The history of Lutherans in Britain
From many nations
Extracts from ‘From many nations: A history of Lutheranism in the United Kingdom’, by G.J.R. Cienciala, published by the Lutheran Council of Great Britain, London, 1975
In the Beginning
From the earliest days of the Reformation there were Lutherans in these islands, among them some very prominent persons. Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII is thought to have been one secretly; his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, definitely was one. Many of the highest ecclesiastics of the land had strong feelings in that direction, and at one time it even looked as if England’s national church would accept the Augsburg Confession. But it was not to be.
The Strangers’ Church
In the course of the first half of the sixteenth century, the religious strife on the Continent of Europe brought many Protestant refugees to this country. In addition to these there were also in England students, diplomats, craftsmen, and especially, merchants. To enable these to worship God in their own fashion they were given the church of Austin Friars in the north of the City of London. A Royal Charter, dated 1550, from King Edward VI authorises them to conduct worship in their own languages and according to their own customs. There were to be four ministers under the direction of a superintendent who was responsible to the king directly. The ecclesiastical and civil authorities were instructed not to interfere.
Although named in the charter as Temple of the Lord Jesus, it was generally known as The Strangers’ Church, however, it eventually acquired it’s present name of The Dutch Church, as the predominant proportion of its congregation came from the Low Countries.
The first superintendent was John A. Lasco, an illustrious Polish aristocrat and a distinguished Reformed theologian. Having studied under Erasmus, he came to England in 1548 at the invitation of Archbishop Cranmer to assist in the organisation of the Church of England.
Persecution and exile resulted in July 1553 from the succession of Queen Mary I, but restoration came in 1560 under Elizabeth I. At that time the church had 4000 members.
Although the church was run on strict Reformed principles, many Lutherans must have belonged to it. Some, however, will have worshipped in the local parish (Anglican) churches. This is known to have been the case with the Lutheran merchants of the Steelyard, the London counter of the Hanseatic League. They are named in the records of the church of Holy Trinity the Great, and the tombstone of a Master of the Steelyard, Jacob Jacobsen, has recently been unearthed in the place where the graveyard once was.
More and more Lutherans
For over one hundred years this situation continued, but with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, this began to alter. Although in England as a whole the Conventicle Act (1664) prohibited any public worship not according to the Book of Common Prayer, in Lutheran circles, however, changes were underway. As a result of the Great Fire of London in 1666, a large number of craftsmen were brought to England for the urgent tasks of rebuilding the capital. A substantial number came from Hamburg, and were thus Lutherans. The need for establishing a Lutheran congregation in London became more and more obvious.
The First Pastor
A start was made with worship in 1668. Later in the year a pastor arrived from Germany, known as Magister Gerhard Martens, and was installed on December 20th, 1668. Services were held first in a house in Covent Gardens, perhaps in the Embassy of the Elector of Brandenburg, but later in the Swedish Embassy. But the real need was a church, and for that royal permission was required.
A Humble Petition
In the year 1668 a delegation of prominent Lutheran merchants and diplomats approached the king. Now it is most unlikely that Charles II was in any way favourably disposed to the Lutheran Church. In fact, he is usually considered to have had strong leanings to the Church of Rome. His years in exile, however, had taught him prudence, and he kept his private beliefs to himself. In the meantime, London lay in ruins, and all possible assistance was needed for the rebuilding programme. In addition, the growing might of France had resulted in the signing of a triple alliance this very year between England, Holland, and Sweden. Thus a delegation including Sir John Barckman Lyonberg, the Swedish ambassador, as well as the Master of the Steelyard, Jacob Jacobsen, was one that must be given a sympathetic hearing – their request was granted.
By Royal Charter
In a letter dated 17th June 1669, the king instructed the Attorney and Solicitor General to prepare a charter granting the site of the burned-out church of Holy Trinity The Less to certain named persons in the Lutheran community. This to include such rights and privileges as had been granted to the “Strangers’ Church” over one hundred years before.
Even before it received the royal signature on September 13, 1672, the congregation had bought a parsonage (23.2.1670) and received as a gift a beautiful set of communion vessels still in use today. The foundation stone was laid on 21st November 1672 and the completed building was dedicated within the extremely short period of just over one year, in fact, Advent Sunday (21st December) 1673. The preacher was Pastor Martens, and this culmination of so much prayer and effort must have been especially moving for him as this day was also the fifth anniversary of his installation.
More and more Churches
For eighteen years Holy Trinity Lutheran Church was the spiritual home of all “companions of the Augustan profession” living in and around London with the explicit exception of all English subjects of the king, who were deemed Anglicans.
With the accession of William and Mary to the throne in 1688, the extremely restrictive laws in English church life were relaxed; the Toleration Act of 1689 gave expression for this. On March 6th, 1692, a letters patent was issued by the joint sovereigns authorising the Dano-Norwegian community to build their own church. This they did in Well Close Square, near the Tower of London.
Conflicts within Holy Trinity concerning voting rights of members not living in the City of London led to the establishment of a separate congregation in the City of Westminster. Royal favour granted them a chapel in the ancient Savoy Palace, which was dedicated on the 19th Sunday after Trinity 1694 as the German speaking Lutheran Church Of St. Mary-Le-Savoy. Its first pastor was Magister Irenaeus Crusius, previously an associate at Holy Trinity. Three years later, St. Mary’s received another German congregation as a near neighbour when Reformed refugees from the Palatinate received a church home in another chapel in the Savoy Palace, Under the name of St. Paul’s Church, it has continued to this day, and will occur again in this story.
Number four came in 1700 when Prince George Of Denmark, Lutheran consort of the Princess Anne, later to become Queen, founded the Lutheran Court Chapel Of St. James in the royal palace of that name.
The fifth was the result of the Dano-Swedish War of 1710. Quite understandably the Swedish members took umbrage when the pastor, a Dane, prayed for Danish victory. They established their own church in Stepney in 1728, at Swedenborg Square.
As a result of the formation of the various national congregations, the international character of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church was completely lost. It became purely German in language and support and soon became known under its present name of Hamburg Lutheran Church.
Lutherans Sovereigns of Great Britain
In 1714 an event took place that was to have a tremendous effect on the fortunes of Lutheranism in Great Britain for the next two hundred years. With the death of Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart sovereigns, the crown of Great Britain and Ireland passed by the provisions of the Act of Settlement to George Lewis, the Elector of Hanover. King George I, as he became, was a Lutheran by upbringing as well as by virtue of being head of the Lutheran church in his own domains. Now, because of his new position, he was also at the same time Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Protector of the Church of Scotland; Anglican and Calvinist, episcopalian and Presbyterian respectively. This state continued for over a hundred years – in fact, until the accession of Queen Victoria when Hanover passed to her uncle, the male heir.
A Flood of Lutherans.
It was not so much royal interest that affected the Church, although to a certain extent that was there as well, but the natural desire to surround himself with people with whom he could communicate, with familiar faces, in fact, with his friends and relatives. lt has to be remembered that George I spoke no English. There followed from Germany servants, tradesmen, and artisans to supply their needs. Many of these were Lutheran. The trend thus established became a veritable torrent. There were courtiers and diplomats, officers and adventurers, artists and musicians, skilled persons and labourers, good men and thieves. It was not only the Lutheran Church that benefited from this influx; some like Frederick Händel, made a lasting impression on the English scene. To get an idea of the size of this immigration – where there were 2000 members in the German Lutheran Churches in 1700, fifty years later this figure had doubled.
Yet Another Church
Some of this increased German community settled in the eastern parts of London. Many worked in the sugar refineries of Aldgate. To provide a spiritual home for them became the concern of a rich German pastry-cook by the name of Backmann. He organised the collection of the necessary funds, having contributed very generously from his own pocket. Thus was established the fourth German Lutheran Church in and around London. Founded in 1762, its church-building was dedicated by the Rev. Johann Pittius of St. Mary’s in the following year. Dr. Wachsel, first pastor of St. George’s, for that was its name, was a most energetic, charitable, and farsighted man. In addition to establishing a school for children of the poor, and caring for the needy in many ways, he also introduced Lutheran services in the English language. Unfortunately, due to the strong opposition of his congregation, he had to give up this ministry. It is interesting to speculate on the results had the opposite been true.
Care for those beyond the Sea
In the eighteenth century, as also in the nineteenth, Lutheran clergy in London played a significant role in the movement of emigrants to the New World. Due to their strategic location, and in many cases, the high position of some of their congregation, they were able to be of special assistance in smoothing the wheels of officialdom. Thus General Ogelthorpe, founder and first governor of the Colony of Georgia, was persuaded to give refuge to the persecuted Lutherans from Salzburg. Again, some years later, Dr. Wachsel of St. George’s made possible the settlement in South Carolina of emigrants from the Palatinate.
Their concern quite naturally also extended to the spiritual sphere. It was to the Swedish Pastor in London that William Penn turned to for ministers, bibles, and other books for the Swedish settlers of his Colony of Pennsylvania. The Hamburg Lutheran Church was the site for the ordination in 1728 of the Swede, John Eneberg. His destination was the Swedish congregation in Philadelphia. Four years later Michael Christian Knoll was commissioned to take over congregations in New York and Hackingsach (New Jersey). Very important in this Lutheran Aid ministry was the Rev. F. M. Ziegenhagen. He was pastor at the Lutheran Court Chapel of St. James from 1722 for fifty-four years. He had access to the king, and made it his business to find suitable men in Germany, and if need be, arranged for their ordination. He laid the foundations for the American Lutheran Church. One of his men was Henry Melchior Miihlenberg; he left London in 1742. When he organised the church in 1748, his first American liturgy was based on the “London Agenda”, the name given to the one used at St. Mary’s.
Yet More Churches?
Not all the German Lutheran foundations took real root. There were four congregations in London that had a short life. St. John’s, on Ludgate Hill, lasted the longest, with twenty-two years. It came into existence in 1770 when Pastor Wendeborn was turned down by both the Hamburg and St. Mary’s Churches. It disappeared in 1792 with his return to Germany. The others lasted between one and three years; being the Zion Church of Pastor Triebner, the Philadelphia Church of Pastor Krause, and a group that separated from St. George’s in the wake of a man named Pohlmann.
The change to the new century brought difficulties to the various Lutheran communities. The upheavals of the Napoleonic Wars, in particular the Continental Blockade, severely affected the commercial undertakings. Perhaps the hardest hit were the Dano-Norwegians. As allies of Napoleon, they were at war with England from 1807 to 1814, and as a result most of their people left the country. The direct consequence was that the few persons left were unable to maintain their church. The building in Well Close Square was let, and eventually, in 1868, sold for demolition.
Churches, Churches Everywhere!
Life in the first half of the nineteenth century followed the pattern of the previous hundred years. All church-life was concentrated in the capital. A change came in the forties.
One day in Liverpool, an English cleric stumbled upon a prayer-meeting of some Germans in a disused ship. He determined to help them, and arranged for a man to be ordained and called to this ministry. At first this was a German-speaking congregation within the Church of England. Soon, however, as they became more mature, they determined to join their Lutheran brethren. This is the origin of the German Lutheran congregation in Liverpool, which after much wandering in rented and bought churches finally built their own in 1960.
The German congregation in Hull also started its existence as part of the Anglican Church. Founded in 1844 by the Bishop of Hull, it was not until four years later that it became Lutheran in Faith and Practice. Other German congregations established in this period are Manchester (1853), Bradford (1876), London-Sydenham (1875), South Shields (1879), Newcastle (1890), and Middlesbrough (1897).
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England is Born
Another congregation that had an unusual beginning was Immanuel Lutheran Church (now Luther-Tyndale Memorial Lutheran Church) in Kentish Town, London N.W.5. Not satisfied with the theological basis of the German churches in the capital, six young bakers wrote to Concordia Seminary, in St. Louis, Missouri, asking for a pastor and pledging financial support equivalent to their own wage (twenty-five shilling per week). The first service was held in August 1896. A sister congregation named Holy Trinity was established seven years later in Tottenham, also in North London. Although initially purely German in language and character, the congregations very early began bilingual work; already by 1914 services were being conducted in English.
Congregations on the Move
But while new churches were springing up everywhere, the oldest had to leave their historic sites. The building of Mansion House Station of the new Metropolitan Line necessitated the demolition of the Hamburg Lutheran. The last service in Trinity Lane took place on January 15th, 1871. A new site was found at Dalston, next to the German Hospital in Alma (now Ritson) Road in North London. At the time Dalston was the centre of a considerable German community in London. The new building in neo-gothic style, incorporating some of the furnishing of the old church, was consecrated on 13,th July 1876. St. Mary’s also lost its home in that decade. The Embankment Improvement Act of 1875 resulted in the compulsory purchase of the parsonage. This was followed by instructions to vacate the chapel of St. Mary-le-Savoy. However, by royal favour a new site was made available on Duchy of Lancaster land. A new church, parsonage, and other facilities were erected in Cleveland Street by authority of a warrant dated 5th August 1877.
At the turn of the century history repeated itself for the third time when King Edward VII withdrew permission from the Lutheran Court Chapel of St. James. The last service was held on 4th August 1902. The generosity of Baron Henry von Schröder gave the homeless congregation a new centre in Knightbridge. A complex of church buildings was erected in Montpelier Place, the foundation stone being laid on 30th June 1904, and the congregation adopted a new name: Christ Church. The Lutheran Court Chapel was the last of the early Lutheran congregations to lose its original place of worship. The oldest congregation that still uses the same building is St. George’s in Alie Street, London E.1.
Anglican-Lutheran Co-operation in Mission.
The concern shown by the Church of England for the spiritual welfare of German residents was not the first example of co-operation between the two churches. Encouraged by Queen Anne, the newly Founded Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge gave financial assistance to another venture struggling to establish itself – the new Lutheran Mission to India.
Some hundred years later, in 1799 to be exact, the position was reversed when Dr. Steinkopf, Pastor of St. Mary-le-Savoy, was able to help the Church Missionary Society. Although founded three years earlier, no Anglican candidates had as yet offered themselves for service overseas. However, as a result of Dr Steinkopf’s intervention two young Lutheran pastors went to Sierra Leone and became the society’s first missionaries. Further, eleven out of twenty-six missionaries sent to India in the years following 1813 were Lutheran. Dr. Steinkopf’s interest did not stop here; he was also a member of the founding committee of the British And Foreign Bible Society (1804), and its first Foreign Secretary.
A most unusual venture in the history of the Church was the joint Anglican-Lutheran Jerusalem Bishopric. Established by Act of Parliament in 1841, its first and only incumbent was Dr. Michael Solomon Alexander. By virtue of the Act, the bishop had authority to ordain Lutheran candidates according to the rites of the Church of England so long as they had made a written subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion as well as to the Augsburg Confession.
One of the most far-reaching movements of the Holy Spirit in the Church during the last two-hundred years has been the growing concern for Mission. …One such endeavour was the German Evangelical City Mission, founded in London by Dr. Steinkopf in 1849. At the same time institutions such as schools, orphanages, old peoples’ homes, clinics, and even a hospital were established in conjunction with various churches. As early as 1860 there already existed the German Y.M.C.A. All these demonstrated the concern and love of Lutherans in Great Britain for their neighbours.
Missions to Seamen
Round about the same period a mission of a different sort was born. A young German from Mecklenburg became concerned at the plight of German seamen in British ports. He was encouraged to believe that God was calling him to this task. It was the year 1855 when he began his work on Tyneside. The organisation that he established to support this was the German Mission To Seamen In Great Britain (Generalkomitee für Deutsche Evangelische Seemannsmission in Grossbritannien). Until his death the Rev. Dr. D.F.M. Harms, for such he became, was closely involved in the leadership of this mission, as well as being Pastor of the Hamburg Church for the years 1914-8.
The concept of seamen’s missions soon spread to other countries that had merchant navies. There was a difference, however; these other missions were based and founded in the home country, and from there established stations in foreign ports. Thus the Norwegians opened their first centre in these islands in 1864 in Leith, Scotland. The Swedes followed with one in Liverpool in 1869, the Danes with one in London in 1873, and finally in 1880 the Finns in Grimsby. These are by no means their only seamen’s churches, just the first of each in Great Britain.
German Congregations come together
As in so many other spheres, so also in the Lutheran churches in Great Britain, the years before the First World War were a time of unequalled prosperity and peace, never to be repeated. Of the estimated German colony of 100,000, many went to church; whether out of conviction or because of the social pressures of the time cannot be known. These years also saw the establishment of the first inter-congregational organisation among German Lutheran churches. At the instigation of Pastor Harms, already mentioned in connection with the German Seamen’s Mission, the various congregations agreed to work together for the common good. The framework for this was the Association Of German Lutheran Congregations In Great Britain and Ireland. It was founded in Liverpool at a gathering on the IO-11th October 1904; only one congregation decided to remain separate.
One of the first tasks of the Association was to plan the establishment of further congregations at Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham. At the 1914 meeting of the Association in Sunderland there were represented 21 congregations and 3 preaching stations. These were served by 22 pastors and 4 assistants.
World War I
The declaration of war between the U.K. and Germany engendered an intense germanophobia in this country. People who had lived here all their lives suddenly became enemies. All Lutheran congregations were seriously affected, but the Germans most of all. Mobs attacked shops, homes, and even churches. It became dangerous to be identified with a German church. Of the many throughout the country, only the Hamburg Church was still open at the end of the war, and Pastor A. Scholten was the sole survivor of the once large body of German Lutheran clergy. The number of the faithful too had dwindled almost to nothing.
The Years between the two World Wars
Reconstruction after the war was painfully slow; it was 1920 before new pastors could come from Germany. Many s remained closed, others had to link up and became joint pastorates. 1925, as well as being the 5Oth anniversary of the church at Sydenham, also saw the rebirth of the Association of German Lutheran Congregations in Great Britain and Ireland. Gradually congregational life resumed normality, but a return to the pre-war pattern was impossible.
One of the changes that occurred was the nature of the relationship between the German congregations in this country and the Church in Germany. The previous independence was lost, even if not without a fight, in particular from the older congregations. Inevitably, the rise of national socialism and its struggle with the Church spilled over into Great Britain. Thus, while Pastor Schönberger of the Hamburg Church was an enthusiastic advocate of the N.S.D.A.P. (the German Nazi Party), most other pastors supported the Confessing Church. For a time one of their number was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was pastor of the church at Sydenham for the years 1933-35. Eventually, to stop intolerable interference in their internal affairs, the congregations had to sever all connection with the Church in Germany.
Another result of the political situation in Germany was the large number of refugees that came to the United Kingdom. Many of them linked up with the German congregations. The Rev. Hans Herbert Kramm, who came to England as liaison officer from the Confessing Church, started a congregation at Oxford, consisting entirely of refugees. His officially stated reason for coming to England was to do post-graduate study at Mansfield College, Oxford University. In due course he wrote a thesis on Martin Luther and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity.
One of the positive aspects of the church-struggle in Germany and its repercussions on the congregations in this country, was to increase the contacts and to strengthen the bonds between British and German Christians. Among the many of the former a few names may be picked out which show the extent of this friendship among the British Churches. There was Mrs. Dorothy Buxton, of the Society of Friends; a Congregationalist Dr. Nathaniel Micklem, Principal of Mansfield College from 1932-53; and among the Anglicans Dr. George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. William Temple, and his successor in that office, Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, then Bishop of London.
The Second World War
With outbreak of hostilities in September 1939 the position for all Lutheran Churches in this country became extremely difficult, in particular for the Germans. Fortunately for the latter, there was not the same germanophobia as in the First World War. In spite of this the situation soon became critical; many of the German community were interned, although most of them were released before too long.
The conquest of Denmark and Norway by Germany placed their churches in Britain in an awkward position. Even the Swedes and the Finns, although neutral, were severely restricted in their activities. The Norwegian churches, however, soon acquired a very special importance. When further armed resistance became impossible in the home country, Haakon VII, the King of Norway, and his Government established themselves in this country, and with them arrived large numbers of their military forces and supporting personnel. As a result, not only were the existing congregations swelled out of all proportion, but many others were formed as well.
As already mentioned, the German congregations in Great Britain were not persecuted as in 1914-18. They were regarded as “friendly” and not as “enemy aliens”. Thus, for example, when the police were informed that it was thought prudent to use the English language for services and other activities in place of German, the church authorities were requested that no change should be made, and promised police protection if necessary.
Further help came when the Bishop of Chichester founded the German-British Christian Fellowship In Wartime. Not only did this enable believers of both nationalities to meet together, to pray and work for peace and order in a trouble world, but also it brought practical benefits in its wake. An example of this Christian love for the brethren that transcends secular conflicts and divisions was the 250th anniversary of St. Mary’s German Lutheran Church. In 1944, in the midst of the bloodiest war ever between Britain and Germany, two and a half centuries of service were celebrated at a German congregation in the heart of London. The place was a church which had been destroyed by German bombs on a site granted by a sovereign of Great Britain, and the guests-of-honour were the Bishop of London and the Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council. Another aspect of the effectiveness of the Christian Faith in overcoming human barriers is seen in the congregations established in many places by the coming together of refugees from German oppression and of German prisoners-of-war.
Another Lutheran group that was established in this country as a result of the war came from Poland. Although Poles are predominantly Roman Catholic, a significant minority is Lutheran. The first major contingent to arrive in this country followed the collapse of France in 1940. It was at this time too that the Polish Government-in-Exile made London its base. Within a short space of time a Polish junior officer sought to set up some form of Protestant witness. This came to nothing when he was shot down in an aircraft. The next move came when a Polish Lutheran pastor, W. Wallner, was appointed Chaplain to the Polish Armed Forces in Great Britain by the Polish Ministry of Defence.
In 1942 the community was considerably enlarged by the arrival in Britain of units of the Polish Army that had been formed in Russia from released prisoners-of-war and inmates of forced labour camps. The cause for this Russian change of heart was the German attack on the U.S.S.R., with the result that the latter entered the war on the side of the Allies.
Early in the following year a number of laymen, both military and civilian, started moves for establishing a body to initiate and co-ordinate a Protestant ministry among Poles, that of Pastor Wallner having proved ineffective. These discussions came to fruition in the middle of 1943 when the Association Of Polish Protestants In Great Britain was established. It received immediate support from the World Evangelical Alliance, and before long also from the Church of England Council on Foreign Relations and the Polish Government.
The first General Meeting of the Association took place on Reformation Day of that year, and in the following month co-operated with the Polish Orthodox Church and the Church of England in establishing the Anglo-Polish Christian Circle, affiliated to the United Christian Fellowship Committee of the British Council of Churches. The chairman of the executive committee of this group was Dr. Basil S. Batty, Bishop of Fulham, charged by the Church of England with special responsibility for Northern and Central Europe. The A.P.C.C. was very active until the end of the war in organising religious and cultural exchanges between local people and Poles.
The Association, on the other hand, was more interested in promoting opportunities for worship, in organising congregations, and arranging for pastoral services. It was assisted in this by the arrival of Pastor Matz in December 1944, and early the following year by Pastors Stoy, Wantula, and Borkenhagen. They had been captured on the Western Front after having been pressed into the German Army. At the instigation of the A.P.P. the first three were appointed chaplains to the Polish Armed Forces in Great Britain with Dr. Andrzej Wantula as Chief Chaplain. Thus it was possible to establish a congregation in London, the first service being held on Sunday, 18th March 1945. The place of worship was supplied by courtesy of the Church of England; initially this was the Chapel Royal of Savoy (the existing chapel – not the one used by St. Mary’s German congregation), but within a short space of time the congregation was moved to Holy Trinity, Kingsway. The first pastor, the Rev. T. Stoy, was also soon succeeded by Dr. Wantula.
The Early Post-War Years
Further Polish Developments
The Polish Lutheran community received its third and final enlargement in late 1946 by an estimated 1000 souls. This was due to the transfer of the Polish Second Army Corps from Italy, when four further pastors came to this country, with the Rev. Wladyslaw Fierla as Chief Chaplain. In the meantime, with the war at an end, many Poles opted for a return to the home country. Those that stayed, military personnel that is, were drafted into the Polish Resettlement Corps to assist them in the transfer to civilian life in Great Britain. Among those that returned to Poland was Dr. Wantula (in 1948), to become Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of that country in May 1959.
The end of the war did not stop activities of the A.P.P. If anything they were widened in as much as it became the voice of Polish Protestants in the Free World. Thus Poles in Italy and the Middle East, for instance, organised themselves as branches of the Association in 1945. With the departure of Dr. Wantula, Chief Chaplain Fierla was the acknowledged leader among Polish clergy, and this was recognised by his election as Senior Pastor in 1948.
Refugee Groups from the Baltic States
The turmoil of the II World War dealt very harshly with the three Baltic Republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Their incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940 caused large numbers of its citizens to flee the country. After the war many came to Britain via Displaced Persons’ Camps in Germany and elsewhere. Among these, in particular with the Estonians and Latvians, there were many Lutherans.
On arrival in this country, the British Churches, but especially the Church of England, at once held out helping hands. During the 1930’s conversations had taken place between the Lutheran churches of Estonia and Latvia and the Anglican Church to bring them into full communion with each other. Agreement was reached in 1938 and initialled by the three parties. It was ratified by the assemblies of the two Baltic churches, and only the outbreak of the war prevented the Lambeth Conference from doing the same.
Both the Estonian and the Latvian churches, however, had already had a ministry in Britain prior to the II World War. Pastor Konstantins Uders came here at the turn of the twentieth century to serve Latvian seamen. Although living Cardiff, he worked at several ports and cooperated with the Scandinavian Seamen’s Missions as much as possible. Estonian services came about for the same reason. The earliest services on record in that language were held for Estonian seamen in the 1920’s in Cardiff by Finnish pastors. In the 1930’s Rector Harjunpää, the Swedish pastor in London, took over this work as he spoke Estonian, looking after the Latvians to some extent as well. Pastor Söderberg carried on during the war.
The Estonian Lutheran Church in Great Britain
Over the years 1946-1948, five to six thousand Estonian Lutherans came to the United Kingdom. The first congregation was organised in London on July 26, 1946, by the Estonian Ambassador, August Torma, and by Canon H. Waddams. As pastor they called Dr. Jaak Taul, at the time in a D.P. camp in Germany. Dr. Taul had been one of the Estonian representatives at the inter-communion negotiations with the Church of England. After experiencing long delays in securing the necessary exit and entry permits, he finally landed in England in May 1947, holding his first service on the traditional Estonian Mother’s Day in the Swedish Church Hall. The first Sunday service was on the Feast of Pentecost 1947. Soon after Dean Taul was appointed by Bishop Joh. Kopp to lead Estonian Lutherans in Great Britain.
The Latvian Lutheran Church in Great Britain
Although, as with the Estonians, most of the Latvians in Great Britain arrived here between 1946 and 1948, the need for a pastor became pressing already in 1945. Thus Pastor R. Slokenbergs was called to London from Sweden in the Autumn of that year, and a Latvian Lutheran congregation was established in the capital with the help of the Latvian Minister at the Court of St. James, K. Zarins.
In October 1947 Dean Edgars Bergs, Deputy to the Latvian Archbishop, was invited by the British Ministry of Labour at the instigation of the Church of England to come to Britain to visit the Latvian communities. There were some 15,500 of them here, scattered in various camps all over the country. Having seen their great spiritual need, he returned in April of the following year at the request of Dr. T. Grinbergs, the Latvian Archbishop, to establish the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Great Britain.
The Lutheran Council Of Great Britain
At the close of 1947, contacts were made with each other by the various Lutheran pastors in London. This natural desire for fellowship of the like in a strange environment led to a meeting of Estonian, German, Latvian and Polish pastors at the Swedish Church Hall, Harcourt Street, on January 5, 1948. The invitation for this meeting came from the Rev. David L. Ostergren, an American Lutheran doing post-graduate study at Uppsala in Sweden. He had come to England to study the plight of the refugees. What he saw moved him greatly, and he promised to seek help from the Lutheran World Federation.
The Lutheran Council is born
After a number of informal discussions, the Rev. George Pearce, Pastor of Luther-Tyndale Lutheran Church, Kentish Town, invited the leaders of the various churches to meet at his home. This was on March 18, 1948. At this meeting it was decided to establish a Lutheran Council, “Rules of Procedure” were worked out to guide future activities, and officers were elected. Present at the meeting were the following clergy: Pearce (E.L.C.E.), Taul (Estonian), Slokeinbergs (Latvian), Fieila (Polish). Pastor Pearce was elected Chairman, and Dean Taul Secretary. It was further agreed that the next meeting would take place at the offices of the Association of Polish Protestants in Great Britain, 493 Oxford Street, London W.1.
In line with its decision, the Council met at these offices on April 30, 1948, where two important resolutions were passed. It was decided to rent a room from the A.P.P. as a permanent office, and to invite Dr. H. H. Kramm and Pastor Ostergren to join the Council. Dr. Kramm had moved to London in 1947, becoming pastor of the two historic congregations of Hamburg and St. Mary-le-Savoy. Pastor Ostergren, on the other hand, had been successful in his plea to the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Geneva for assistance, and had been appointed its representative in Great Britain to administer LWF assistance to the Lutheran churches there, and to help them in any possible way. The Council Office remained at 493 Oxford Street until 1953 when the Luther Church House at 8 Collingham Gardens was bought.
The last step in the organisation of The Lutheran Council Of Great Britain was taken on 16 June 1948 when it was given a structure to remain unchanged for seven years. Two more offices were also created when Pastor Ostergren was elected Executive Secretary and Treasurer.
In the meantime, at discussions in the U.S.A. and in Britain, it had been agreed that aid to this country should be shared on an equal basis between the National Lutheran Council (of the U.S.A.) and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The share of the former was to be channelled through the LWF. Such assistance as had been provided by the British Churches, with the exception of the loan of churches for services, ceased when the exiles insisted on maintaining their Lutheranism by establishing churches in this country.
The Original Aims and Nature of the Lutheran Council.
When the Council was formed, the most immediate need was to break down the isolation among the handful of clergy, all speaking different languages from each other, set in a strange environment, with only their Lutheran faith and their circumstances in common. By mutual encouragement and co-ordination of effort, and their limited resources, they wished to strengthen and widen the ministry of the Gospel among the many Lutherans, especially the exiles scattered in camps all over the land. To begin to do this it was essential to increase the number of pastors available to do the work. They were here, but it was necessary to persuade the Ministry of Labour to release them from their contracts of employment. Further, the impoverished circumstances of most Lutherans in Britain meant that they were able to provide a small part of the money necessary for their spiritual care. It fell to the Lutheran Council to seek assistance from Lutheran Churches sympathetic to its work, and to administer the distribution of any aid in a fair and efficient manner.
From its very name, the nature of the Lutheran Council can be deduced. It is not a church, and does not have the functions of one. It is a council of autonomous churches, each one responsible for its own conduct….However, from the beginning, there have been doctrinal discussions to seek to form a common attitude on the essentials of the faith.
Hungarian Lutherans in Britain
In the early post-war years a large number of Hungarians, many of them Lutherans, spent a shorter or longer period in this country. Like so many of the other exiles, they came mainly from camps in Austria and Germany. When a pastor arrived in the middle of 1948, he at once began the task of gathering his people living in the London area into a congregation. From an initial attendance of 20-25, the Rev. Bela Karolyfalvi soon built up a weekly average of 35-40 persons, increasing up to 50 on major church festivals. Services were held each Sunday evening, at Luther-Tyndale Memorial Church in Kentish Town. Because of their wide dispersion, those Hungarian Lutherans living in the provinces received only occasional pastoral care. Contact was maintained through a monthly newsletter “Jojjetek Enhozzen” (Come to Me).
Although pastors belonging to the Nordic churches were not members of the Lutheran Council originally, they co-operated willingly whenever the occasion demanded it. An outstanding early example of this was the Lutheran Rally on July 17, 1949. More than one thousand persons of at least thirteen nationalities crowded into Westminster Hall to hear four of the most prominent leaders of world Lutheranism, persons of such eminence as Bishops Lilje and Nygren, and Drs. Michelfelder and Graebner.
(The above history relates to the period up to 1975. Information about the developments since can be found in recent publications on the Communication page.)