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Pilgrim was founded in 1921 as a mission church. Over the years, the depth of the Gospel message became we changed. That change continues today.

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It was 1919, just after World War I. Returning veterans and other St. Paulites faced a housing shortage. These home seekers found attractive building sites in the predominately rural area, now known as the Macalester - Groveland neighborhood. As the neighborhood grew, the pastor and congregation of an existing Lutheran church saw this as an opportunity to found a mission church.

In 1919, the Mission Board of the English District advanced funds to buy two lots on the corner of St. Clair and Prior Avenues. Through the efforts of English Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (Dale and Carroll in St. Paul), the cornerstone of a chapel was laid in June, 1920. Pastor Edgar F. Witte was stationed here as a missionary. At the time, Redeemer Church itself was experiencing growth. Would they move to the Macalester - Groveland area or stay where they were? By 1921, they decided not to move. This left the little mission church free to become a full-fledged church. Pilgrim was born - the newest member of the English District of what is now the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.

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From 1921 - 1926, Pilgrim worked to grow and received a subsidy as a mission church. Pastor Witte wrote, "We plugged along, picking up 50 or 60 members a year by dint of wearing out shoe leather. I didn't have a car." In 1926, Pilgrim became self-supporting. It had 170 communicant members and 165 pupils in Sunday school. With this many people, Pilgrim had outgrown its small chapel. Would they build a little larger church that they might outgrow soon or go for a larger building? They chose to go for the larger building...or at least, part of it - the basement. The cornerstone of Pilgrim's permanent home was laid in November, 1926.

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The stock market crash of 1929 destroyed the rosy, economic hopes of the nation. Pilgrim carried a heavy financial burden during the depression years. Plans for completing the church structure had to be postponed. Expenses were trimmed to keep out of the red. No new debts were incurred and some progress was made in whittling down old debt. By 1935, the economic barometer of the nation began to climb somewhat. Pilgrim began making plans to finance the building of the actual church above the basement. By 1939, a financial campaign with a goad of $15,000 was successful. The construction of the superstructure of the church was begun. The cornerstone was laid in October, 1939.​

The peak of the postwar boom in church membership for the nation and Pilgrim came in 1956. Pressure for Sunday school space sparked a new building program in 1957. An addition built along the east and west sides of the church provided 20 more class rooms and space for church offices.

Pastor Witte served as Pilgrim's pastor from its founding until 1942 - a span of 24 years. Other pastors who have served Pilgrim are listed below.


Pilgrim's Senior Pastors

Edgar Witte, 1921 - 1942

Herman Winter, 1942 - 1957

Ihno Janssen, 1957 - 1958

Paul Schuessler, 1959 - 1990

Del Jacobson, 1991 - 1997

Carol Tomer, 1999 - present​

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At its founding, Pilgrim was a member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, the English Synod. In the early '70s, this synod was experiencing divisions in its theological beliefs. These divisions basically involved views on the inerrancy of the Bible. The Missouri Synod was quite firm in the belief that the Bible was without error. Others - pastors, scholars, and lay persons - felt that the Bible, while inspired, had portions where informed people could have differing opinions. In 1976, Pilgrim chose to leave the Missouri Synod and join the AELC (Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches). Several years later, the AELC denomination and two other Lutheran denominations (ALC and LCA) merged to form the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Pilgrim today is a member of the ELCA.

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