28 Years before the founding of Emmitsburg in 1785, there was a Tom’s Creek Church. A few Lutheran families in 1757 purchased an acre of land to construct a log church about three miles east of today’s Emmitsburg, Maryland. 

 

The first pastor was Reverend John George Bager (Baugher) who lived near Hanover and also served congregations from Baltimore, Maryland to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He was pastor at Tom’s Creek Church for two years.

Many of the "fathers" of the first Tom’s Creek Lutheran Church are still familiar names to Elias Evangelical Lutheran Church today; such as Smith, Eyster, Maxwell, Shriver, Troxell, Martin, Ohler, Gillelan and Rowe, to name a few.

The church was without a regular pastor for two years (1759–61); then Ludwig Beck served for six years (1761–67). The church was again without a regular pastor until Reverend Charles F. Wildbahn, who served for thirteen years (1769-82).

After Reverend Wildbahn left the parish, the Lutheran and Reformed congregations united. They built a new church and schoolhouse on the same spot as the old church. Both churches were about 35 yards south of the Lutheran Cemetery, across the road with the front door facing south. There was a hitching post in front of the cemetery. The cemetery was enclosed with a wrought iron fence in later years. Helman writes they buried some bodies three and four deep, because theirs was the only graveyard for miles. This is one of the oldest burial grounds in the Emmitsburg area.

In 1797, the congregation decided to build a new church in Emmitsburg. The Methodists purchased Tom’s Creek Church, but there is no record anywhere of that sale.

The first Lutheran minister at Emmitsburg was Reverend John F. Ruthrouff. Reverend Ruthrouff passed away in 1837 at the age of 74.

One half acre was purchased by Thomas Maxwell from William Emmit for $100.00 and given to the congregation in 1802. The church was built of stones from the area. It was very plain with only one door facing east and four windows. The walls were three feet thick and wooden pins joined the hand-hewn timbers in the attic. It is the oldest non-residence building in use in the area.

An architect, Peter Troxell, and builder, George Smith, built the steeple in 1814. The 120-foot steeple was built at a cost of $1,523.56˝. The money was raised with a lottery authorized by the General Assembly in Annapolis, Maryland. In 2000, a basket lottery was used to help pay for repairs and painting.

Helman’s history says a clock with wooden works was built by John Hughes of Taneytown, Maryland, and was placed in the steeple. It was used until 1860. Also at this time, a four-foot fish weathervane was used. The fish is an ancient symbol of Christianity and the weathervane is on display today in the church.

Elias had a German speaking service until 1828 when the service was changed to English by popular demand. The Union Sabbath School was the predecessor of our present Sunday School. It served both the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. In 1868, when the Reformed people left, the Union Sabbath School ceased. In 1870, Elias adopted a constitution and the school began Sabbath School of Elias Evangelical Lutheran Church. The school was under supervision of the pastor until 1964. The school was then turned over to the Parish Education Committee. Now the school was the church council’s responsibility where before it was separate from the church with its own financial support.

A schoolhouse was built in 1829 on the church grounds which is now part of the cemetery. It was called The Union Academy. The purpose of the school was to teach religion along with secular subjects to the children. At first this was only for the congregation; then they opened it to children of the parish. The academy was a brick building about fifty feet west of the church and was used about forty years. The enrollment could never exceed forty students. When our cemetery was enlarged in 1870, The Union Academy was torn down.

Andrew Eyster, a silversmith, made the sacramental vessels which are still used today.

In 1868, the narthex, or front entrance, was built and a new charter and constitution was formed. Reverend Elias Johnston was the pastor at this time. The first constitution was adopted in 1870. The constitution at present time was adopted in 1987.

Elias’s first parsonage was purchased in 1868 and was used for 53 years. In 1921, the present parsonage was built for less than $10,000.

Flora Belle Ohler was born in Emmitsburg in March 1866 and entered the Lutheran Deaconess Motherhouse in September 1907. After much service, her eye sight caused her to retire to the Motherhouse and she passed away in July 1955.

The Reformed congregation withdrew from Elias in 1869 after 87 years as a Union Church. The Lutherans had 390 members in their congregation and the Reformed consisted of 47 families.

The first organ at Elias came in 1883 and they needed an organ pumper. He was paid $1.25 per month. The second organ was installed in 1890 and was used until the present one was purchased in 1971.

The memorial stained glass windows and pews were installed at the centennial of the church in 1897. In 1972, they were valued at $27,500.  The women were not involved in the administration of the congregation until 1897. The first female deacon was Helen McNair, elected in 1966. 

The church grounds really increased in the latter half of the 19th century. Water was piped to the parsonage in 1885.

Reverend Day began his pastorate September 5, 1920. He and his family lived with parishioners until the new parsonage was completed. They moved in April 1921.

The church made many physical improvements because October 1922 was the 125th anniversary and the cornerstone for the present Parish Hall was laid. In 1924, the congregation voted a senior of the Gettysburg Theological Lutheran Seminary, Philip Bower, as pastor following his graduation. He was officially installed July 12, 1925. During his pastorate, the Parish Hall was built and dedicated on September 14, 1930.

From 1930 to 1940, Elias purchased additional property and a two-car garage was erected. The property value more than doubled from 1935–1947.  

The adjoining Tokar property was purchased and the buildings removed and a driveway was installed from Main Street to the church. Again, many improvements were made the next few years.

In 1948, the Hymn Player and Westminster Automatic Clock striker was installed and the organ rebuilt.

The present stone pier fence in front of the church and Parish Hall was installed in 1952. The steeple was remodeled in 1955 and a stainless steel cross erected. The sanctuary was redecorated in 1957 for the upcoming 200th year of the congregation.

Pastor Bower served Elias and Emmitsburg 37 years until 1962.

The next three decades brought a lot of changes in the church government, parish education, ecumenism and liturgy. Reverend Ronald Fearer was the pastor during this time. Elias replaced the constitution in 1962 that had governed the church since 1871. In 1966, the first woman was elected a deacon of the church.   

In August 1964, a meeting of the five Protestant churches considered an ecumenical weekday school. Pastor Fearer was director and the school met for nine years on Wednesdays after school. Elias had a bus that took children home.

The Community Vacation School began locally in 1931 and was held for two weeks in the morning. Now it is held in the evening so more children can attend and more teachers are available.

Working relationships among the churches of the parish was the most dramatic and obvious change that was made during Reverend Ronald Fearer’s pastorate. They cooperated through a council of churches in the common concerns of evangelism, parish education, social ministry, worship and music. In 1966, a special prayer service for world peace was held in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and Pastor Fearer was the first Protestant pastor ever to officiate at St. Joseph’s Church.

The Council Of Churches in 1967 offered the first ecumenical service for Christian unity in Emmitsburg. St. Joseph’s Church joined the Council of Churches in 1970, followed by St. Anthony’s Church and the Provincial House.

The liturgy was the major area of change in Elias. Until 1963, Holy Communion was given four times a year. In 1996, Holy Communion is administered every week. The new pipe organ was installed in 1971. The acolytes were formed in 1970, hoping to get the children to participate. The program was very successful.

The LCA recommended in the 1970 convention that churches cease to make confirmation the prerequisite for receiving Holy Communion. First Communicants were set at 10 years of age.

Ronald E. Reaves became the first male member of Elias to enter the Lutheran seminary and was ordained in 1972. In 1997, Elias Church celebrated the 200th anniversary of its present sanctuary and the 240th anniversary of its founding. The congregation called its first female pastor, Susan Yatta, in 1997.

As of 2002, Elias Church has an interim pastor, David Knodel. Come join us on Sunday morning for Sunday School at 9:00 a.m. and church at 10:30 a.m.

Read Other Historical Articles by Shirley Troxel Rohrbaugh

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