Historical Sketch Of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church at Shaker Heights, OH

Founding of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church was founded in 1883 as a daughter congregation of Zion Lutheran Church. Zion is the oldest Lutheran Church of our Synod in Cleveland. It is still in existence and is located at East 30th and Prospect Ave. Our first location was at the northeast corner of East 69th St. and Quincy Ave. in a 2-story frame building. In 1902,

St. Peter’s moved to East 79th and Sherman Ave. and built a large schoolhouse as a combination church and school. Church services were held on the first floor.

Early growth at downtown location

By 1910, there were 650 communicants and 1000 souls at this church – as one of the church histories stated. A separate house of worship – a large red brick church – was built and   dedicated in 1913.

Mission school developed

From our 75th anniversary booklet: “In 1929. The members of St. Peter’s canvassed the community on behalf of their school. The gratifying result was that enrollment rose to nearly one    hundred (it had decreased to 38 pupils), mostly children who came from unchurched, underprivileged families.”

Fiftieth anniversary observed

On May 7, in the very depth of the depression, St. Peter’s 50th Anniversary was celebrated. About 50 men of the church, mostly unemployed, contributed more than 3000 hours of labor: painting, renovating, and remodeling. Festivities continued for an entire week.

Move to Shaker Heights

Experiencing continued growth and with advice from the Synod, St. Peter’s decided in 1937 to relocate to Shaker Heights. The church property was sold to St. Philip’s Lutheran Church. In 1957 that church moved to Regalia Avenue in the  Buckeye neighborhood of Cleveland. Our two churches have continued a relationship. Some years we would alternate between our two churches for midweek Advent and Lenten meals and worship services.

Early days in Shaker Heights

This 5 mile move to Shaker saw about half of St. Peter’s membership leave because the location was not convenient for them. This move was made possible by means of synodical loans and district subsidy for the next years. St. Peter’s began services in Moreland School at the beginning of Lent in 1938.

Dedication of the Church

On Thanksgiving Day of 1938, our present house of worship was dedicated with seven festive services all in one day. Dr. Walter Maier of the Lutheran Hour gave four of the messages besides the coast to coast Lutheran Hour broadcast from the church. The narthex walls contain the cornerstones and markers of the congregation’s three former churches. Also, in this corridor are stones from historic churches associated with the beginning of Lutheranism.

Addition of an educational building and parish hall

As church membership increased, there was not enough room to educate the nearly 100 young people in Sunday school nor to do the many activities and ministries of the church. In 1963, St. Peter’s dedicated to the glory of God its new education building and parish hall.

Difficult days and new hope – late 1970s to early 1980s

During its first 20 years at this location, St. Peter’s maintained a communicant membership level of approximately 170. Later, the worshipping community experienced a decline in numbers and by 1981 decided to seek help from the Mission Board of the Ohio District. They enabled our church to call a full-time minister and   provided   additional resources so that we could rebuild and revitalize the ministry.

Church growth

We experienced renewed growth in the 1990s. At a leadership retreat in 1993 – Pastor Jeff Stephens was now our minister – the mission statement was developed: “Embracing the world around us with the love of Jesus Christ.” As part of our new growth, a Director of Youth education – Ingrid Lewis – was added to the staff in 2001.

Pastors Of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church at Shaker Heights, OH

The first pastor of St. Peter’s came directly from the theological seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Pastor Treff served the congregation for over four years as well as teaching the school children in the two-story frame building (the church room was on the second floor).
Progress and harmony characterized his years of ministry. School enrollment rose to nearly ninety. In 1890, the building was enlarged to give additional space to both church and school.
Reverend Juengel served three and a half years. There was a general depression throughout the land making work scarce and earnings meager. This in turn caused hard times for the church.
The congregation’s building was again enlarged during the thirteen years of Pastor Westerkamp’s ministry. In 1901, the congregation was able to purchase property at the corner of Madison Avenue (east 79th Street) and Sherman Avenue. In 1902, a large combination church and school was built.
By 1912, the congregation were able to go forward with a long-standing resolution to build a separate church building. This large red brick building was erected at a cost of some $30,000. The house of worship was dedicated to the service of God in December.
Pastor Nickel served the congregation for more than three years. He had served as supply minister before Pastor Gotsch’s departure and had been Cleveland’s City Missionary.
A graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Pastor Katt served a long tenure at

St. Peter’s as a much beloved driving force. Some of the many activities and accomplishments during this time were:

organization of St. Philip Church; development of a

mission school; observation of 50th Anniversary of St. Peter’s; mass baptisms (e.g. 29  children at one service in 1929 and 29 confirmations in 1930; decision to relocate to Shaker Heights in 1937; dedication of the church in Shaker in November of 1938, having had church services at

Moreland School since earlier in year; purchase of a parsonage on Chadbourne Road in Shaker in 1944. New liturgical practices were introduced: clergy chanting and singing of introits; seasonal paraments; choir robes; clergy cassock, surplice and stole; use of kneelers.

This native Clevelander was an energetic, aggressive missionary, known and respected as a good leader, preacher, teacher and pastor.
Pastor Voss had served as a missionary in China and Korea. He presided over a difficult time in St. Peter’s history. Our experiences here at St. Peter’s of a neighborhood in transition, of rapid turnover of people and of generally declining interest in the church was certainly reflected in our national church body.

A period of vacancy  With a worshipping community that  continued to decline in numbers and the inability to support a full-time pastor, a remnant of St. Peter’s faithful faced some difficult and soul-searching years.  The congregation tried several approaches to ministry during this period, including part-time and retired spiritual leadership, but the decline continued. In the spring of 1981, the congregants turned once again to the Mission Board of the Ohio District for help. After many months of discussion and study, the Mission Board agreed to call a pastor full-time to  St. Peter’s and provide whatever financial and other resources would be needed to rebuild and revitalize the mission and ministry of St. Peter’s.

The year of 1982 was marked by new signs of hope. For 100 years our gracious Lord had called us, comforted us, and ministered to many people through the lives of the saints of St. Peter’s. On May 22, 1983, we celebrated 100 years of God’s grace to St. Peter’s with a special worship service. Under Pastor Deutsch’s leadership, in 1990 the congregation changed status from a mission congregation and became self-supporting.
Though baptized and raised Roman Catholic, he and his wife Susan came to faith as adults through the invitation of a neighbor. They joined St. John’s South Euclid as adult confirmands. Jeff entered ministry    studies at Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne where he received his Master of Divinity. During his time at St. Peter’s, he studied and received the Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Seminary in California.

As our church was growing, two capital campaigns were conducted: Moving Forward in Faith (1997-1999) and Building the Kingdom of God (2003-2005). Generous gifts enabled

St. Peter’s to accomplish some capital improvements: renovation of sanctuary; organ upgrade; work on the roof and windows; new carpet; and parking lot repaving. Also, because of increased membership and more youth, a Director of Education – Ingrid Lewis – was added to the staff.  An organ project – necessitated by unfortunate damage from a hot water pipe in the organ chamber- was done in 2003-4. At its completion, a re-dedication service was done in February, 2005 with guest organist, Nicole Keller performing.

Pastor Weist received his Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He served two years as a missionary in Jamaica; then, served as Associate Pastor at a church in Michigan. In Cleveland, Pastor Weist became involved with Building Hope in the City in partnership with Cleveland Lutheran congregations. His  mission was to connect Christians in mission by planning new urban congregations and help revitalize existing inner-city ministries. At St. Peter’s, Pastor Weist continued his mission focus with a vigorous outreach program in Shaker Heights. During this time, Marc Cohen was installed as St. Peter’s vicar (seminary intern) – the first recorded vicar in our church’s history.

As St. Peter’s entered this period of pastoral vacancy, we were served by a number of different pastors.  Eventually, however, a consistent ministry was found under the leadership of (then) Licensed Lay Deacon Ron Rollins (now Rev. Rollins). 

Rev. Rollins was beloved in many ways, but perhaps best known among church leadership for his constant question for new ministry ideas: “Where is the gospel in this?”  As St. Peter’s developed a pastoral call committee, Rev. Rollins’s ministry found a new home in St. John’s, Nottingham, where he later was ordained into the pastoral ministry under the Synod’s Specific Ministry Program, and where he still faithfully serves to this day.

In April, 2016, Pastor Neujahr was installed as the thirteenth pastor of St. Peter’s. He came to the church after serving eleven years as pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in rural Hudson, Michigan.  In 2001, Pastor Neujahr received his Bachelor of Science with a dual major of Organizational Leadership and Biblical Studies from the sadly now-defunct Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska, and his Master of  Divinity in 2005 from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, where he majored in missions. And with the encouragement, aid, and support of St. Peter’s, two of Pastor Neujahr’s formative influences—bivocational ministry and missions—have come together in his soon-to-be-completed dissertation on bivocational ministry for the PhD of Missiology at Concordia Theological  Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

At the time of writing, without a doubt the most notable season for St. Peter’s life together under Pastor Neujahr was the global Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of the pandemic was felt in every sphere of life, and the life of the church was no exception. During a time when all were encouraged to simply stay home, we—like many churches—found some solace in a live-streamed worship service. So that we could continue to be fed in the Word, we quickly adopted a strategy for adults and  children alike of meeting for Sunday School over the video-meeting platform Zoom. A nightly live-streamed service of Compline provided comfort for many who felt lost during this time.  The eventual return to in-person worship was made foreign by the presence of a continual air scrubber, social distancing, and strictly individual communion at the altar rail.

Sociologists have estimated that due to the pandemic’s effects we saw approximately sixty years’ worth of cultural shift in just three short years. For the United States, this meant that our already-increasing rise of the “Nones” (those who claim no religious affiliation) spiked significantly, with fewer and fewer  people looking to the church—or even to Christ—as a basis for life and living. The challenges to St. Peter’s future ministry cannot be overestimated.

And yet during this time St. Peter’s, led by God, made significant investments in the future: a generous grant from a closing church resulted in replacing the aging boiler to keep God’s house warm and comfortable for worshippers, the aging organ was refurbished and refreshed, providing God’s people with a full voice for singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Provided with an unexpected opportunity, St. Peter’s called from her own  members a Deaconess, creating a mercy ministry that stretched into the surrounding community. And, after longtime musical  directors Chad and Kim Lauritsen stepped down, the Lord brought to us Kantor Davis Badaszewski, whose liturgical experience served only to heighten St. Peter’s already-rich worship life. With these blessings, the Lord has poised St. Peter’s to be a source of life-giving gospel to a world that increasingly needs it.