History of St. James Lutheran Church

The history of St. James dates back into the 1700s.  The congregation now known as St. James Lutheran Church was founded in 1750 by settlers who immigrated from what is now western Germany.  While not refugees from religious persecution, they were still seeking to escape conditions in their homeland, where frequent French military incursions had led to periodic destruction and famines.  It was originally a Union Church combining Lutheran and German Reformed members – a frequent practice among these early relatively impoverished farmers.  At that time it was called St. John, and was a mission offshoot of a church of that name in Easton.  At some time after the Reformed portion of the congregation faded away, the name was changed to St. James. 

The origin of the locally known name, Straw Church, is somewhat unclear.  Although the first building was a log structure with a thatched straw roof, such construction was not unique then.  Early maps of the area show a village named Straw, which may also have been the source of the name.  According to available records, the service of regular, resident pastors began in 1769 with J. Peter Muehlenberg, son of the great Lutheran Pioneer, Heinrich Melchior Muehlenberg.  After serving at St. James for three years he took up a pastorate in Virginia, and later became a Major-General in the Revolutionary War.

The first church was replaced by a stone building in 1790, the cornerstone of which still exists as part of the St. James Cemetery wall to this day.  The interior was finished in unpainted wood.  The congregation grew rapidly, because in about 40 years it became apparent that a larger sanctuary would be needed.  The result of their efforts, built in 1834, is the beautiful brick building we have today.  In 1869, Mrs. Sophia Sharps organized the first Sunday School.  A beautiful stained-glass window behind the altar is a memorial to Mrs. Sharps.  Historical documents indicate that at its peak there was an enrollment in Sunday School of 210 children and 35-40 teachers and helpers. 

Further growth in the mid-20th century resulted in addition of the church hall and education wing in 1960.  Our forefathers in the faith built well.  Aside from one roof replacement and updates such as sanitation, central heating / AC, and electrification, the sanctuary building needed only routine maintenance until the present day.  In 1960, construction began to place a cupola on the roof, to house the speakers of the Carillonic Bell system.   In August of 2016, St. James Lutheran Church, and the front portion of cemetery across the street, were entered into the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.  On October 24th, 2016 they were entered into the National Register of Historic Places as well.

St. James has survived many challenges in its glorious history; many conflicts and wars, blizzards and heat waves, economic depressions and social unrest.  Yet it has stayed strong over the years because of its congregation; people coming together to get shelter from the storms of life. St James is here for those that want to unburden their pain and share their happiness with each other and to praise God.  

History of Pastors


  • Johann Berger (? - 1769)
  • J. Peter Muhlenberg (1769 - 1771)
  • Christian Streit (1772 - 1777)
  • Rev. Brass (1777 - 1780)
  • John F. Ernst (1781 - 1790)
  • John C. Yeager (1792 - 1812)
  • Christian Endress (1812 - 1815)
  • John P. Hecht (1815 - 1837)
  • Daniel Miller (1837 - 1847)
  • John McCron (1847 - 1851)
  • John K. Plitt (1851 - 1865)
  • Mathias Richards (1865 - 1868)
  • Samuel Henry (1868 - 1880)
  • Frances T. Hoover (1880 - 1883)
  • Thomas Pritchard (1883 - 1910)
  • David S. Hafer (1910 - 1949)
  • C. Edgar Koehnlein (1949 - 1952)
  • Edwin L. Ehlers (1952 - 1962)
  • Walter E. Wrede (1962 - 1990)
  • Pastor Gerald P. Kramer (1991 - 2005)
  • Pastor John H. Van Haneghan (2010 - 2015)
  • Pastor Bernard Kelly (2016 - 2018)