Mount Olive Lutheran Church celebrates 100 years – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — How does an Episcopal cathedral become a Lutheran church? How do you completely overturn a church sanctuary? How does a 116-year-old church survive three fires?

These questions and more will be answered at the Mount Olive Lutheran Church Open House from 1-3 p.m. Sunday. To celebrate 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 will get a better sense of the historic structure of the building,” said Reverend Robert Franck. “And hopefully we’ll also connect with people and remind them of the gospel of Jesus Christ and why we’re here.”

Reverend Robert Franck stands in the sanctuary of Mount Olive Lutheran Church during a preview visit.

Teri Gift / Duluth News Tribune

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

“St. Stephen’s doesn’t exist anymore, but it was popular back then,” Franck said. “But the main language of this church was German and most of the families that 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 many church activities planned to celebrate the 100th anniversary.

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

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

The church has undergone 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 administrative offices, narthex, elevator, classrooms and a reorganization of the sanctuary. Franck said they reversed the sanctuary to allow the entrance to the narthex to flow better and to allow for a larger reception area.

Large stained glass windows depicting Jesus in the front of a church building.
This large stained glass window depicting Jesus was added to 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 at the front of the sanctuary in 2015-16.

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

The church has 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 has better cross ventilation in the summer.

“It was up to 90 degrees in the sanctuary on summer Sunday mornings,” Franck said. “And in the winter we had snowdrifts on the windows. We left the wreath on well after Christmas to help insulate the windows.”

The open house is just one of many events the church has held over the past year to mark its 100th anniversary. Franck said the congregation is preparing for its next big celebration, the true anniversary of the church’s dedication September 23-25. Events will include a church picnic, prayer vigil, worship, visiting clergy and lunch.

Martha J. Finley