Christ Lutheran Church has its roots in a large central room on the fourth floor of what was Lehmann Hall until the demolition of the building November 1988. The setting served as the chapel for daily worship – morning and evening services first conducted by Rev. F. Groth. Sunday services in English and German were conducted by President William F. Lehmann and a professor, usually C.A. Frank.
This was the main building of Capital University when it moved from its Goodale and High Streets site in 1876. Along with its modest faculty and support staff, worshipers included early residents of the area from as far as Canal Winchester. The students, who numbered about seventy-five by 1880 when the original church building on the northwest corner of Drexel and Main Streets was first occupied, were sorely missed during the vacation periods and the summer. With the university community gradually growing over the next three decades, the church relied heavily on the leadership provided by it.
By 1920, Bexley had long become a village, now numbering over one thousand people. Five streets, College, Main, Parkview, Columbia and Broad were paved. Church members were looking toward a new church building and more independence from its beginnings, but still included some of Capital’s major personalities. The Smith property was purchased in 1917 as the site of the new church. Though the congregation numbered only about 350, the building committee, made up of R.C.H. Lenski, Ethridge Helsel, and George Wannamacher, had ambitious plans by 1921, choosing a Norman-English Gothic design with its square tower and flattened windows, characteristic of the English architecture of the Thirteenth Century. No contract was let for construction until at least $30,000 in cash was in the treasury. The sanctuary was completed in 1923. It, ultimately, cost nearly $93,000, which the church members struggled to pay over the next twenty years. The calling of Dr. Otto Ebert on Sunday, December 1, 1929 was the last time the University’s approval was obtained.
Music was a cultural benefit offered offered early to the community in the tradition of The Church-at-Large. Beginning in 1881, benefiting from the proximity of Capital, the first organist was L.H. Schut, later Pastor of the Church, who used an “asthmatic” pedal organ, as Dr. Hilmar Grimm refers to it in his detailed history of Christ Lutheran*. That, however, was replaced by 1889 with a pipe organ.
The choir, in existence as early as 1882, was directed mainly by students and the organist. An orchestra was organized in the autumn of 1898 made up mostly of Capital University students. The choir prospered – especially during Rev. John C. Schacht’s leadership until his death in 1906. With Dr. Theophilis Mees suffering a heart attack as the church was moving into its new quarters, May 20, 1923, Vestry (the church council) asked Dr. Otto Mees, Capital’s President and Glee Club Director, and Professor Ellis Snyder, then director of Grace Lutheran Church, to take charge of conducting the initial service. Male members of the choir had to work until 11:00 p.m. fastening down the pews which had arrived late, so choir practice was held up until that time. Dr. Snyder was to return to Christ Lutheran as the Assistant Pastor in charge of Music in 1943.
Adapted from article By Edward L. Hamblin
Bexley Historical Society President, 1997-2002
Originally published in Historical Herald, November 1998
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* Grimm, Dr. Hilmar, Centennial History of Christ Lutheran Church, Pfeifer Printing Co: Columbus, Ohio, 1978