The United Church
German Roots in Washington
The United Church / Die Vereinigte Kirche is today the result of the fusion of several earlier congregations, German- and English-speaking. Concordia United Church of Christ was founded in 1833 as the German United Evangelical Concordia Congregation, often referred to as the "Deutsche Concordia-Kirche". It was founded by German immigrants who claimed a plot originally designated for a Lutheran church by developer Jacob Funck in 1768 in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, which he wanted to call "Hamburg" or "Funkstown". The church's name reflects the idea of the "Unionskirche" tradition in Germany, where Lutheran and Reformed congregations united to create a single Protestant body in some German states.
Bell tower at the former Concordia Church, August 2010.
Front of the former Concordia Church, August 2010.
The former Concordia Church, now the United Church, August 2010.
Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, the former Concordia Church has a long and illustrious history. August 2010.
The current church building dates to 1891 and was designed by Albert Goenner and Paul Schulze. Both were well-known architects active in German-American life in Washington. Schulze partnered with Adolf Cluss on many major buildings in the nation's capital, including the National Museum (now the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building).
John Philip Sousa, the composer and bandmaster, whose mother was from the Palatinate (then administered by Bavaria) and whose father was a Portuguese immigrant, was baptized at Concordia. The first building was dedicated in 1834. A second building was built on the same site in 1891; this is the church we see today. All services were held in German until 1898, when English services began. German services were discontinued due to anti-German sentiment during World War I but were resumed once the war ended. By 1930, English services became predominant. Following World War II, with the influx of postwar German immigrants and refugees, there was a resurgence of interest in the German-language ministry.
Beginning in 1967, Concordia UCC and Union UMC, along with Western Presbyterian Church, began discussing the possibility of uniting as one ecumenical congregation. After months of intense negotiation, Concordia and Union joined together in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood on January 1, 1975.
German Pastors are called to Washington for multi-year terms, assuring a continuing link with the church's work in Germany.
In 1978, the church and rectory were named to the National Register of Historic Landmarks. The Joint Committee on Landmarks included the following statement of significance in the landmark designation:
The Concordia United Church of Christ, located on the southeast corner of 20th and G Streets, N.W., and the church Rectory, at 1920 G Street, N.W., are significant both historically and architecturally. The two buildings stand on a site that was in continuous ownership of the German congregation that built them since the late eighteenth century, when the area was known as Funkstown or Hamburg, an early settlement which predated the founding of the Federal City. The church is a fine example of late-nineteenth century eclectic Victorian church design. The handsome structure, designed by Washington architects Paul Schulze and Albert Goenner, and the Rectory next door are dominated by the massive corner tower of the church. This tower not only dominates and anchors the corner but it also serves as a focal point for the other landmark buildings in the area.
The Concordia United Church of Christ and Rectory, built by the congregation of the Concordia German Evangelical Church, and the institutions associated with them were important elements in the lives of Germans living in Washington during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The original church on this site, the predecessor of the present church, was built in 1833. It was the first German church in the District of Columbia. Indeed, it was the only German church in Washington until 1846, when a faction of the congregation broke away to form an English-speaking church. The present church was built in 1891-92. The elaborate façade, with its corbelled brickwork, is dominated by the four-story corner tower. The Rectory, built in 1885, is a simple 2-story 3-bay house that complements the church and provides a sharp contrast to that more ornate structure. It is representative of one of the dominant forms of residential architecture popular in this city during the 1880's.