Our Saviour's Atonement Lutheran Church, 1929 to today In January 1927, Our Saviour's Atonement Lutheran Church was born out of the merger of two smaller congregations: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement and the Lutheran Church of Our Saviour. Both churches had been missions of St. John's Lutheran Church on Christopher Street.
Atonement Lutheran, established in 1896, built a church in 1897 at 116 Edgecombe Avenue (now the home of Mt. Calvary United Methodist Church). The Church of Our Saviour, established in 1898, was first located at 525 West 179th Street, then moved to 580 West 187th Street (now Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Church).
The combined congregation, with around 600 baptized members, came from Harlem, the Bronx, New Jersey, and Washington Heights (primarily east of Broadway). Names in the parish register convey the German heritage of the founding congregations, although some Irish and Scandinavian names had already begun to appear.
Original plans included a Lutheran hospital, to be constructed on land extending to 187th Street, and a gothic sanctuary designed by Mayers, Murray & Phillip. The hospital never came into being, and the stock market crash of 1929 dashed plans for the sanctuary. The Parish House, completed in December 1928, turned out to be the only building the congregation would ever know. The reception hall was turned into the sanctuary and the stage transformed into the chancel (space around the front altar).
The Parish House itself was quite grand: sturdy fieldstone with a slate roof, full gymnasium, bowling alley, sewing room, seven-room parsonage (on the second floor), and separate apartments for a sexton and a deaconess (on the third floor).
From 1930 to 1960; Two Pastors, Plenty of People The three decades after the merger were heady days: strength for mission; many involved not only in worship but also in service and social groups; a vital Sunday School; and Luther League (for high school, college, and older youth). Two pastors led the congregation: Pastor Cecil Hine (1932-1951) and Pastor Franklin Schweiger (1952-1966). Before and durin
During this time, Washington Heights began to change. Before and during the war, the area was referred to as Frankfurt-on-Hudson as German Jews fleeing Hitler settled. During the 1950's, the east side of Broadway changed radically; Germans and Irish were replaced by Cubans and Puerto Ricans, and later by Dominicans. Spanish became the primary language on east of Broadway, just as German had become common west of Broadway during the 30's and 40's. As the 1960's drew near, OSA struggled to keep a foothold and discern its mission.
Difficult Decades: The Sixties and Seventies After Pastor Schweiger resigned in 1966, Pastor Ed Gibbs (1966-1971) faced not only a changed community but also a turbulent time in the nation as a whole. During his pastorate, more community groups began to use the building. During those stormy years the pastor preached against war and was an activist in several community organizations. Still, as members became fewer, many began to wonder if a Lutheran congregation could (or should) survive on Bennett Avenue.
When Pastor Gibbs accepted another call and moved to Queens in 1971, OSA was vacant for more than a year. Then in July of 1973, two young pastors arrived to share one call: Frank Barth and John Keating, fresh out of Gettysburg Seminary, accepted the challenge of campus ministry in New York City with one day a week at OSA. The congregation provided housing; and Lutheran Ministries in Higher Education (LMHE), most of the salary.
Cornerstone Center: A Vision Born of Necessity In January of 1975, because of its inability to support a full-time pastor and the upkeep on the building, the church council and the congregation voted to turn the building over to the synod for $ 10.00. A tiny congregation of about 25 people was left to oversee building maintenance and do ministry.
To prepare for the possibility of a building without a congregation, LMHE along with Lutheran Community Services (LCS) envisioned a center for Lutheran ministry in northern Manhattan. This vision included a center for campus ministry (with a live-in community of college students), a ministry with deaf persons (through LCS), and a space for performing artists. Although financing never came through for ministry to the deaf, other pieces began to fall into place - and some surprises came along. Walls were built to create new office spaces. The bowling alley transformed a video studio and the gym into a dance and performance space. Late in the 70's, a bright red banner appeared above the front doors, proclaiming the space as Cornerstone Lutheran Center. The Cornerstone partnerships enabled OSA to maintain the church building and to provide pastoral leadership for the tiny congregation. By 1980 a few younger people had joined the congregation, accepting the immediate challenge of membership on the church council and long hours of volunteer work!
Reclaiming the Building, Moving into the Future In 1980, OSA moved out in faith to call a pastor half-time and pay for it! OSA and LMHE called Pastor Barbara K. Lundblad to serve half-time in the parish and half-time in campus ministry. The congregation continued to develop into a wondrous mix of people over 70 and under 30, and a host of classes and community groups found a home at Cornerstone Center. In 1986, with support from these partners and growth in the congregation, the congregation called Pastor Lundblad full-time. OSA also regained ownership of the building, "buying" it back from the synod for $10!
Pastor Lundblad accepted a full time position as Professor of Preaching at Union Theological Seminary in 1997. Vacancy Pastor Mark Wilhelm prepared the way for the congregation to call the Rev. Fredi P. Eckhardt. Pastor Eckhardt faithfully shepherded the congregation through the new millennium moving on, in serendipitous coincidence, to the church from which we originally sprang - St. John's Lutheran on Christopher Street. The Rev. Kathleen Koran graciously served as interim pastor until she received her call to Trinity Lutheran in Brewster, NY. She was followed by the Rev. Janis Pauliks, who served us well during the Call process and significantly increasing our membership.
Rev. J. Barrie Lawless was called in 2005, as the congregation has launched a number of new projects to care for the building and its community. During his ministry at OSA, which concluded in June 2012, Pastor Barrie was assisted by three associate pastors: Rev. Martin Malzahn (July 2010 – May 2011), Minister Stephanie Kershner (2011), and Minister Jacob Simpson (Sept 2011-May 2012).
TODAY Since mid-June 2012, Rev. William Eggers has guided the congregation during the church's period of transition towards the call of a new full time pastor.
Pastors Dr. Rev. Frederick H. Knubel Rev. Cecil Hine (1932-1951) Rev. Franklin Schweiger (1952-1966) Rev. Ed Gibbs (1966-1971) Vacant (1971-1973) Rev. Frank Barth (1973-1975) Rev. John Keating (1973-1980) Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad (1980-1997) Rev. Mark Wilhelm (vacancy pastor / 1997- ) Rev. Fredi P. Eckhardt Rev. Kathleen Koran (interim pastor / 2002-2003) Rev. Janis Pauliks (interim pastor / 2003-2005 Rev. J. Barrie Lawless (2005-2012) Rev. Martin Malzahn (associate pastor / 2010-2011) Stephanie Kershner (associate pastor / 2011) Jacob Simpson (associate pastor / 2011-2012) Rev. William Eggers (coverage pastor / 2012-present)