The mission of Saint Peter’s Church is to creatively shape life in the city. God has claimed the city, and all who call it home, to be a place of healing and wholeness, reconciliation and peace, newness and delight. For this reason, the vitality of the city, and the wellbeing of those who live in it, is the primary, ongoing concern of the people of Saint Peter’s Church.
Saint Peter’s Church is a vibrant community of faith experienced and effective at leading and forging partnerships, especially in midtown Manhattan. This community’s 150-year engagement with people living and working in the neighborhood began and continues in partnership with others.
The founders of Saint Peter’s Church (Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Sanct Petri-Kirche) were German immigrants struggling to make ends meet. On June 2, 1862, they partnered with a local Irish Roman Catholic businessman to gather in a small, borrowed loft above a grocery and animal feed store on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 49th Street.
This foundational partnership importantly transcended denominational and ethnic lines, and remains an enduring approach to mission and ministry at Saint Peter’s Church.
In the 1970s, the people of Saint Peter’s Church developed a plan for new and abundant life in the dust of a razed residential neighborhood being supplanted by rising commercial skyscrapers. A partnership between CitiBank and Saint Peter’s Church resulted in a new urban complex with a prominent and integrated church building, consecrated December 12, 1977.
The church building, though, is not the final end. It is a modern masterpiece at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 54th Street inspiring continuous service to the midtown community with fervent dedication and creative excellence.
That Saint Peter’s Church does not exists simply as a structure, but thrives in mission and ministry, is due to ongoing visionary leadership with partnership at its center.
A great diversity of people carries out the mission and ministry of Saint Peter’s Church. While served by many staff people, pastors and musicians, all the people of Saint Peter’s Church are its ministers and its leaders.
This great diversity of people comes together to form community, just as this same diverse people serves the community. In coming together in this way, a communion is formed — a wide spectrum of many joined as one in service of others, and equipped with the countless and varied gifts God gives for mission and ministry.
Jesus speaks of the work of community as love of God and love of neighbor, making the offering of the many and varied gifts God gives in service to others nothing other than the ultimate act of praising God.
In the early days German was the only language used in praising God at Saint Peter’s Church. It was the language of the surrounding community. By the 1890s, Saint Peter’s Church had added a liturgy in English. In the 1990s, Saint Peter’s added a mass in Spanish.
Today, primarily English and Spanish, along with a spattering of Korean, French, Italian, German and a handful of others, are the languages of the people of Saint Peter’s Church. Masses are held on Sundays in both English and Spanish, and occasionally include other languages.
The musical traditions of Saint Peter’s Church are no less diverse than languages. The community sings literature from all over the world, and America’s art form — jazz — has particular prominence.
Owing to the German Lutheran heritage of Saint Peter’s Church, to that tradition’s many masterpieces, and to the inventiveness of former organist and Cantor, the late Gordon Jones, chorales, cantatas and other such pieces are reinterpreted in vibrant and prominent ways at Saint Peter’s Church.
So, too, is jazz. In 1964, Pastor John Garcia Gensel founded the jazz ministry at Saint Peter’s Church and shepherded the people of New York’s jazz community, its “Night Flock.” (Duke Ellington’s The Shepherd who Watches over the Night Flock is dedicated to him.)
A then-radical approach to ministry, Saint Peter’s Church, “the first church of jazz,” continued after Pastor Gensel’s retirement, thanks to the leadership of Jazz Pastor Emeritus Dale R. Lind and the commitment of many who saw the importance of its mission and ministry. The jazz ministry at Saint Peter’s Church continues to respond to the needs of and foster community for jazz music, jazz musicians and lovers of jazz.
Today, two directors of music guide the musical life of this community. Thomas Schmidt serves as cantor and organist. Ike Sturm is a gifted jazz bassist and composer.
A mixed, part-volunteer, part-paid choir provides exceptional leadership to congregational song. It regularly performs large works from the choral repertory. Visiting and familiar jazz musicians provide musical leadership in a variety of ensemble combinations.
A diverse pastoral staff continues in the tradition of many fine pastors who have served Saint Peter’s Church since it’s founding. Today, two full time pastors and several part time pastors serve Saint Peter’s Church.
Pastor Amandus Derr is distinguished among his senior colleagues as one of the city’s leading interfaith voices, and is a tireless advocate and visionary for social services. Pastor Jared Stahler is concerned for the interpretation of an authentic Christian voice in the public sphere, and is committed to the arts in the life and work of the church.
Saint Peter’s Spanish-speaking community is served by Pastor Fabian Arias in a covenant partnership with Iglesia de Sion.
Pastor Bill Eschen is available for pastoral counseling. Residency programs often bring pastors, seminarians and vicars to Saint Peter’s Church.
The community is blessed by the presence of the Rev. Dr. Ralphe E. Peterson, Senior Pastor, Builder Emeritus; Rev. Dr. John S. Damm, Senior Pastor Emeritus; and the Rev. Dale R. Lind, Jazz Pastor Emeritus. These three fine pastors continue to enrich Saint Peter’s Church in their retirement.
Saint Peter’s Church is home to ongoing conversations in community — joys are shared, as well as sorrows; hopes and dreams, as well as disappointments and challenges. The blessing of community is that renewal can take place in it.
The story of Saint Peter’s Church is as rich as the conversations it fosters, the ongoing and always-expanding stories of renewal and new life. You and all people are invited to join the conversation.