LUTHERANS IN UTAH

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Salt Lake


During Utah's territorial period, there were six evangelical Christian churches present. The Lutheran church was part of this evangelical effort. There were two main reasons for the Lutherans coming to Utah. One was to proselytize among the Mormons and the other was to serve the Lutherans living in Utah. The Lutheran church was the state church of Scandinavia. It was thought that some of the 10,000 Scandinavian Mormons living in Utah would be won back to their original religion. For this reason, they considered Utah their special field. Many Lutherans had migrated to Utah as employees of the railroad and as merchants, miners and farmers. These settlers expected establishment of the church they were accustomed to in other parts of the country.

Many ecclesiastical councils or "synods" make up the Lutheran church. Before the twentieth century the distinctions were made mainly by nationalities. Doctrine difference is another reason for the various synods then and still is today. Presently, Lutherans in the United States are associated with three major synods. The Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church are more liberal in doctrine. The Lutheran Church in America is the most socially conscious. The Lutheran Church --Missouri Synod is more conservative and believes in a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. They maintain a large parochial school system. From 1882 to 1900 seven different Lutheran synods were present in Utah. The most active was the Augustana (Swedish) Synod which in 1962 became part of The Lutheran Church in America. Other synods representing Danish, Finnish, and Norwegian immigrants were also active. The Missouri Synod did not appear in Utah until early in the twentieth century. Members were mostly of German background.

As with the other evangelical churches in the territory, the mission of converting "deluded" Mormons was not very successful. Various denominations organized and operated schools in order to provide a quality standard education as well as Christian education. The hope was to encourage the children to leave the Mormon church. Most schools had to close by 1910 because of financial problems, including the one Lutheran school.

In 1881, the Rev. John Telleen, of the Scandinavian Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America, went to Utah to investigate the religious wants and needs of the Scandinavian population. He discovered a congregation was needed. On July 18, 1882, Pastor Telleen and the Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Samuel M. Hill met with three others in St. Mark's Episcopal Chapel. They organized the Zion Swedish Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City. After Pastor Hill served for two years, there were interim pastors until June 1885 when the Rev. J. A. Krantz became the pastor of the church. At that time the name was Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. Church membership grew and in 1885 a church was built on the corner of 200 South and 400 East. Membership continued to grow and in 1957 a new church was built at 1070 Foothill Dr.

There were many Scandinavian settlers in Utah and Sanpete counties also, so the Augustana Synod concentrated in those areas for mission possibilities. The area was canvassed beginning in 1885 and by 1888 a chapel was built in Provo. Rev. Krantz, minister from Salt Lake City, helped to establish the church and Rev. E. Hedsen was the first pastor of the church. During 1888 a mission was established in Mt. Pleasant also. This mission was served by Rev. G. Stenborg. At the end of 1888 both Rev. Hedsen and Rev. Stenborg resigned the Utah Mission. The Rev. A. P. Martin carried out the duties as pastor to both congregations. He also started a mission at Santaquin. The congregation at Provo was formally organized on January 1, 1891, as the Bethania Swedish Lutheran Church. The congregation at Santaquin organized in 1894 as the Swedish Lutheran Nebo Church. The Mt. Pleasant mission was closed in 1893 in order to support a parsonage in Provo. By 1902 the membership had declined and the Rev. Emanuel Rydberg, pastor in Salt Lake City, ministered to the few Lutherans remaining in Provo and Santaquin.

The Rev. Frans August Linder was sent to Ogden by the Augustana Synod to organize a congregation there. He began the work in October 1888 and experienced hostilities towards him by the native population. He was determined to complete the job he started and on December 8, 1889, a congregation was formally organized as Elim Lutheran Church. Nine of the ten charter members were Swedish. Railroad jobs brought many Lutherans to Ogden and membership increased. During World War II, defense jobs brought more non-Mormons to the Ogden area and membership continued to grow. Today, Elim Lutheran Church is one of the largest Lutheran Church in America congregations in Utah.

In 1889, work was begun for an English-speaking mission in Utah. In September 1890, the Rev. P. Doerr arrived in Salt Lake City and started holding both English and German services in Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. On November 9, 1890, he organized Holy Trinity English Lutheran Church. An edifice was not built until February 1, 1894, while Rev. James F. Beates was pastor. At this time it was associated with the English Mission Board of the General Council. In June 1894, the church was admitted to the English Synod of the Northwest which later became the Pacific Synod. By 1913 Holy Trinity was financially unable to remain in Salt Lake City.

Lutheran congregations continued to form on the basis of language. The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Savior established a congregation in 1892. The Rev. Elvind Skabo arrived straight from Norway to organize the mission and bring back the "deluded" Norwegian Mormons who had been led astray. As with other synods, there were very few Mormons converted and most of the congregation was built around the Norwegians who had moved to Utah for other reasons. After twenty years, this mission closed.

A group of Icelandic Mormon converts settled in Spanish Fork. They were so pleased with Utah Valley they encouraged their non-Mormon relatives to join them. A number of Icelandic Lutherans did immigrate to Utah. The Icelandic Synod started a mission at Spanish Fork in 1892. Rev. Runolf Runolson was a Mormon convert who had rejoined the Lutheran church and became ordained as resident minister. The Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Congregation was started in January 1893. The church prospered during the first twenty years, then began a steady decline until it closed in 1929.

The Rev. Otto Kuhr, of the General Council, arrived in Salt Lake City in March 1892 and began German worship services in Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. He also started holding German services at Elim Lutheran Church in Ogden. By the end of the year, he had organized congregations in both cities -- St. John's German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City and The German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ogden. The Ogden congregation eventually dissolved in 1923-1924. St. John's eventually became part of the Missouri Synod.

During the beginning of the twentieth century, the Missouri Synod became active in work among the German Lutherans in Utah. The location of St. John's on the west side of Salt Lake City was inconvenient. The Missouri Synod purchased a piece of property on Seventh South near State in 1904. The congregation met in rented spaces until the chapel was built in 1905. During that period, the Rev. William J. Lankow was pastor. After Pastor Lankow left in 1913, several pastors ministered temporarily until the Rev. Frederic E. Schumann served in Utah from 1926 until 1945. During his time a new church was built, a school was reopened in 1935, and other Missouri Synod missions were started throughout the state. St. John's Lutheran Church is considered the "mother church" of the Missouri Synod in Utah.

At the 1902 annual convention of the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, plans were formulated for a mission to serve Utah Danish Lutherans. In 1904 Pastor H. Hansen was the first to begin ministry to Salt Lake City. Services were held in private homes, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, and First Presbyterian Church. Pastor Harald Jensen was the next pastor and served from 1906 until 1912. The congregation was formally organized on October 14, 1907 as Tabor Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church while meeting at the Norwegian Lutheran Church. The first church building had been built in stages and dedicated on August 20, 1911. During the 1950s Tabor experienced some growth and became part of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church. A new edifice was built on the corner of Seventh East and Second South and dedicated in 1964.

Since congregations were started on the basis of nationality and language, worship services were conducted in the native language or at least alternating with English services. Congregations and synods maintained a separateness by this practice, but at the same time there was cooperation among pastors and congregations. They all had the same goals in mind. The next generation of Utah Lutherans brought a greater need for more English services. As time went on, the Scandinavian and German languages were left out of worship services, making even greater harmony among the Lutheran congregations.

The mining camps of Utah were populated by people of a variety of nationalities and diverse religious backgrounds. Many of them were Swedes and Finns of Lutheran background. The Augustana Synod ministers of Salt Lake City and Ogden traveled to the mining camps on an irregular basis. St. John's Lutheran Church in Park City was organized in 1902 by Oscar Anton Elmquist, a student minister of the Augustana Synod. After becoming ordained, he was called to the Elim Lutheran Church in Ogden. From there he traveled to Park City by train to continue to serve the Park City congregation as well. Additionally, he organized the Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Bingham Canyon. It too was part of the Ogden pastorate of the Augustana Synod. A mission was established in Eureka in 1902 by the Augustana Synod. Bethel Lutheran Church was part of the Salt Lake City pastorate. Pastor Rydberg of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City served the Eureka community. This mission was discontinued in 1915. In 1931 the Missouri Synod established a congregation in Eureka. Pastor Skov of Provo began holding worship services there. Attendance was good at first, but as mines closed and workers left to find work the mission eventually closed.

From the beginning of Lutheranism in Utah, congregations were established and dissolved on the changing needs of members in the state. The biggest boom to Lutheranism in Utah was during the time following World War II when there was an increase in defense installations and industries. An influx of military and civilian workers brought about establishment of churches in nearby communities. Into the next decades, the growth of other businesses and industries and the subsequent increasing non-Mormon population expanded the need for the establishment of additional congregations.

See: T. Edgar Lyon, "Religious Activities and Development in Utah, 1847-1910." Utah Historical Quarterly 35 (Fall 1967), 292-306; Leo Rosten, ed. Religions of America New York, (1972).

Mary Peach