Our Mission Statement
First Evangelical Lutheran Church is a family of believers in Christ, committed to sharing and extending God’s love through word and sacrament, prayer and service to all. In response to the great commission of Christ, we pledge by mobilization of our resources, to help others discover and grow in the joy of a full Christian life. (1989)
Our Ministry Team
Ralph Carl Wushke
Ralph Carl became Interim Pastor at First Lutheran on September 1, 2019. Baptized, confirmed and ordained at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Wapella, Saskatchewan, his first call was to Dannevirke Lutheran, Redvers, SK, 1978-84. After “coming out” ELCIC policies of the day precluded him from receiving another call. He worked in the Canadian HIV/AIDS movement for the 1990s and returned to called ministry in The United Church of Canada, 2000-2018 (Bathurst United Church and Ecumenical Chaplaincy at U of T – both half-time.) His alma mater is Luther University College, Regina. He has also earned a M.Div. (Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon 1978), a B. Journalism (Carleton 1986) and a Th.M. (Emmanuel College – Victoria University – U of T 2004).
Ralph Carl is excited to serve First ELC as it deepens it mission as a church surrounded by Ryerson University and downtown Toronto. His appointment is possible because of a Revised Policy on Re-instatement to the Roster, (ELCIC National Church Council motion, July 10, 2019.) He has passion for worship, preaching, social justice and pastoral care. A sabbatical at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba in 2015 engendered a love for Cuba and Latin American cultures.
Ralph Carl lives with his partner of 22 years, David Vereschagin, in the Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood. He loves to garden, cook, travel and sing. In addition to his mother tongues, English and German, he speaks French and Spanish.
Scott Weidler is the Director of Music at First Lutheran, and is passionate about creating accessible, sacred space through music.
Drawing on extensive experience, and a deep love of a variety of musical traditions, Scott works to build community and enhance worship. Before relocation to Toronto and joining the team at First, as well as St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Maple, Scott served the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as Program Director for Worship and Music for twenty-one years. He serves on the national board of the Leadership Program for Musicians, a cooperative program between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, and on the board of trustees for Music that Makes Community. He has earned degrees in education, music, and liturgy from Concordia College, Wittenberg University, and the University of Notre Dame. He lives in downtown Toronto with his husband, Zia Ahmed.
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.
The organ in First Lutheran Church was built by the Karn-Warren organ company in Woodstock, Ontario in 1911 and has been recognized by the Royal Canadian College of Organists as a historically important instrument.
Renowned Hungarian-Canadian organist, Xaver Varnus has recorded a short organ concert at First Lutheran Church. You may watch the video below.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
At the height of the European renaissance in 1517, a German monk by the name of Martin Luther challenged the church of his day to return to the original roots of Christianity. During the course of the Reformation, layers of teaching, tradition, rites, and ritual that had accumulated over the centuries were re-examined and discarded or reaffirmed.
As Lutherans confess their faith in the words of the ancient Christian creeds, they claim to be a part of “the one holy Christian and apostolic church”. Lutherans do not claim to be followers of Martin Luther as such.
According to Martin Luther and other sixteenth century reformers, there are three fundamental teachings of the Christian church:
we are put right with God by FAITH ALONE
we are loved by God through GRACE ALONE
and the preaching and teaching of the church is based on SCRIPTURE ALONE.
The interpretation of scripture
We Lutherans share a common approach towards the interpretation of scripture. The Bible is the inspired word of God through which God still speaks, written by people for people over a period of hundreds of years. We believe that our faith is based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as it is witnessed in the New Testament and today we abide by the good news as revealed to us in the Bible.
The Small Catechism and the Large Catechism
In 1529 Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism and the Large Catechism as a foundation for religious instruction in the Christian faith for the newly established Protestant parishes. Even today these works provide us with a precise and understandable introduction into our Christian faith.
Together with all Christians we believe in God the Creator (often called the Father), God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God comes to us as ONE God who is revealed to us in three distinct ways:
The Creator created the world and humankind, entrusting us to be the stewards of creation.
The Son, also the Christ, is the Creator who became human in the form of Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection model how God would have us live in communion with God and one another.
The Holy Spirit sustains and guides us both as a church and as individuals in contemporary life.
Together, Creator, Son, and Spirit are God, Three-in-One.
Lutherans recognize two sacraments as instituted by Christ himself: Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In Holy Baptism God establishes his relationship with us. We are customarily baptized as infants to show that our relationship to God does not depend on us and on our good works. He beckons us into a relationship with him and not the other way around. All Christians are united by this one Baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In Holy Communion Jesus is present in, under and with the bread and wine. We eat his body and drink his blood, reassured that our sins are forgiven and receive nourishment for our daily journey.
Lutherans confess their Christian faith in the words of the ancient creeds of the Church with the worldwide fellowship of believers. We are thereby united with all those who have confessed the same faith over the ages and still confess this faith today.
“Evangelical” comes from the Greek “evangelein” meaning “good news”. Lutherans use the word to indicate our commitment to sharing a faith that is based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as it is witnessed in the New Testament.
Lutherans have no direct connection to other Christian denominations which may describe themselves as “evangelical”.
Lutherans have been actively involved in the modern ecumenical movement.
For example, the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation marks a milestone in relations between our two churches. It does not mark the end to the many open questions remaining, but rather a hopeful beginning for future dialogues.
We are in full communion with the Anglican Church in many parts of the world. This is a special relationship by which clergy, members and congregations of both denominations are recognized as brothers and sisters in Christ fully sharing in a celebration of the word and sacrament without any restriction or qualification.
Our relationship to other religions
At the denominational level, the Lutheran church is in dialogue with our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist brothers and sisters to overcome our mutual ignorance, prejudices and false assumptions. We feel deeply connected to the people of other faith traditions by recognizing that they have the same dedication, devotion and loyalty in their expression of faith as we have to ours.