Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
9545 Georgia Ave.
Silver Spring MD 20910

History of
Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Rev Westermann
Rev. Walter Westermann

In 1995, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod celebrated 100 years of service to the deaf. The first service was in Chicago in 1894 and quickly spread all over the North American continent. The Washington Metro area was served sporadically by visiting pastors from New York or Philadelphia during the 1930's. The first permanent pastor was the Reverend Walter Westermann, who came to the area in 1947. He served St. Mark's Church in Baltimore as well as Christ/Deaf. Christ Lutheran Church on 16th Street and Colorado Avenue in the District of Columbia offered us the use of their small original chapel. We used this chapel until we moved to our present location on Georgia Avenue. In the early years, this chapel was used as a nursery school just before our services and we had to fold up these tiny chairs and set up our own chairs. Apparently we took our name from where we originally worshipped. (For a view and history of the chapel's stained glass windows' deaf themes, click here.)
In 1960, Rev. Harry Hoemann came from Pittsburgh and took over.  Under Rev. Hoemann, we developed into a well organized congregation, with a constitution and officers who managed our affairs very well. In 1964 we became a full-fledged congregation under the District, with the right to call our own pastor and handling our own finances.  

In 1966, Rev. Hoemann resigned from church ministry to pursue a doctorate at Catholic University, and then taught psychology at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio.  He and his wife, Shirley, wrote and illustrated several resources for learning Sign Language published by the National Association of the Deaf.

Rev. Harry Hoemann
Rev. Daniel Pokorny
After Rev. Hoemann's resignation, we were served by the Rev. Louis Jasper of New York as a vacancy pastor until Rev. Daniel Pokorny was called in 1967.  Rev. Pokorny was a true innovator. Among other things, he created the Rock Gospel and Isaiah 29, an outreach ministry for the Southeastern District. As this and his work at Gallaudet University grew, it was decided that he should do this full time. He stopped being our pastor in 1971, but remained in the Washington area, serving the Gallaudet campus community. 

In 1980 Rev. Pokorny moved to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, to prepare future pastors for deaf ministry.  Ten years later (May 1990) Rev. Pokorny received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Concordia's sister seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, one week before he died from cancer.

In 1971, Rev. Robert Muller was called and served Christ/Deaf and St. Mark's in Baltimore. In 1978, Rev. Muller left us to go to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  There Rev. Muller helped to start the Church Interpreter Training Institute (CITI) at Concordia Theological Seminary.

Until 1974, all deaf ministries were supported by the Missouri Synod's Deaf Missions department. At that time they were transferred to the local districts. Our district is the Southeastern District and spreads from South Carolina to Maryland. Financial subsidy gradually shifted from Synod to the Southeastern District.

Reverend George Natonick was called in 1978 to serve both Christ/Deaf and St. Mark's. In 1980, when Reverend Pokorny accepted a post at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Rev. Natonick took over his Gallaudet ministry. This, together with the Baltimore ministry and service at the Maryland School for the Deaf, proved to be too much, and we convinced the District to split the field. We called Rev. Natonick to become pastor to Christ / Deaf and Gallaudet University in 1982.  Rev. Kenneth Schnepp was called to become pastor to the Baltimore congregation and also serve the Maryland School for the Deaf




Rev. George Natonick
22 years of Service to Christ/Deaf
Reverend LaVern Mass joined the team in 1988, coming to Christ/Deaf to serve as associate pastor with Rev. Natonick.  The focus of Rev. Mass' ministry was evangelism and education.  After just one year, the congregation found that it was unable to fund two pastors, so Rev. Mass continued to serve on a part time basis, until he became seriously ill from a liver infection in 1991.  Three years later, Rev. Mass was promoted to heaven.

Rev. LaVern Mass
In 1989 Christ/Deaf relocated from Christ Lutheran Church on 16th Street in DC, to our present location at Calvary Lutheran Church in Silver Spring.

Rev. Ron Friedrich

September 1999, Rev. Natonick resigned as the full time pastor of Christ/Deaf to pursue a career in special education.  However, he continued to serve as our vacancy pastor until June 2000.  In September 2001, Rev. Ron Friedrich accepted our call and moved here from Texas.  He served as our pastor and chaplain to Gallaudet University for 20 years, until his retirement in September 2021. 

In 2019 Andy Petajan, a member of Christ/Deaf, enrolled in Concordia Seminary's Deaf Institute of Theology. He graduated in 2021 and recevied ordination into the Holy Ministry at Christ/Deaf on September 26, 2021.  Currently Rev. Petajan serves as Pastor of Christ/Deaf and chaplain to Gallaudet.

Christ/Deaf has been the training ground for several student pastors, or vicars, as we call them.  The following are pastors presently serving in Lutheran Deaf ministry, who vicared at Christ/Deaf and Gallaudet Lutheran Campus Ministry:

David Bush
Macau, China

Rev. Daryl Gehlbach
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Rev. Richard (and Lois) Moody
St. Louis, Missouri

Omahr Mork
Oslo, Norway

Rev. Bud Palmer
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Rev. Bill Wrede
St. Louis, Missouri
Rev. Dennis & Susan Konkel
Rev. Konkel, a son of  the congregation, served as pastor in Des Moines, Iowa, for 14 years.  He has officially retired and continues to serve Emeritus as a member of Christ/Deaf.

Arthur Boll - visiting pastor from NYC - 1939-1942
Floyd Possehl - visiting pastor from NYC; from 1942 to ??
Walt Westermann - 1947 - ?
Harry Hoemann - 1960 - 1966
Louis Jasper - vacancy pastor, 1966-67
Dan Pokorny - 1967 - 1971 [continued at Gallaudet until 1979]
Robert Muller - 1971 - 1978
George Natonick - 1979 - 1999
LaVern Mass - 1988 - 1989 (associate pastor)
Ron Friedrich -  2001 - 2021
Andy Petajan - 2021 - present

To read the history of the beginings of LCMS Deaf Missions, click here.