St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Congregation Pretoria (German)
More than a hundred years ago, on 15 and 16 June 1899, during the Synod on Ebenezer near Uelzen, it was decided that Pastor Hellberg would hold a worship service in Johannesburg or any other suitable surrounding place once a year. He travelled by train from Glencoe to Johannesburg. During 1925 the Wittenberg congregation decided that their pastor would hold a service in Krugersdorp once a year. He would also visit members at Eendracht (later Leandra) and Springs. In the absence of the pastor, families gathered in private homes to listen to the Word of the Lord (through readings, brass and choir accompaniment).
On March 14, 1946 (just after World War II), Pastor Herbert Böhmer returned from Germany, where he completed his theological studies (and spent about two years in Gestapo captivity for preaching about Jesus Christ). He accepted the position as traveling synodical pastor with simultaneous responsibility for the Panbult congregation (as a subsidiary of Wittenberg).
On 11 February 1950 the Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul’s Congregation was officially constituted in Johannesburg as a subsidiary Congregation of the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa and on 25 February 1951 the newly established congregation decided to approach the Panbult congregation with the request that the two be merged into one congregation. The Panbult Congregation however declined. Pastor Böhmer therefore moved to Johannesburg. Because the synod could not pay him a salary, he accepted a parallel teaching position at the nearby Goudveld High School.
It was in the early 1950s that the idea was raised to hold services in Pretoria as well. The request for Pastor Böhmer to also serve the members in Pretoria was approved by the synodical council and so a subsidiary of the Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul’s Congregation in Johannesburg was constituted in Pretoria. According to oral tradition the congregation started to hold services in the Old Arts Building of the University of Pretoria in and around 1954. Eight years later in September 1960, Pastor Böhmer resigned for health reasons and moved to Philippi outside Cape Town.
His successor, the young Pastor Ernst-August Albers from Sottorf, Germany, lived out his ministry with great zeal and dedication. He made special efforts very quickly to master Afrikaans and serve the Afrikaans part of the congregation in their mother tongue.
Gradually more and more people moved from the countryside to Johannesburg and Pretoria. Both congregations grew – especially in Pretoria. Pretoria therefore considered erecting its own church building. During a congregational meeting on 14 August 1966 in Johannesburg, it was decided to set up a committee to investigate the construction of a church or church hall in Pretoria.
After the project was approved, the cornerstone of the new church building was laid on 28 July 1968 by the then President (Präses) Ludwig Wiesinger based on the text in Isaiah 28 verse 16. The inauguration took place on 2 March 1969.
Although the Pretoria congregation still shared a pastor with the Johannesburg congregation, it was constituted as an independent synodical subsidiary on 6 June 1970 accepting the same name as the congregation in Johannesburg (Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul’s Congregation).
Living in Johannesburg, Pastor Eckart Schroeder held services in Pretoria as well as in Ventersdorp, Springs, Benoni and Klerksdorp.
On January 7, 1971, the Pretoria called its own pastor, namely Pastor Helmut Neddens from Germany. He delivered his first sermon in German and the following Sunday in English. On 21 February 1971 he was installed as pastor of the congregation and a week later he held his first baptism in Afrikaans. On April 3, 1971, the congregation decided to build a parsonage (with 4 bedrooms) and a hall on the existing church grounds. During June 1972, the Neddens family moved into their new home.
Other highlights from Pastor Neddens’ term of office are summarized as follows:
- On 8 June 1975 the congregation decided to buy an organ for the church building;
- On 1 December 1978, the Neddens family moved into the new parsonage at 954 Arcadia Street;
- On 11 March 1979 (Reminiscere) the congregation held a festive service to commemorate the dedication of the church building ten years prior; and
- On 10 July 1983, the congregation hosted the annual synodical brass band festival in its own city for the first time.
During the 1980’s the Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) was established under the direction of Pastor E-A Albers (later the president of the synod) and Missionary Friedrich Dierks (later Dr in Theology).
A student from the LTS, namely Dieter Reinstorf, served the congregation from 1987 (immediately after completing his theological studies) until 31 October 1994. He later received his doctorate in Theology (from the University of Pretoria) and today serves as Bishop of the Synod (FELSISA).
During Pastor Reinstorf’s tenure, we experienced many highlights, including the following special mention, namely:
- Pretoria’s second brass band festival on Sunday 7 May 1989 at Bet-Elim near Kameeldrift;
- On 20 February 1987 it was decided to launch an investigation with a view to a better ministry for the Afrikaans- as well as German-speaking congregation that would mean a possible own pastor for the Afrikaans-speakers. Many of the ministry aspects identified at the time are still valid today; and
- On 17 September 1989, the enlarged church building was dedicated.
From the beginning of 1995 until the beginning of 1997, Pastor Adriano Littig of the Brazilian Lutheran Church served the German congregation. Although his home language was Portuguese, he spoke German fluently. His wife Edelgard was of German descent and participated in congregational activities with great zeal. On November 27, 1996, the joint church council was informed that Pastor Littig was terminating his contract for personal reasons. The church council accepted his resignation with effect from 31 January 1997.
The input of the Afrikaans-speaking members throughout the founding years of the Paul’s congregation and thereafter to this day has been consistently faithful and meaningful. The ideal of having its own pastor was realized when Pastor Klaus-Eckart Damaske was called to serve especially the Afrikaans speaking members of the congregation. He was installed as pastor on Misericordias Domini Sunday in April 1996. After Pastor Littig’s resignation he together with then President Peter Ahlers and Pastor E-A Albers jointly observed the ministry for just over two years.
In 1999 Pastor Matthias Albers (a son of the former Pastor Ernst-August Albers) accepted a call to serve the German speaking part of the congregation. At that time, the house in Arcadia Street had already been sold and Pastor Albers and his wife Christa moved into the new parsonage in The Willows. In the mean time a parsonage was also bought for the Damaske family in Garsfontein.
It was during Pastor Albers’ term of office that a comprehensive investigation was conducted into the future development of the Pretoria congregation. On the question of whether or not the congregation should move, the numbers supporting the differing proposals were evenly distributed and it was agreed to maintain the status quo (and not to sell the current church complex).
During 2012, Pastor Albers accepted a call to serve the Panbult congregation. During the same year Pastor Martin Paul accepted the call as pastor to the Pretoria congregation.
As the Lutheran Theological Seminary had been terminated, a joint decision was made on 25 February 2006 to to investigate the possible conversion of the Eastwood Street House, where the Lecturer Missionary Friedrich Dierks had lived together with his family, into a chapel for the Afrikaans speaking members of the congregation.
On 2 September 2007, under the leadership of their pastor Pastor Damaske, the Afrikaans congregation moved to their chapel. (Somewhat symbolic: On 21 August 2007, it was already recommended that the boundary wall between the chapel and the hall be removed.).
Towards the end of 2017, Pastor Damaske and his family accepted a call to serve the Lüneburg congregation in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. The Afrikaans speaking part of the congregation called Pastor Kurt Böhmer from Uelzen as their pastor. And he moved to Pretoria together with his family in January 2018.