Old rafters ringing
Trinity Lutheran Church celebrates 125 years
A 125-year history of serving the community deserves a big bash, and that’s what Brooklyn’s Trinity Lutheran Church members past and current gave it, holding a three-day celebration. This church, founded by Norwegians in 1890, has an interesting origin connected to The Norwegian Seamen’s Church.
The NSC at the time was in Red Hook, Brooklyn, near the waterfront. It had a small structure, as it served a fluid population. Over time, more and more Norwegians were emigrating to the area with the intention of remaining. They gravitated to a church that spoke their language and was close by.
The NSC eventually became overcrowded with immigrants to the point that there was not enough room for the sailors, whom the church was missioned to serve. It got so bad that the church refused to give communion to non-seamen in hopes that a new church would be formed that could accommodate all the new immigrants.
Trinity Lutheran Church emerged to fill this void. It was considered low church, worked a lot with lay people, and was less hierarchical. Its first church building stood on 22nd Street and Third Ave. For the first 25 years the church only held services in Norwegian. They began building a new church on 46th Street and 4th Ave in 1910, moved there in 1917, and have stayed put for nearly 100 years.
The church houses two sanctuaries with two wonderful organs. Their choir was and still is very respected. The larger sanctuary was for the Norwegian language service and the smaller, less prominent one for English language service. Of course, over time these two switched places.
It was a dynamic congregation that once boasted 1,000 Sunday School students. They sent and supported many missionaries overseas, as far away as China, Ethiopia, and Columbia. “There were scouting programs, youth groups and youth gatherings, and many Taize retreats led by Pastor Bob Nervig,” according to Lorraine Spiers, who grew up in this church. She also mentioned the many wonderful memories of Koinonia, a Lutheran camp Trinity supported.
Wisely the organizers of this year’s celebration chose a theme to tie it all together: Thankful for the past, Rejoicing in the present, Preparing for the future. The powerhouse behind two days of the celebration events was Lorraine Carlsen Knudsen.
I asked Lorraine how the celebration had evolved: “There were a few of us who wanted to have a reunion … A few of us began planning and then I realized that the 125th Anniversary of Trinity was coming up. I contacted Pastor Sam [of Trinity Lutheran Church] and talked with him first. He was very excited to have the alumni included in the 125th Anniversary celebrations. We had a committee and since I have planned many events in the past I became the Project Manager.
“To be clear, the alumni planned the Friday and Saturday events and Trinity planned all the Sunday events.”
On the first day a reunion was held. The success of this event is still reverberating throughout the community and social media. I asked Carlsen Knudsen to elaborate: “The events started with a welcome mixer at the Danish Club Friday evening, where we had 45 in attendance. Everyone enjoyed Scandinavian food and desserts, and as an added bonus were able to purchase Norwegian food products there. People brought photos and many old friendships were renewed.”
Saturday’s event included a lunch and rehearsal for the ad-hoc choir. Creating a pop-up choir is not an easy task. The results are really a testament to not only the love and commitment of those who participated, but also to the caliber of Trinity’s music program.
There was also a banquet and program held on Sunday at the Bay Ridge Manor. “A former Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Mons Teig, now retired as a Professor from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, gave a talk. Pastor Teig was at Trinity when most of us were in the youth group 50 years ago. The alumni choir also sang. We had people from over 10 states and one came all the way from Russia for the events. Trinity was a very large church at one time and people live all over the country and some in Norway,” said Carlsen Knudsen.
“Sunday was a Festival Worship led by Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz, current Pastor at Trinity, who was joined by Bishop Rimbo of the N.Y. Synod of the ELCA, who preached. Worship was followed by a beautiful luncheon in the Parish Hall given by the members of Trinity Lutheran Church.”
Trinity Church means a lot to its members, current and past. To Carlsen Knudsen, it is “where I was baptized, confirmed, and married. In the 1950s and 1960s the Norwegian churches were a second home. We saw our friends there and at school and also have close friends to this day from Trinity as well as several other Lutheran churches in Bay Ridge … We were all welcomed with open arms by the current congregation who made the Sunday celebration very special to all who attended.”
Longtime Trinity member Erik Sorensen attended all three days with his wife, Joyce. “The Trinity 125th Anniversary event was grand in all respects,” he remarked. “The Sunday Service, in particular, was a musical tribute to Trinity’s past, its present, and encouragement for the future … The old rafters are still ringing with the glorious sound!”
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.