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Mount Olive Lutheran Church
         
 
HISTORY
A CENTURY AT 31ST AND CHICAGO

At the beginning of the 20th century, immigrant Lutherans in the Twin Cities spoke a variety of European languages—Danish, Slovak, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish and German. Some believed that holding onto their European vernacular was essential if they were to truly understand their faith. Germans were particularly set on using their mother tongue. But others, including some Germans, thought that fellowship and evangelism required a changeover to English. With that purpose in mind, a group of German-Americans came together in 1872 to form the English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri.

This outreach was particularly supported by Redeemer Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Its pastor, the Rev. O.C. Kreinheder, began holding English services in south Minneapolis in 1907. After several fits and starts, a mission church took hold two years later. The budding congregation installed its first pastor, the Rev. Herman Prange, on January 24, 1909. Then, on April 19, Mount Olive Lutheran Church was formally organized with 16 charter voting members, 24 other communicants (women and men) and 30 children. Eventually the new congregation’s founding body, the English Synod, was folded into the much larger Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, although the progressive roots of the English language movement left their mark on Mount Olive’s culture and outlook.

Initially, the congregation worshipped in two rented Republican Party meeting halls, first at Nicollet and 29th Street, then at 1506 East Lake Street. When the second building was sold to a “moving picture concern,” Mount Olive purchased property at the corner of 31st Street and Chicago Avenue at a cost of $1,900. Construction began immediately. Members dedicated their first church building on the Sunday before Christmas, 1909. A third lot was purchased in 1910 and a parsonage erected on it.

 


 

Mount Olive Comes of Age

The Rev. Theo. H. Schroedel became Mount Olive’s pastor on April 10, 1921, and for the next four decades he built a congregation that would become a force in the community and within the Missouri Synod. Schroedel had served an English mission church in Detroit and had received graduate training in Heidelberg and Berlin. During his long tenure at Mount Olive, he also taught German at the University of Minnesota. He also became a leader in the Walther League, a Missouri Synod youth organization, an involvement that drew him further toward an ecumenical vision. By the mid-1940s, Schroedel became embroiled in a significant dispute within the Missouri Synod about doctrinal purity, a dispute that would eventually lead Mount Olive to join other moderates in withdrawing from the conservative denomination.

During Schroedel’s pastorate, all the present buildings were erected. The church structure was begun in 1925, but financial problems resulted in the parish worshipping in the church basement for six years. Construction resumed in 1930, with the present English gothic church dedicated on January 25, 1931. The cost was $100,750.

Like most mainline congregations, Mount Olive grew rapidly in the postwar years. In 1956, construction began on a new wing with—six classrooms, a crib room and nursery, an activity room, parlor, kitchen, choir room and offices. Dedication was on February 17, 1957. The cost was $268,566.

A key to Mount Olive’s growing influence was Dr. Paul Manz, who came to the congregation as director of education and music in 1946. He led the music program for 37 years, becoming the parish’s first cantor. As Manz’ notoriety grew, he was invited often to lead hymn festivals and other musical events in churches outside the Missouri Synod, which drew frowns from the conservative hierarchy. Mount Olive, however, continued to nurture Manz’ growth and exposure as his compositions, organ improvisations and revolutionary emphasis on congregational singing drew attention from Lutherans and other Christians worldwide.

 

Breaking Away

On June 8, 1958, the Rev. Herbert Mueller arrived, first as associate pastor then as pastor. He served briefly with kindness and grace until his sudden death on June 19, 1961. It was during Mueller’s short tenure that Mount Olive’s membership peaked at more than 1,300.

The Rev. Alton Wedel succeeded Mueller and, along with Manz, guided the congregation to more frequent celebration of the eucharist and into the burgeoning liturgical renewal movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. Wedel also led the congregation deeper into ecumenical and social ministry, and became nationally recognized for his preaching.

Wedel also presided over extensive renovation, which included establishment of the Louise Schroedel Memorial Library and the clearing of nearby land for a parking lot. On October 2, 1966, a new organ was dedicated.

The dramatic split from the conservative Missouri Synod came in 1976, ending a 67-year relationship. Mount Olive and other moderate breakaway congregations formed the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC), which, in 1988, became part of the largest U.S. Lutheran body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

 

A New Era Begins

Wedel’s retirement in 1984 brought other changes. Mark Sedio arrived as music and youth coordinator (he was named Mount Olive’s second cantor two years later) and Donna Neste joined the staff to begin an innovative neighborhood program. Sedio was known widely for his composing and arranging. Neste designed and administered programs to address the growing needs of the surrounding neighborhood, including tutoring for children and after-school jobs for teenagers.

The Rev. Mark Wegener arrived in 1985. He strengthened the congregation’s commitment to liturgical worship and social outreach. Inspired by his vision of a church open to all people, Mount Olive was made handicapped accessible in 1995 with a new at-grade entrance and elevator. The new foyer was dedicated in honor of Wegener.

The Rev. William Heisley was installed as Mount Olive’s sixth pastor on Transfiguration Sunday in 1998. With Heisley’s encouragement, the parish drew from a broader liturgical tradition. A columbarium with a central icon was built into the north transept, reflecting a growing appreciation for the wider Christian liturgical tradition. (See images of the building.)

Dr. David Cherwien’s arrival in 2000 as Mount Olive’s third cantor has further extended the congregation’s reputation for musical excellence. Cherwien concurrently directs the National Lutheran Choir and teaches at Luther Seminary’s Master of Sacred Music program.

Currently, Mount Olive is served by Rev. Joseph G. Crippen, who is only the seventh in the parish’s remarkably stable century of service in south Minneapolis.

Michael J. Lansing’s book, The Faith of Our Forebears: 100 Years at Mount Olive Lutheran Church, was the primary source for this page. Contact the church office to order your copy.

 

Celebrating 100 Years

A century after its founding, the congregation embarked on a yearlong celebration, committing itself to another hundred years of faithful service. On April 19, 2009, hundreds of members, former members and friends from around the country gathered in downtown Minneapolis for drinks, dinner, a video and other festivities. Among other highlights during the celebratory year was the return of many former vicars to preach and participate in Sunday liturgies.

At the same time, the Heritage Committee established an archive in which correspondence, financial records, newsletters, worship folders, photos and other materials can be secured and maintained, thus ensuring the preservation of Mount Olive’s historical record. The committee also launched an oral history project aimed at recording and transcribing interviews with 20 longtime members and former members. The committee also oversaw preparation of a book-length history of the congregation:

The Faith of Our Forebears: 100 Years at Mount Olive Lutheran Church
The book, by Michael Lansing, professor of history at Augsburg College, recounts the congregation’s first century, particularly its musical expression, liturgical practice and faithfulness to social ministry. Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus of religious history at the University of Chicago, described the book this way: “Lansing and his collaborators are not nostalgic; they do not want to lead the members and friends of Mount Olive back to 1909 or to any other years between then and now. But they do want to celebrate the intentions of people who had a sense of awe before God and who responded in music and art, studying and eating—‘to the glory of God.’ ”
124 pages, paperback, $25 plus S/H

Contact the church office to order your copy.

 

VIEW Photo gallery for WWII Veterans »

 

Mount Olive Pastors
through the Years

Rev. Herman Prange
The Rev. Herman Prange
Served from 1909 to 1921


Rev. Theo H. Schroedel
The Rev. Theo H. Schroedel
Served from 1921 to 1962


Rev. Herbert Mueller
The Rev. Herbert Mueller
(as associate pastor)
Served from 1958 to 1961


Rev. Alton Wedel
The Rev. Alton Wedel
Served from 1962 to 1984


Mark Wegener
The Rev. Mark Wegener
Began service in 1985


Rev. William Heisley
The Rev. William Heisley
Served from 1998 to 2009


Rev. Joseph G. Crippen
The Rev. Joseph G. Crippen
Current pastor
Began service in October 2010




 



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