History of the SMC

The story behind Stimson Memorial Chapel

Allied High Commissions governed Germany following the military occupation at the end of World War II. On May 3, 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany was created from the three western occupation zones and the newly elected Parliament (Bundestag) decided in a close vote to establish the “provisional” seat of government in Bonn.

The American High Commission for Germany (known as HICOG) was at the time located in Frankfurt. Due to a shortage of housing in the Bonn area the HICOG was required to construct new housing for approximately 400 American employees and 800 Germans with their families. An 80-acre (32 hectares) parcel of farmland and orchards was purchased from the von Carstanjen family in Bonn-Plittersdorf. This construction began in February 1951 and was completed in the summer of 1952.

The housing area consisted of 440 apartments, a shopping center, movie theater, school, club, gymnasium with swimming pool and a chapel, which was built in the style of 18th century churches in colonial New England.

The HICOG moved to Bonn in 1952 and High Commissioner John J. McCloy dedicated the chapel on 18 July 1952.

Mr. McCloy decided to dedicate the chapel to the memory of his World War II superior, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who had died in 1950. Henry Stimson almost single-handedly opposed Morgenthau Plan and proposed instead in a 1944 memorandum to President Roosevelt that the defeated Germans be given an opportunity to reconstruct their country and develop democratic institutions. Henry Stimson was thus the forerunner of George Marshall, who in 1947 as Secretary of State proposed the now famous Marshall Plan through which the American government provided billions of dollars to assist Europe to recover from the devastation of the war. In the vestibule of the Chapel is a bronze bust of Henry L. Stimson donated by his widow.

In 1956 the Stimson Chapel became the official chapel of the American Embassy, which succeeded the American High Commission for Germany. The chapel served not only the Protestant and Catholic worshippers from the families of the American Embassy, but also opened its doors to all English-speaking worshipers residing in the Bonn area. This included nationals from the foreign embassies or residing in the area, as well as an increasing number of German citizens. They were attracted to the American style of worship and church community life, which includes a strong youth program, community outreach and support of Christian missionary activities in many parts of the world. This multi-national participation has continued to the present. Throughout the 50 years of its existence citizens of more than 40 nations have participated in the religious and community activities of Stimson Memorial Chapel.

The dramatic international developments of the fall of 1989 led to the reunification of Germany on October 1, 1990 after 45 years of division. On June 20, 1991 in a close vote (338-320) the German parliament decided to move the capital from Bonn to Berlin. This meant that the American Embassy also would move to Berlin. During the succeeding years the American Embassy sold the housing area in Bonn-Plittersdorf and all of its property in Bonn – except for the Stimson Memorial Chapel.

On June 20, 1999 while visiting Germany to attend an international G-8 Summit Meeting in Cologne, President William J. Clinton came to Bonn and officially turned over the keys to the Stimson Memorial Chapel to Bonn Lord Mayor Bärbel Dieckmann. The U.S. government had decided to give the chapel to the city of Bonn as a gift and symbol of post-war German-American friendship. After 47 years in Bonn the American Embassy officially moved to Berlin on July 1, 1999.

With the departure of the American Embassy a substantial number of active members of the Protestant and Catholic congregations remained in the Bonn area and were anxious to continue worshipping in the chapel. The two congregations therefore formed a “Förderverein Stimson Memorial Chapel e.V.” (SMC) to foster continued use of the chapel after ownership was transferred to the city of Bonn. SMC is financially and organizationally in charge of the complete maintenance of the building. See more at SMC.

Today, the building is used by five congregations: APC, a Korean and a Sri Lankan congregation, a Russian-Messianic congregation and a Spanish speaking congregation. The Catholic congregation, now part of the Archdiocese of Cologne, had to move out of the building in 2004 by order of the Archdiocese. The present religious programs of the congregations guarantee that the Stimson Memorial Chapel will continue for the foreseeable future to serve international worshippers from more than 30 nations through Sunday worship services, youth programs, music, bible study and other community activities.

An American Giant Redwood tree has been planted on the chapel grounds as a further symbol of American-German friendship. On August 14, 2000 the Historical Monument Office of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia officially registered the Stimson Memorial Chapel on the list of historical monuments of the City of Bonn.

The “Förderverein” signed a Usage Agreement with the city of Bonn, which designated the “Förderverein” as the responsible association for the management of the Stimson Memorial Chapel and surrounding property.