Christ Ascension Lutheran Church Pastor Martin Lohrmann. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

by Lou Mancinelli

At the Christ Ascension Lutheran Church on Germantown Avenue, each Sunday a bell at least 150 years old rings to mark the beginning of worship ceremonies. But as it rings this year, the bell that was once housed at Mower U.S. General Army Hospital in Chestnut Hill during the Civil War will ring in 150 years for the Christ Ascension congregation.

In honor of the celebration, the congregation is hosting a community Spaghetti Dinner open to all, with music by jazz band Standard Time, Saturday, October 15, at 5 p.m. in the Kimes Hall, its church hall, located at 8300 Germantown Ave. ($10 Adults/$5 Kids).

In addition to the dinner, members of the congregation and staff also compiled and published a 150th anniversary history book to commemorate the anniversary. The book details the history of the church and includes more than 30 faith statements from various congregants. Pastor Martin Lohrmann, Ph. D. earned his doctoral degree in religious history and researched much of the information presented in the book that was in, large part his idea.

“As new members of the congregation, it’s been a great tool in helping me get to know a lot of the people I see there,” said Douglas Marshall, who joined the church with his wife three years ago. The Marshall’s moved to Chestnut Hill from New Hampshire to be closer to his family, which already lived in the area.

In reading the book, Marshall learned a number of his fellow church members came from a variety of different places in terms of their previous religious experiences.

That Christ Ascension has remained in the community for 150 years is a testament to the idea that “devotion to faith and caring about faith and community still matters,” said Lohrmann, who became the pastor two Octobers ago.

“We genuinely care about people,” Lohrmann said about the Lutheran mission and the church’s ability to stay relevant in changing times. “[…] Bringing people together is the majority of what we do.”

Whether it be through politics, civic or social interaction, the church’s child care center or supporting an inter-faith hospitality network, “we emphasize people getting involved,” Lohrmann said.
Designed by architect C.M. Burns, the English Gothic style church was completed in 1871 and is on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. A decade earlier, Anne Cecilia Haupt founded the Christ Church in Chestnut Hill.

In 1993, the congregations of the Christ Church and Ascension Lutheran Church combined to form the 150-plus-member Christ Ascension Lutheran Church. Before that, Christ Ascension was located on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, in Germantown.

“I think a lot of the things the church does is emphasize relationships within the community,” said Susan Marshall, Douglass’ wife and vice president of the church council and a member of its choir.

Within the Chestnut Hill community, she explained, Christ Ascension has a strong historical context in terms of bringing people together in positive settings.

Church staff and members offer various community events, and welcome community events to its parish hall. On Mondays at noon, their “Elder Diner” hosts affordable meals for seniors. Regular church work takes place in committee groups that oversee hospitality, worship, finances, property, Christian education and the child care center. The congregation actively supports Neighborhood Interfaith Movement, the Northwest

Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, and the Lutheran Settlement House, located in Fishtown. Each June, the church hosts a Strawberry Festival.

Over the years, numerous members of the congregation such as Edward T. Horn and Henry Jacobs have taught at LTSP and been leaders of the national Lutheran church, Lohrmann said.

Lohrmann, 34, was born in Walla Walla, Washington. Before coming to LTSP for doctoral studies, he earned his Masters of Divinity from Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. He has a wife, Carrie, a civil engineer, and two children. When he’s not researhing church history or serving his congreation, Lohrmann plays rhythm guitar in the band The Groove Daemons, a group that often plays at fundraising events.

While the technologies and the parlance of the times have changed over the past century-and-a-half, the church’s mission of putting people first has remained constant.

The more Lohrmann researches, he said, the more he finds that, his church’s answers and methods of dealing with issues of economic, personal and/or physical strife might have changed, the question is still the same.

“People are people,” he said. “In one sense, the mission is the same, but it’s a different day.”

The Lutheran Church is based on the ideas of Martin Luther. On the eve of All Saints day, October 31, 1517, Luther posted his “Ninety-Five Theses” on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenburg. Within two weeks the documents had spread across Europe. Among taking issues with other issues in the Catholic Church, Luther claimed indulgence, the payment of money to clergy for forgiveness of sins, was a sham.

Lutheranism has always embraced all people, Lohrmann explained. The current Christ Ascension congregation represents a variety of races and previous religious heritages. In the 1980s, a gay priest led the church.

Christ Ascension is a Reconciling in Christ congregation, which means it welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered believers.

“I think [churches] are really unique groups of people who gather for a unique reason,” Lohrmann said. “I love what that creates.”

“I think there is a certain symbolic value to that,” Douglass Marshall said. “To understand you are part of something that has been working as a Christian witness in Chestnut Hill for a long time.”

Christ Ascension Lutheran Church, 8300 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19118. To purchase tickets to the Spaghetti Dinner, or for more information visit office@christascension.org.