born nearly two years ago. Raised in different religions, the couple agreed Lutheran was a good fit.” “We had been shopping around for awhile,” Meghan Wyant says. The Frederick native had always taken note of the church’s double spires. They decided to attend a service in February 2012 and stopped searching. “It was an immediate sense of belonging and welcome.”
A former Howard County Public School teacher, Meghan Wyant is now the church’s director of youth programs. There are classes available for preschool to high school youth, including a “Wiggle ‘n’ Worship” that gives young children the option to dance. Nathaniel attends this program regularly. “It’s fun seeing him build his world in a safe place,” she says. “We are really happy here. This is where we are supposed to be.”