Organized on February 15, 1836, as the English Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germantown, the congregation that became Trinity Lutheran Church was breaking from a pattern of Lutheran services conducted exclusively in German. We may see in this act an effort, even in the congregation's infancy, to be more welcoming to those in the surrounding community.
The English Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germantown in the same year purchased the site of the present church and the Christopher Sower House, where Trinity's offices now are, for $3,000. Sower, a German printer, had moved to Germantown in 1731 and built most of the house then for his residence; the oldest wing of the building dates to 1723, making it one of oldest buildings still standing in Germantown. A member of the German Baptist Brethren, Sower had printed the first German-language newspaper in America in 1739, using the first cast type in the colonies. His 1748 publication of Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German was likewise the first Bible to be printed in colonial America, predating any English version by 40 years.
The church erected a Sunday school building and organized the Lutheran Publication Society on the premises on May 1, 1855. The present church building was erected in 1856, and the 181-foot steeple, patterned after the spire of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields at London's Trafalgar Square, was raised in June 1857. In October 1857, the congregation elected to change its name to Trinity Lutheran Church, and a year later Germantown's first town clock, paid for by public subscription, was installed in the steeple.
Between 1876 and 1911 the marble baptismal font and altar in the upstairs sanctuary were dedicated and installed. October 31, 1915, saw the dedication of the Parish Hall that fronts Penn Street, with a gymnasium in the basement that remains a joy to the youth of the congregation. The sanctuary was graced with the installation of 10 stained-glass windows executed by University of the Arts alumnus Nicola D'Ascenzo, whose work can also be seen at the Folger-Shakespeare Library and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.; and with the dedication in 1916 of the church's Tiffany baptismal window.
The 1950s and 1960s saw a particular period of flourishing at Trinity under the leadership of Dr. Edward Traill Horn III (senior pastor from 1946-77). A preschool nursery was begun, and in 1954 Trinity's Easter service was televised by CBS. The congregation also pioneered staff ministry in 1954. With the formation of the Lutheran Church in America in 1962, the nearby location of that church body's publishing house, Fortress Press, brought an influx of members to the church. Trinity modernized the Sower House offices and the Parish Hall in 1964, installed an elevator, and constructed a parking lot to accommodate an increasingly commuting congregation. A contemporary worship service was begun in 1965, and the present sanctuary pipe organ was installed in 1968.
In 1978, a year after Dr. Horn's retirement, the congregation under the leadership of the Reverend P. Richard Grove dedicated the present Trinity Window over the altar in the main sanctuary. Three years later Trinity celebrated its 145th anniversary with a Reformation service using "A Colonial Liturgy in English." Trinity's Adult Forum researched, developed, and conducted the liturgy under the inspiration of now Pastor Emeritus Horn, who had prepared a Colonial Service for the 1976 Bicentennial that was televised locally. The 145th-anniversary service drew from translations by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the Marburg Hymnal, and the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the church direct its focus toward children through Summer Day Camp and an after-school Child Care Center on the premises. The congregation built a playground beside the parking lot in the late 1980s, and a Healing Service was started in 1985. Trinity celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1986 with a newly painted steeple and the renovation of the church's parlor and interior. In 1988 the historic cemetery, in which lie veterans of every war up to the mid-twentieth century, was expanded to include a columbarium.
The establishment of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988, uniting the former Lutheran Church in America, American Lutheran Church, and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, was a great victory for Lutheran church unity but something of a blow to Trinity. Many members who had worked at the LCA offices in neighboring East Falls transferred with their jobs to the new headquarters in Chicago, while others took retirement and relocated too far away to commute easily to Germantown. The neighborhood itself underwent many changes over this time, and shifts in the general economy and social norms affected both interest and giving trends. Trinity suffered as have many other urban mainstream churches.
It would be a mistake, however, to look only to Trinity's storied history. The vibrancy of this "Welcome Place" has always lain in its Christian mission and its dedicated membership, and even amid tremendous struggles, with the grace of God and the warmth, commitment, and wholehearted faith of Trinity's Congregation Council and many lay leaders, the congregation has piloted a true and faithful course forward.
The growth of a Lay Preachers Academy under the vice-pastorship of the Reverend Rosa Key in 2004, with input from retired pastors Robert E. Bornemann and Terence Y. Mullins, has allowed members to expand in the priesthood of all believers and deliver their insights into Scripture many Sundays. Camp Belief, lovingly coordinated and run by Gracie and Clifton Hayman, ministers to both children and their families with a Saturday Christian day camp in the "regular season." Connie Mosley's commitment to sustaining a summer week of Vacation Bible School has received a boost with the growth of the Germantown Avenue Lutheran Parish (GALP), made up of three Lutheran churches on Germantown Avenue (Trinity, St. Michael's, and Christ Ascension) who, along with the seminary, strive to find new ways to minister and grow together.
As a former history of Trinity put it:
Rich as its history may be, the true glory of Trinity Church is in the privilege of continuing to bear witness to Christ in its community today.... The open doors of its buildings and the open hearts of its people convey an invitation and warmth of welcome to all.