140-year-old church joins with Coltrane congregation

Nice story in the Chronicle this morning about 140-year-old St. Paulus Lutheran Church leaving its property on Gough St. between Eddy and Turk and moving several blocks away to the sanctuary of St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Each institution has an interesting and colorful history.

The Lutheran congregation is one of several that served immigrants from Germany and Scandanavia during the hundred years from 1860 to 1960 but which, after that, began to wither as the children of its members moved to the suburbs — a story that played out in every city in the U.S. But in 1990, the church was the site of a groundbreaking event when several local churches got together to defy the national Lutheran Church and ordained two lesbian ministers and one gay minister. The rousing ceremony was held at St. Paulus because it was the largest Lutheran church building in San Francisco at the time.

But a couple years later, the huge wooden church burned to the ground. The congregation continued to meet in an adjacent building for 15 years, but yesterday marked a turning point as it gave up its property on Gough St. to become a “church without walls,” according to its website. The Chronicle story says it will continue its mission “at cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, night spots and other regular gathering places… Starbucks and McDonald’s.”

St. John Coltrane, a congregation which reveres the spirit and work of the 20th century jazz genius, once made its home at St. Paulus, so it’s fitting that they return the favor. The church, formed in 1971, called the hippest church in America by Life magazine, centers its worship services around the music of Coltrane. The great man’s music can also be heard every Tuesday from noon to 4 pm on KPOO.

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