150 years of service with Our Saviour’s

New York’s oldest Norwegian Lutheran Church celebrates a big milestone this October

A confirmation photo from 1951. Photo courtesy of Our Saviour’s

A confirmation photo from 1951. Photo courtesy of Our Saviour’s

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

The oldest Norwegian Lutheran Church still operating in New York City, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, is celebrating its 150th Anniversary this October. It was established in 1866, as the Norwegian Evangelical Congregation in New York, and it was a Pastor from Wisconsin who first came to serve the congregants, Ole Juul. He was successful in growing the membership, which included serving the burgeoning seamen’s population.

Just four years later the church changed its name to Vor Frelsers Norsk Evangelisk Lutherske Menighed (Our Saviour’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church). By 1872, they were able to buy a house at 56 Monroe Street (Manhattan), and this building was transformed into a church and parsonage. In 1876, Pastor C.S. Everson was installed and under his leadership the church began holding services in Brooklyn, with a focus on ministering to the rapidly growing Norwegian population. By 1878, a church ministering specifically to the Norwegian sailors was established as a separate entity. Today it is known as the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in New York.

Mission based at its core, Our Saviour’s continued working with the pastors of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church to establish the Norwegian Relief Society in 1883, in support of Sister Elisabeth Fedde who had been called from Norway to care for the health of destitute Norwegians. It was from her tireless work that the Norwegian Deaconess Hospital, aka Lutheran Medical Center, was born. Elisabeth became a member of Our Saviour’s and remained so until 1890.

By 1885, Our Saviour’s had moved to Brooklyn, following the booming Norwegian population, dedicating its new home on Henry Street. Member Carl Michael Eger, co-owner of the important Hecla Iron Works, deeded two properties (including his former home) on Pulaski Street and $60,000 in care of the congregation, to establish a home for those in need. Working in tandem with Eger’s sister, Catherine, the Michael Eger Norwegian Home of the Aged Inc. opened in October 1916 on his 73rd birthday and was known as Eger Gamle Hjem. Just 10 years later the need was beyond the original site’s capacity and they relocated to a property in Staten Island, the former Aldrich Farm Community. Today it remains on that site, but has grown exponentially in the services it provides and in size.

This October it will be celebrating its 100th Anniversary.

Our Saviour’s from the outside. The church has been at its current location since 1930. Photo courtesy of Our Saviour’s

Our Saviour’s from the outside. The church has been at its current location since 1930. Photo courtesy of Our Saviour’s

As the Norwegian population continued moving south towards Bay Ridge, the church purchased property on the corner of 80th Street and Fourth Avenue in 1924. Services were held in an old house on the site until the new church building opened in 1930. And this is where the church has remained to this day.

Today they have a very respected pre-school (founded in 1969), which has served up to 250 children. Their Upper Room, which was conceived in the original plans as a sanctuary but put on hold during the Depression, was finally completed in 1986, is now the home of the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, which was born out of Salem Danish Lutheran Church. It is great fun to attend the church’s popular Christmas Fair held each November, where there is a flea market and oodles of vintage Scandinavian goods, as well as beautiful handiwork. They also offer luscious open-face sandwiches and desserts to tickle your tummy.

Lifetime member Sonja Nerjes was baptized at the 80th Street site. Her mother was confirmed at the Henry Street location, and her grandmother was married in the downtown building. Nerjes explained, “I found out about my mother and grandmother in the record books of Our Saviour’s. They go back to 1866.” I asked Sonja what she envisions for the church’s future. >“I see a more diversified congregation. We are looking for younger people.”

How will the parishioners and community mark Our Saviour’s momentous occasion? There will first be a special celebratory church service, which will include Bishop Rimbo from the Metropolitan New York Synod, on October 23 at 10:30. This will be followed by a formal dinner at Sirico’s at 2:00 p.m. For more information call (718) 745-0020

A beautiful baptismal font lies front and center in Our Saviour’s simple, serene sanctuary. It was given to the congregation in 1867 and has remained with the congregation for 149 years. This font is a wonderful reminder of who they are; a perfect symbol of their mission-conscious history from its inception to the present. For to me a baptismal font brings two things to mind: water and children. Our Saviour’s mission work began with water, as they served the sailors who came to our shores in need, and today it is the children they serve by offering a caring place to learn.

So congratulations and thank you to Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church for all they have contributed to our city or had a hand in: The Norwegian Seamen’s Church, Lutheran Medical Center (NYU Lutheran), Eger Lutheran Home and Services, and Our Saviour’s Preschool.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.