A BRIEF HISTORY OF GLORIA DEI
In 1904 a group of Swedish/Finnish women, who had recently arrived in the Olympia, started a Ladies’ Aid Society, to spread the Gospel and to help cope with the typical rowdiness of a port town. Soon their vision broadened to raising funds to build a church. On September 20, 1905, in a meeting led by Pastor C. E. Frick, the Swedish-Finnish Lutheran Church was formally founded with 29 charter members.
The church purchased a lot in downtown Olympia at 5th & Adams in 1907, and two years later, a white clapboard church (built in 1862 by the Presbyterians) was moved onto the site. Most of the services were still held in Swedish but by 1921 more services were in English and the church’s name was changed to The Evangelical Lutheran Bethesda Church. In 1931 the congregation adopted an “all English” program and in 1935 the name was changed once more—this time to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.
The church outgrew the 5th & Adams building and after much debate, ground was broken on April 9, 1950 for a new facility on the “rural” west side of Olympia at Harrison and Perry Streets. Within a year and a week, the new sanctuary (now Luther Hall) was dedicated, built almost entirely with volunteer labor from the congregation members and friends, an estimated 4,000 hours.
By the mid 1960’s the church had again outgrown its facilities and a larger brick and stained glass sanctuary was dedicated on Palm Sunday in 1968. Over the years, several pipe organs had led worship services in song, including the oak pump organ now in the Fireside Room. The current Casavant Opus Organ was an all-church labor of love which involved 7,800 volunteer hours of construction, cleaning and assembling the 3,600 pipes organized into 64 ranks and 60 stops. The organ was dedicated on May 5, 1995.
The year 2001 saw expansion of the church’s mission in the Olympia community with the opening of the Gloria Dei Preschool and the beginning of the contemporary NewSong Worship service. In 2005 a year- long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the church included the dedication of the remodeled office and Gathering Space entrance.
Today Gloria Dei is a proud member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America* and part of the Southwestern Washington Synod. Our congregation is led by four rostered ministers: Pastor Doug Knutson-Keller, Senior Pastor; Pastor Phil Rue, Visitation Pastor; Deacon Justin Snider, Youth Director; and Deacon Beth Tobin, Children’s Ministry Director. The baptized membership is over 1,100. We are God’s growing family.
There’s more about the 114+ year story of Gloria Dei in the book, Lutefisk and Liturgy found in the church library.
*What is the ELCA? Gloria Dei is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The ELCA came into being in January 1988 when three Lutheran denominations –the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), The American Lutheran Church (TALC) and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC)—joined together to form a new church body. Today the ELCA is composed of 3.3 million members and nearly 8,900 congregations, reflecting the rich and diverse heritage of the people it serves.