1956 to 1966
The Birth and Development of Trinity Lutheran Church
A Coming Together: Trinity's Origins
Washington has grown significantly in the last 50 years. Spurred initially in the 1940s by the influx of military and civilian service personnel to support the war effort, then by a growth in government coupled with the attractiveness of the city and its suburbs and with the baby boom of the 1950s and 1960s, Washington now ranks among the ten most heavily populated areas in the United States.
No area better epitomizes that growth than Bethesda/Rockville. Pastor Albert Weber noted in 1966 that "it was not very much earlier than a decade ago that the expanse of woods and farmland between the towns of Rockville and Bethesda in Montgomery County was still largely undesignated for permanent future use." Only our memories remain of that more bucolic time. Old Georgetown Road, Rockville Pike, the Beltway, and I-270 and the commercial and residential areas that border these routes now exemplify the norm of the 1990s: dense population, extensive commercial services, and a network of roads and services sorely taxed to provide for residents.
In 1955, the Board of American Missions of the United Lutheran Church in America looked into the future and called for the establishment of a mission congregation in the Bethesda/Rockville community. The Board's report noted the growth underway in the area and predicted that future development would more than justify the location of a congregation somewhere between Bethesda and Rockville as a way of augmenting the existing Lutheran church network in southern Montgomery County. A retrospective view suggests that the Board's assessment was, if anything, conservative in its predictions of growth for the area and the ministries it would need. The Board of American Missions' report resulted in the extension of a call to mission development Pastor Raymond H. Hartzell in December 1955. Pastor Hartzell was charged with the establishment of a Lutheran congregation in Bethesda/Rockville. His acceptance of the call began Trinity's history of 40 years in service to God.
First Things First: Getting Organized
It would be impossible to mention throughout this brief history all of the people who contributed tirelessly to Trinity's founding and growth in its 40 years. Ours has been a church whose corporate energies have made the sum of our efforts far exceed what any individual could have accomplished. It would be, however, likewise remiss, not to mention by name in several instances the significant and timely dedication of several Trinity members for the service they offered. One such instance to recollect is one of Pastor Hartzell's first efforts in establishing a congregation. In December 1955 he created a steering committee consisting of Robert Armbruster, Robert Dulaney, Harold Horn, and Ray Troxell, for the purpose of organizing a worship service and Sunday School program.
Within two months, Pastor Hartzell and the steering committee organized and held the first worship service and Sunday School. Thanks to these men and their families, what was to become Trinity Lutheran Church held its first service on February 5, 1956 in Garrett Park School. A week later the first Sunday School took place in the Garrett Park Community Center. Services and classes continued throughout 1956. In June, the congregation chose the name Trinity for its church. On December 9th, 61 charter members came together at St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church in Silver Spring to dedicate a new church: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Garrett Park, Maryland.
Culminating Trinity's organizational efforts was the installation of Pastor Hartzell as Trinity's first pastor in March 1957. In less than a year and a half, Hartzell and a small but devoted faith community had fulfilled the Board of American Missions' vision for Bethesda/Rockville: a new Lutheran church. The church grew steadily during this time, reaching 165 confirmed and 144 communing members by the end of 1960. Pastor Hartzell remained at Trinity through early 1963, when he accepted a call to the Commission on Evangelism of the Lutheran Church in America. In the interim, Dr. Lawrence Folkemer of Gettysburg Seminary and Dr. Paul Orso of the Lutheran Inner Mission Society served Trinity as interim pastors. Approximately one year later in early February 1964, Albert Weber was installed as pastor.
A Snapshot of Trinity's Ministries in its First Decade
In each of Trinity's four decades, an overriding mission has directed its energies. Nowhere was this more evident than in Trinity's first decade, from 1956 to 1966, when the primacy of 'first things first' predominated. Trinity had as its purpose nothing less than the birth and development of a church. As a result, its pastors and congregation identified two major tasks. First was the establishment of core programs to serve its members. Second was the construction of a new building to which it would be able to move its services and programs from Garrett Park School.
When one reads the Council minutes, committee papers, and annual reports in Trinity's early years, the importance of firsts becomes obvious. The first Sunday School, the first choir, the first newsletter, the first men's group, the first women's group, the first confirmation class, the first Vacation Bible School. Activities and groups we now take for granted took root, thanks to the significant efforts of Trinity's charter members. At the same time, double digit increases in communing and confirmed members were maintained throughout Trinity's first ten years.
Although many of these ministries were inwardly focused initially toward the spiritual needs of its members, it did not take long for organizations like Lutheran Church Women and the Luther League to establish and maintain service projects for the needy. Likewise, Trinity's apportionment to the LCA provided financial support for similar service work organized at a national level. By 1965, a Social Ministry Committee had been created to add to these efforts, many of which are documented in the booklet Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church: A History of Social Ministry.
At the same time it developed its core programs and ministries, the congregation appointed a building committee to plan for the construction of a new church. In June 1958, Trinity voted to acquire land made available by a local developer, Frank Luchs. The purchase was eventually arranged, a building fund campaign completed, and groundbreaking on the Old Georgetown Road property was held on May 29, 1960. In less than a year, Trinity completed its first structure: a sanctuary, kitchen, and three classroom building. Dedication took place on March 5, 1961.
It is fitting to quote both Pastor Hartzell and Pastor Weber in reflecting about Trinity's first decade. Said Pastor Hartzell in 1961, during the course of what was to be the first of three Trinity building programs in its 40 year history, Trinity has "a reputation for pioneering new ways of making the church organization effective for a changing world. The flexibility and willingness to venture of our people...have caused us to survive our growing pains and look forward to the continuing challenge of maturity under God." In 1965, reflecting on his first year as pastor and Trinity's eight years as a congregation, Pastor Weber said, "Trinity has come a long way sine those early days when the meetings first started in Garrett Park Elementary School. She still enjoys some of the qualities of a mission congregation...but though she still might be regarded as a child, the eight year old is far from infancy...The task before us is great and difficulties remain before us. However, the future looks bright, so long as we remember it is the Lord's church and we are doing His work."