The story of gloria dei

Conceived through Prayer
Born in Faith
Nurtured with the Word
Confirmed by the Sacraments

Taken from the 1963 farewell service of Rev. H.H. Mirly,
who served Gloria Dei from 1955 until 1963

chapter 1

Conceived through Prayer

On June 24th, 1955, the following notice was sent to all the congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in the Philadelphia area:

"The Mission Board of the English District has purchased a building on a ten-acre site in Montgomery County for a new church and a Christian day school.  The property is located on Butler Pike, one mile south of Skippack Pike (Route 73), three miles south of Ambler and four miles east of Norristown.

"The building -- a 25-room modern brick/stone, concrete/steel structure -- has facilities for a chapel, classrooms, offices, and apartments.

"It is the hope of the Mission Board to begin work immediately.  Calls for a pastor and a principal/teacher will be issued within the next two weeks.  Meanwhile, Pastor Mirly of Castor Gardens Church has been asked to lay the ground work for this newest mission.

"The hope of the Board is to begin work in September with a school, consisting of Kindergarten and the four lower grades; a Sunday School and preaching services."

However, many people spent much time in prayer before this announcement could be made:  the people of Castor Gardens Church, who had initiated the whole idea because their school had outgrown its facilities and there was not enough room for expansion; the Mission Committee of the Lutheran Action Council of Greater Philadelphia, who had determined the need for a church in this community; the area board of Parish Education, who had encouraged the opening of the mission with a school; and the Mission Board of the English District who listened attentively to the local Lutheran leaders who pleaded for this church.

It really began on May 5th, 1955, when two Philadelphia realtors took Pastor Mirly on a tour of some larger houses that could possibly be used as additional school facilities for Castor Gardens Church.  After several unsuccessful attempts, one of the men said, "I know of an estate that has just been put on the market.  It's much too far away to serve your purposes, and probably much too costly for your budget, but do you mind if we just drive out to take a look at it, to see if this is the kind of a place you have in mind?"  It was then that we saw for the first time "Square Shadows," which in time would become "Gloria Dei."  [Square Shadows is a work of architect George Howe.]

"Square Shadows" today (click to zoom)

Things began to move pretty fast after this, almost too fast for the people involved.  On May 30th the Rev. O.T. McRee, who at that time was Executive Secretary for Missions and Church Extension for the English District, brought Charles Stade, a Chicago architect, to evaluate the property.  Mr. Stade's verdict was, "It'd take a million dollars to replace it."

Fifteen days later the convention of the English District was held at River Forest, Illinois, and for four days members of the Mission Board met with interested people from the Philadelphia area to discuss the advisability of purchasing this property for a new mission.  Some of the men, beside Pastor Mirly, who encouraged this venture were F. Carl Kretzmann, who later was called as the first principal for the day school; Arnold Weber, who was a member of the District's Board of Parish Education; and Pastor Herbert Meyer of Pennsauken, New Jersey, who was Circuit Counselor.

The efforts of these men were successful, for on June 24th the Mission Board voted to purchase "Square Shadows" as a new mission for the District.  At the same meeting the Board passed a resolution requesting the members of Castor Gardens Church to share the ministry of Pastor Mirly with the new mission so preparations could being immediately for the opening of the school for the Fall term, and to begin making plans for the first worship service.

During this period the need for prayer was indeed great.  Community response would be essential.  So 5,000 brochures were prepared and distributed by the Philadelphia Zone of the Walther League.  All the local papers carried feature stories of the new church and school.  An office was set up in the home of Ray and Lois Dankenbring, who lived on Belmont Avenue in Ambler.  And for three days each week Pastor Mirly was making calls on the people who had responded to this publicity.

On July 13th the Mission Board issued a call to Pastor Mirly to serve as the organizing pastor of the new mission, and a call to Mr. F. Carl Kretzmann of Redeemer Church, Philadelphia, as the first principal of the school.  Two weeks later Pastor Mirly was granted his release from the Castor Gardens Church to accept this call, but Mr. Kretzmann did not reach his decision to return the call as principal until the second week in August.

It was now that prayers became even more fervent.  Less than a month before the opening of school we had no teacher (we needed three), even though the contractors were already busy with renovations.  These prayers were answered when the Mission Board called Albert Mueller, principal of St. John's Lutheran Church, York, Pennsylvania.  Mr. Mueller accepted this call.

But is was not until September 17th (school opening had to be delayed a week) that the other teachers were secured.  Lois Dankenbring, who had a rich background in elementary education, consented to teach the Kindergarten for the first year.  Laura Weber, a public school teacher from Norristown, was signed to teach grades one and two.

Yes, Gloria Dei is a church that was truly "conceived through prayer."  for without the prayers of those who were concerned, Gloria Dei might never have been born.  And its birth was as spiritual as its conception.  It was "born in faith."

1955 Ambler Gazette Article (click to zoom)

1955 Ambler Gazette Article (click to zoom)

Chapter 2

Born in Faith

When 34 children met in our chapel for a service of prayer and worship on September 19th, 1955, and when 63 people gathered in that same room for the first public worship service on October 2nd, 1955, a new church was born.  But it was born in faith.

It took faith on the part of the Mission Board to spend $135,000 for a building before they had called a pastor, or before they knew of even one family interested in a new church.  It took faith on the part of those first three teachers to accept the challenges of teaching in a school that had at that time enrolled only 19 pupils.  It took faith on the art of those first parents to entrust their children's education to a school that was so new and unknown.  And it took faith on the part of those first four families (the Dankenbrings, Wests, Charles Zimmermanns, and Bill Zimmermanns), and on the part of those families who soon thereafter gave so sacrificially of time, talents, and treasure to give birth to this new church -- a church whose very name sounded so strange to many of them:  "Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod."

But faith can move mountains, and it did in those early years of our church.  The 63 people who had attended that first service on October 2nd grew to 250 for the service of dedication of the church and the installation of Pastor Mirly and Mr. Mueller on October 30th.  Many of them were visitors from neighboring churches, but not all.  Some had come to find a new church home for themselves, and they did.  They were Sam and Ruth Armour, Charles and Anne Bauer, Jim and Dorothy Bean, Ed and Peggy Berger, Gordon and Mary Cawthray, Ray and Lois Dankenbring, Betty Elosge, Ed and Edna Grimmer and their children Ed and Doris, George Lobien, Pastor and Mrs. Mirly, John and Margaret Mondry and son Jack, Albert and Helen Mueller and daughter Marilyn, John and Shirley Puckett, George Reed, Ralph and Iris Rosenberger, Dave and Mary Saylor, Wally and Shirley Schroeder, Charles and Marie West, Charles and Claire Zimmermann, and Bill and Marilyn Zimmermann.

And God has richly blessed these people's faith in Him.  Since those 41 people became charter members of this church, God has used them to build a church which has brought rich spiritual life to many people.  A total of 328 people have been communicant members of this church at some time during these past eight years.

But these people did not only "belong," they served -- each other and the community around them.  They served each other through spiritual fellowship.  The first of many parish socials was held on November 13, and, as always, closed with Vespers.

The women served each other by meeting at least once a month since that first meeting of the Gloria Dei Women on February 2nd, 1956.  And from the beginning the emphasis has been on the Spirit.  Lois Dankenbring, who served as the first president, set a high tone for spiritual growth and fellowship.  Indicative of this tone is that the committees the women established bear the names of famous women mention in the Sacred Scriptures:  Mary, Hannah, Tabitha, Dorcas, Martha, Anna Priscilla, and Rhoda.

The men served each other by carrying out the program for the church.  From the original committee of four (Ray Dankenbring, Charles Zimmermann, Charles West, and the Pastor), the work of our church is carried on by Board of Elders, Trustees, Finance and Education; and by the Fellowship, Evangelism, and Stewardship Comittees.  Heads of these groups meet with the elected officers as the Church Council to carry out the program established at quarterly Voter's Meetings.

The youth served each other by actively participating in the program arranged for them by the Walther League.  Ever since Dave and Pat Millar helped Pastor and Mrs. Mirly organize that first Walther League meeting in 1960, the youth have been a vital and vibrant part of this church.  With the additional help of Pete Crawford and Eddie Schulz, the fervor of our young people has taken them to zone rallies, district camp and conventions, and last summer took three of them to the International Walther League Convention in Washington, D.C.

But Gloria Dei also served others.  On February 12th, 1956, the members held their first "Open House" for the people of the community.  71 came to visit.  Some of these are still coming to worship here every Sunday.

The faith of Gloria Dei can also be seen in the physical changes that have been made.  Since that night of October 29th in 1955, when most of the members worked until the next morning to install the reredos and altar, which had been crafted by Mr. Emil Merzinsky, a Latvian immigrant from Princeton, the people have been willing to give of themselves for the advancing of God's Kingdom.

As evidence was the renovation of the chapel in 1957, the purchase of the parsonage at 1 Mercer Hill, Ambler, in August 1957; the addition of a classroom in September of the same year; the acquisition of a home for Mr. Mueller in the summer of 1959; the addition of the transept in the fall of 1961, and the new parsonage built on the grounds during the spring and summer of 1962.

But buildings do not make a church.  People do -- people with the faith to build these buildings and dream these dreams, who will pray and work and worship so that God's Kingdom may come among us.  And since these people did, Gloria Dei was born.  And it was born in faith.  But it also has grown nurtured with the Word.

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chapter 3

Nurtured with the Word

From the very beginning, Gloria Dei has taken seriously our Lord's injunction to "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."  As a result, it has also experienced the promise of Jesus that "My Word shall not return to you void."  Here's some of the evidence:

A Christian Day School was begun, even before the congregation held its first worship service, so that children could daily be taught the Word of God and "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  And there was growth, not only for the individual children, but for the school itself.  Within four years the school reached its maximum capacity of 150 pupils.

A Sunday School was begun with 45 pupils the first day, October 2nd, 1955.  Half of these were adults.  And this idea has grown, too, so that today almost one third of the entire communicant membership of the church is in Bible Class every Sunday (or teaching Sunday School).  The members of Gloria Dei have understood St. Paul's directives to "continue in the Apostles' doctrines."

Study groups were formed, first among the women and then for the whole parish, as cottage meetings.  This grew, too, so that last fall over half of the entire parish met in small cottage groups for three consecutive months to meditate upon and study his Word.

But the greatest "nurtured with the Word" has taken place in the homes of our people.  Started first as an Advent emphasis, and with the aid of the Advent Wreath, then strengthened through the use of the Passion Cross (designed and manufactured by men of the church), family devotions have been a prominent part of the spiritual growth of Gloria Dei.  But growth must go on, for man either grows or dies.

Gloria Dei in the "Square Shadows" estate (click to zoom)

Church Dedication Photo, Times Herald (click to zoom)

chapter 4

Confirmed by the Sacraments

Conscious of the Lutheran dictum that the marks of the church are the Word and Sacrament, Gloria Dei has provided the Sacraments as freely as the Word.  Since the very first celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion on November 13th, 1955, this Sacrament has been offered at least once every Sunday, except when Pastor Mirly was away.  And during this time more than 20,000 communicants have received the Lord Jesus Christ through this Sacrament.

But so, too, with the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  It has always held a high position in the worship of this church.  Since Dean Saylor was baptized in the morning worship of the congregation on October 16th, 1955, 140 others have been made children of God through this Sacrament at Gloria Dei.

And as the church grew, so did the people's use of the other rites of the church.  The first Rite of Holy Confirmation was administered to Lynn Cawthray and Jim West on Pentecost Sunday, June 10th, 1956.  since then, 129 others have renewed their baptismal vows and were admitted as communicants of this church through this rite.

And the Rite of Holy Matrimony has also been pronounced before our altar.  The first was for R.D. and Helen Bledsoe on the last day of 1955.  There have been 11 since.

Our church and its altar have also been the means of bringing hope and comfort at the time of death.  The first of our members to be buried from our church was little Richard Stohrer, Jr., on October 27th, 1956.  Since then, 11 others have been given Christian committal by the ministry of our church, and their families received the comfort of the Word of God and the Sacraments of our church.

1956 Article (click to zoom)


A church that was conceived through prayer must remain a praying church if it is to be the kind of church it was conceived to be.  And if it prays it has the promise of our Lord who said, "Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My name, believing, He will give it to you."

A church that was born in faith must exercise that faith if it wishes to be faithful to its birthright.  Such a church has the promise that "anything is possible to him who believes."

A church that has been nurtured with the Word can grow only as it continues to feed on this Bread of Life.  In so doing, the people of such a church have this as Christ's promise:  "If you continue in My Word, you shall be My disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

Finally, a church that has been confirmed by the Sacraments can remain faithful to its heritage and true to its sacred trust as it remembers that "herein is love, not that you loved Me, but that I loved you and gave Myself for you;" and as it remembers the promise of Scripture that "as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" and that "he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood lives in Me and I in him."

A church that is conceived through prayer, born in faith, nurtured with the Word, and confirmed by the Sacraments cannot help but be GLORIA DEI -- to the glory of God.  "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be:  world without end.  Amen."

the continuing story of gloria dei

Both church and school grew rapidly during the early days.  After Pastor Mirly took a call [at another congregation], the Revered Eric H. Wildgrube was called [to Gloria Dei] in 1964.  Under his leadership a beautiful new sanctuary was completed in 1971.  The nave is a huge chancel where God's people gather around His altar to behold His glory, the "Gloria Dei in Jesu Christo."  The large narthex gives people the opportunity to become better acquainted with their brothers and sisters in Christ and is also used as a fellowship hall.

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Due to the decline in child population in the church's community and the lack of applications for enrollment, the church school was discontinued in 1978 (after 23 years) and space was leased to the Montessori school.  Pastor Wildgrube retired in 1993, and the Reverend Frederic W. Baue was called as Pastor of Gloria Dei the following year.  Following Pastor Baue's retirement in 1999, Pastor Larry W.A. Townsend was installed at Gloria Dei and served until 2007.  In 2008, Pastor David A. Young was installed and remains our faithful pastor to this day.

For more information about our current activities, explore the Beliefs and Ministries (drop-down menu at the very top of the page) of Gloria Dei.