First Trinity was founded in 1851 by German immigrants, which conincided with the height of the influx of German Lutherans, around the middle of the nineteenth century.
A number of the more conservative members of the German Evangelical Church of Washington, the only Protestant German-language church in Washington, became increasingly concerned over the preaching of the United Lutheran and Reformed confessions that had been united by the edict of the State Church of Germany.
A new constitution was prepared and signed by 24 persons, and on November 2, 1851, after a service held in the Temperance Hall on E Street, west of Ninth, the Trinity German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession of the City of Washington was formally organized. The organizers voted to join the Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States.
Pastor Willhelm Nordmann of Franklinsville, outside Baltimore, who preached at the November service, was called in January of the following year and installed on Palm Sunday.
In February 1852, the site now occupied by First Trinity at Fourth and E streets, NW was purchased for $1,062.60. The congregation continued to worship in the Temperance Hall until August 1852, when a temporary meeting place was completed for church and parsonage and a school building on two lots adjoining the church on E Street. The lots were purchased and the building erected, by charter member George Wilner with a five year $200 per year rental agreement until the new church was ready for occupancy.
The August 1852 dedication ceremony must have been something to behold as the congregation, led by the children and pastors in their robes and 70 members from St. Paul's Congregation of Baltimore marched the six blocks down E Street from the Temperance Hall to Fourth and E.
The cornerstone for the church building was laid in October 1856, and the new building was formally dedicated on November 22, 1857. The church steeple was added in 1867. The congregation supported a parochial school for the first years of its existence. The school was discontinued in 1902 by which time almost all the members had moved to the suburbs and it was not feasible to provide transportation for the children. It is interesting to note that English was not taught in the school until 1859.
Church services were conducted in German. This gradually resulted in a breach and in 1876 a group of members was released and organized the English language Grace Lutheran Church. A similar separation followed in 1892 when a number of members left to form Christ Lutheran Church. Grace and Christ churches are located near each other on 16th Street, NW in Washington. The first English services at Trinity were conducted on Sunday evenings in 1898.
Through the efforts and support for the congregation in the decades following World War I, two mission churches were formed, leading to the organization of Trinity in Mt. Rainier, Maryland in 1931 and Bethlehem in Southeast Washington in 1942.
In the years after World War II, Washington experienced the exodus to the suburbs that beset almost all American cities. Faced with a critical decision, the congregation saw its ministry and mission in the city and voted to stay downtown. The old structure was razed and the new church erected. Dedication services were held November 22, 1959.
In the 1970's, a group of Lutheran congregations broke away from the Lutheran Church/ Missouri Synod (LC-MS) and formed the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC).
In 1977, First Trinity applied for membership in the East Coast Synod of the AELC and was accepted. In 1988, the AELC, the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran church in America (LCA) merged into one large Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). First Trinity was one of the few congregations in Lutheranism that had dual membership with LCMS and ELCA until January 2000 when LCMS removed First Trinity from its congregational roster.