The history of Epiphany begins with the gathering of faith-filled friends in the hay barn on the property of Annie and Frederick Powell with a newly ordained mission developer, the Rev. Frederick Hightman, in April of 1908. An improvised altar and pulpit, an old reed organ, borrowed hymnals and a warm spirit permeated the gathering which would mark the beginning of over a hundred years of faithful ministry in a special corner of the Kingdom at the northeast corner of Baltimore City. Originally called Grace Church, Epiphany shares its founding and founder with our sisters and brothers at St. John’s Church, Pimlico, which Pastor Hightman raced off to organize as people dispersed from the hay barn into mission.
From those humble beginnings, the ministry of Epiphany has gone forward, steadily and deliberately extending the good news that God is Love into the community, building relationships, trust and partnerships with neighbors, other community ministries, local schools and businesses as well as with those who call Epiphany their church home and family.
Pastor Hightman, the “founding father,” would serve Epiphany from 1908 until his death in 1967. He would work alongside the people of the congregation to erect the first church on the site of the ordinal hay barn, which now serves as the chapel, succeeded in 1924 by the current church sanctuary topped in that same year with the signature “God is Love” sign; he was a consummate visitor and was well known for his pastoral care gifts, his gentleness as a confirmation instructor and his humility. Musically gifted, he gave piano and violin lessons to two generations of Epiphany children. Officially having had retired in 1937, he continued his service as Pastor Emeritus daily for another 30 years, serving beside two of his successors: the Rev. Augustus Hackmann (1937-1955) and the Rev. Raymond C. Myers (1955-1970).
If Pastor Hightman was the founding father, Pastor Hackmann was the preacher. He was newly ordained when he arrived at Epiphany in 1937, he immediately set to work “modernizing” the church. He, with Pastor Hightman and an increasingly empowered laity, oversaw the ornate decoration of the church which survives to this day. Pastor Hackmann was well known for his charisma in the pulpit and his ability to bring scripture, theology and faith to life across a diverse spectrum of listeners. During his pastorate, the attendance in worship warranted expansion to a second Sunday service, the Sunday School was dramatically expanded and the church was so pregnant with potential that it seemed right to end the expectation that the pastor would be president of the corporate body, thus making Epiphany one of the first Lutheran congregations in Baltimore City with a lay president – a commitment that continues to this day. Pastor Hackmann, a ministerial son of Christ Church at the Inner Harbor, resigned his call to accept the senior pastorate of St. Matthew’s Church, Charleston (SC) in 1955.
The builder pastor of Epiphany, Pastor Myers, arrived in 1955. From the moment he arrived until the day he died, he drove the ministry of Epiphany forward. Everywhere he looked, he saw – and harnessed potential. Pastor Myers worked with a gifted laity to grow in every direction better serving the mission of God in this place. Pastor Myers led the congregation into its third building effort, the result of which was Hightman Hall. He, along with the newly ordained assistant pastors that served in those heady years of growth, would see Epiphany grow to an average worship attendance of nearly 900 at three Sunday services with two sessions of Sunday School serving an additional 600 students each Sunday. Youth work, adult Christian education, excellence in worship were hallmarks of Pastor Myers pastorate which ended with his untimely death as the congregation was about to embark on its fourth building campaign.
The Rev. John Yost, Jr. would become the fourth pastor of Epiphany in 1970 and would tend that ministry full-time for 24 years – and then resume his service in retirement, part-time. Pastor Yost was the creative leader that led Epiphany through the turbulent times that would see substantial decline in the community and the diminished witness of the congregation in the Baltimore Lutheran churches In Baltimore City. Though not untouched by these challenges, Epiphany re-invented its ministry a number of times during Pastor Yost’s partnership. Assistant pastors gave way to seminary interns as Epiphany became a teaching church that had some part in preparing local ministry leaders for their calls. Pastor Yost brought the scriptures to life in his well-appreciated Lenten and Advent monologues, he lent his creative gifts to the children’s and youth ministries of the congregation and community, and he continued Epiphany’s hallmark commitment to pastoral care and excellent worship, though Pastor Yost encouraged Epiphany’s lay leadership in dipping their toes into contemporary worship (with weekly communion!) as early as 1971. Pastor Yost retired in 1994, was named Pastor Emeritus in 1998 and came out of retirement, part-time, in 2007 to again resume his pastoral ministry with us. During Pastor Yost’s ministry, the Revs. R. Carl Myers, Paul Haack and Robert Driesen, entered the ordained ministry of the church with Epiphany’s enthusiastic sponsorship and support.
In 1995, Epiphany would call the Rev. Keith Hardy as its pastor. Pastor Hardy, often the caster of big dreams and great visions, was a gifted preacher. He would lead Epiphany through a number of studies to re-root in the community. He helped Epiphany establish what is now our well-appreciated Contemporary service and continued our congregation’s commitment to the teaching ministry of the church through the 9 interns who would serve in his 11 year pastorate. He would also help Epiphany to recapture its evangelical mission with his ministerial partner, the Rev. Tom Frizzell, who served as pastor/evangelist as Epiphany offered Alpha and Financial Peace University for the first time. Pastor Hardy resigned in 2006 to become a pastor/mission developer in Arizona. The Rev. Kelley Baxter was sponsored for ordination during Pastor Hardy and Pastor Frizzell’s ministry among us.
A struggling congregation stepped-out in faith in 2007 to call its sixth pastor as they prepared for the centennial celebration of the congregation’s ministry. The Rev. William Gohl, Jr., however, was no stranger to the people of this congregation, having served his vicarage in 1999 here at Epiphany under the supervision of Pastor Hardy. Pastor Gohl brought a sense of hopefulness for the future and partnered with the people of Epiphany to rebuild its hallmark traditions of excellence with renewed emphasis on worship, discipleship, pastoral care and social ministry. He was joined by a colleague, the Rev. Edward N. Kay, who for 2½ years added his gifts to expanding our youth and Christian education commitments as well as deepening the experience of contemporary worship. Pastor Kay left to serve full-time in the Bishop’s Office in 2010, though remains an honorary pastor of this congregation. Three vicars have served with us, as have retired pastors, the Rev. John Yost and the Rev. Duke Fries. Epiphany rejoiced as ministerial son, the Rev. Robert Driesen was consecrated to the office of Bishop in the Upper Susquehanna Synod in 2008 and member Doug Wittich was set apart as a permanent deacon in 2011.