The Story of Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church

In 2012, Faith Lutheran Church will celebrate our 40th anniversary, but considering the combined history of our founding congregations, our church's history spans three centuries, dating back 125 years to January 1887.

The parish in White Oak that is known today as Faith Lutheran Church was the result of a merger of three separate Lutheran congregations in October of 1972.  These congregations were Tabor and Trinity Lutheran churches of McKeesport and Calvary Lutheran of White Oak.

Tabor Lutheran Church, the first of Faith’s antecedent congregations was founded as Svenska Evangelisk Lutherska Taborförsamlingens. A congregation of the former Augustana Lutheran Synod, it was organized on January 23, 1887.  The Swedish ancestry of many of Tabor’s members brought to Faith ethnic flavors which still can be experienced today at covered dish dinners.

The second stream contributing to Faith Church was Trinity Lutheran Church, a congregation of the United Lutheran Church, organized as a mission on June 4, 1893 and as a congregation in 1905.  Even though an early history described Trinity as merely “a good Sunday School,” it was notably led by a group of “devoted women,” for, “No man could be interested in the school.” 

As McKeesport grew from a village of 100 houses into the region’s second largest city as it is today, Trinity would build a new edifice at the corner of Stewart Avenue and Soles Street, just a few blocks from the new Tabor building in the Riverview Hilltop District.

While the borough of White Oak was being established in the 1950s as a new community adjacent to McKeesport, the third congregation of the merger was formed. Calvary, whose building would eventually house the new Faith Lutheran Church, was constituted as a mission congregation of the United Lutheran Church. When the congregation was organized on August 16, 1953, it had 30 families, including a number who transferred from Trinity, McKeesport, and met in a house on Hemlock Drive in White Oak. The first pastor, William Steiner, was called in November, 1953, and served until November, 1955, when a call was extended to Pastor Glenn Schweitzer.

In September of 1955, the congregation purchased the property at 1656 Lincoln Way.  The house on this property was dedicated as a House Chapel April 29, 1956.  In May, 1960, the congregation purchased the adjacent property on Lincoln Way which eventually became the site of the new church building. Ground breaking took place on February 25, 1962.  On Reformation Sunday, October 28, 1962, the new building was dedicated. 

The deaths of Pastor John B. Spielman and Pastor Martin J. Roth at Tabor and Trinity congregations, and a vacancy at Calvary, White Oak with the resignation of Pastor Harry Souders led to conversations leading to the merger of the three congregations. A yoked ministry was established under the leadership of Pastor David Jensen in February, 1971. In October 1972, a merger was approved by the members of these three congregations and a charter was issued for the Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church of McKeesport.  In October, 1973, the new parish called Pastor Arthur Ackerman, who began his pastoral duties in December 1973. 

In April 1981 the congregation approved construction of an addition to the small Calvary building.  The original home at 1656 Lincoln Way, which had served as a parish house, was demolished, and construction began on an addition to the church building.  This addition contains classrooms, a social hall and a lounge.  The addition was completed and formerly dedicated to service in May of 1982. 

Pastor Ackerman served Faith congregation for 24 years, retiring in October, 1997.  Following his retirement, Pastor Richard Price served as the interim pastor during the process of calling the next pastor.  Pastor Bruce Bruhwel served from December of 1998 to October of 1999, when he suddenly died of a heart attack. During Pastor Bruhwel’s ministry, the congregation benefited from his teaching skills and from his liturgical expertise.  Pastor Bruce Brunkhorst was chosen as interim pastor during the time the congregation was selecting Pastor Bruhwel’s successor.  Pastor Gordon Ray was called, and began his service as pastor in October, 2000.  Under Pastor Ray’s leadership, the rich spiritual and liturgical life of the congregation continued to be nurtured and grew as an important part of the parish’s identity.  In 2006, Faith was one of the first to adopt Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the new worship resource of the ELCA. In July 2007, immediately after Pastor Ray’s retirement in June, Faith extended a call to seminarian Brian Evans to be their fourth pastor.

Members of Faith have been generous with their time over the years,  especially in care of the hungry poor in the area, participating regularly in the Great Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; The Intersection, a ministry to the poor of McKeesport; and to the McKeesport Meals on Wheels, where among the churches, Faith is the largest source of volunteers.

In recent years, despite the Mon Valley’s continued decline in population, Faith Church has seen modest growth in membership and worship attendance. As a result of this and renewed focus on mission, a number of new ministries have and continue to take shape, including ministry to a halfway house for women and Mission on the Mon, a synodical week-long youth servant event lead and hosted by Faith.

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The earliest worship space of our founding congregations, that of the original Tabor Lutheran Church, located at Locust and Thirteenth Streets, in McKeesport’s Second Ward, was dedicated on July 29, 1888.  The crucifix on the altar has survived and now graces Faith’s fellowship hall. 

 
A 1940s confirmation class poses in front of the altar at the “new” Tabor Lutheran Church on Jenny Lind Street.  The Christus statue on the reredos was recently returned to Faith Church and currents sits in our new baptistry. 
 

Trinity Lutheran Church, as it appeared in 1968, a few years before merging with Calvary and Tabor.

 

The Rev. Martin J. Roth was the last pastor of Trinity, McKeesport.  A crucifix, which was given in his memory by his son, Pastor Martin M. Roth, is seen upon entering Faith’s front doors. 

 
An artist’s rendering of the new Calvary Lutheran Church in White Oak Borough, 1961. The United Lutheran Church in America was seeking “52 devoted families” to give $10,400, upon which the ULCA Board of Missions would “make possible over $87,000 to initiate the New Church.”  What was to be the first “unit” of a three-unit complex, including the eventual construction of a larger, cross-shaped nave, was built the following year and continues to serve as our present worship space. 
 

Pastor Art Ackerman’s pastorate has so far been the longest in our church’s history — 24 of Faith’s 40 years. During those years, as the surrounding community saw much change and the three merged congregations worked to become one family.

 
A large addition, completed in 1982, includes four classrooms,  lounge, fellowship hall, kitchen, and other facilities.
 

Pastor Gordon Ray baptizes a new member of the Body of Christ and of Faith Church, prior to retiring in 2007.

 
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