The Lutheran Witness is highlighting a different LCMS congregation each month of 2024 in our print magazine. To submit your congregation for consideration, visit this page.
By Sarah Reinsel
“By His Word, God brings so many people out of the world and into our pews,” said the Rev. James Hopkins, senior pastor at First Lutheran Church of Boston.
Walking around First Lutheran, you’ll see old brick apartment buildings, rows of brownstones and tree-lined boulevards. The church’s location in the heart of downtown Boston means that people from all over the country and the world are always passing through.
“We’re in a highly trafficked part of town, and steps from the Public Garden, the Boston Common and the State House,” said Hopkins. “When I have visits with people, we often go for a walk in the park. It’s good for people to know that the Christian community is a living, active thing, and to see pastors being with their people.”
First Lutheran’s faithful ministry in its big city neighborhood is a gift to the LCMS. Here, God’s people in Boston — students, researchers, musicians, families, locals, travelers, you name it — are nourished by His Word.
Every year, First Lutheran hosts a “Friendsgiving” for its young adults. Last year, a few volunteers prepared a huge Thanksgiving meal for about 20 young people, who enjoyed a long evening full of good food and good conversation together.
Students come to Boston for college, grad school, medical school, music school. Many other young people move to Boston for work. For people who are new to the area or for students who come and go, First Lutheran provides a much-needed community.
“First Lutheran is a place where young people can grow in their faith and life of prayer and actively participate in the worship life of the congregation. [It’s also] a place where they feel comfortable to have honest conversations about their struggles and concerns, goals and doubts, whatever these may be,” said the Rev. Miguel Barcelos, associate pastor and director of campus and young adult ministry.
“We have a good contingent of young people out of school and in school. It’s a good group — we do a lot together and we’re all friends,” said Alex Roehl, who also serves as an elder.
Congregation members are very used to seeing new faces in church, and they work to be attentive to first-time visitors.
“Compared to your median LCMS church, maybe we don’t have as many lifelong members, but it’s just a different context,” said Roehl. “And so we’re always happy to have new people, and we’re very used to that.”
And of course, many people who come to Boston stay. Gretchen Gallimore first moved to Boston to study for her master’s degree and never left. When she first joined First Lutheran, she began teaching a second-grade Sunday school class. Now, those second graders are high schoolers, and Gallimore has remained their teacher for many years. Currently, they are reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters together every Sunday morning.
The community and strong relationships at First Lutheran flow from its Word and Sacrament ministry, Gallimore explained.
“First comes the Means of Grace in the Divine Service, and the rest of it falls after,” said Gallimore. “For example, during Covid, what did we make sure to keep doing, and what is most important to us? The Divine Service kept happening, and then we found ways to still have community.”
Preach the Word
“I, your troubled child, cast all my sins that are fixed within me and frighten me so fiercely, into your deep wounds, where I have always found salvation,” said Cheryl Ryder, quoting from one of Bach’s cantatas (BWV 199). “This was not the message I was getting over [at my old church],” said Ryder. “And so, when the opportunity came, I walked down two blocks [to First Lutheran].”
Ryder, an organist and lifelong church musician, spent many years serving at other churches before coming to First Lutheran. Now, she sings in First Lutheran’s choir.
She and many others at First Lutheran, converts and lifelong Lutherans alike, emphasized how clearly they heard the Gospel proclaimed at First Lutheran — through the church’s beloved choir and the singing of the liturgy, the preaching in the Divine Service and the teaching in Bible study, and intentional, lifelong catechesis.
Victoria Li, a junior at Harvard and member of First Lutheran, is another convert to Lutheranism. Something clicked, she explained, when she realized she could rely on the authority of the Word of God, and the certainty it brings, over her own reason.
“In today’s world we emphasize … how you can reason through everything,” Li said. But by hearing God’s Word preached at First Lutheran, she realized, “this is the church you can trust, even if there’s some things that you don’t quite understand.”
Christ, for You
A visit to First Lutheran makes it clear how God makes us one in Christ.
“When people come here from far away, what I hear the most is that it feels like home. ‘Home’ to them is a long list of places: California, Iowa, Texas, Tanzania, Washington, South Africa, Michigan, and on and on,” said Hopkins. “But this is home for them because they are citizens of God’s kingdom, which is not bound.”
“The same church that grows in the fields and the suburbs is here in Boston for you.”
Many thanks to the Rev. James Hopkins, the Rev. Miguel Barcelos and all the saints at First Lutheran for the hospitality they showed to the LW team!
This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of The Lutheran Witness.