It was another world when our congregation first opened its doors. It was June 4, 1908, a mission established by First Lutheran Church of St. Paul, the first Lutheran congregation to take root in Minnesota territory in a small church building on Victoria and Hague in St. Paul, MN (the building still stands). Teddy Roosevelt had just left office; William Taft became the 27th President of the United States; the first Model T rolled off the production line; and construction had begun on a new luxury liner to be named the Titanic.
|The original Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, located at Victoria and Hague, in St. Paul. (Note: This building still stands)|
In the early days of the church, one pastor, a part-time choir director/organist and a part-time custodian were the church staff. Lay leaders handled everything else. The Board of Trustees made the financial decisions and the Board of Deacons were responsible for worship and education.
Soon after World War II, the leaders of Gloria Dei accepted the challenge to
provide a more adequate facilty. After several years of planning - a landmark was built, but more than that: a caring, healing and welcoming community of Christians began their ministry on Snelling and Highland Parkway in St. Paul.
|The altar and baptismal font from the original church now reside in the Chapel of The Good Shepherd|
On Sunday, October 14, 1951, services were first held at the new Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, a building designed in the Georgian Colonial style and patterned after the chapel at Gettysburg Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Honorable Luther W. Youngdahl, Governor of Minnesota, had dedicated the building "with a consecrated spirit in our hearts…to use the facilities that God has given us to do the most that we can to send forth the Word of God here on earth." Over the next fifty years, this building, with its tall white spire became a neighborhood landmark as Highland Park grew around it. Its orientation to the street was a visual welcome to neighborhood residents, many of
whom walked to church on Sunday morning and entered the sanctuary through the front doors. More than a landmark, however, it was the home to a rapidly growing congregation and a center for the congregation’s ministry in the community. Many groups, including Girl and Boy Scouts, support groups for the grieving and Alcoholics Anonymous, made regular use of the building. The boom in population during the two decades after its construction affected Gloria Dei as it did the rest of society. The increase in the youth population, especially, as well as a jump in the numbers of members who drove to church led to an expansion of the parking lots (1962) and the building itself (1964). The expansion provided much needed space for activities for the congregation’s children, but also contributed to confusion for visitors and new members who now approached the sanctuary through the addition.
|The Nave at Victoria and Hague|
As part of a long range study produced
in 1992, a survey of the congregation indicated that several developments suggested the need to carefully evaluate the facility and its uses: a continuing increase in the need for educational space, a need for office space for the church staff, and a need to make the church more welcoming to visitors. A more formal review of the facility in 1998 identified
|Pastor Nelson and a member of the congregation review the plans to begin building at 700 S. Snelling Avenue in St. Paul|
three broad areas of need:
- the need to address issues of deferred maintenance of the
- the need to improve accessibility of the building for senior
citizens and the handicapped;
- the need to provide expanded space for a growing and
The task force found that “time and use have taken their toll on our building and it needs careful, loving repair and updating.” The result of the task force’s work was a proposed master plan for the expansion and renovation of the church building. In April of 1999,
the congregation approved the master plan and, after conducting an initial capital campaign, approved a building plan in April of 2000, six months short of the fiftieth anniversary of the home of Gloria Dei’s congregation.
|The top of the steeple is put in place|
From the beginning, the congregational representatives who worked on the planning of the project shared a vision for the facility. In their conversations, the focus was not on the building of a larger, more impressive or more comfortable facility for the church’s members. The planners were unanimous in their commitment to a project which would promote and enhance the ministry of the congregation. At the center of all discussions of the building project was Gloria Dei’s mission:
"By God’s grace, we are called to be a caring, healing and welcoming community who proclaim and celebrate the love of Jesus Christ, live as God’s servants and seek justice for all people."
|The church building project is complete!|
At an early meeting of the Gloria Dei Building Steering Committee, in response to the question “What do you hope will be delivered with this project?” Answers included: “the fruits of the spirit”; “a life centered in Christ”; “greater achievement of our ministerial goals”; “spiritual enthusiasm”; and “improved performance of our mission.”
The decision to proceed with the church renovation and expansion was bold. That the members of the congregation approved the project is a testimony to faith and the belief that as a family that is “grounded in grace” we would find the courage and the resources to complete it. It was the view of many members that it was the right time to provide for the coming generations of the Gloria Dei family, as our parents and grandparents had provided for us.
At the ground breaking ceremony in May of 2001, Bishop Mark Hanson noted that Gloria Dei was “not only breaking ground for
a new facility, but planting the footings of the congregation deep into the city of St. Paul and declaring that Lutherans centered in Word and Sacrament are in the city for good and in the city to stay.”
|Pastors M. Susan Peterson and Harvey J. Leuning lead Gloria Dei into the 21st Century|
The addition and renovation to Gloria Dei’s building was seen as the physical manifestation of the congregation’s desire to expand its ministry: to provide additional classrooms for its Christian education program, to make the building more accessible to the elderly and the disabled, to provide for a “gathering space” proximate to the sanctuary which would enhance access and provide for fellowship space before and after services. In addition to these improvements designed to
enhance the building’s “welcome”, renovations were planned for the building’s electrical, heating/cooling, sound and lighting systems.
In February of 2001, after numerous meetings between designers, contractors, congregational leaders and
members, the Gloria Dei Congregational Council approved plans to proceed with the building project. By Easter of 2002, after one of the most mild and snowless winters in history, the project was virtually complete and ready to occupy.
|The Gloria Dei Pastors, along with ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson, participate in Groundbreaking Ceremonies for the new addition.|
On Sunday, May 19, 2002 (The Day of Pentecost) at 4 p.m., Gloria Dei celebrated and dedicated the new and renovated spaces for ministry. A hymn entitled, "Grounded in Grace, Growing to Serve" was written by a member of the congregation and was the hymn of the day at the Dedication Service.
Throughout the project, it was critical that the congregation continue to attend to the regular work of its ministry. At the ground breaking ceremony, it was announced that ten percent of the special offerings given that day for the project would be devoted to the support of Rezek House,
a transitional housing program for young adults. We continued to support the Counseling and Family Service Program of Lutheran Social Service which operates a clinic on the premises one day each week. The congregation sent members to our sister mission in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, to bring necessary supplies and labor to our brothers and sisters there.
|Gloria Dei's addition was dedicated in May 2002|
We now are filled with excitement at the new ways that our facility can support these and additional ministries. We will provide a place to eat and sleep for homeless families during the summer months. We will invite the neighborhood children to participate in Vacation Bible School and the many groups who have made Gloria Dei their meeting place will continue to do so: the Leisure Age community which comes to the church for lunch once a week, the children who attend the Young Christian Nursery, the quilters, Brownies and Girl Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, the International
Dyslexia Association, the Buick Club and many others.
In addition to expanded ways we can support these formal ministries, the facility will enhance the more personal and more intimate ministry that occurs daily at Gloria Dei. The new space will facilitate interactions between members in many ways, with the Gathering Place offering opportunities for conversation and fellowship near the sanctuary, and the lower level Gallery and Fellowship Hall now available to provide additional meeting places and informal conversation.
On Sunday, May 19th, 2002, the congregation of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church gathered to dedicate this new space to the glory of God and for the work we do on God’s behalf in our community. The cornerstone was laid, bringing the past and the present together with a promise for the future, Grounded in Grace and Growing to Serve.
Thanks be to God!