History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva – an overview
The beginning of the reformation in Geneva
~ 1520 German merchants begin bringing reformationist ideas to Geneva.
1536 John Calvin was recruited by Frenchman William Farel to join the Reformation in Geneva, where he regularly preached sermons throughout the week; but the governing council of the city resisted the implementation of their ideas, and both men were expelled. At the invitation of Martin Bucer, Calvin proceeded to Strasbourg, where he became the minister of a church of French refugees. He continued to support the reform movement in Geneva, and in 1541 he was invited back to lead the church of the city.
1685 Abolishment of the Edict of Nantes: second Huguenot refugee wave. Lutherans also lose their houses of worship.
Foundation of the Lutheran Church of Geneva
~1702 German merchants from Lyon ask the municipal authorities of Geneva for permission to conduct Lutheran worship services with communion. King Friedrich I of Prussia supports the petitioners. Permission was granted after seeking the opinions of the famous theologians B. Picet and J.-A. Turrettinin, as well as the Vénérable Compagnie des pasteurs, who wrote on April 22nd, 1707:
„Quelques particuliers de la Confession d’Augsbourg ayant demandé, il y a quelques années, la permission de communier ici de tems en tems, de la main d’un de leurs Ministres, notre compagnie, qui fut convoquée deux fois pour en délibérer, y donna unanimement les mains. Après quoi, ayant porté cet avis à notre Magistrat, il ne se fit aucune peine de leur accorder leur demande.“
the municipal authorities sanction the petition.
28.08.1707 The Theologian Anton Schulz conducts the first Lutheran worship service in a rented hall
The first decades
1707-66 Worship services take place in the back room of the Corner house Cité/rue basse des Allemandes dessus. This church is ecumenical since no other reformed churches are authorized until 1815
1717-21 The congregation, with sole support from the six founders, has financial difficulties. They turn to the Duke of Sachsen-Gotha, Friedrich II, who’s sons were members of the congregation during their studies in Geneva.
He supports them with a gift and becomes later the patron of the church.
1731 According to the Declaration of Augsburg, Duke Friedrich II authorizes the first constitution of the church (Under supervision of the of Gotha Consistorium)
1745 There is a temporary conflict with the church authorities of Geneva, due to the Lutherans’ violation of church rules by inappropriate behaviour, such as playing cards and visiting establishments with drink and dancing. The Geneva church counsil insists that the Lutherans be subjected to the Geneva Church rules, in spite of the support the Lutherans receive from the Duke in Gotha.
The building of the church
1762 With the help of donations from German principalities, the congregation acquires the dilapidated Château de Coudré; tears down the building (maintaining the original basement and foundation); and constructs the new church building (which, according to the regulations may not be recognisable as a church).
Festive inauguration of the new church in the presence of the authorities of Geneva and the benevolent Companie des pasteurs.
Decades of disturbances
1782-86 The church is used by troops from Bern and French troops as a guard house during times of social upheaval in Geneva. Church services and communion services of the reformed take place in the Makkabäer-Chapel of the cathedral
1794 Members of the congregation who belong to the Jacobins Guillaume Tell occupy the church and preach on their own due to their mistrust of the church directors, which are chosen only from the founder families of the church and who claim the church as their own property. Geneva authorities mediate between the parties and confirm the right of the legal proprietor.
1813-15 The Austrian occupational authorities use the church as a hospital. Worship services take place in the Auditore Calvin until Geneva unites with Switzerland.
Boom in the 19th century
1821 Acquisition of “Petershöfli” (boarding house for girls)
1850 The church is transformed into a foundation, due to administrational reforms undertaken by James Fazy causing new laws, stocktaking of church goods, and a new name is given: Direction de l’eglise luthérienne allemande, à Genève.
Foundation of a German school (rue Chaudronniers), a charity-house for youth and women, and recruitment of an employee for social welfare work.
1864 Foundation of the Deutschen Hilfsvereins
1871 Arrival of German refugees of war from France
German Emperor as patron of the church
1874 Request made to the evangelical church authorities in Berlin for admission as a foreign congregation causes the patronage to change from the Duke of Gotha to the German Emperor.
1882 Establishment of a social welfare for male domestic servants and a “Sunday Home” for female domestic servants
1907 200 year celebration of the German Congregation; establishment of church choir (first organ in 1892).
1910 Right to vote within the congregation for women; since 1921 possibility to vote women into the management of the church (against the will of higher church counsel).
War and in between war times
“War-women-evenings”: meetings for support between women during the First World War; Support of German soldiers. Due to the increasing hostility against Germany and Germans, members leave the church.
1915 first ‘Gemeindebote’ (German news letter) with around 500 copies until 1952.
1916-60 Renting of one community room (Promenade St. Antoine, later rue Tabazan).
1921 Lutheran church is classified as a historical monument
1925 Joining of the German Evangelical Church Union. Adjustment of the laws to the Swiss association law. Being subjected to Swiss law, the assets of the church are protected.
Inner tensions in the congregation which sympathises partly with the “German Christians” and the new regime. The administration of the church attempts to vote out the pastor who rejects those tendencies.
severe membership and financial decline; support of German prisoners of war.
Many Germans begin moving to Geneva due to the establishment of the Ecumenical Centre, the Lutheran World Federation and international organisations; regular worship services in other languages.
1954 The German Lutheran Church becomes the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Geneva: admission of English speaking and Scandinavian congregations, establishment of church council.
1956 Contract with EKD, communion becomes the centre of the worship service.
1956-73 Youth Group (up to 120 18-25 year olds, ecumenical).
1957 250 year celebration; renovation of sanctuary (1969 new organ).
1959 published copies of news letter (Gemeindebote) increase to 1600.
1963 Women organise charity bazaar; regular aid of developing countries (soon to be 10 % of budget).
1967 Introduction of the coffee hour in renovated community room (Gemeinderaum).
1971 The church becomes a member of the Organisation of Churches of Geneva.
Church membership decreases due to immigration restrictions (1977 no administrational assistant).
1980 New constitution of the ELKG establishes equality of German and English speaking congregation (common church counsil supports the building).
1989-91 Extensive renovation and redesign of sanctuary (round altar); worship service together with Swiss German reformed church in Church de la Madeleine.
1990 Member at the Organisation of Evangelical-Lutheran churches of Switzerland.
1992 Participation in the foundation of the Platforme interreligieuse de Genève.
References: Karl Daniel, 1907 “The German Lutheran Church of Geneva at the 200 year jubilee”,Geneva Pastor Hoyer, 1975 “Gemeindebrief” (news letter), November/December Ursula Buhler and Karl-Ernst Geith, 1991, paper honouring the renovation of the church, Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Geneva