Filed Under Religion

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

From Historic German Church to Inner-City Ministry

Although it was not officially designated as a city landmark until 1973, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, with its grand steeple rising 175 feet into the air just south of the intersection of West 30th Street and Lorain Avenue, has been a neighborhood landmark on Cleveland's west side ever since it went up in 1873. But this church is clearly more than just a landmark.

In 1864, the German immigrant parishioners at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (known today as Trinity Ohio City Church) were facing the unhappy prospect of replacing their founding pastor, Rev. John Lindemann (also sometimes referred to historically as William Lindemann). He had organized this second Lutheran parish in Cleveland in 1853 as a mission of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. He was pastor in 1858 when the parish became officially independent of Zion, took the name Trinity, and built its first real church. (The parish had previously conducted services in a house that doubled as church and school.) A teacher by profession, who had become an ordained minister to fill his religious community's need, Lindemann had just accepted a position as president of a teacher's college in Chicago. He would not be an easy man to replace. So imagine the joy, and the relief, Trinity's parishioners experienced when they learned that Rev. Friedrich Wyneken was available for the position. What they felt was perhaps not unlike what Ohio State football fans experienced in 2011 when they learned that Urban Meyer was available to replace departing coach Jim Tressel.

The new pastor, Friedrich Konrad Dietrich Wyneken (1810-1876), was a German immigrant and Lutheran minister, who had arrived in the United States in 1838 and undertaken pioneer missionary work in the Midwest, eventually helping to organize in 1847 the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States (known today as The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod). From 1850 to 1864, Wyneken served as President of the Synod. But the office of president had exhausted his health, and because he believed it might improve in Cleveland, where his nephew, Rev. Heinrich Schwan, was already serving as the pastor of Zion Evangelical, Wyneken decided to accept the invitation. Being Trinity's pastor turned out to be more challenging than he expected. As a result of political instability during this period in central Europe, there was a surge in German immigration to Cleveland in the late 1860s, requiring that Wyneken preside over new building projects for both the parish church and school. In 1870, a new school was built--a red brick building that still stands today on West 29th Street behind the church, and two years later constructioin was begun on the current church. Designed by the local architectural firm of Gries and Weile, the Victorian Gothic red brick church with its grand steeple had floor dimensions of 57 feet by 181 feet, providing the parish with nearly five times the interior space of the old church. It had seating for 900 in the assembly room, and another 600 in the galleries above, and could easily accommodate the parish membership which had increased to more than 1,000 by 1870. Upon completion of construction, the new church was dedicated on Sunday, July 27, 1873.

If you could snap your fingers and transport yourself back to that dedication ceremony in 1873, you would immediately be struck not only by the beauty of the new church, but also by the fact that everyone there was speaking German, and that all the services were held in German. For Trinity, the German language has and will always be a part of its cultural heritage, but, just as importantly, language has been for this church, as for other churches in Cleveland, a barometer of change in the parish and change in the neighborhood. From 1853 until 1919, Trinity was a German church and only German was spoken at services. This began to change during the period 1919-1949, as English first became an additionally permitted language at services, and then, shortly after the end of World War II, the only permitted language as it replaced German as the liturgical language for all services. As elsewhere in Cleveland during this period, the parish and the neighborhood were changing as middle-class German-American residents were moving to the suburbs in large numbers, and were being replaced by new residents who were neither German nor middle class. In 1956, Trinity had to confront this sea change head on when its parish was called upon to decide whether to leave the inner city and merge with Holy Cross Church, a Lutheran parish located on Cleveland's far west side, or stay. Trinity's parish chose to stay.

And in reality, Trinity did a lot more than just stay. During the 1958-1973 pastorship of Rev. Arthur Ziegler, who authored a history of the church in 1969, the parish undertook new community ministries that began providing food and needed services, such as legal and medical assistance, to the neighborhood poor. These ministries continued, and were expanded, under succeeding pastors. In 1976, a food cooperative was started. In 1978, in recognition of the growing Hispanic community in the neighborhood, the church began conducting services in Spanish. In the same year, Trinity became a voice for social justice in Cleveland when it began participating in annual "Marches for the Poor" each Palm Sunday. In 1980, Trinity opened a Food Pantry in Trinity Hall, and in 1982 it began offering preschool services in its former elementary school building. In 1992, a nursing program was started and, in 1994, the church began opening its historic doors to the public every Wednesday for free organ concerts performed on its world-famous Beckerath organ. In 1995, the church established a program offering free community meals to the public twice each week. And in the year 2000, Pastor Jeff Johnson founded a organization, which exists to this day, that he called "Building Hope in the City," designed to raise funds and provide a wide range of needed services to the most needy in the Ohio City neighborhood.

In 2018, Trinity Ohio City's historic church will celebrate its 145th anniversary as a landmark in the Ohio City neighborhood. During the celebration, there will likely be services held in English and Spanish, but they will also likely be held in the African language of Kirundi, because in recent years the church has begun to minister to a west side refugee community from Burundi. Because of the choice that this historic church's parish made in 1956 to stay in the inner city and minister to all residents, whether German or not, whether middle class or not, and regardless of what language they spoke, the church remains today as relevant to its community--maybe even more so, than it was in 1873 when it was first dedicated as a house of worship for German Lutheran immigrants.


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church The parish of Trinity Lutheran began as a mission of Zion Evangelical in 1853. This red brick Victorian Gothic church with its 175 foot high steeple is the third church of this parish. It was built in 1873 at a cost of approximately $30,000. This photograph was taken in circa 1903. Source: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Interior of Church
Interior of Church The new church built in 1872-1873 had almost five times as much interior space as the old church built in 1858. The assembly room (shown in this circa 1903 photograph) could accommodate 900 members and there was room for an additional 600 in the galleries above (not shown here). By this date, as the result of a surge of German immigration to Cleveland, the parish had grown to more than 1000 members. Source: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Johnann Christoph Wilhelm Lindemann (1827-1879)
Rev. Johnann Christoph Wilhelm Lindemann (1827-1879) The founding pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran church, Lindemann was a German immigrant, who was trained as a school teacher. He came to Cleveland in 1853 where he was ordained as a Lutheran minister and charged with establishing a mission for Lutherans living on the west side of the city. In all but name, the mission soon evolved into a new Lutheran parish, which officially became known as Trinity Evangelical Lutheran church in 1858. Lindemann served as pastor of the church until 1864, when he accepted a position as first President of Addison Teacher Seminary in Chicago, today known as Concordia University. In 1877, just two years before his death, Lindemann wrote a biography of his successor at Trinity, Rev. Friedrich Wyneken. Source: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Friedrich Konrad Dietrich Wyneken (1810-1876)
Friedrich Konrad Dietrich Wyneken (1810-1876) One of the most revered figures in the history of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran church, Wyneken was a pioneer missionary to the Midwest, and one of the founders of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. He served as President of the Synod from 1850-1864, before coming to Cleveland to become the second pastor of Trinity. During his pastorship (1864-1876), the parish built the school and church which still exist on the parish grounds today. When Pastor Wyneken's health began to fail in 1875, he offered to resign, but his parishioners instead raised money to send him on a trip to San Francisco, hoping that the weather there would improve his health. It did not, and he died in San Francisco on May 4, 1876. Source: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Trinity Lutheran School Building
Trinity Lutheran School Building Constructed in 1870, two years earlier than the church behind it, the building fronts on West 29th Street. The parish operated an elementary school out of the four-classroom building until 1979, when the school closed. Since then, the building has served various community purposes, and presently is the headquarters of Building Hope in the City (BHITC). This photo was taken in circa 1933. Source: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Trinity Lutheran School Classroom
Trinity Lutheran School Classroom Students appear ready for school in this 1941 photograph Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Parsonage and Trinity Hall
Parsonage and Trinity Hall In 1883, Trinity built this house as a parsonage for its pastor, Rev. J. H. Nieman, after an older parsonage had become uninhabitable. In 1914, after a new parsonage was built on the lot immediately north of the church, a brick addition was added to this house, and it became the parish hall known as Trinity Hall. This photograph was taken in circa 1933. Today, Trinity Hall is home to several outreach programs of the church. Source: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Bowling at Trinity Hall
Bowling at Trinity Hall When it was built in 1914, Trinity Hall had a gymnasium and auditorium on its first floor and a bowling alley in the basement. Parish women are seen bowling there in this 1953 photograph. As the needs of the community changed, the function of Trinity Hall changed. In 2000, the bowling alley was demolished in order to make room in the basement for needed services programs for the neighborhood. Source: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Parish Centennial
Parish Centennial In this photo taken in 1953, members of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church attend a service in their historic church on West 30th street and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the parish's founding. Source: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
The Beckerath Organ Arrives in Cleveland
The Beckerath Organ Arrives in Cleveland This photo taken in 1957 shows Trinity Evangelical Lutheran's famed Beckerath organ being unloaded in crates on a dock at the port of Cleveland. The crates were then carried by truck to the church where the organ was installed. It was dedicated at the church on April 7, 1957. Source: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Reaching out to the Community
Reaching out to the Community Pastor Douglas Groll (second from right), Seminarian Roberto Roja (right), and parish officers and employeees, stand outside the doors of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1978, the year when the parish celebrated its 125th year anniversary. In addition to the anniversary celebration, the parish that year also began offering services in Spanish in recognition of the large Latino community living in the neighborhood, and began participating in an annual march on Palm Sunday, called "March for the Poor," to bring attention to the plight of the most needy living in Cleveland's inner city neighborhoods. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
The Church in 2017
The Church in 2017 An interior view of Trinity Ohio City Church, showing the assembly room, galleries, and the massive pipes of the famous Beckerath organ. Source: Jim Dubelko


2031 W 30th St, Cleveland, OH 44113


Jim Dubelko, “Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 23, 2024,