Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church, St Thomas
The outward facing aesthetics of the Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church are a study of nice contradictions. It’s humble and understated, very much in keeping with conservative Lutheran tenets. The ornate pinnacles, spires, and flying buttresses of other historic churches are nowhere to be found here. At the same time, though, the structure espouses a certain sense of grandeur. There’s an unmistakable gravitas to its simple balanced design. The kind that makes you feel welcome here even when the doors and windows are closed.
I felt all of this upon first seeing the FLEC, as it’s affectionately known, during a May 2018 visit to St Thomas. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the Church. After a little digging, though, I learned that my initial feelings were fairly spot on…
Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church History
The year was 1666. The Danish West India Company had formerly annexed Saint Thomas. It was also when the Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded. The venerable Church is distinguished as the oldest church in Saint Thomas. It’s also the home of the oldest continuous congregation in the western hemisphere. At its start, worshippers gathered in private homes. Later, they celebrated mass in a wooden chapel erected on the grounds inside Fort Christian. In 1793, the congregation established its permanent home on the site of the current Frederick Lutheran Church.
Like many historic houses of worship all over the West Indies, though, that first FLEC saw its share of troubles. Most notably, the structure was gutted by fire in 1826. A major hurricane 44 years later proved another major setback.
Time and again, though, the FLEC was rebuilt better and stronger.
Diverse from the Start
Most every church I know professes to welcome one and all. The Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church, though, has walked its talk in this regard throughout its history.
In its earliest days, FLEC services were held in Danish, English, and Danish-Creole, the latter to accommodate the enslaved African parishioners.
Danish-Creole masses continued into the 1840s, while Danish services persisted into the 1930s, 10+ years after the United States took possession of St Thomas.
In a recent article published in the Virgin Islands Daily News, current Frederick Lutheran pastor, Merle Malone, noted the Church’s continued emphasis on diversity, saying…
We do not discriminate. All are welcome, no matter your color, ethnicity, gender, or how you see yourself or your sexuality.
Visiting Frederick Lutheran Church Today
So yeah, the FLEC is plenty welcoming, as its facade seemed to suggest to me. Sadly, though, it was closed during our visit. An in-person look at the inside will have to wait until another time.
Virtual churchgoing experiences here, though, are readily available each week. Frederick Evangelical Lutheran Church regularly livestreams its 9AM Sunday mass via its Facebook page.
For those wishing to experience mass here in-person, Frederick Lutheran is centrally located within the Charlotte-Amalie Historic District.