Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
1966-2013

Gloria Dei—the “Glory of God”

From our beginnings in the mid-twentieth century, we have been a people dedicated to serving God by sharing our respective talents in accomplishing our mission throughout our community, state, nation, and world—we are called together to express the “Glory of God.”

Beginnings

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church began as a mission congregation of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) in the growing city of Anchorage, Alaska. On August 4, 1965, Pastor Rodney Kastelle received a formal letter of call to pursue development and organization of a mission congregation. To determine how many neighbors were interested in a Lutheran church in this yet-undeveloped part of town, Pastor Kastelle was joined in mid-November by parish worker Evelyn Helms and Pastor Harry Sorenson of American Missions; with paper and pencil, they began a door-to-door canvass of the area.

By the first week in December 1965, prospective members began meeting for coffee at the parsonage in the Brentwood subdivision off Jewel Lake Road. On January 9, 1966, 130 people gathered in the multipurpose room of Sand Lake Elementary School to worship together for the first time.

One week later Robert James Hanson, infant son of James and Judith Hanson, was welcomed into the family of God and Gloria Dei through Holy Baptism. Sunday school classes began on January 23 in the hallways of Sand Lake School with Betty White serving as the first Sunday school superintendent. The parsonage became the meeting place for adult classes, American Lutheran Church Women (ALCW), and family potlucks. In March of 1966, Gloria Dei added a youth group and junior choir to the activities at the parsonage.

Finally, the big day—May 8, 1966—arrived, and after worship at the school, a crowd assembled to break ground at the building site on the five acres at Jewel Lake Road and West 84th which was purchased by the ALC in 1963. It was a day full of promise—few members expected that, in a very short time, the church would outgrow the building it would construct that year and that in just ten years, their numbers would triple.

On June 5, 1966, Gloria Dei was accepted as a congregation in the North Pacific District of the American Lutheran Church. The congregation formally organized on June 26, 1966, when Gloria Dei adopted a constitution and signed agreements with American Missions.

American Missions made the following agreements:
1.   To provide $20,200 primary subsidy for operating expenses.
2.   To lend the congregation $157,765 for the purchase of buildings and equipment.
3.   To undergird the congregation with prayer and counsel.

Gloria Dei Lutheran congregation agreed to the following:
1.   To affiliate with the North Pacific District of the American Lutheran Church.
2.   To take over management of properties and to pay expenses.
3.   To sign a mortgage to the American Lutheran Church for the money loaned.
4.   To refinance the loan as soon as possible.
5.   To incur no other indebtedness.

Charter members included the families of LeRoy Allinger, Dempsey Anderson, Duane Anderson, Jack Day, Irvin Evenson, Wilma Goldman, Marion Gregory, Heinrich Gruber, James Hanson, AnnMarie Hardee, Rodney Kastelle, Fred Kehl, Les Kelm, Kenneth Kinney, Walter Kjera, Clarence Krause, Alice Mosher, William Mundt, Dennis Ogren, Ivan Paulson, Harold Stern, John Talley, Jack Turner, Al Ursel, Ellis White, Bill Wienke, and Travis Williams—27 family units, 114 family members. Nine of the original charter members returned in 1991 to celebrate Gloria Dei’s 25th anniversary.

A steering committee, formed to direct the planning of the building, hired the architectural firm of Crittendon & Associates to design the facility and awarded a contract for construction to Sandland Construction. That building, totaling 4,464 square feet, provided the congregation with a sanctuary/meeting room, kitchen/classrooms, and two offices. Members helped with much of the finishing work, and the church was completed by fall and dedicated on September 11, 1966.

Confirmation classes began that first autumn, and a senior choir was organized under the direction of Nita Berquist and Arlene Kastelle. Fred Kehl served as the first council president and Bill Wienke, as the financial secretary (although his wife Marilyn claims to have done all of the work). Other council members during this beginning time were Irvin Evenson (vice president), Ellis White (secretary), Les Kelm (treasurer), Bill Mundt, Harold Stern, Jack Turner, Travis Williams, Heinrick Gruber, Clarence Krause, Dempsey Anderson, and James Hanson.

Growth

From our rather humble beginnings, we quickly expanded into an ever-growing, dynamic church—a people of God, ready and committed to serving Him, each to the best of his or her ability. Within just ten years, Gloria Dei had outgrown its space, and the church council began making plans for a larger building. Such growth was not uncommon in a rapidly expanding city like Anchorage; however, it was remarkable that, unlike churches in most cities, only twenty of the original 114 members remained. Such was the nature of our city during those years of boom and bust—transiency was the norm. By the time we celebrated our 25th anniversary in 1991, we had grown to 639 baptized members, nearly six times our original size. Between 1966 and 1991, Gloria Dei had been the church home and place of worship for more than 1,700 people.

Our journey, as recorded here, will single out and credit only a few individuals and highlight just some of the events which carried us into the new millennium. But as the Apostle Paul reminds us, the church is made up of many members, each with varied and valuable gifts. To one has been given the gift of craftsmanship, to another the gift of teaching, and to yet another the gift of wealth. No one gift is of more value than another. Les Kelm, one of our charter members, used his special gift of craftsmanship in building Gloria Dei's original chancel furnishings, shown in the photo. And in time the pieces were donated to Thornton Memorial Lutheran Church in Wales, Alaska.

At the annual meeting in 1968, the congregation voted to execute a mortgage in favor of the American Lutheran Church in the amount of $157,756 to purchase the church building, parsonage, and the land they occupied.

The council also approved the use of the building for a private kindergarten, setting the stage for its successor, Gloria Dei’s Early Learning Center, which served neighborhood pre-school children for more than 30 years under the capable direction of “Miss Betty” (Anderson). Due to increasing costs and changes in local codes, which would have mandated major facility upgrades, the school closed its doors in 2011.

In September 1971, we celebrated five years of worshiping together in our own building. The Anchorage Daily Times ran a small piece with a photo entitled “Crosses at Sundown,” which read, in part: “The setting sun casts long shadows over three crosses at the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, a modern, one-story structure dedicated Sept. 11, 1966. The church, at 8427 Jewel Lake Road, has a seating capacity of 200 in the worship center. The church also contains parish education rooms and church offices. All interior and finish work on the church was done by members of the congregation. It had been built to serve the rural congregation in Sand Lake, organized earlier in 1966, then composed of 29 families from the area.”

In August of 1973, Pastor Kastelle accepted a call to Beaverton, Oregon, bringing to a close the era of beginnings for Gloria Dei. Ready to put our experiences of the past seven years to the test, we decided to continue without an interim pastor until we could fill the vacancy. With the help of other Lutheran pastors in the area, administrative assistance from Dalia Wolverton, and considerable participation by members of the congregation, we managed well and, through the experience, developed a true spirit of community.

Within four months, our call committee asked Pastor Richard Halvorson of Harlowton, Montana, to come up to “look us over.” He and his wife Mary Ann liked what they saw and answered our Letter of Call. With their two children, they arrived in January of 1974 and moved into the parsonage on Brentwood Circle. Gloria Dei was ready to move forward once more!

The year 1976 marked Gloria Dei’s tenth anniversary, and we celebrated throughout the year with the theme “Pressing Forward in God’s Love.” After ten years of steady growth, we were feeling the need for more space to serve our increasing numbers and the mission we shared as a congregation. As a temporary solution to the crowded condition of the Sunday school, we built two portable classrooms; of course, that was a mere Band-Aid. So we, indeed, pressed forward, appointing a building committee that worked with local officials, banks, and our members to develop a building plan.

On April 29, 1979, we broke ground for a new sanctuary adjacent to the existing building. Harley Hightower was engaged to design the building, and Sandland Construction was again awarded the contract for construction. The expansion would add 4,314 square feet to our existing facility. Suddenly, we were busier than ever as congregation members again chose to do much of the finishing work. Many, many volunteers gave long hours of sweat equity—hanging sheetrock, sanding, painting, cleaning, and feeding workers—a collective labor of love. By Christmas 1979, the new sanctuary was ready for worship, and we gathered there for the first time when the Sunday school students presented their Christmas program.

Undertakings

In 1977 Gloria Dei elected to participate in the churchwide intern program. Larry Olson served as our first intern pastor, and 15 more have followed him; they are listed below. Over the years, this partnership has proved to be a blessing in so many ways not only to our congregation but also to those special seminary students with whom we have had the privilege of sharing their many gifts for one short year.

Larry Olson, 1977-78
Jeff Wild, 1978-79
Shunski Nakagaw, 1979-80
Loren Gustafson, 1980-81
David Wangaard, 1981-82
Scott Fuller, 1982-83
Arne Bergland, 1983-84

Karen Zutz, 1986-87
Brian Crockett, 1987-88 (ordained at Gloria Dei, September 1990)
Steve Langlie, 1988-89

Julia Seymore, 2007-08 (ordained at Gloria Dei, September 2008)
Nicholas Weber, 2008-09
Mark Dixon, 2009-10
Stephanie Vos, 2010-11
Julie McCain, 2011-12
Dan Nelson, 2012-13

In August 2011, as she prepared to serve her first call in Minnesota, Rachel Fuller Wrenn (daughter of Pastor Scott and Carolyn Fuller) was ordained at Gloria Dei, which Rachel considered her “home congregation.”

Intrigued by something she had heard in an adult Bible class, Gloria Dei member Marianne Wieland responded in a unique way. When Pastor Rick stated, “The discouraging thing about world hunger is that there’s so little one individual can do about it,” Marianne accepted the challenge and has since proved that one person’s efforts CAN make a difference. In November 1979, Marianne, an acclaimed Anchorage artist, designed and produced 150 limited-edition prints of The Christmas Story. Every year since, Marianne has faithfully created a work of art for sale to members and friends of Gloria Dei. All proceeds are used to feed the hungry around the world. One can only speculate as to how many lives Marianne has touched through her very special gift.

The dawning of the 1980s proved to be an especially exciting time for the people of Gloria Dei. Not only were we ushering in a brand-new decade but we were also settling into a brand-new sanctuary with a seating capacity of 375. On May 18, 1980, we proudly dedicated a beautiful worship space—made even more beautiful with the addition of three stained-glass windows and antique chancel furnishings which, for many years, had been a part of the worship life of Trinity Episcopal Church in Howard, South Dakota. We are grateful to Pastor Rick and Mary Ann Halvorson for their contribution of these pieces as well as the bell, which continue to enhance our worship life at Gloria Dei.

It was in 1978 that they returned to the site of Mary Ann’s home church, Trinity Episcopal, to help dismantle the building after the congregation had disbanded. In 1889 when Trinity Episcopal was constructed, their congregation commissioned an artist in England, who remains unknown to us, to create a large stained-glass window—featuring Jesus, the Good Shepherd—now a focal point in our own sanctuary in Anchorage, Alaska. The oak altar, pulpit, and baptismal font (modified from its original use as a lectern) were hand-carved during the late 1800s by a member of Trinity, Thomas Coughlan. More than 100 years and thousands of miles now separate us from that time and place, but they serve to remind us of the rich heritage we share with all people of God that neither time nor distance can blur.

We added the ringing of that bell to our worship services on July 17, 1983. After nearly a century of calling God’s people to worship in South Dakota, it was time to resume its mission in Alaska. Our members worked tirelessly throughout the summer to complete the 15-foot bell tower, which not only supports the 1,500-pound bell but also—according to project director Neil Hawthorne—stands guard over certain secrets that lie buried beneath tons of concrete.

Four months later, we celebrated another addition. On September 24, 1980, the space in which we had worshiped for 14 years became the “Fireside Room” officially when we dedicated an impressive, functional fireplace—the work of long-time member Walt Kjera. Walt split and painstakingly placed the stones he had gathered from around Southcentral Alaska—some from Granite Creek near Sutton, some from his cabin at Portage, and others from as far away as Denali Park. In sharing with us his God-given talent of craftsmanship, Walt gave to Gloria Dei an exceptional gift—one that has warmed many special gatherings over the years.

As we continued to grow into the 1980s, it became evident that our existing classroom facilities must also grow. After selling the portable units, the Sunday school had moved into classrooms divided by moveable partitions in the Fireside Room, but when that solution became less than adequate, we revisited the building mode. At a special meeting on April 25, 1982, the congregation approved final plans for an education wing, and with Bob Locke serving as chairman of the building committee, the Gloria Dei crew began construction in September.

Bob and his crew faced a multitude of obstacles and frustrations, not the least of which was uncooperative weather that required covering and heating the entire structure before the floor slab could be poured; then the building filled with snow when the plastic sheeting blew off. But, in spite of these bumps in the road, we succeeded and added another 4,472 square feet of facility space—paying for it as we went!

In April 1984, Pastor Rick accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran in Tacoma, Washington. After ten years, it was hard to say goodbye to the Halvorsons; they were a part of our family of faith, and like all families, we had been through much together and shared many memories. But we wished them well and began to look ahead.

Five months later, we were blessed by the arrival of the Jorgensens— Pastor Dick, Caryl, Beret, and Anna came to us from Minneapolis in November 1984. We were grateful for the ministry they shared with us.

The sharp downturn in the Alaskan economy during the last half of the 1980s could not be ignored by our Gloria Dei family. As people lost jobs or were forced to take pay cuts, we were faced with more than our share of goodbyes. Those were difficult times for us, but we continued to uplift and support one another, and the phrase “step out in faith” became an often-used expression of advice.

Identity Changes

At the annual meeting in 1987, our congregation was asked to join Lutheran congregations around the nation in ratifying the proposed merger of three Lutheran church bodies: the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran churches. Gloria Dei voted unanimously to approve the “Agreement and Plan of Merger” which would lead to formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

As a part of this process of becoming the ELCA, Alaskans opted to create an independent synod rather than joining one in Washington State. The Alaska Synod has the distinction of being the largest geographical synod in the ELCA—and at that time, it had the fewest number of parishes, only 28. The Reverend Donald Parsons was elected in 1987 as the first bishop to serve the Alaska Synod.

In the spring of 1989, Pastor Dick accepted a call as senior pastor from First English Lutheran Church in Faribault, Minnesota, where he served until his retirement in 2013. In four short years, like his two predecessors, Pastor Dick had left his mark upon us, and sadly we wished the Jorgensens "Godspeed."

Again, we decided to keep things going without an interim pastor, and through the efforts of a hard-working worship committee, Gloria Dei clergy members, and office staff, we experienced smooth sailing through the summer. By September, the call committee had a recommendation, and Pastor Steve and Barbara Humburg came up from Shakopee, Minnesota, so that we could check out one another.

By November 1989, Pastor Steve was in the pulpit at Gloria Dei— although he didn’t exactly stay in the pulpit. Pastor Steve, with his flair for the dramatic, often surprised the people in the pews with his character renditions of “Brother John” or “blind Bartimaeus” or whoever could best make his point. Early one autumn when finances were somewhat iffy, Pastor Steve—sporting a new ponytail— challenged the people of Gloria Dei to meet all financial commitments by the last Sunday in December. If we met our budget for the year, he promised to cut off the ponytail during coffee hour; otherwise . . .

In 1990, in order to take advantage of a significantly lower interest rate, the congregation agreed to refinance our existing mortgage with the understanding that the equity funds be reinvested in specific building improvements. Once more we tackled some fairly ambitious projects, not the least of which was a complete renovation of the existing kitchen area. Under Bob Locke’s capable leadership, the fireside room and kitchen were connected by enclosing the hallway between them and installing two serving windows, expanding the workable kitchen space and improving serving convenience. Our annual Bean-a-fit to benefit Bean’s Café in downtown Anchorage was a fitting first event to initiate our new kitchen for feeding our community’s hungry has long been an important part of Gloria Dei’s mission.

Just before Christmas 1990, we carried the metal folding chairs out of the sanctuary for the final time to prepare for installation of new pews—also a part of the building improvements program. After ten years, we finally realized the long-awaited goal for permanent seating, and our sanctuary took on a new warmth and feeling of comfort and a sense of completion.

Pastor Steve resigned his call effective June 1, 1993, and Pastor Gordon Johnson served Gloria Dei during the interim. The call committee worked diligently throughout the summer of 1993, and after impressive phone and on-site interviews, we extended a call to Pastor Joseph Holub. He accepted Gloria Dei’s call and arrived in Anchorage just after Thanksgiving. We celebrated Christmas that year full of excitement and expectations—we were not disappointed.

Pastor Joe imparted a strong theology of grace through his exceptional preaching and teaching gifts; and over the next six years, Gloria Dei grew into a community of faith, looking forward to the new millennium.

From his leadership role on the Anchorage Lutheran Council, Pastor Joe was instrumental in encouraging other Lutheran clergy to partner with Habitat for Humanity. In 1996, with his trademark energy and enthusiasm, Pastor Joe served as project director when the Lutheran community built two homes in the Mountain View neighborhood. The following summer, two more “Lutheran homes” were constructed, and as Habitat for Humanity Anchorage celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013, many Lutherans throughout the Anchorage bowl continue to be committed to providing affordable housing for families. Former Bishop Ron Martinson is deserving here of special recognition for he has worked tirelessly, year after year, on Habitat faith homes.

It was also during Pastor Holub’s ministry that Gloria Dei hired its first full-time youth director—Karyn Hargrave proved to be a source of blessing to our kids, many of whom opted to hang out at the church rather than the malls. In 2006, Sonia Lipker followed in Karyn’s footsteps, and we have continued to embrace this vital ministry. In March 2011, Jess Throlson joined our staff as director of youth and family ministries, enriching not only the lives of our children but also the families of Gloria Dei.

We were saddened in the spring of 1999 when Pastor Joe and Marcia announced that Colorado was summoning them back to their beloved mountain home. We said our tearful goodbyes and wished them God’s blessings and grace.

We began again the process of identifying that person who would shepherd us on our journey of faith. In the meantime, Interim Pastor Al Solmonson served our congregation from June through December 1999.

A New Millennium

Pastor Scott Fuller accepted our call, and in January 2000, amid the widespread anxieties associated with the dawning millennium, he began his thirteen years of ministering to the people of Gloria Dei. Pastor Scott was not new to Alaska or to Gloria Dei for he had served as our intern pastor in 1982-83 under the supervision of Pastor Rick Halvorson. It was a wonderful homecoming for the Fullers and equally satisfying for us to welcome them back.

In 2002, we embarked upon a comprehensive capital-growth appeal program, choosing the theme “Grounded and Growing to Glorify God.” (Considering Pastor Scott’s fondness for alliteration, one might wonder if he was responsible for the theme.) The program had three goals: (1) to retire the mortgage on our building; (2) to invest for future facility expansion and maintenance; and (3) to expand and support staff. We felt satisfied with the results of our efforts, especially when we were able to pay the balance of our mortgage before the date it was due.

In the summer of 2006, Harold Wolverton and a small-but-competent Gloria Dei crew began construction of a storage room—a direct result of those capital gifts ear-marked for facility expansion. The addition added 1,188 square feet of much-needed space, accessible from the south side of the fireside room. Gloria Dei’s facility has grown to well over 3 times its original size and has undergone various remodeling projects to accommodate our changing needs.

Pastor Scott and Carolyn—as their son Mark was nearing high-school graduation in 2002—approached the Piecemakers, Gloria Dei’s quilting group, requesting that they sew a quilt for each of the graduating seniors. That year we presented each of our seven graduates with a beautiful quilt to take with them as they continued on life’s journey. And so began an annual tradition, greatly anticipated by Gloria Dei’s high-school students and their parents. Our Piecemakers are to be applauded for their dedication in making an average of six-to-seven quilts for our young people every year.

In 2005, the Nick Indahl Memorial College Scholarship fund was established in memory of a young man who was a life-long member of our congregation. Each spring eligible, college-bound Gloria Dei students who apply are awarded $1,000 scholarships. Nearly $100,000 had been given to 39 individual students in the first nine years after the fund was established. The fund is generously supported by Gloria Dei members and friends with the goal that, in time, it will be self-perpetuating.

Pastor Scott also encouraged Gloria Dei people to take their ministry outside the church walls. After participating in numerous one-to-one discussions with each other, we joined with other churches in our community involved with faith-based AFACT (Anchorage Faith and Action–Congregations Together). It was not long before Gloria Dei’s Local Organizing Ministry initiated an action that resulted in a new and much-safer bus stop at 88th and Jewel Lake Road. In the winter of 2009, after experiencing a number of break-ins with serious property damage at our church, we voiced our public-safety concerns and those of our Sand Lake neighbors to the Anchorage Police Department through an AFACT action. The effects of that interaction with one another and the authorities have had a positive impact on our area of the city.

At the end of 2012, Pastor Scott accepted a call from First Lutheran Church in Marshall, Minnesota. After thirteen years of serving the people of Gloria Dei, we embraced and celebrated the Fullers’ ministry and sent them off with fond memories all around.

PMOAnd once more we rolled up our sleeves and tackled the call process head on. In the spring of 2014, we invited Pastor Mark Orf, his wife Heather, and children Nathan and Chloe to visit from their home in Shishmaref, Alaska, where Pastor Mark was serving a fourth year. We soon issued a Letter of Call to Pastor Mark, and in June 2014, he was installed as Gloria Dei's seventh pastor.

As we look toward our 50th anniversary in 2016, we ARE the people of Gloria Dei endeavoring to remain true to our name by reflecting the Glory of God—a bold statement for a bunch of humble Lutherans to make; but who better to reflect God's Glory than ordinary people transformed by the extraordinary power of the Gospel?

Humbly submitted,
– Darla R Siver

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