Trinity Lutheran Congregation
Getting By With a Little Help From Friends
Trinity Lutheran Congregation is one of Cedar-Riverside's oldest institutions. It was left "homeless" in 1966 when its building was razed to make way for I-94, but its roots go back to 1868. The story begins when Norwegian and Danish immigrants left Minneapolis' first Scandinavian Lutheran church (considered by some to be "too Swedish") to form their own congregation. By 1902, Trinity was the largest Norwegian Lutheran church in Minneapolis with a sanctuary that could hold a 1,000 people. Today Trinity operates out of a small office on 20th and Riverside Avenues and the congregation worships in Augsburg College's Hoversten Chapel. Among its members are descendants of Norwegian immigrants as well as recent newcomers from Eritrea and Ethiopia. Trinity's history illustrates how a community institution has adapted to meet the changes in Cedar-Riverside.
Once part of the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Congregation, Norwegian members began to conduct their own Sunday school classes and hold prayer meetings in members' houses. Their first church buildings were on the western boundary of the old Sixth Ward, where the new Vikings football stadium now stands.
Trinity's first permanent pastor was Ole Paulson, a Norwegian immigrant who had come to the United States on a sailboat and who encouraged Augsburg Seminary to relocate to Minneapolis. He saw the young city as a potential center for Scandinavian Americans and Trinity as a resource to help Norwegians embrace a new life in America. Trinity's congregation wanted to break from some traditions of the Norwegian State Church by, for instance, allowing lay preaching. The congregation also wanted to focus more on service to society.
In 1890, Trinity joined several Norwegian churches to form the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, but due to internal conflicts, Trinity split from the United Church and joined Augsburg (and other congregations) to form the Lutheran Free Church. Trinity became known as the "mother church" of this movement, which emphasized independent congregations, a personal religious experience and living Christian values through service. A few years later there were seven Lutheran Free Church congregations in the Twin Cities, and in 1902, Trinity opened its impressive 1,000-seat church building on 20th Avenue and 9th Street South.
In the 1920s fierce debates emerged within Trinity's congregation over an issue that immigrant groups continue to face-language of worship. Successive waves of Norwegian immigrants from the 1870s to the 1920s kept services largely in Norwegian, but second and third generations preferred English. It wasn't until the 1930s that Trinity's congregation switched to all English, and members began to see their church as an American institution.
In 1966, its building now demolished, the congregation faced another momentous decision: to move or not to move. In keeping with its Free Church tradition, the congregation decided to stay and serve the residents in Cedar-Riverside. It relied on neighboring institutions for shelter and support. Trinity held services at Riverside Presbyterian Church and later at the Czech Catholic Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Since the 1980s Augsburg has provided Trinity with a permanent home and a place to hold worship services on their campus.
Trinity has continued to welcome newcomers from all over the world. Since the 1990s, Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians have joined the congregation. Trinity members and pastors have sought to build relationships with growing Muslim communities in Cedar-Riverside by offering institutional support and after-school homework help. In 2014, when a devastating, multi-building fire forced the Somali-led Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque on Cedar Avenue to close, Trinity offered resources and office space for mosque staff.