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 Saviour.
Bellingham Bay Lutheran Church
On May 23, 1890, twenty families of Norwegian descent met to organize
the first Norwegian Lutheran Church in Bellingham, 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. Moens 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 battle back. The nucleus
of eleven families decided to remain strong. With Pastor Moens
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
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 they 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 their paths 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
That first Sunday began with a simple worship service consisting
mainly of hymns, a sermon, and the Lords Prayer. The entire
service was performed in Norwegian. After the service, a business
meeting was held and the name Zion Lutherske Kirke was agreed
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 churchs 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 Lanes 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 Ordals 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
In the absence of a pastor, Pastor Anders O. Bjerke, the pastor
of Our Saviours Lutheran Church on Bellinghams 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 Saviours Lutheran Church simultaneously.
Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran
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, but rather
it just sort of happened. 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 Bays pastor, H. H. Holte, resigned to become
the manager of Parkland Childrens 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 previously
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
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 Seamens Mission. The twenty years of Pastor Norbys
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 Saviours 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 experience reached completion.
Central Lutheran Church (1945-present)
In June 1945, the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, of which
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 bodys 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 Soilands return and in
the spirit of the above change, the word American was dropped
from the churchs 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 1940s
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 churchs
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 the congregation in another progressive
step. He had a greater vision for the Central Lutheran 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 did not spur
on 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
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
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
familys arrival was delayed until April 4 because of a serious
illness which befell Mrs. Jacobson and the resulting operation
which 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 Jacobsons 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 fund raisers
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 137_' by 100' lot on the southwest corner of Forest
and Laurel Streets and the lot across the street on the southeast
corner which 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 lot that had been enlarged
with another purchase and the donated lot was prepared to be made
into a parking lot. On September 27, 1953, the ground-breaking
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 the 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
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 their 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, Centrals 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 congregations 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 especially 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 which 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
which 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
After reading that passage, Mr. Knutzen put down his Bible and
said, "Im 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 which
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
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, arrived and joined the Ericksen
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 Centrals 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. which 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 citizens group in the church
which was known as the Twentieth Century Teenagers.
In 1963, 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, 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 trustees
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 Longshoremens Union which 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
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 Centrals 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
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 which
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
Revised and updated October 2001: Karen F. Hulford
Revised and updated May 2002: Karen