Community History - Covington - Grace United Church of Christ (Grace Reformed Church)
German immigrants flooded into the Covington area in the years before the Civil War. A number of German Protestants living in the west end wished to establish a church and school in their community. On April 18, 1862, 18 individuals met at the home of Heinrich Wilhelm Schleutker, at the corner of Pike and Craig Streets, to begin plans for a new congregation. It was decided at this meeting to name the church the Evangelical Reformed Church. A plot of ground measuring 50 x 99’ was acquired at the northwest corner of Lockwood and Willard Streets in May 1862. While the church building was under construction, the congregation met at several temporary locations, including a schoolhouse and a local firehouse.
The cornerstone for the new Gothic Revival church was officially set in place on June 13, 1862. The structure was dedicated on April 6, 1863 (Palm Sunday). The cost for the structure and furnishing amounted to $8,000. The church was two-stories in height and built of brick. The main floor contained classrooms and meeting rooms. The second floor sported Gothic arched windows and was utilized as the main worship space.
The eighteen charter members of the congregation were: Heinrich Wilhelm Schleutker, Gerhard Heinrich Schleutker, Joahnn Friedrich Schletuker, Hermann Thiesing, Johann Heinrich Timmermann, Hermann Heinrich Uhlhorn, Dietrich Stadtlaender, Wilhelm Heinrich Schild, Carl Mieth, Wilhelmine Catherine Elisabeth Schleutker, Maria Wilhelmina Elisabeth Schleutker, Maria Elisabeth Schleutker, Catharina Elisabeth Thiesing, Catharina Timmermann, Louise Uhlkhorn, Carolina Stadtlaender, Johanna Maria Schild and Maria Braun.
The congregation also sponsored a school. Like German Catholics in Covington, the people of the congregation wished to teach their children the traditions and language of the old country. The school opened at the same time as the church. Tuition at the school amounted to .25 per month. Only children of German parents were permitted to attend. The school was not long lived.
The congregation grew quickly. By 1868, membership had increased to 300 in number. Among the early members was John Schleutker, a local baker. Schleutker was known for his delicious pumpernickel bread which he supplied to many neighborhood residents. Schleutker’s association with the church was so strong, that many Northern Kentuckians referred to the church as the Pumpernickel Church. Schleutker’s son, John, served as the organist for the church for more than fifty years.
In 1889, the congregation financed the construction of a three-story brick parsonage as an addition to the rear of the church building. Cost for the worked reached $2,500. In 1894, members of the congregation who lived in Ludlow and Bromley established a new church. Immanuel German Reformed Church was constructed at the northeast corner of Boone and Harris Streets in Bromley. Eventually, Immanuel became an independent congregation.
The congregation voted in 1896 to remodel the church building. At this time, a new façade was built. The façade included a large Gothic arched window and a tower with steeple. The renovations also included stained glass windows. The newly remodeled church was dedicated on December 7, 1896.
As German immigration to Northern Kentucky slowed, the desire to conduct all services in the German Language ceased. In 1904, the members of the Sunday school were given permission to use English language materials. At about the same time, the board agreed to conduct brief Sunday Services in English between the Sunday school classes and the main Sunday German service. In 1913, the congregation voted (80 in favor, 2 opposed) to conduct English and German services on alternate Sundays. The entry of the United States into the First World War brought the use of German to a complete halt. On April 28, 1918, the congregation voted to eliminate the use of the German language entirely. Also at this time, the name of the Church was changed to Grace Reformed Church.
Grace Church maintained a membership of about 300 throughout the pre-World War II era. In the years following the war, the west end began to change. Long-time residents began selling their property and moving to the suburbs. Like many other congregations, Grace Church lost members. In 1957, Grace Reformed became a part of the United Church of Christ Denomination. At this time, the name of the church was changed to Grace United Church of Christ.
By the 1960s, members began discussing the relocation of the church to the suburbs. A vote of the congregation, however, indicated that a majority wished to remain in the downtown location. Throughout the 1970s and 1980’s, membership and Grace United Church of Christ plummeted. In 1975, membership stood at 103. By 1982, only 73 active members participated in church activities.
Declining membership reached a crisis point in the mid 1990s. In 1995, less than 20 members participated in Sunday Services and most of these were elderly. A decision was made to close. The last services were conducted on October 29, 1995.
Kentucky Post, October 28, 1995, p. 9k, October 30, 1995, p. 1k; Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of Grace Reformed Church, Covington, Kentucky, 1862-1937 (KCPL Collection); History of Grace United Church of Christ, 1862-1962 (KCPL Collection); Vercouteren, Karl J., The German Churches of Covington, (Covington: 1977), p. 9; Sixteenth Anniversary of the Grace Reformed Church, Covington, Kentucky, October 22, 1922 (KCPL Collection).