Jazz Church to close

An end to Seaman’s Mission

Scandinavian Jazz Church

Photo courtesy of the Scandinavian Jazz Church
The Scandinavian Jazz Church’s warm interior resembles the inside of a ship’s hull.

Maria Bilello
Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald

The Scandinavian Jazz Church, an Uptown New Orleans landmark, will close its doors at the end of 2018, following more than 110 years of service and programming. The decision comes following several attempts over the past decade to repurpose the facility without losing sight of its original mission of service to the local and visiting Nordic community, and as the religious home to a small congregation of people with Norwegian, Swedish, and other Nordic heritages and backgrounds.

Founded as the Seaman’s Mission in 1906 under the patronage of the government of Norway, the church has transitioned beyond its religious services to becoming a well-known arts and cultural destination, as well as a special-events space for retreats, weddings, and other communitywide activities.

Until its official closing at the end of December, church officials will continue with daily operations and the special events the facility has long been famous for, including the annual Scandinavian Festival which will take place on Nov. 2 and 3, and the December Lucia Celebration. Jazz services will take place on the first, second, and third Sundays of each month with a piano service on the fourth Sundays. A Norwegian service will take place on Oct. 28.

“It must be said that the decision to close our doors after so many years has been a difficult, highly emotional, and painful one,” said Board Chair Jan Mikalsen. “However, as the years have passed, it has become obvious that despite our best intentions, planning and flexibility, the generosity of many people, and the prayers and volunteer engagement of so many others, that our work and operations have become unsustainable. While we are deeply saddened by the decision we had no choice but to make, we now turn our attention over the remaining three months of operations, to celebrating the lives we have touched, the unique and vibrant culture we have helped advance so far from our northern Europe homelands, and the difference we have made for the thousands of people who have come through our doors over these past 112 years.”

Located in the Lower Garden District at 1772 Prytania Street, church officials began in early 2017 to “rebrand” and refocus the church as a “Jazz Church” with weekly jazz and other musical offerings at its Sunday morning services, drawing dedicated worshippers and others enticed by such a unique religious and cross-cultural experience.

Around the same time, the board explored other opportunities to engage the community while generating new income streams to support and sustain the iconic institution, which lost funding from the government of Norway in 2016, including opening the facility more broadly to the New Orleans community as overnight guest accommodations, and as an affordable and unique space for parties, weddings, and other special events. Recently, the church has held a variety of popular events ranging from Ragtime music shows, book tours, a Broadway musical night, a glimpse behind the scenes of the movie classic Gone with the Wind, and a comedy night.

Longtime church supporter Erik Johnsen, who also served as honorary consul of Norway for many years, recalls many past special occasions at the church, including the 1982 visit of Norway’s then-monarch King Olav V. “While the church will be closing, the legacy of the church, its pastors, and staff, volunteers, and supporters will live on,” Johnsen said. “Each of us over 112 years have been privileged to be a part of something incredibly special that will not soon be forgotten.”

Mikalsen indicates that the building is under contract to be sold by the end of 2018, at which time the church will officially cease operations.

This article originally appeared in the November 2, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American

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