First Lutheran is the oldest Lutheran congregation in Toronto, and after more than 160 years, still holds services each Sunday in the German language. It traces its origins to 1850 when a number of German Lutheran families in Toronto began to meet in their homes for worship. The congregation was formally constituted in 1851 and held its services in several locations until 1857 when its first church building with an attached parsonage was consecrated. It was a simple frame structure located at 116 Bond Street, the exact site of the present church. The first years were difficult as there were few German Lutherans in Toronto and financial resources were very limited. Nevertheless the congregation persevered, slowly increased in numbers and eventually achieved a modest level of prosperity.
By 1897 the original frame church had become too small and deteriorated, and a new building was urgently needed. Fundraising immediately began and the new brick church was substantially completed by the time of its consecration in late 1898. The years immediately following and up to the First World War were stable and fruitful ones for the congregation.
However from 1914 onwards the congregation was in a period of such decline that by 1927 its dissolution was considered. Instead, the brave decision was taken to call a new pastor and to begin the gradual process of rebuilding the congregation. In 1930, First Lutheran amalgamated with the struggling St. Paul’s English Lutheran Church, a parish that had been formed in 1906 by former members of First Lutheran. Major improvements were made to the fabric of the building in 1932 although the structure was not altered. The furnishings and decorations in the chancel and nave date from this time and remain largely unchanged.
Following the Second World War the congregation was once again rejuvenated by an influx of immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe. The worship life and programs of the congregation still to this day reflect that vibrant period of renewal.
In 2015, the congregation began another transition to respond to the declining German membership and the growing population of downtown Toronto. This began with a visioning process that lead to the call of a new pastor-our first woman and, also, an Anglican priest through the Full Communion relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada. We still work on that vision today, and reflects much of what you see on this website.
It is also worth noting that First Lutheran is Toronto’s Lutheran mother church. It has played a role in the founding of many other ethnic Lutheran congregations—those of the Finns, Hungarians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Swedes.