WELS History

“As we celebrate [our] past history, we note how the Lord has gathered us together and guided us. We may be a small gathering of believers by the world’s standards. Even in comparison with other church bodies, we are small. . . . Yet we share a commitment to be faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. God gathered us to work together and blessed the faithful efforts of all those who have gone before us. We remain together to work as brothers and sisters in Christ and to proclaim the wonders of God’s grace to all the world” (Together in Christ: A History of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, p. 54).

  • 1828

    United Rhine Mission Society formed in Germany

  • 1837

    German mission society sends John Muehlhaeuser to serve in North America

  • 1848

    Muehlhaeuser moves from New York to Wisconsin

  • 1850

    First meeting of the new Wisconsin Synod at Granville church with Muehlhaeuser as president

  • 1858

    Synod numbers:
    17 pastors
    16 parish schools
    7 Sunday schools
    3 teachers

  • 1860

    John Bading becomes new synod president

  • 1865

    Seminary building dedicated in Watertown; Synod periodical Gemeinde-Blatt appears

  • 1866

    J. M. Hoeckendorf’s congregation of 125 Lutherans moves to Nebraska

  • 1868

    Synod severs ties with Germany to become more Lutheran

  • 1871

    Minnesota Synod withdraws from General Council and moves to closer ties with Wisconsin Synod

  • 1872

    Ohio, Missouri, Norwegian, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota Synods hold first convention of Synodical Conference

  • 1878

    Relocated seminary begins at 13th and Vine in Milwaukee with six students

  • 1892

    Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin Synods form federation called Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States

  • 1893

    Federation adopts Apache mission effort as its world mission project

  • 1914

    English Northwestern Lutheran begins publication

  • 1917

    Merger of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska all becoming districts of Wisconsin Synod

  • 1919

    Merged synod numbers: 127,000 communicants spread throughout 698 congregations

  • 1926

    Winnebago Lutheran Academy established

  • 1929

    New home for Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary dedicated

  • 1930

    Synod enters debt and financial hardship—mission work suffers

  • 1933

    Synod elects John Brenner as president

  • 1935

    Synod resolves to retire debt

  • 1939

    Subscribers to English Northwestern Lutheran outnumber those to German Gemeinde-Blatt; Synod protests LCMS ties with ALC

  • 1949

    Synod sends exploratory team to Africa

  • 1950

    First synod services in California

  • 1952

    Missionary sent to Japan

  • 1952

    Missionary team arrives in Zambia

  • 1954

    Arizona-California District added to synod

  • 1955

    First synod services in Florida

  • 1959

    Synod officially becomes Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  • 1961

    Synod resolves to break with LCMS

  • 1973

    South Atlantic District added to synod

  • 1983

    North Atlantic District added to synod; South Central District added to synod

  • 1995

    Martin Luther College begins in New Ulm and Luther Preparatory Schools begins in Watertown

From Together in Christ: A History of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod © 2000 Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee WI. All rights reserved.