“History of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of East Pennsylvania: With Brief Sketches of Its Congregations.” Philadelphia 1892, p. 224-227
Messiah Lutheran church, of Harrisburg, Pa., formerly the Second English Evangelical Lutheran church, grew out of a mission Sunday-school, and its origin can best be reached by tracing the rise and development of this school.
On January 11, 1858, the project of establishing a mission Sunday-school in the upper end of (the then borough of) Harrisburg was brought before the Sunday-school association of Zion church by Mr. Wm. Parkhill, and a committee was appointed to inquire into the expediency of the movement, with instructions to organize a school immediately if found to be advisable. On February 1, following, the matter was brought to the notice of the vestry of the church. This body regarded the movement with much favor, and the hope was expressed that the school could be so located, if possible, as to attract the population from both sides of Capitol Hill. The hope was also expressed that it would serve as a nucleus for another church, the need of which was becoming more and more apparent. On February 8, 1859, one week later, the Association of Zion School was informed by the committee that a school had been opened in a rented building at the corner of State and Cowden streets. The following persons were then elected as officers and teachers of the new school .for the ensuing year: Superintendent, Mr, E. Byers; assistant superintendent, Mr. John Heim ; treasurer, Mr. Wm. Duncan ; librarian, Mr. Wm. A. Parkhill; assistant librarian, Mr. D. L. Duncan; teachers, Mr. George Garberich, Mr. Wm. D. Martin, Mr. Geo. T. Murray, Mr. Chas. Ossman, sr., Mr. Wm. Parkhill, Miss Mary Landis, Miss Mary J. Ossman, Mrs. Mary Eyster and Mrs. Wm. Sayford. Others were added as necessity required, but their names have not been left on record. The school grew so rapidly that on the fourth Sunday the rooms on the first and second floors of the building were filled. It became evident at once that larger accommodations must be secured in the near future.
At the next meeting of the joint Sunday-school Association steps were taken to secure a lot on which to build a chapel for the use of the school. In March, 1859, the lot at the Corner of State and Fourth streets, on which the Baptist church now stands, was leased for five years.
The undertaking met with the favor of the vestry and membership of Zion church, a loan was secured, and steps were at once taken to erect a cheap wooden chapel on the lot leased. This building was completed during the early summer, and dedicated and occupied by the school in July. For some time thereafter services were held in the chapel on Sunday afternoon and Thursday evening by Rev. C. A. Hay, D. D., pastor of Zion church. A mite society was organized by the teachers of the school to raise funds to pay for the building. By mutual agreement, it was thought best that a pastor should be secured to take charge of the work of the mission, and accordingly the vestry of Zion church extended a call to Rev. Joshua Evans for this purpose. The call was accepted, but before entering upon his labors here Rev. Evans re-considered his action and declined. Rev. E. S. Johnston was then called, who entered upon his duties June 24, 186o. A congregation of 64 members was organized September” 13, 186o, sixty-one of whom brought letters of honorable dismission from Zion church.
The new church thus began its independent existence, and Rev. Johnston became its pastor, devoting his whole time and energy to its welfare. A Sunday evening prayer-meeting was organized, which has been kept up, except for short intervals, ever since. A constitution was adopted the following January, and the necessary steps were taken to unite with the East Pennsylvania Synod.
About this time a lot was purchased for a permanent church home, on Elder street, and partly paid for. Not long afterward, however, it was rendered unavailable for church purposes by the opening and grading of Forster street, which passed through it at the intersection with Elder street. The chapel had been paid for, but the lot on which it stood had been sold, and a few months afterwards the chapel was sold. Another lot was bought, on Forster street near Sixth, and steps were at once taken to erect a two-story stone edifice as the future home of the congregation.
By April, 1864, more than a year after the ground was broken, the building was so far completed as to enable the congregation to use the basement, but it was not finished until 1867, when on July 12, it was dedicated. In the meantime Rev. E. S. Johnston resigned, November 1, 1866, and Rev. G. W. Halderman became pastor January 13, 1867. The congregation at this time numbered about 15o members, and in the erection of this church had passed through one of the severest ordeals of its existence. It had a church home, but this was heavily mortgaged with debt. Three years later, January 24, 187o, Rev. Halderman resigned. The congregation was without a pastor until September 28, 187o, when Rev. F. P. Tompkins was elected pastor, who served in this capacity until April, 1873, when he resigned. The pulpit was supplied until September, when Rev. L. M. Heilman was elected pastor, who entered upon the duties of his office November, 1873.
During this pastorate, which lasted for ten years, new life and zeal were infused into the congregation. Nearly all of the debt on the church building, which had become very burdensome, was paid. The building was enlarged, to make room for the increased membership. It was also thoroughly overhauled at very considerable expense. The children and young people of the congregation were regularly instructed in the catechism and the doctrines of the church, missionary societies were organized, the people grew in piety and spiritual power, the Sunday-school increased greatly in numbers and in efficiency, many of the young people from time to time united with the church and identified themselves with its work, and the blessing of the Lord was everywhere manifest. At the close of this time the membership had increased to over 4oo, and the Sunday-school to nearly 5oo. Rev. Heilman resigned June, 1883.
In October of the same year Rev. H. S. Cook became pastor, and served the congregation in this capacity until January, 1888, when he resigned. During this time the remainder of the debt was paid, and the lot on which the present church building stands was purchased. The temporal and spiritual work of the church was carried along very much as during previous years. April of the same year Rev. T. T. Everett, D. D., became pastor. The church building soon proved too small for the audiences that attended the public worship, and it was evident to all that a larger audience room was a matter of necessity. For some time the congregation was in a quandary, whether to endeavor to remain in this building until the lot recently purchased had been paid for, and a fund sufficiently large to erect a new building had been secured, or to build at once. The latter course was adopted, at the risk of incurring a heavy debt, and a two-story brick chapel, 1oo feet by nearly 6o feet, was erected. It was dedicated April 13, 189o. The building has been well furnished and well equipped for church work, and will answer the needs of the congregation until the entire structure, of which this is only a part, is completed. In March, 189o, the name of the congregation was changed from “The Second English Evangelical Lutheran church ” to ” Messiah Lutheran church.” In June of the same year the Augsburg Lutheran Sunday-school was organized in the northern part of the city as a missionary enterprise of the congregation. At the time of Dr. Everett’s resignation, December 18, 189o, the congregation numbered about 6oo members, and the Sunday-school had an enrollment of over 8oo.
Rev. Luther DeYoe became pastor September 6, 1891, and still continues in this relation. January, 1892, about 1oo members were honorably dismissed, at their own request, to organize the Augsburg Lutheran church. During the last year large numbers have been added to the church. The membership now numbers over 7oo, and the Sunday-school enrolls over 9oo.
Today, Messiah’s congregation is in a very prosperous condition and we look forward to welcoming you into our family!