ST Paul's Lutheran Church (ELCA) Dansville, New York

Confirmation 1916

Above, a portrait of The Rev. Alexander Berg and the confirmation class of 1916.

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     Welcome to Historic        St. Paul's

Historical highlights listed to the right are linked to the narratives below.

1809. Founding. The Rev. Lot Merkel arrived in 1809 to minister to Lutherans who migrated to western New York  from Pennsylvania.  His church groups met once a month in Seneca, Potter, Bearytown and Dansville.  In Dansville they met in a log school house..  These were among the few churches that began by people moving north.  Almost all other New York Lutheran churches were started by settlers moving west.  The first constitution was adopted July 4, 1824 when the congregation assumed the name (as translated into English) “The United Reformed and Lutheran Church of Dansville". Although the Reformed and Lutheran groups worshiped and worked together, each elected its own council and kept separate records.

1825.  First church building. In 1825, when Pastor Jacob Martin came to Dansville from the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, the congregation voted 25 to 11 to build their own church. Jacob Hartman offered some land in lieu of his $30.00 subscription to the church for that year.  In June 1826, the church council budgeted $250 for construction, and the church building was dedicated in December.  The church was called  St. Jacob’s, in honor of both the donor of the land and his saintly namesake.  Legend has it that the stones of an Indian burial mound on site were used for the church’s foundation. Today, the parsonage, built in 1922, stands at the site of the original St. Jacob’s Church.

1837. Sparta Spin-Off. In 1837, the United Dansville church spun off a  mission, St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Sparta; it operated until 1898.  From its founding, St. Jacob’s held two services, a morning, German service and an evening one in English.  In 1834, English-speaking parishioners called Pastor Martin Stover. A noted revivalist, he used his Sunday evenings for revival meetings.

1839. English speakers separate. By 1839, the English group, led by Pastor Stover, had left the church and began to worship in the village schoolhouse.

1847. The English congregation builds.  After meeting for a few years in the village school, the English-speaking Lutheran congregation got permission to build St. Paul’s current sanctuary building on a corner of Central Park, an area Nathaniel Rochester (a founder of Rochester, NY) had donated to the village. The building was dedicated on Christmas day, 1847. A constitution dated 1863 calls the church “English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dansville, Livingston County, N.Y.” 

1857. Women’s Sewing Society. In 1857 the Women’s Sewing Society was formed at the German United Church, the first such church society organized in Dansville. Members sold quilts, knitted socks, did embroidery, etc. to aid the church. 

1858. Lutherans and Reformed split. From the beginning, German Lutherans outnumbered the Reformed members, two to one.  In 1858, Pastor Strobel arrived in Dansville, fresh from his success in organizing Lutheran congregations at Cohocton and Perkinsville, and sought to reorganize the German church as strictly Lutheran.   In 1861, the New York Supreme Court awarded the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dansville title to the Main Street property for a consideration of $800. 

1881.  Founding of the first local chapter of the American Red Cross. A highlight in St. Paul’s history came on August 22, 1881.  On that date at our church, Clara Barton, who was taking treatments at the Water Cure (Castle on the Hill) to recuperate from her nursing activities in the Crimean War, held the organizational meeting of the first local chapter of the American Red Cross.

1885. English Church named St. Paul's. The name was amended in 1885 to “St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Dansville, N.Y.”

1915. English and German churches merge. It took until October 31, 1915, for the German Lutheran church to reunite with the English-speaking St. Paul’s congregation.  On that last Sunday in October, Pastor Zeller, the last resident German pastor, led the final worship service in the German church.  The flowers were taken from the altar and the congregation processed to St. Paul’s, where they were placed on the altar by the acting pastor, Alexander Berg.  St. Paul’s United Lutheran Church had been born.

1922. Parsonage built.  Soon after Dr. Charles M. Karg arrived as pastor in 1918, the old German church on Main St. was dismantled and most of its lumber used to construct the new parsonage at the same site.  Dr. Karg designed the house, with construction costs of $7,436 ($81,155 in 2006 dollars).  In 1924, at the Church St. property, an addition was put on the Sunday school wing, and  a cellar and furnace room, kitchen, and choir room were built.  Also, the roof was raised and the outside walls were covered with stucco. 

1939. Luther League. In 1939, a Luther League youth group was organized and not long after, the Women’s Missionary Society.  A Boy Scout troop, still operative today, was organized in 1941.  Nearly 30 members of St. Paul’s served during World War II. 

1947. Social Hall. The social hall in which the Boy Scouts still meet, was excavated and constructed beneath the sanctuary in 1947, along with a kitchen and rest rooms.  Church volunteers did much of the finishing work and women provided lunches on work nights.  Outside stucco was replaced with asbestos shingles.  

1948. LOYAL Club. In 1948, the LOYAL (League of Young Adult Lutherans) Club was organized. Today, the Club still serves St. Paul’s as a fellowship and service organization with an adult membership ranging from young adults to retired people. 

1956. First unified budget. In 1956, St. Paul’s adopted  a unified budget plan with all operating and benevolence funds coming out of the yearly budget.  About this time, the cross of Easter lilies was first erected, a tradition that continues to the present day..

1950's. Explosive growth. By the late 1950's, the church was bursting at the seams.  The old Sunday school room was redesigned, and a new education wing added at the rear of the building. The old cellar was refinished. In the early 1960s, the Sixty Plus or Minus Club was organized by older members.  It quickly became an ecumenical, community group and flourished until the 1970s, succeeded by the federal  lunch program or the elderly.

1982. New pipe organ. In 1982, the congregation voted to replace an electronic organ with a pipe organ.  Thanks to a fund-raising program led by the Loyal Club, the new organ was paid for by the time it was dedicated a year later.  Thirteen of the pipes from the 1890s organ were incorporated into this organ, still in use today.

1987. Joins ELCA.. In this year,  St. Paul's became a part of the new Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a national church body that combined several smaller organizations, including the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the Augustana Synod.

1992. St. Timothy’s, Geneseo. Led by the Rev. Paul Shoop, a major mission project evolved in the late 1980s. St. Paul’s voted to assist persons in the Lakeville and Livonia area in establishing their own Lutheran church.  When the new church opened its doors in May of 1992, it was named for St. Timothy, recalling the close relationship between the biblical Paul and Timothy.

St. Paul’s Today. Since the 1950s and 1960s, when western New York was at its economic peak, our region has faced tougher economic times. Many jobs have left.  Also, since the 1970s, mainline denominations nationally have faced declining attendance and a clergy shortage.

In the face of these challenges, St. Paul’s had adapted by sharing a pastor with Zion Lutheran Church in Cohocton, NY, thirteen miles to the south.  Our current Pastor, the Rev. Gregory R. Huth, was called in July 2006 to serve both congregations, and this partnership has benefitted both churches. 

2009. Bicentennial. Today, St. Paul’s looks forward to an ambitious agenda in celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2009.   We offer a vibrant youth program, ranging from Sunday school and vacation Bible school to first communion, confirmation classes and an active youth group.  Our choir and music ministry, under the direction of Marilyn Robin, is outstanding. Four volunteer deacons assist in Sunday worship and in ministering to elderly and shut-in parishioners. We offer adult Bible studies, and actively contribute to several local benevolences, including the Dansville Food Pantry and the Dansville Areas Ministers Association Heating Fund.  St. Paul’s is a leader in the Upstate New York Synod of the ELCA in per person contributions to world hunger.

We’re a growing, active church on the move, planning for our next 200 years of worshipping our Lord Jesus Christ and serving the Dansville community. We’re happy to invite you to become part of our continuing story.  Won’t you come on by?

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