The First German Evangelical-Lutheran Congregation of Pittsburgh was organized on January 22, 1837. Led by The Reverend “Father” John Christian Frederick Heyer, the first Divine Services were held in a Unitarian meeting house on Smithfield Street in downtown Pittsburgh. From 1838 to 1839 the congregation worshiped in a school house, and the the old courthouse.
Three different downtown church buildings served the congregation from 1840 to 1925. The church built in 1840 at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Grant Street was the first Evangelical-Lutheran church building erected in Pittsburgh. The second building at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Wylie Avenue, built in 1848, was undermined by a railroad tunnel. The third downtown building, Trinity Church, located on Sixth Avenue between Wylie and Fifth Avenues, was sold in 1925. This building had a seating capacity of 1,600 and was distinguished by a 180 foot steeple. It was subsequently demolished and a parking garage built on its site.
On July 7, 1856, the Church Council voted to unite with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
With the decommissioning and sale of the third downtown church building, the congregation moved to Oakland, which was then the suburbs, but is now very much the heart of the City of Pittsburgh. Construction of the present Trinity Church began in 1926 with completion and dedication in 1927. The church was designed in the fifteenth century Gothic style by Corbusier and Lenski, famed architects from Cleveland. The builder was Edward Wehr of Pittsburgh. Total cost of the new building was approximately $400,000.
First Trinity is constructed of Bedford, Indiana limestone, suggesting the classical medieval cathedrals of Europe. The high ceiling in the nave contributes to an atmosphere of deep devotion and high aspirations toward God. The stained glass windows illustrate Bible people and scenes, dedicated to the whole Word of God.
The congregation changed its name to First Trinity Evangelical-Lutheran Church in 1930 as the German language gave way to English among the members.
First Trinity’s organ was built by E.M. Skinner in 1923 and was rebuilt by M.P. Moeller in 1957. It includes five keyboards: Swell (14 ranks with 730 pipes), Great (10 ranks with 625 pipes), Choir (11 ranks with 549 pipes), Echo (5 ranks with 208 pipes), and Pedal (12 ranks with 381 pipes). A number of additions, including a 16′ subbass and trumpet and an 8′ trumpet and cymbal, were made in 1987 by Peter Luley of Pittsburgh.
First Trinity once boasted a membership of over 1,500 members. But with the advent of the automobile and the exodus to the suburbs, membership declined to just less than 50. But we’re growing! Membership now stands at more than 130 with a very young demographic. First Trinity is proud of being the “Mother Church” to most LCMS churches in Pittsburgh. And as God preserved a remnant of Israel, so God has preserved First Trinity to carry the Gospel to the Oakland/Shadyside community.