The Art and
Architecture of Saint Peter's
Saint Peter's Church is a bold architectural statement of Christianity's
confidence in the future of this city, a counter thrust to the glossy
opulence of Park Avenue and the discordant noises of Lexington Avenue.
Designed by Hugh Stubbins and Associates, its exterior shape is a
striking image of a new and personal urban vitality. The building is an
anchor of serenity in - but not a withdrawal from - the sea of
unpredictable turmoil around us.
Drawing on our long Christian tradition and Lutheran heritage, the primary
purpose of this church is to let us worship God in a variety of ways.
Here we express that worship through an ever wider range of endeavors
which translate theology and faith into action.
The interior, designed by Vignelli Associates, invites us in, down and up,
placing us in a paradox -- in the earth but heavenward, protected while
open to the light, human while grand and elevated with a sense of both
the cosmos and the womb - a womb of rebirth. It is a place of
resurrection where we are born in a new spirit. When the environment
outside is a dark cave of reflected shadows reminding us of our
disintegration, Saint Peter's calls us into a resplendent sanctuary of
The exterior as well as the interior floor and baptismal font are of
Caledonia granite. The interior is a flexible space allowing for a great
variety of expressions of worship through song, dance, sermon, music and
poetry. The pews, altar, and pulpit are of red oak. The baptismal font
at the entrance to the sanctuary, with its sight and sound of living,
running water, is a constant reminder of our own baptism in which our
sinful nature was drowned by the grace of God.
The Dutch Cross, located in the sanctuary, is of wrought iron from the
16th century and was probably above a chancel screen in a church in The
Netherlands. The terminals of the cross end in stylized fleurs de lis
(which traditionally have represented the Trinity). The cross reminds us
that the mystery of faith in Christ's death and resurrection frees us to
accept our own sin and mortality and to look forward with hope to the
wonder of eternal life.
The Dossal Cloth was created for Saint Peter's by the noted American
weaver Ann Sherman Bromberg and is titled Ascension. This hand-crafted
fabric on the East wall of the sanctuary provides a warm support for the
Dutch cross. Ascension also draws the eye upward toward the sweeping
The Organ, built by Johannes Klais of Bonn, Germany, is designed to be a
work of art designed visually and tonally to fit the sanctuary. The
free-standing case, designed by Joseph Schafer, is of red oak. It is 18
feet square, 4 feet deep and is set at a 45 degree angle to the walls of
the sanctuary. Please click here for more details on our Klais Organ.
The Processional Crosses include one created by the young American
artist, Kiki Smith, and another by Vignelli Associates. The Kiki Smith
cross of cast aluminum is a work of great solemnity. The body of Christ
is 'floated' within the pierced framework of the cross. It is used in
procession during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent as well as
other appropriate occasions. The Vignelli cross, elegant in its
simplicity, is made of red oak and complements the interior furnishings
of the church.
The Blue And Red Glass Persian Sculptures were made by the foremost
American glass blower of the 20th century, Dale Chihuly. Mr. Chihuly
challenges the traditional notions of glass as a material and the
artistic and technical boundaries of glass blowing. For him it is the
process that continues to intrigue even more than the material. He says
with wonder, "I used to think that it was the glass that was so
mysterious, and then I discovered that it was the air that went into it
that was so miraculous."
The Exterior Cross was designed by internationally renowned sculptor
Arnaldo Pomodoro of Milan, Italy. Mr. Pomodoro's striking design links
old with new through a skillful blend of traditional and modern forms
and materials. The ancient cross form is finished in a rich,
rust-colored bronze. Its piercing central wedge shape, or "nail,"
contrasts with the simple strong cross form. The nail is contemporary in
its highly polished finish, with an abstraction of Christ's body and the
crucifixion instruments of torture on its front surface.
The Chapel Of The Good Shepherd is a breath-taking sculptural environment
created with great ingenuity by the eminent American sculptor Louise
Nevelson. The chapel is a five-sided space, measuring 28 by 21 feet. The
sculptural elements are white painted wood on white walls. The Cross of
the Good Shepherd is white paint and gold leaf. Floors, pews and altar
are bleached ash. The window is frosted white.
The chapel was planned as an inviolate space to be used exclusively for
worship, prayer and meditation. Mrs. Nevelson also created the sanctuary
lamp and designed both the altar fabrics and the vestments for the
clergy. The Chapel of the Good Shepherd is the only permanent
installation of a Nevelson environment in New York City. Its individual
elements have been entitled by Mrs. Nevelson as follows:
North Side "Three Columns - Trinity"
"Cross of the Good Shepherd"
East Wall "Frieze of the Apostles"
Southeast Corner "Cross of the Resurrection"
Over the South Entry "Grapes and Wheat Lintel"
West Wall "Sky Vestment - Trinity"
For 135 years, the people of
Saint Peter's have been a witness to Jesus
Christ in the midtown Manhattan area of New York City.
Since its founding on June 2, 1862, as the "Deutsche Evangelische
Lutherische Sanct Petri-Kirche" by a group of German immigrants, Saint
Peter's has faithfully served the midtown Manhattan area. Worship
services in the German language began in a loft above a feed and
grocery store at the corner of 49th Street and Lexington Avenue.
During its first ten years, parish growth required several moves to
larger quarters. By the 1890's, it became apparent that English
services were required. A large church at the corner of 45th Street and
Lexington Avenue served until it was sold to the New York Central
Railroad in 1903 for $200,000, all of which was spent in building the
new Gothic style church.
Under the leadership of Pastor Edward Friedrich Moldenke and his son,
Pastor Alfred B. Moldenke, the parish temporarily worshipped at Beekman
Hill Church at 50th Street and Second Avenue until the first building
at the present location was built.
BUILDING A HOME AT LEXINGTON AND 54th STREET
From its humble beginnings in a small loft, the congregation moved into
its seventh home at 54th Street and Lexington Avenue. The new Gothic
church was dedicated on May 14, 1905. It was a beautiful building,
typical of Lutheran church design of the time. Carved wooden
sculptures, altar and pulpit dominated the chancel with a mural of the
Sermon on the Mount above the altar. Glorious stained glass windows
pictured scenes from the life of Jesus. In the balcony was space for a
three-manual organ, the choir and the overflow crowds.
By the 1920's, German services no longer predominated and English was
adopted for morning worship.
In 1925 the legal name of the parish was changed to "Saint Peter's
Lutheran Church of Manhattan."
With Pastor Alfred Moldenke's death in 1943, the Moldenke's had
faithfully served Saint Peter's for seventy-two years.
In 1943 Russell Auman was called as our fourth pastor. World War II was
raging and so Saint Peter's opened a facility where servicemen could
eat, sleep and visit. By the war's end, we had hosted more than 2,000
servicemen from all over the world.
Pastor Auman joined the faculty of Hamma Divinity School in Ohio in
1954, and Leopold W. Bernhard became our fifth pastor. During Pastor
Bernhard's tenure, Gordon Jones was hired as the parish organist. Dr.
Jones served faithfully until his sudden death in 1990.
Walter E. Bock was called as sixth pastor in 1960. By that time,
congregations in New York City were dwindling and Saint Peter's was no
exception. Rather than flee to the suburbs, the people of Saint Peter's
decided to affirm human life amidst the skyscrapers and develop a
ministry that would serve more than just a Sunday congregation. The
church called Ralph E. Peterson as its seventh pastor. A renewal of
liturgical life unfolded and new programs in jazz, drama and the arts
were developed. John Garcia Gensel joined the staff as the first pastor
to the jazz community.
A DRAMATIC CHANGE TO LIFE AT THE INTERSECTION
In 1969 the congregation unanimously adopted a statement of purpose
which declared, "We must neither fear nor avoid our mission, but must
strive to bring a witness to this city," listing the various ways to do
this, one of which was to use our valuable real estate as a resource
for this ministry. In 1970 we authorized the sale of the building and
formed a condominium with Citicorp to develop a new complex at the
Our new church was to serve widely diverse persons, and be an inviting
space to all with its interior visible to passers by.
As the new building went up, we planned the shape of our public
ministry in this new space. In addition to our primary function - to
provide frequent worship opportunities, pastoral ministry, Christian
education and congregational life for our members - we would reach out
beyond our sanctuary to those living and working here, to the
international community, tourists, visitors and to those often
forgotten - the aged, ill, street people, singles, the poor and in
fact, to welcome all.
When the exciting new building was consecrated in 1977, it became known
as a welcoming place. The interior, designed by Vignelli Associates, is
a flexible space allowing for a great variety of expressions of worship
through liturgy, song, sermon, dance, music and poetry. It is a place
for all , a majestic rock, a sanctuary of light, a surprise on
For the new building, the eminent American sculptor, Louise Nevelson,
designed a breath-taking sculptural environment in white and gold - the
chapel of the Good Shepherd - an oasis of prayer and meditation.
Saint Peter's launched this new space by fulfilling its plan for
innovative programs in worship, the arts and social services. The
"Black Box Theater" opened under the auspices of the Midtown Arts
Common, weekday jazz luncheons began, rotating art exhibits opened and
the "living room" became a welcomed place for a weekly feeding program
for the homeless, and a support program for the frail elderly.
In 1982, Dr. John S. Damm became our eighth senior pastor leading us,
with his loving care and articulate preaching, to extend our mission.
During Pastor Damm's tenure we developed the acclaimed Momentum program
in an effort to minister to persons living with AIDS.
Dr. Thomas Schmidt became the director of music in 1990. The
outstanding music program was revitalized offering weekly organ
recitals, concerts, the annual acclaimed Basically Bach Festival, and
opportunities to participate in the music life of the community.
Ronald Roschke served as our ninth senior pastor during the early
1990's leading us into the computer age.
Our ministry to the Jazz Community continues under the guidance of
Pastor Dale Lind. Through his innovative leadership we are able to
provide Jazz liturgies, pastoral care and concerts for Jazz musicians
and their friends.
Pastor Hector Ribone, who coordinates our multi-cultural and
international ministries, conducts a Spanish language Mass each week
and is active in service to the United Nations and our many
Pastor Carol E. A. Fryer served Saint Peter's part-time before becoming
our Assistant Pastor for Membership in 2001.
In all these programs, the people of Saint Peter's regard the city as a
resource - not a burden, a source of joy - not of fear. If there is
anything unique about the Church's relationship to the city, it lies in
the ability of the Church to see the city as part of redeemed creation,
something to be valued and loved.
A seasoned parish pastor, Amandus J. Derr came to Saint Peter's in
1997. With him, we look forward to the challenges ahead. How do we
continue what we have begun in Jesus' name? Where will "Life at the
Intersection" lead us next? With faith and joy, we continue to affirm
human life amid the skyscrapers - life redeemed by Jesus Christ.
Lutheran churches around the world can
trace their roots directly to the Protestant Reformation that took place
in Europe in the 16th century.
Martin Luther, a German monk, determined that there were differences
between the Bible and church practices of the day. His writings,
lectures and sermons inspired others to protest these church practices
and join him in calling for their reform.
Luther wrote that a clearer understanding
of Romans 1:17 helped him resolve the conflict tormenting his
conscience: "Then finally, God had mercy on me, and I began to
understand that the righteousness of God is that gift of God with which
a righteous man lives, namely, faith, and that this sentence - the
righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel - is passive, indicating
that the merciful God justifies us by faith . . . . Now I felt as though
I had been reborn altogether and had entered Paradise".
On October 21, 1517, Martin Luther posted a
challenge on the church door at Wittenberg University to debate 95
theological issues. Through these 95 Theses, Luther's hope was that the
church would reform its practice to be more consistent with the Word of
God as contained in the Bible.
By the late 1500's the Reformation had
spread throughout Europe. Followers of Martin Luther's teachings were
labeled "Lutherans" by their enemies and took the name for themselves as
a badge of honor. Lutheran beliefs soon became widespread, especially in
Germany and the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark,
Iceland and Finland.
In its principle confession of 1530, the
Augsburg Confession, Lutherans expressly defined themselves, not as a
separate denomination, but as a confessional movement within the one
Holy Catholic Church.
As early settlers came to the New World,
they brought their beliefs with them. The first permanent colony of
Lutherans in the Americas was in the West Indies and by the 1620's
Lutherans had settled along the Hudson River in what are now the states
of New York and New Jersey.
In the New World, Lutherans continued to
speak and worship in their native tongues forming groups of parishes, or
"synods". By the mid 1800's, massive immigration to the United States
had started and between 1840 and 1875 some 60 Lutheran synods had been
Many Lutherans continued to immigrate to
the United States through the first two decades of the 20th century and
the first major merger of church bodies occurred in 1917 when three
Norwegian synods formed the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America and in
1918 when three German synods were joined to for the United Lutheran
Church in America. World War I had broken out and it became apparent
that a coordinated effort of war relief was necessary. In concern for
the spiritual well-being of American service personnel, the National
Lutheran Commission was formed. A variety of cooperative Lutheran
efforts followed, primarily to foster the welfare of the soldiers and
Worldwide cooperation of Lutherans also
developed. In 1957, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council encouraged
the the Lutheran World Federation to begin a series of
"interconfessional conversations" with the Roman Catholic church which
continue to this day.
Many of the smaller Lutheran churches in
America joined to form two major bodies, which eventually formed the
Lutheran Church in America (LCA) in 1962.
Meanwhile, other Lutherans were merging to
form The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod a conservative wing focusing on
the literal infallibility of the Bible. However, "Historical criticism,"
an understanding that the Bible must be seen in the cultural context of
the times in which it was written, was gaining ground in both Europe and
America. This understanding led to a split in the Missouri Synod with
moderates forming Seminex (seminary in exile). The moderates gained
forces and some 300 congregations joined to form the Association of
Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC).
Further cooperation between Lutheran groups
found enough agreement to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA) on January 1, 1988. The ELCA became the
fourth largest Protestant body in the United States, reflecting not only
the ethnic heritage of its original churches, but also the full spectrum
of the American culture which it serves.
In cooperation with other American
Protestant churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America accepted
"full communion" with Presbyterian and Reformed churches in 1997. The
ELCA entered into "full communion" with the Moravian Church in 1999 and
with our brothers and sisters of the Episcopal Church in 2000.
While we still consider ourselves as a
reforming movement within the church catholic, Lutherans seek to
preserve as much of that catholic tradition as is consistent with the
Gospel. Centered on the biblical Word and the sacraments instituted by
Christ himself, the Lutheran Church strives to be faithful to the Good
News that our salvation before God is purely a gift from God in the
person and the saving life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, now
in Germany. He was embarking on studies for a career in law when an
extraordinary experience elicited from him a vow that changed the
course, not only of his life, but also of Christianity, forever. Caught
in a violent thunderstorm, Luther prayed to St. Anne for assistance,
promising that if he were delivered from danger, he would become a
monk. He was, and he did, astonishing and dismaying his friends and his
Luther entered the Augustinian cloister in Erfurt in 1505 and was
ordained a priest in 1507. His superior, Johann von Staupitz, soon
determined that the gifted young man should return to school to take
his doctor's degree in theology and then to teach. After completing his
studies, Luther became a professor of Scripture at the University of
Wittenberg where he discovered significant differences between what he
read in the Bible and the theology and practices of the church.
Luther wrote that a clearer understanding of Romans 1:17 led him to a
resolution of the conflict tormenting his conscience: "Then finally,
God had mercy on me, and I began to understand that the righteousness
of God is that gift of God with which a righteous man lives, namely,
faith, and that this sentence - the righteousness of God is revealed in
the Gospel - is passive, indicating that the merciful God justifies us
by faith& . Now I felt as though I had been reborn altogether and had
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted a challenge on the castle
church door at Wittenberg University to debate 95 theological issues.
Through these 95 Theses, Luther's hope was that the church would reform
its practice to be more consistent with the Word of God as contained in
In order to make peace among the various political and religious
factions in Germany, the Emperor soon summoned an "Imperial Diet" to
meet at Worms.
But when representatives of the free cities assembled there on January
27, 1521, Luther soon became the chief topic of conversation. Luther
was invited to Worms to discuss his teachings and writings and on April
17, in his monastic garb, he appeared before the Emperor, six electors
and a large court of nobles, princes and prelates. When he was asked to
identify his writings and recant them, Luther agreed that the writings
were his, but asked for time to consider the retraction. When he
returned the next day the room was crowded and Luther made his famous
Unless I am convinced by Scripture or by plain reason - I do not accept
the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted
each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and
I will not recant anything, for to go against my conscience is neither
right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
Because Luther had been guaranteed 'safe passage' he was not arrested
after his dismissal from the Imperial Diet, but the Emperor declared
him an outlaw. On the trip back to Wittenberg, Luther was kidnapped (he
knew about this in advance) and disappeared for a time at the Wartburg
fortress. At the Wartburg Luther lived incognito and called himself
Junker Jörg (Knight George). It was here that he began his translation
of the New Testament into German.
In March 1521, Luther returned from exile to Wittenberg and began
preaching, teaching, writing on the liturgy and completed the
translation of the New Testament. With his writings On the Order of
Worship and Formula missae Luther completed his reforms of the liturgy.
On June 13, 1525 Luther married Katharina von Bora, a nun who had fled
from a convent and had taken refuge in Wittenberg. The Luthers had six
In 1527, Luther published "A mighty fortress is our God" and in 1529 he
completed both the Small and Large Catechisms. By 1530 he had completed
the translation of the Old Testament into German. The completed German
Bible appeared in print in 1534.
Although Luther was ill, he made a final trip to his birthplace in
Eisleben. He did not have the energy to return to Wittenberg and died
on February 18, 1546. On his deathbed, he prayed "Into your hands, I
commend my spirit. You have saved me, Father, faithful God." Luther's
body was returned to Wittenberg and on February 22 he was laid to rest
there in the Castle Church.
Neither Martin Luther nor his fellow reformers intended to break with
the catholic substance and evangelical heritage of the western Church.
However, what started as an academic debate escalated to a religious
war, fueled by fiery temperaments, political powers, and violent
language on both sides. As a result, there was not a reformation of the
church but a separation. "Lutheran" was a name applied to Luther and
his followers as an insult, but was adopted as a badge of honor by them
One might describe Luther's career as a lifelong pastoral malpractice
suit against the Roman Catholic hierarchy of his day, whose doctrine of
grace, in his opinion, deprived believers of true consolation and
robbed Christ of His rightful place as Savior. And still, the years
brought conflicts with other groups in which he felt called to champion
the cause of the gospel as he understood it. Luther's theology was
controversial, and his style was often inflammatory. Heirs to his
legacy sometimes feel compelled to apologize for him. Indeed, a fair
and critical evaluation of his work requires that one acknowledge
inconsistencies, errors of judgment, and attitudes that are disturbing.
But the same fair and critical eye cannot help but recognize the force
of his confession and the keen insight of his spiritual guidance.
Luther challenges each generation to measure its understanding of the
gospel against the message he found to be the heart of Scripture: "For
the person is justified and saved, not by works or laws, but by the
Word of God, that is, by the promise of his grace, and by faith, that
the glory may remain God's, ("Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura")
who saved us not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by
virtue of his mercy by the word of his grace when we believed".
Lutherans still celebrate the Reformation on October 31 and still hold
to the basic principles of theology and practice taught by Luther:
We are saved by the grace of God alone - not by anything we do.
Our salvation is through faith alone - we only need to believe that our
sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who died for us.
The Bible is the norm of doctrine and life - the only true standard by
which teachings and doctrines are to be judged.
Scriptures and worship need to be done in the language of the people.
In recent years, Lutherans have become increasingly uneasy about some
of Luther's later writings concerning the Jews. Some of these writings
were inappropriately used by the Nazi's to justify what we call the
Holocaust. In 1993, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
repudiated those writings of Luther paving the way for improved
relations between Christians and Jews.
While we still consider ourselves as a reforming movement within the
church catholic, the Lutheran Church seeks to preserve as much of that
catholic tradition as is consistent with the pure proclamation of the
Gospel. Centered on the biblical Word and on the sacraments instituted
by Christ himself, the Lutheran Church strives to be faithful to the
Good News that our salvation before God is purely a gift from God in
the person and the saving life, death, and resurrection of our Lord