One cannot find a definite date for the
organization of this congregation in the region called the
Forks of the Delaware. It is believed to have been formed in
1750 by people who had been members of the Lutheran Church
on Morgan's Hill, south of Easton, Pennsylvania. That church
was disbanded, and those living on the New Jersey side of
the river organized this congregation.
This early church was named St. John's. The
congregation was modeled on the union church in Germany and
so was made up of Lutherans and German Reformed members. The
German Reformed Group, through death, removal, and other
causes, dwindled to nothing and the Lutherans acquired sole
possession of the property. They changed the name to Saint
James Lutheran Church in the 1760's and affiliated with St.
Michael's in Philadelphia.
It is noted in the publication "Hallesche
Nachrichten" published in Halle, Germany, that in the year
1760, letters were receeved from Lutherans living in
Greenwich Township asking for the preaching of the Gospel.
Many of these German immigrants had come to the United
States to escape the ongoing conflicts along the French border.
According to the
Journals of Henry Melchior
Muhlenberg, volume II, page 448,
translated by Theodore G. Tappert and John W. Doberstein, we
find these entries:
"June 29, 1770, Friday: Went out with
Magister Streit (who would
later become St. James' second pastor) and my host in
order to visit the families and members of our
congregation (St. James), and particularly the
"July 2, 1770, Monday: "
(St. James) requested
that young Mr. Streit be allowed to preach and catechize
there until help comes from
Europe. In their
opinion, no one would be better filled for this than
Muhlenberg or Pastor
Schultz. The first church erected in 1750 was
called St. John's. It was built of logs and thatched with
straw, from which it is still known as
Peter Muhlenberg, son of the Lutheran pioneer pastor,
Henry M. Muhlenberg, is believed to have been the first
resident pastor of the congregation in 1769. He went on to
serve as a major-general in the Revolutionary War.
It is generally believed that the other
Lutheran churches in the Phillipsburg (Grace & St.
John's), Stewartsville and Riegelsville areas all originated
from St. James "Straw" Church.
According to a note
from Mildred Shimer Holden, the
Sunday School program was started in 1849. This note is
attached to the portrait of Sophia
Sharps found in Fellowship Hall. Initially the "Sunday
School" program went by the name of the "Sabbath
church edifice was constructed in 1834 and continues to
serve the congregation. The cupola which houses the speakers
for the carillon
bells was added on in March, 1960. The new education
building, now known as Fellowship
Hall, was dedicated in December of the same year.