Mount Olive Lutheran Church celebrates 100 years – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — How does an Episcopalian cathedral become a Lutheran church? How does one go about completely reversing a church sanctuary? How does a 116-year-old church building survive three fires?

These questions and more will be answered during the Mount Olive Lutheran Church’s open house from 1-3 pm Sunday. In celebration of its 100th anniversary as a church, Mount Olive will showcase the architecture and special features of its historic building with a self-guided tour.

“I hope people get better sense of the historic structure of the building,” said the Rev. Robert Franck. “And I’m hoping we also connect with people and remind them of the gospel of Jesus Christ and why we are here.”

The Rev. Robert Franck stands in the sanctuary of the Mount Olive Lutheran Church while giving a preview tour.

Teri Gift / Duluth News Tribune

Mount Olive was originally Mount Olive English Evangelical Lutheran Church and had its first organizational meeting May 2, 1921. It was formed by eastern Duluth residents who had been traveling west every week to worship at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church.

“St. Stephen’s isn’t in existence anymore, but it was popular at the time,” Franck said. “But the major language of that church was German and most of the families who formed this church spoke English, so, that’s what they did.”

The first church was dedicated in September 1922 at the corner of 19th Avenue East and Fourth Street, which today houses the “bridge building” of the River Church. Franck said the congregation took a tour of the building that remains there as part of the church’s many activities planned to celebrate the 100th anniversary.

In 1956, Mount Olive purchased Trinity Episcopal’s former cathedral when the latter merged with another Episcopalian congregation. The church was purchased for $75,000. There are photos of the congregation’s five-block walk from their Fourth Street church to their new Superior Street home May 13, 1956.

“And they took the altar, pulpit and lectern with them,” Franck said.

The church underwent small adjustments and improvements over the years, including the addition of six stained-glass windows, depicting the apostles, in the sanctuary to join the original four.

But the biggest changes came in 1992-93 when a 4,500-square-foot addition was added to the building to create a new entrance, larger administration offices, a narthex, an elevator, classrooms and a reorganization of the sanctuary. Franck said they reversed the sanctuary to allow the entrance from the narthex to flow better and to allow for a larger greeting area.

Large stained glass windows depicting Jesus in the front of a church building.

This large stained-glass window depicting Jesus was added to the Mount Olive Lutheran Church in 2015.

Teri Gift / Duluth News Tribune

The reversal also paved the way for the addition of a large stained-glass window depicting Jesus to be installed in the front of the sanctuary in 2015-16.

“We had 10 out of the 12 apostles on the windows but nothing of Jesus, so we wanted to put something front and center,” Franck said.

The church also restored and improved the stained-glass windows on the sides of the sanctuary, added double glazing to protect the stained glass. An added benefit is that the church now gets a better cross ventilation in the summer.

“It used to get up to 90 degrees in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings in the summer,” Franck said. “And in the winter, we’d get snow drifts on the windows. We’d leave the garland up far past Christmas to help insulate the windows.”

The open house is just one of several events the church has held during the past year to mark 100 years. Franck said the congregation is gearing up for its next big celebration, the actual anniversary of the church’s dedication Sept. 23-25. Events will include a church picnic, prayer vigil, worship, visiting clergy and a luncheon.


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