The congregation of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church is a family of God with members from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
The parish traces its origins to 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, when a German Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation in Providence installed its first pastor, the Rev. Martin Tirmenstein. The congregation rented a vacant church building, the former New Church Temple at the corner of Pine and Page Streets. The site is at the rear of today’s Providence Performance Arts Center in downtown Providence. The 1867 Providence City Directory recorded the church’s name as St. Paul’s. The congregation joined the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1871.
For a period in the 1880’s and early 1890’s, the congregation was forced to rely on guest clergy from nearby areas, most of them apparently from Pawtucket, and the Synod reported the congregation as “lost” until a full-time pastor was installed in 1895. At that time the congregation conducted services at the M.E. Tabernacle in Olneyville Square, Providence.
The congregation prospered and grew, and just four years later it constructed a church at the corner of Union and Huntington Avenues, dedicating it in 1899.
In less than 40 years, the prospering congregation outgrew its quarters so construction of the current church began in 1938 at 445 Elmwood Avenue, at the corner of Carter Street, and it was dedicated in 1939. In the years since, several major building projects have been undertaken, including the construction of a chapel and classrooms beneath the nave and construction of a school beside the Parish Hall on Carter Street.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, during the Vietnamese War era, St. Paul’s Church provided a placed of worship for Hmongs and other Southeast Asian refugees, many of whom had fled their war-torn homelands. The Hmong’s went on to establish a church of their own in Providence. In addition, St. Paul’s Church provided considerable start-up support during the late 1980’s in the founding of a “daughter” congregation, Our Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Also, starting in the 1990’s, many Liberians, who fled their war-wracked West African nation, have become active members of St. Paul’s church. They have been joined by immigrants from other African nations.
Recently, the congregation, under the leadership of its Pastor, Leon Schultz, has supported the building of a new school in Liberia, the Gbarnga Lutheran Training Center. Working with the Lutheran Church of Liberia, it will serve students in pre-kindergarten through grade 8 and also provide a vocational program for older students and adults.