Whether we began with the Bellingham Bay Lutheran Church on May 12, 1890, or Zion Lutheran Church on October 18, 1891, we are one body in Christ. As we celebrate our history, we also celebrate our entire Christian heritage. For many of us that elicits different memories. But for all of us, those memories have been expanded at Central Lutheran Church. Let us celebrate all that we are and all that we can be through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Bellingham Bay Lutheran Church (1890-1917)
On May 23, 1890, twenty families of Norwegian descent met to organize the first Norwegian Lutheran Church in Bellingham, Washington. They chose the name Bellingham Lutherske Menighed and decided that until they could build their own church, they would rent the former Presbyterian church on the corner of High and Maple Streets. From then on things progressed rapidly for the Bellingham Bay congregation. After only ten days of existence, the congregation was incorporated according to state law on May 22, 1890. Then on May 26, 1890, the congregation borrowed $475 from a private source for the purpose of buying a building lot in the York Addition. Immediately after the property was purchased, a building committee was formed comprising most of the twenty family heads. The committee engaged Jens OLSEN, a local architect, to draw up plans for a church and parsonage.
On June 8, 1890, the congregation took two other major steps. First, they changed the name of the church to Bellingham Bay Lutherske Menighed and then the congregation called their first pastor, Pastor O. AMUNDSEN. The year 1890 had been very exciting for the Bellingham Bay Church. By January 1, 1891, the original membership of twenty families had grown to thirty-seven. Foreseeing troubled times and feeling the need to move elsewhere, Pastor AMUNDSEN resigned in February of 1892.
Pastor Tobias J. MOEN, a Norwegian immigrant and newly ordained from Augsburg Seminary, was then called by the congregation and he conducted his first service on July 31, 1892. MOEN's tenure at Bellingham Bay was not a prosperous one. In general it was a disastrous time for the congregation as the membership dropped from a level of thirty-five families in 1895 to a low of eleven in 1900. Then the ultimate blow came. Unable to meet the financial obligations of the mortgage, the congregation lost their church building and the land on which it stood.
At this point the congregation faced two choices. They could fold and close their doors forever or they could fight back. The nucleus of eleven families decided to remain strong. With Pastor Moen's help, they made arrangements to rent a chapel at the corner of Franklin and Gladstone Streets for two dollars a month. Shortly thereafter, Pastor MOEN resigned the parish and left town.
In 1901 Pastor Erick A. ERIKSEN, also a Norwegian ordained at Augsburg, was called to the parish and he began work on November 1 of that year. Under Pastor ERIKSEN and with the support of the eleven remaining families, Bellingham Bay Lutheran Church rebuilt itself.
In April of that year, a lot on the corner of Ellis, Champion, and Garden Streets was purchased largely with a $159 donation from the Ladies' Aid of the congregation. Finally in the fall of 1903 a church building was completed with a much-needed $100 donation from the Ladies' Aid again. November 8, 1903, was a significant day in the life of the Bellingham Bay Lutheran Church as the parishioners dedicated their new church building. Their pride was clearly evident the following week as they hosted the Pacific District convention in the new church. The congregation had once again commenced to grow.
In August 1905, believing that he had done as much for the church as he could, Pastor ERIKSEN resigned from Bellingham Bay Church and moved to a parish in Montana. Pastor Ole J. EDWARDS, ordained at Redwing Seminary, was called from a parish in Duluth, Minnesota, and he began his work in Bellingham on September 3, 1905. Under Pastor EDWARDS, membership and church spirit continued to grow until his resignation in January of 1907 to move to Everett.
He was succeeded that fall by Pastor J. T. NORBY. Although Pastor NORBY only stayed for two years, his stay was a prosperous one. During that period, the building loan was paid off, new furnishings were purchased for the sanctuary, and the original church building was enlarged. Renovation of the church involved widening of the sanctuary and construction of a basement. Bellingham Bay Lutheran Church was proudly declared by its members to be the best church building in Whatcom County. Following the resignation of Pastor NORBY, the congregation was served temporarily by Pastor Olaf SKATTEBØL until the fall of 1910 when Pastor Hans H. HOLTE from Windom, Minnesota, accepted the call. Pastor HOLTE faithfully served the congregation until 1917 when he left for a parish in Seattle. During his tenure, the church continued to grow and prosper.
Zion Lutheran Church (1891-1917)
Zion Lutheran Church, then known as Zion Lutherske Kirke, was first organized on October 18, 1891, in the home of Pastor Carlo SPERATI, newly ordained from Luther Seminary, as part of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Twenty-five to thirty people were in attendance on that first Sunday. Among them were representatives of the families of John LARSON, Jacob SINLAND, N. STRAND, S. SINLAND, and J. OTTESTAD. Without exception, every person present was of Norwegian blood although his or her path to Bellingham varied widely. Most had come directly from the old country, yet there were those who had established previous residences in the Midwest before moving to Bellingham and at least one man had come to Bellingham via California.
That first Sunday began with a simple worship service comprising hymns, a sermon, and the Lord's Prayer. The entire service was performed in Norwegian. After the service, a business meeting was held and the name Zion Lutherske Kirke was agreed upon.
Early in the spring of 1892, Mr. P. C. CORNWALL, a prominent figure in the early life of the community of Whatcom and the man after whom the present Cornwall Avenue is named, offered to donate a lot to the Zion congregation for the purpose of constructing a church building. Having gratefully accepted the property, the members of Zion began to plan for the church's construction. In the fall of 1894, Pastor SPERATI resigned to take a parish in Tacoma, Washington.
That same year a letter of call was extended to Pastor Owe HAGOES, also newly ordained from Luther Seminary. He accepted and came to Zion like a breath of fresh air in early 1895. Under Pastor HAGOES' leadership the church building debt was retired and there was a resurgence in the membership. In 1900 Pastor HAGOES left Zion to take new parishes in Stanwood and Everett.
The church size of Zion in 1900 did not merit a pastor who would only serve one church, so Pastor George O. LANE, from Luther Seminary, was called to serve the church while he continued to serve parishes in the nearby Fairhaven and New Whatcom communities as he had since 1898. Under Pastor LANE a new spirit was born at Zion Lutheran. Pastor LANE's personable style and strong preaching drew new families to Zion and the whole congregation became caught up in the enthusiasm. This spirit led members to search for a new building and in the summer of 1902 they raised enough money to purchase the former church building of the Bellingham Bay congregation on Grant Street. Pastor Lane then left Zion for Stanwood, Washington, immediately after Christmas, leaving the congregation without a pastor for the third time in its short eleven-year history.
In the fall of 1902 a letter of call was extended to Pastor Ola J. ORDAL and he was on the job by October 3, 1902. Under Pastor ORDAL the spirit of enthusiasm that started under Pastor Lane moved forward with leaps and bounds. The membership and activities of the church increased twofold during Pastor ORDAL's tenure, and the English language was used for the first time in church functions. The progress took on a more substantial nature in 1904 when a social hall was built on the lot directly in back of the church. Then in 1908 another large addition was made to the church when long-time member Isaac OLSON and his son George made a beautiful white pulpit, baptismal font, chair for the pastor, and carved a frame for the altar picture The Resurrection.
In the summer of 1908 Pastor ORDAL resigned from Zion to take a church in Redwing, Minnesota, but when he left he took a part of Zion with him. When Pastor ORDAL came to Zion, Miss Anna LEQUE had been a member of the church and a teacher in the Sunday School for several years. Then one Sunday there was such a storm that only a handful of people were in church. After the service Mrs. ERHOLM invited the congregation to her home for dinner. It was on this occasion that Anna fell in love with Pastor ORDAL and eventually they were married in 1904. When Pastor ORDAL left he took his new wife Anna and their newborn son John with him to Minnesota.
In the absence of a pastor, Pastor Anders O. BJERKE, the pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church on Bellingham's Southside, served as pastor and the fifth Luther seminarian of this young church until Pastor George LANE once again accepted the proffered call in the summer of 1910. Under Pastor LANE, the congregation continued to grow and mature until 1917 without any noteworthy events except for April of 1911 when Pastor LANE began to serve both Zion and Our Savior's Lutheran Church simultaneously.
Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church (1917-1928)
In 1917, the three major Norwegian Lutheran synods in America took a major step by voting to merge into one larger and stronger body. They chose to call this new synod the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. In the spirit of this historic event, two of the Lutheran churches in Bellingham, Washington, also came together to form one new church. Bellingham Bay Lutheran Church of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America and Zion Lutheran Church of the Norwegian Evangelical Church came together on July 6, 1917, to form the Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Celebration and ceremony did not surround the merger. The new congregation decided to use the Bellingham Bay Church building on the corner of Garden, Ellis and Champion Streets. The inside of the church, however, would be refurbished with the furnishings of the Zion Church. The Zion congregation also brought Pastor George O. LANE with them while Bellingham Bay's pastor, H. H. HOLTE, resigned to become the manager of Parkland Children's Home. The former church building that the Zion congregation had worked so ardently for was sold for $1,000.
Pastor LANE served the united group until the fall of 1918 when he resigned to move to Stanwood, Washington.
Pastor LANE was replaced by Pastor J. T. NORBY who had earlier served the Bellingham Bay congregation. Pastor NORBY came to a church which boasted a membership of 283 members and which no longer was entirely Norwegian. One of the first changes Pastor NORBY made upon his arrival at Bellingham Bay was to initiate a system in which the morning worship service would be in the Norwegian language one week and then in the English language the next week. All evening services would be in the English language.
In 1919 the congregation took another major financial step as they purchased a house a half block south of the church on Garden Street to be used as a parsonage for the pastor and his family. The house cost $3000 with $1000 being pledged by the Ladies' Aid, $500 by Lutheran Brotherhood, and the remaining portion being paid through individual pledges and offerings. Pastor NORBY and his wife Julia raised a large family. They had nine children: Theo, Purnell, Esther, Marie, Vallberg, Phillip, Edna, and twins Joseph and Josephine. The parsonage was not large enough to house them all so a search was made for another parsonage. Vallberg recalled that they moved into a house on Potter Street but it was not large enough. They finally found a large house at 1312 Franklin Street. It had three large bedrooms on the second floor, and it had a large attic where they added three more bedrooms so they were able to house all of the family.
After the NORBYS were finally settled in their new parsonage, things progressed smoothly for the church and the membership grew steadily. In 1920, the membership had grown to 369. By 1922, it had grown to 380, and by 1925 the congregation had reached 395 members, an increase of over 100 in just seven years.
Larry JOHNSON, whose father John JOHNSON was the custodian in the new church and who himself was a custodian in the successor church, remembered that the altar, pulpit, and pulpit rail were painted white. In the late 1920s, the white paint was removed and all of the altar furniture was refinished, stained, and varnished. This also included the frame around the altar picture The Resurrection.
American Central Lutheran Church (1928-1945)
In 1928 the church made a major step toward acknowledging the movement towards Americanization. The members of the church looked at the membership list and realized that amongst the Norwegian names such as OLSON, JOHNSON, PETERSON, and KNUTSEN, there was a mixture of Scottish, Danish, German, and English names which had been added. Perhaps the largest Norwegian family in the Lutheran church was the KNUTSEN family because Ellen OLSEN and her two daughters, Olive and Tobias, married three KNUTSEN brothers, Andrew, Hans, and Abel KNUTSEN. This immediately produced three Knutsen families and it did not take long before there were a number of sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws all with the name of KNUTSEN. Even today we have several descendants of the KNUTSEN family listed in the church roster.
The church was no longer just a Norwegian church but was instead more of an American church. With this realization in mind, the name of the church was changed to American Central Lutheran Church based on the idea that they were located in the heart of Bellingham. Having taken this smaller step towards Americanization, the church took the greatest step it would take towards that end. For years the congregation had alternated between Norwegian and English services. The only viable solution they found was to unify the church under one language. Since it was impractical to use only Norwegian, they decided that all church activities from that time forth would be conducted in English.
In 1938, the NORBY era came to an end as Pastor NORBY resigned from American Central to go to Seattle as the director of the Seattle Seamen's Mission. The twenty years of Pastor NORBY's tenure had seen a small, newly united church of 283 members grow to a strong and united body of over 500 members. In the interim between pastors, Pastor Clarence HAUGEN served American Central in addition to his own church, Our Savior's Lutheran Church, on the Southside. During this interim, the church choir under the direction of Russell HANSON grew to 39 voices. The choir members were very dedicated. In addition to singing every Sunday morning for the church services, the director put together a concert program that was presented at several churches in the area. Also in 1939 a large number of the choir members traveled to Los Angeles, California, to attend a church choir convention.
In July 1939, American Central Lutheran Church received a new pastor. Pastor Earl SOILAND accepted the call and was installed by Dr. H. L. FOSS who was president of the Pacific District. Pastor SOILAND and his wife Selma and his daughter Mardell moved into the large parsonage at 1312 Franklin Street. Under Pastor SOILAND, the Americanization process reached completion.
Central Lutheran Church (1945)
In June 1945, the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, of which American Central Lutheran Church was a part, held its national convention in Minneapolis. At the convention, a motion was put before the floor to change the national church body's name to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The idea behind the motion was that since the church body was no longer a strongly ethnic one, its name should represent the actual nature of the synod. Pastor SOILAND and many others who were in attendance voted in favor of the motion and the name was changed. Upon Pastor SOILAND's return and in the spirit of the above change, the word American was dropped from the church's name making it simply Central Lutheran Church. It was clearly an American church and it no longer had to be distinguished as such.
Progress in the 1940's
When Pastor SOILAND arrived at American Central Lutheran Church, he touched off a progressive movement that would carry on throughout the next three decades. Pastor SOILAND ignited the movements, which led to a major period of church construction, modernization of worship, and major changes in church government structure.
The year 1940 was highlighted by the celebration of the church's 50th anniversary on May 12, 1940. It was a joyous time celebrated with a special service, a fancy sit-down dinner served by the Ladies' Aid, and a special program. The program featured remembrances of the past days and short messages from the attending former pastors. Among those present for the occasion were Pastors H. O. FOSS, L. C. FOSS and NORBY.
In January of 1942, another celebration took place as the debt incurred with the purchase of the organ was paid off. This was the final debt in a long line of debts that the church had been paying for several years. The church had held a number of fundraisers during this era, which included very elaborate sit-down turkey dinners, prepared by the JOHNSON brothers, Clarence, Gerhardt, Lloyd, and Larry. These dinners provided for a time of great excitement and socializing as well as much-needed funds. The congregation now owned their church building free and clear. In honor of the occasion a mortgage burning was held.
In 1944 Pastor SOILAND led his congregation in another progressive step as he had a greater vision for the congregation. He saw them growing and expanding into a new and modern church building. As he spoke freely and enthusiastically about this dream for the church others became caught up in it. Finally, in December of 1944 a building fund was begun. Largely through the whole-hearted efforts of Pastor SOILAND and many members who sought donations, the building fund grew to $14,000 by the time Pastor SOILAND left Central in 1947. Central Lutheran was well on its way towards realizing the dream of a new church.
Perhaps the most progressive and, in fact, the most controversial change that occurred under Pastor SOILAND came as women received the right to vote on church matters. Pastor SOILAND was not in favor of this change. In the years since women had received the right to vote in federal elections there had been mutterings among the women in the church. On July 12, 1945, the topic became a full-blown issue at the business meeting of the Ladies' Aid. Mrs. A. FREEBERG presented the following motion to be recommended to the church council:
All women of voting age shall be given the right to vote in all matters pertaining to the church administration.
The motion was seconded and passed with an overwhelming majority by the Ladies' Aid and was subsequently passed by the church council.
The JACOBSON Years (1948-1960)
In September of 1947 Pastor SOILAND resigned to take a parish in Prince Rupert, B.C., but the progressive spirit he had encouraged remained. In his place Pastor S. J. N. YLVISAKER served the church until a new pastor could be called. In February of 1948 Pastor Oscar A. JACOBSON was called to serve the congregation. The JACOBSON family's arrival was delayed until April 4 because of a serious illness that befell Mrs. JACOBSON and the resulting operation that it necessitated. When Pastor JACOBSON arrived, the majority of the congregation immediately fell in love with him. He had come to America from Norway in his early youth and his Norwegian accent made his dry sense of humor all the more delightful. Pastor JACOBSON and his wife Olga and their three children, Pearl, James, and Orvill, moved into the parsonage at 1312 Franklin Street.
Pastor JACOBSON's first two years at Central were very successful and by 1950 the membership had grown to 600 and the building fund to $21,000. In the next two and a half years there were two building drives in the church. The first drive centered around fundraisers such as smorgasbords, socials, rummage sales, and donations from the members. A second drive featured a "Loyalty Sunday" on November 2, 1952, and a dinner at the Norway Hall. During the drive, every member was pressed very hard for money and by the time the two fund drives were over, the building fund totaled more than $100,000.
In September of 1951, a building committee was formed. Members were Chris KNUTZEN (chairman), Cornie GRUNHURD (secretary), Victor Jensen (treasurer), Ray HOFF (foreman), R. J. WATERS (attorney), and Louis MILLER, Alfred BRUGET, and C. J. KNUTZEN. Their task was to devise a viable church building plan for the 137½' by 100' lot on the southwest corner of Forest and Laurel Streets and the lot across the street on the southeast corner that had been donated by Mrs. P. P. LEE. In December they retained architect Alvin S. ERICKSEN of Wenatchee who had loose family ties to the congregation. He drew six sketches of possible outside designs for the church. On April 26, 1952, a sketch of a modernistic church was selected and Mr. ERICKSEN began work on the interior designs. After three revisions the plan was accepted by the congregation. After approval of the design, several bids that were submitted were found to be too high. It was then decided that much of the work could be done with volunteer labor, and the congregation authorized the committee to engage Ivar SWANSON of Burlington as construction foreman.
Work began as volunteer labor cleared the original lot that had been enlarged with the purchase of another lot and the donated lot was prepared to be made into a parking lot. On September 27, 1953, the groundbreaking ceremony was held with building committee chairman Chris KNUTZEN turning over the first shovel of dirt. The next two months involved excavation and construction of footings. It was treacherous, ugly work as the fall rains had turned the dirt to mud. At one point, the mud became so deep and thick that Chairman KNUTZEN lost a pair of boots as they became hopelessly lodged in the mud while he worked. After the footings were finished, work ceased for the winter.
Work resumed on May 29, 1954, a day that will long be remembered in the church history. On that day the foundation was to be poured, and there were literally hundreds of volunteer hands there to help. The day began at 7:00 a.m. as five cement trucks began making continuous runs from the plant on C Street by Bellingham Bay to the construction site. As each truck arrived, it was emptied into wheelbarrows and the cement was wheeled to the proper spot of the building. The men of the church worked with such enthusiasm and with such speed that eventually a sixth truck and then a seventh truck had to be added to keep pace with the furious tempo of the work. Before the day was over, 275 yards of cement had been poured entirely with volunteer labor. The new church had begun to take shape.
From that point on, the paid crew worked weekdays and the men of the church would come on weeknights and Saturdays to do whatever they could. Everyone did his or her part. Children stacked bricks. Women fixed lunch and coffee for the Saturday crew. It was a time of camaraderie, fellowship, and goodwill in the congregation that has never been equaled as members worked side by side doing their part to build their new church. All during the time of the construction, Pastor JACOBSON was busy keeping Central Lutheran Church on Garden and Ellis Streets going with its regular activities.
As the building project neared completion, the excitement in the congregation grew. Finally in the late fall of 1955, they could no longer contain themselves. Although the sanctuary was not completed, the basement was finished enough to hold occasional services there. These services were interesting and inspirational because of the kind of spirit that surrounded them. They were also crowded with people sitting on apple crates or anything that they could find.
Finally, in January of 1956 the modern cement block, Roman brick-faced building with a seating capacity of 650 was completed. The final cost of the building, including furnishings, was approximately $176,000 plus thousands of hours of volunteer labor. On February 5, 1956, Central's 800-member congregation moved into the sanctuary for the first worship service.
On February 12, 1956, the building was dedicated with all the pomp and ceremony worthy of the occasion. Representatives from numerous churches, the mayor of Bellingham, and even Pastor SOILAND were present to lend a hand in the service before an overflow crowd. Pastor SOILAND delivered the message at the morning service, and Dr. H. L. FOSS delivered the message at the afternoon dedication service. It was quite a day in the life of Central Lutheran Church.
When the church was first built, the altar was erected against the south wall of the sanctuary. Many years later a suggestion was made to move the altar out from the wall. The ornate top of the altar was removed and the altar was brought out about three feet from the wall. Now the pastors face the congregation during the liturgy and have more freedom of movement during communion and other services.
Pastor JACOBSON remained with Central Lutheran Church until early in 1960 when he received a call to a Lutheran church in Everett. He accepted that call which left Central Lutheran without a pastor for several months.
In the summer of 1960, three separate synods, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Norwegian), the old American Lutheran Church (German), and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish), came together to form the American Lutheran Church (ALC). This merger did not have a significant impact at Central Lutheran Church for two main reasons. The distance between Bellingham and the Midwest where the church headquarters were located made it difficult to become excited about the merger and, in addition, Central was too wrapped up in the local activities of the church to care too much about such formal and distant events as synod mergers. A small ceremony was held on one Sunday in honor of the event, but nothing else in the way of festivities took place. Probably the greatest effect came as the Ladies' Aid was phased out and replaced by the American Lutheran Church Women (ALCW). The ALCW was a superior organization because it was organized on the national, regional, district, and local levels whereas the Ladies' Aid had only been a local organization.
In 1963, the Lutheran Free Church (Norwegian), which had dropped out of the earlier merger negotiations, joined the ALC.
The VOLD Years (1960-1966)
When Pastor JACOBSON moved to Everett, Central put out a call to Pastor Obed VOLD of Central Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska. Pastor VOLD accepted the call, moved to Bellingham, and was installed as the congregation's pastor on August 7, 1960. Pastor VOLD along with his wife Blanche and their three children, Sharon, Kathy, and David, moved into the parsonage at 1312 Franklin Street.
Immediately it seemed as if Pastor VOLD was just what the doctor ordered for the congregation and for a time he was. VOLD was an excellent speaker. His sermons were instructive, inspirational, and informative all at the same time. Soon he became famous for his sermons not just for the content but also for the style in which they were delivered. Pastor VOLD would begin his sermons from the pulpit, but as the sermon progressed and the excitement and energy of his delivery mounted, he left the pulpit and moved down in the aisle and throughout the church as he continued to enthusiastically preach his sermon. It appeared that Central had found the modern, personable pastor they had been looking for.
For some time the congregation had been looking for a new parsonage. The old parsonage at 1312 Franklin Street, which had housed the NORBY family, the SOILAND family, the JACOBSON family and now the VOLD family, was getting very old and costly to maintain. In 1960 they had found four or five houses that seemed suitable. After months of deliberation and debate, it was finally decided to purchase the home owned by Louis and Hilda MILLER located at 520 14th Street for $26,000. The papers were signed in November and the VOLD family then happily moved into the new parsonage that is located approximately a mile and a half from the church. The old parsonage on Franklin Street was sold for $7,000.
In 1961 the building bug hit Central again. Arvid THOMPSON received word that the land abutting the church was going to be put up for sale and that the sellers would give Central the first opportunity to buy the land for a small price. This was a timely announcement since there had been a search going on for a more suitable arrangement for the Sunday School classes. At that time the classes were all held in the basement, separated by movable wood partitions. This situation was not conducive to good study. With the offer to sell the land, the plan was immediately put forward to buy the land and build a parish education building. After a vote to buy the land was taken, the building committee was reformed under the leadership of Chris KNUTZEN.
It was an awesome task to undertake since the congregation had no idea how they were going to raise the money, but that night after the meeting, Mr. KNUTZEN went home, opened his Bible and read Matthew 17:20. It said "If you have faith no bigger than a mustard seed you will say to this mountain 'Move from here to there' and it will move; nothing will prove impossible for you."
After reading that passage, Mr. KNUTZEN put down his Bible and said, "I'm not going to worry about money any more." The plan moved ahead. Then like an answer to scripture and prayer, the church received a bequest from the estate of Mrs. Ernestine STERNBERG. This meant that the previous construction plan that called for a one-story building with small classrooms could be scrapped. In its place a plan was drawn up for a two-story building with twenty spacious rooms and three offices. The building cost for this structure was $64,000, all of which was paid for with the money from the bequest. The building was completed and dedicated in September of 1963.
During this period the congregation had called Pastor O. K. BLOMLIE to assist Pastor VOLD and to serve as a visitation pastor, but he resigned after one year. In June of 1966, Pastor VOLD resigned from Central and accepted a call to a church in Coquille, Oregon.
The ERICKSEN Era (1966-2001)
In October of 1966, the new pastor, Pastor Leonard C. ERICKSEN, arrived from Big Fork, Montana. At the age of 29, Pastor ERICKSEN was one of the youngest pastors ever to serve the church, but the congregation showed confidence in him and they were not disappointed. In his first four years at Central, Pastor ERICKSEN began to rebuild the activities of the church by initiating a new program every year.
When Pastor ERICKSEN, his wife Bette and their two sons, David and Donald, arrived in Bellingham, they moved in the parsonage at 520 14th Street. They immediately fell in love with the house and the view it afforded. They made a proposal to the congregation to purchase the parsonage and the congregation accepted it. In 1969, their third son, Douglas, joined the ERICKSEN family.
In the summer of 1967, other changes began. During the summer months the congregation went to two services on Sunday to accommodate people with busy schedules in the summer. When fall rolled around, ERICKSEN suggested that they expand this worship schedule to a year-round basis. The congregation agreed and today there is a regular worship service at 8:30 a.m. and a contemporary service at 11:00 a.m. with Sunday School in between.
In 1968 the KVOS Television Department of Public Affairs inaugurated a religious program called Anchor. They called Pastor ERICKSEN to see if he would be interested in hosting this program. He agreed and over the next three decades, Pastor ERICKSEN interviewed hundreds of people regarding their religious views. People interviewed included pastors, priests, fathers, rabbis, and lay ministers from all denominations. Pastor ERICKSEN also interviewed Billy GRAHAM, sports figures like Steve LARGENT, and political figures from all parties. Several of Central's members, including Dehardt ERICKSON, a captain in the Bellingham City Police Department, made appearances. Anchor was aired on KVOS at 7:30 a.m. Sunday mornings, and the program reached most of the State of Washington and lower British Columbia.
In 1968, things continued to grow as the youth night program was set up. On Wednesday nights youths in the church came for a church-subsidized dinner at 6:00 p.m. that cost 25 cents. After dinner there was an hour of confirmation and Luther League, which was followed by a time of fellowship, games, and refreshments. And the adults were not forgotten. Thursday nights were devoted to Bethel Series classes, a Bible study program which drew up to 250 people a week. The final addition of 1968 came during the Lenten season. The format of the mid-week observances was altered as deacons began to lead the service and Pastor ERICKSEN dressed up with a beard and robe and told the Lenten story by portraying a character from the story such as Peter, John, or a Pharisee.
This expanded church service led the congregation to expand their pastoral staff as well. In 1968 Pastor S. L. SWENSON was called to Central to serve as a visitation pastor. Pastor SWENSON had a special ministry to the sick and to the older sector of the congregation. He began a senior citizen's group in the church, which was known as the Twentieth Century Teenagers.
In 1973, Pastor SWENSON suffered a stroke and had to leave Central. Bruce JOHNSON was hired as the first youth director. Many of the adults were concerned that the youth were praying and singing too much and not having enough fun. As they looked for a new youth director after Bruce resigned, they had this in mind when they hired Mike HEGLUND. Under Mike, the Luther League turned around and did almost all fun things, and the attendance remained very high.
In 1973, Art OLSON was called to replace Pastor SWENSON. Following five years of service, Art OLSON resigned from Central and left for Wyoming in December of 1978. Pastor Dennis ANDERSON of Granville, North Dakota, was called to replace Pastor SWENSON. Pastor ANDERSON and his wife Ruth arrived in May of 1979. The congregation fell in love with them. Pastor ANDERSON had served several small churches and had many stories to tell in his own dry sense of humor.
In 1975, Mike HEGLUND left Central to join the Air Force and the congregation had to decide how he was going to be replaced. It was decided that the church needed a person with a fuller potential for ministering to the church so in the fall of 1976, the congregation decided to enter into an intern program which has turned out to be a rewarding program for both the congregation and the interns.
In addition to the lot donated by Mrs. P. P. LEE, the congregation purchased three parcels in the late 1970s: the pink house, the intern house, and a lot at Laurel and Garden Streets. The pink house was torn down first. The intern house was slated for demolition, but the intern committee rallied for the house and it was re-shingled and renovated for their use. The lot at Laurel and Garden was too expensive to drain and fill for a parking lot so it was sold to a Canadian firm. Some of the money was used to purchase the first church van.
The church was without a youth director until 1984 when they hired Dave SHOCKLEY who served until 1986. Following Dave were Holly BERGSTROM-SORENSEN (1987 to 1990), Tim DAVIS (1990 to 1992), Jennifer BERGERSON-BOETTGER (1992 to 1995), Holly OBERLANDER (1995 to 1997), Megan BARKER PETERSON (1998-2000), and Heather ROSE (2000-2001).
Perhaps one of the most important changes occurred when the government of the church was changed from deacon/trustee to committee/council government. Under the deacon/trustee government there were ten deacons and ten trustees. The deacons assisted the pastor with the sermons and the religious holidays and programs. The trustee's duties comprised the maintenance and operation of the church and its facilities. The deacons and trustees made up the church council. Under the committee/council government, there are seven committees appointed to operate the church. The chairman of each committee is on the church council along with the executive officers. One of the advantages of the committee form of government is that it gets more members involved with the operation of the church. The committees are Worship and Music, Fellowship, Property and Management, Youth, Stewardship, Parish Education, and Evangelism.
In 1980, another major step was taken in terms of church leadership. After lengthy debates and discussion, it was finally decided that women should be allowed to hold office in the church.
With the increase in church staff, some of the Sunday School rooms had been taken over as offices. In the mid-1980s an attempt was made to increase the size of the education building. An architect was hired to draw a plan of the addition. When the plan was presented to the city planning commission, the congregation was told that since the original construction of the building, the zoning laws had changed with regard to building setbacks and view obstruction. With the loss of the rear parking lot and loss of view to buildings above the church, the congregation was denied a building permit. As a result, the Longshoremen's Union that owned the Rose Street house below the church offered to sell it to the congregation for $30,000. It was purchased and has since been renovated for the youth program.
In 1988 following ten years of negotiations, another major step was taken in unifying Lutheran synods when the ALC merged with the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). The LCA had been formed in 1962 when the ULCA (German, Slovak, and Icelandic) joined with the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (Swedish), Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish). The AELC was a splinter group formed from former Missouri Synods parishes. This new united Lutheran body was named the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and became the legal successor to all its predecessors on January 1, 1988.
On September 1, 1991, Pastor Paul SUNDBERG was called to serve as associate pastor. He served in that position until June of 1994 when he received a call from a group of people in Monroe, Washington, who wanted a pastor to help them establish a new Lutheran church there. Pastor SUNDBERG accepted the call and moved to Monroe.
In July of 1995, Pastor Scott BRENTS was called to serve as associate pastor and served in that capacity for six years. In the fall of 2001, he accepted a call to serve at Mountain View Lutheran Church in Edgewood, Washington.
In April of 1997, Ruth ANDERSON, the wife of Pastor ANDERSON, passed away. Shortly thereafter, Pastor ANDERSON retired from Central.
The New Millenium
In August of 2000, Pastor Leonard ERICKSEN, in preparation for his retirement, accepted a call to serve as an interim pastor for a congregation in Montana. Pastor David LUND was called to serve as interim pastor at Central and served in that capacity until the fall of 2001 when he left to serve Trinity Lutheran Church in Redmond, Washington. Central Lutheran Church is now in the call process and the congregation hopes to have a pastor in place soon.
In the one hundred and eleven years of Central's history, seven members of the congregation have been ordained into the holy ministry: Orville JACOBSON, Terry THOMAS, Marvin KNUTZEN, Tom HOUSEHOLDER, Steve MYERS, Jerry WALTERS, David Cox, and Marjorie LORANT.
Time has brought us through the last 111 years. Many changes have been made to reflect the changes of the times. Central has instituted new ideas to meet the needs of the congregation and to encourage new members to feel comfortable. But one thing never changes: JESUS. He has remained the constant force in our family at Central. He will remain almighty through the years to come if we allow Him to work within our lives. As we experience the blessings that He constantly bestows on us, may we pass those blessings on to others. This is our prayer.
Arvid THOMPSON (deceased)
Cornie GRUNHURD (deceased)
Lorna Compton WHITE
Revised and updated May 1997: Dehardt M. ERICKSON
Submitted by Karen F. Hulford
All pages on the Whatcom County, WA GenWeb project are copyright protected.
Back to Church Histories
Back to Whatcom GenWeb Home Page