The story of St. James Lutheran Church began over two hundred years ago when German immigrants from Pennsylvania traveled south, moving on foot or by horse-drawn wagon in search of land similar to that of their beloved Rhine valley, far away.
Many found fertile fields and rolling hills in what is now eastern Rowan and Cabarrus counties. They settled here in large numbers, building with rough and humble hands their homes and schoolhouses, their churches and cemeteries. One of these was St. James Lutheran Church in Concord.
But the St. James story actually begins centuries ago in Europe following the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther called for reform of the Roman Catholic Church and inherited, through no desire on his part, a growing movement of followers called "Lutherans."
The factions that followed between Protestants and Catholics brought death and destruction over much of Europe. Among the hardest hit areas were the once lush lands of Germany's Rhine valley. Farmlands were destroyed. Villages were ruined.
While Europe was collapsing, the new America was on the rise, offering particular encouragement to the desolate German populations. And so these gritty Germans set sail on a pilgrimage of hope, bringing with them to America their Protestant faith. To these unflappable Germans, a faithful God was their constant companion.
Earliest among the pioneers were those who, in 1743, founded St. John's Lutheran Church near the town of Mt. Pleasant people named Miller and Faggart and Blackwelder. Still, it would be another forty years before the arrival from Germany of a man named Adolph Nussman to serve the St. John's community as Lutheran pastor.
In time other Lutheran congregations were formed, including Coldwater Lutheran located on what is now Gold Hill Road outside of Concord. And in 1843, the Rev. W. G. Harter and a large number of Lutherans from Coldwater withdrew and organized St. James Lutheran Church in Concord.
The original site of St. James was determined by a man named Alfred Brown, who, with his brother Henry, donated a piece of land on what is now Corban Street in Concord. The first church was a square frame structure with separate entrances for men and women. Like most early settlers, the St. James Lutherans cherished education as well as worship and immediately added a small one-room schoolhouse and, in short order, the beginnings of a cemetery.
The simple church endured until 1880, when property was purchased for a new church at Union and Corban streets. This building served St. James for nearly fifty years until demolished in 1927. The current limestone structure, built a year later, featured a three-story sanctuary, chapel, and large assembly room. In 1943 the congregation celebrated the burning of the mortgage note, inviting church officials to lead the festive service. In 1967 the church broke ground for a new educational wing, which through the years has furnished space for Sunday School, choir, kindergarten, and, currently, a bilingual pre-school.
And so the story of St. James, a church known and cherished by thousands through the years, has unfolded. On September 29, 2019, St. James celebrated 175 years as a congregation in a finale to a year of special events. A kickoff picnic in September 2018 was held at Frank Liske Park, with old and young sharing memories. That November, volunteers planted 500 daffodil bulbs at the historic 1843 cemetery to beautify the newly-restored site. In December a worship service of organ and instrumental music was highly anticipated, although aborted at the last minute because of wintery weather. In February a flock of volunteers packed over 15,000 meals of dried food in a Rise Against Hunger event. On Easter morning, worshipers gathered at the historic cemetery for a sunrise Communion service. And in May, St. James seniors hosted a history professor from Catawba College—himself a Lutheran for an enthralling lecture on our Lutheran roots in North Carolina.
To commemorate this 175th anniversary, a number of longtime—even lifelong members of St. James have shared memories of St. James' evolution through the years. Their memories are diverse, ranging from learning to say the Apostle's Creed with open eyes on the cross to a commitment to serve deviled eggs with every church meal.
Well beyond the demolition of old structures and the building of new ones—beyond sad farewells to departing pastors and eager welcomes to new ones—the congregation has not only survived but has surged forward with the creation of bold new chapters in the St. James history book.
Underlying each additional phase of our history is a sense of gratitude and admiration for our Lutheran ancestors who were pioneers of faith—and pioneers in faith. The story of their courage and fortitude is a reminder that, however time changes our surroundings, our "church's one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord."
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