Formally known as Memorial Evangelical Lutheran Church, Luther Place was founded in 1873 as a memorial to peace and reconciliation following the Civil War. Two of the original pews were dedicated to Generals Grant and Lee. The building is in the shape of a ship, symbolizing a vessel for God’s work, with the rafters in the shape of a keel. The statue of Martin Luther on our grounds was dedicated in 1884 on the 400th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth and over 10,000 attended the dedication ceremony. Under the first pastor, John Butler, the church advocated for African-American rights and operated a free infirmary that in its 30 years served over 25,000 people. A fire ravaged much of the nave in 1904 but allowed for renovations including the 12 reformers depicted in the windows and dedicated to unity under God. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the restoration celebration a year later saying that, “the Lutheran Church is destined to become on of the two or three greatest churches, most distinctly American.” Pastor Lloyd Douglas served at Luther Place from 1909 to 1911 and went on the become a well known author of religious
Beginning in the 1960’s the church led an interfaith community of religious groups to coordinate ministries to the poor and to try and reach the “unchurched.” The Iguana Coffeehouse was operated out of the basement and performers included Roberta Flack. During the 1968 riots after the murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the church was kept open and sheltered, fed and clothed more than 10,000 people. Through interfaith friendships, the Black Muslim community physically protected the church and volunteers from a burning crew. In the 1970’s the church founded N Street Village, a continuum of care including short and long term shelter, case management, substance abuse treatment, employment services and affordable housing, especially for women experiencing homelessness. A memorial burial plot at the apex of the Luther Place triangle is the final resting place of homeless activist Mitch Snyder. In 1973 Luther Place was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the late 70’s the Lutheran Volunteer Corps was created in order to help staff N Street Village programs; it has now grown into an organization that sends over 100 volunteers yearly. In the 1980’s, while actively growing its ministries the congregation also advocated globally for Soviet Jewry and against apartheid in South Africa.
In the 1990’s the church successfully advocated for affordable housing through the Washington Interfaith Network and continues to be an active member within WIN. The church was integral in advocacy with gay lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights and inclusion, becoming a Reconciling in Christ Congregation. In 2007 the interior of the sanctuary was extensively restored and new front windows were created portraying Martin Luther, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Harriet Tubman, reformers of society and the church. In 2009, we began adorning the outside of our building with paintings of Saints on our doors–St. Dorothy Day of New York, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Martin of Birmingham–deepening our commitment to connect with God in our community.
Check out Luther Place’s Vision for where the Holy Spirit is calling us today.