The Early Years
It all started with a handful of like-minded Christians who wished for a place to worship in the Lutheran tradition in the Chugiak and Eagle River area. As with many churches, Our Redeemer began as a mission congregation with a pastor who divided his time between several churches. The first worship service in Chugiak was held on February 23, 1960, in a small non-denominational chapel. Emmanuel Gospel Chapel was located on the present-day church property and was rented for $10 per Sunday. Attendance was 12—with a Sunday School program to follow the very next week. Pastor Joseph Frenz, assisted by Pastor Rolland Fritz, served Our Redeemer, St. John’s Lutheran in Palmer and Anchorage Lutheran Church. On Palm Sunday 1961, Pastor Fritz became the sole spiritual advisor of the fledgling congregation and membership grew.
By early 1962 the need for a permanent church structure became a goal. The congregation appealed to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, who sent a parish worker to Alaska in July 1962 to assess the Chugiak and Eagle River area, and meet with the group. His conclusion: "The Chugiak area holds great promise for future church growth", and "The congregation has much to offer in way of willpower, determination, ability and equipment to undertake a building program on a volunteer basis". With this encouragement the seeds of our church were firmly planted. The congregation chose the official name "Our Redeemer Lutheran Church" on November 11, 1962, at the first congregational meeting.
Emmanuel Gospel Chapel
Church Construction - 1964
When it was learned that the little Emmanuel Chapel was for sale, the Northwest District bought it with its 3-acre parcel for $4,500. (Later, when the new church was built, the chapel was sold, moved across the highway, and converted into the white two-story apartment building which is still there today.) At the recommendation of the District, the congregation hired architect K. Walter Johnson of Tacoma, Washington to draw up building plans. Worship continued in the small chapel, while plans for construction were scheduled to begin ―as soon as the frost is out of the ground‖. The 1964 Earthquake prompted some communication with the architect to verify the strength of the structure. (Architect Johnson sent a four-page letter to the congregation discussing design specifics in order to "alleviate some of your fears.")
Construction began in earnest in the spring of 1964, with an enthusiastic volunteer labor force (led by Bob Hamann) and a $45,000 loan from the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF). It was planned as a two-story building with a daylight basement. By the fall of 1964 a well had been drilled, and the concrete block daylight basement and exterior frame structure were essentially complete. An organ had been donated and communion-ware purchased as preparations continued. The first service in the new building, which was unplanned, took place on November 15, 1964 in the basement among construction materials. The heating system in the chapel had failed, so chairs were quickly moved into the warm basement and the worship service carried on. The church building was officially dedicated on October 10, 1965.
In addition to the church structure, the 1960s witnessed the formation of two new programs: the Ladies’ Aid (now LWML) in September 1962; Lutheran Layman’s League in 1967. Pastor Fritz continued to serve the congregation until 1966, when he was called to Fort Wayne, IN. ORLC was still on mission status at the time, working toward becoming ―self-supporting‖ when in June of 1967 Pastor Walter Biel came to Alaska. He split his time between Palmer and Chugiak. Worship service times were set to accommodate the traveling pastor. It was said that the troopers were accustomed to seeing the Lutheran pastor whiz by on Sunday mornings as he drove from one church to the other.
Pastor Fritz - Christmas 1966
Our notable white cross was erected in 1965. In 1968 ORLC developed its first constitution, which put in writing the congregation’s Biblical foundation with words from Matt 28:18-20 ―...Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…‖ prominent in its preamble. ORLC was received into the LCMS Northwest District, where it remains to this day. The following year, 1969, ORLC held its first Easter Breakfast—prepared and served by the men of the congregation. They fed 106 people at a total cost of $36.88!
Installing Cross - 1965
The 1970s brought more growth and several expansion projects - following on the heels of a growing Chugiak and Eagle River area. The imminent arrival of our first full-time, dedicated pastor in 1973, Pastor Arnold Jurchen, prompted construction of the parsonage. The volunteer laborers broke ground in April, and by July the 2,660 square-foot, split-entry home was completed. With our own pastor in residence, ORLC expanded its programs, starting a Couples Bible Study, a greeting commit-tee, an Altar Guild (LWML) and the Kenned Evangelism Program. Another expansion project took place in 1976 when we added the present-day Adult Bible Study/Library under the direction of Virgil Daniels and Bob Hamann. It was dedicated on October 17, 1976. The bell, which calls all to worship, was purchased in 1977 from a small church in Wisconsin and was transported by truck up the Alcan Highway by Don and Irene Schroeder. The congregation voted to start a kindergarten class in 1978. Certified teacher Tamra Jurchen guided 5 children in this successful, but short-lived, endeavor.
LWML Group - 1977
In 1979 Pastor Jurchen took a call to Canada, so ORLC said farewell to the Jurchen family land set about calling a new man. Interim Pastor Alspaugh served the congregation for about a year before the call was answered by Pastor Orlando Trier in 1979.
The early 1980s saw more growth and expansion -- again on the heels of Chugiak and Eagle River growth -- with a new pastor (Trier) and new programs, including the two-year ―Crossways Bible study. On October 12, 1980, we celebrated the full repayment of our 1962 LCEF loan. By December of that year ORLC had moved to two Sunday worship services. In 1981, ground-breaking took place on a 36- by 72-ft ―education wing, which added a fellowship hall and new kitchen in the basement and classrooms and offices upstairs. Again, the bulk of the workforce was made up of volunteers directed by Bob Hamann.
In 1983 another phase of the building program began to make room for a tracker pipe organ which was donated to the church by the Eric Johnson family. The organ was designed and made specifically for ORLC by master organ-builder Kenneth Jones of Bray, Ireland. This phase of the project expanded the sanctuary to the north, adding 6 rows of pews and a space for the organ. The instrument arrived on June 16, 1985 and was dedicated on September 8, along with the entire expansion project. By this time we had whole-heartedly embraced the motto ―Christians Under Construction.
The late 1980s were emotional times for the congregation at ORLC. After much study and prayer, constitutional changes were adopted to give women in the congregation the right to hold church leadership positions. The new ―Lutheran Book of Worship was also adopted, setting aside ―The Lutheran Hymnal. Those who did not feel comfortable with these changes left to worship elsewhere and the congregation decreased in size. In 1985 Pastor Trier took a call to Federal Way, WA. Pastor Martin Bauman served for 5 months as interim pastor while we worked our way through another vacancy.
In June 1986 Pastor Richard Thompson and family arrived from California. Under Pastor Thompson, the confirmation age was changed to 5th/6th grade from 7th/8th grade and a new focus on "Mission and Ministry Vision" and "organizational strategy" was adopted. These changes again sparked an emotional response in some and some members resigned. Pastor Thompson himself resigned in 1990, to pursue further ecumenical studies.
In October 1990 ORLC called Pastor Steve Kosberg to serve our congregation. He accepted and arrived in early 1991. The subsequent 5 years were a time of unprecedented growth as Pastor Kosberg emphasized our unique role as ―ministers to our community. The congregation was encouraged to prepare its own devotional booklets. We instituted fellowship programs such as ―Not For Bread Alone and long-term service projects, such as helping monthly at Bean’s Café (soup kitchen). Two worship services per Sunday were held, and several of the activities which have since become ―traditional for ORLC can be traced back to the early 1990s (e.g. Bell Choir, Christmas manger and Easter tomb/garden scenes on altar, annual Resurrection Pass bike hike, annual Talent Show, January Ladies Retreat, among others).
In 1993 the congregation resolved to open a day care center and we submitted the necessary paperwork for approval and licensing. Our application was denied, due in part to the church’s aging well/septic systems. This prompted a 3-year design and construction project, under the direction of Vern Roelfs, to upgrade these facilities. Plans for a playfield behind the church were also made.
The year 1993 was also the year that Pastor Ken Schauer and his family moved into ORLC’s parsonage to establish a base for the Highway Ministry of the AMC (Alaska Mission Committee, now Alaska Mission for Christ). ORLC has partnered with AMC since then to provide transient living quarters for traveling VBS teams (i.e. sleeping bag floor space, kitchen and bathroom facilities). We added a shower and sink at the west end of the Education Wing to enhance their "accommodations." To meet the pastoral needs of rural Alaskan communities, the AMC began a "lay ministry" program. Classes were often held in ORLC’s church building and a significant number of ORLC’s members attended. Many completed the program to become certified lay ministers with the authority to conduct worship services. Several took the additional step to attend seminary and become trained Lutheran pastors. Our Redeemer humbly claims Pastors Caleb Schauer, Norm Wagner, Calvin Miller and Kent Dockery as past congregation members and brothers in Christ.
Kitchen Remodel - 1998
In 1996 our upgraded well/septic systems were approved and ORLC submit-ted a new application to open a daycare. We used the permit processing time to develop the one-acre playfield behind the church. It was leveled and seeded to landscape the area where the new well/septic were installed. The results of the day care permitting process pointed out the short-comings of our kitchen facilities, and another remodel project was put on the "to-do" list for the future.
In 1996 Pastor Kosberg accepted a call to Mankato, MN and a year-long vacancy ensued. Interim Pastor Bob Weber, along with Pastor Ken Schauer and lay ministers from the congregation, took responsibility for conducting Sunday services as ORLC again moved through a vacancy. We worked on a major upgrade to our kitchen facilities under the guidance of Dick Rohr and Jerry Leonard. In 1997 Pastor Daniel Werning arrived to serve the congregation. During Pastor Werning’s short time here (1997-1999), he guided the congregation in developing our mission statement: "To Welcome, Worship and Strengthen". The congregation continued its programs and undertook minor building projects, such as adding a sink to the nursery. A committee was formed in 1998 to once more make an attempt at licensing a daycare. In light of state and municipal requirements and ORLC’s limited resources, the committee’s recommendation was to "shelve" this project.
In 1999 Pastor Thomas Frizelle came to serve the congregation. The following seven years under Pastor Frizelle were a time of self-examination for ORLC, as the congregation debated the mission and ministry of the small church serving Chugiak and Eagle River. Studies such as the Synod’s "Ablaze" program helped remind us of our purpose and mission. Construction projects included our church garage (2000) and outdoor improvements on the property, as well as maintenance projects such as painting, reroofing and replacing sanctuary windows. Service opportunities included continuing our monthly commitment to provide volunteers to serve at Bean’s Café, beautifying our facility with custom-painted Sunday School rooms, and open-ing a Food Pantry. ORLC’s Food Pantry was established with the support of the congregation in 2002 (thanks in part to Carol Shearer, Laura Frizelle, Carla Flodin and Pat O’Neill). Under the administration of Jim Sampson, we also signed up with the "road kill" program to obtain meat for Food Pantry clients. The congregation accepted the gift of a 15-passenger van in 2000 and a new pulpit.
During this time the church also developed a Long-Range Plan (2000) for expansion of church facilities. The congregation resolved to build on the present-day site, incorporating the present-day facilities. This Plan included consulting an architect (Bezek-Durst) to conceptualize and render the possibilities. It also included recommendations to consolidate church properties (replat), to expand our land hold-ings (buy adjacent lot), and to advocate for the extension of public utilities to the church property—efforts which are on-going to this day.
Pastor Frizelle left the church in early 2007 and the parsonage became empty that summer as the Schauers retired and moved to Republic, WA. The congregation took this opportunity to paint, re-carpet and generally repair and upgrade the home. Dick and Bonnie Rohr spearheaded this mostly volunteer project, which involved countless hours and numerous volunteers. A year-long vacancy period followed, during which we were shepherded by Pastor Ernie Savage. The congregation, in diminished numbers, moved forward with another hymnal change ("Lutheran Service Book") and continued its studies and activities.
As Eagle River and Chugiak continued to grow, highway improvements were scheduled for 2009 along the Old Glenn Highway. With that, we expanded, reconfigured and resurfaced our parking area.
In 2008 ORLC called Pastor Steve Heinsen, who was installed on July 27, 2008. Pastor Heinsen brought a new slogan and a renewed vision to the church: "Connecting People to Jesus". To date, he assisted the church with incorporating up-to-date technology into our worship and witness. Despite this modernization, ORLC has not discarded its old traditions and has even started a few new ones (e.g. Annual Ice Fishing Day, Moonwalkers, and Bagpipes at Easter). Under the direction of Gary Rolf, the downstairs bathrooms were updated and reconfigured to add showers and laundry facilities—an upgrade much appreciated by AMC groups.
Our Redeemer values its youth and youth programs have been available continuously since the 1960s. Youth Workers have included called and trained leaders, as well as numerous caring long and short-term volunteers. Annual Children’s Christmas Services and Vacation Bible Schools are fixtures on the church calendar. ORLC’s support of our youth has included financial assistance to seminary and church school students, sending notes and care packages to youth away at college or military, and assisting with Eagle Scout projects—many of which are visible today. Our current bell tower (2003) and covered back entry (2011) are two Eagle Scout projects which have enhanced our facilities.
Pastor James Baumgartner was called to serve ORLC in February, 2016. Capital improvements to-date include a newly covered front entranceway, ADA bathroom accessibility, sacristy improvements, etc... In 2018, the congregation laid out its 5-year FOCUS goals as: "We will be known throughout the community as a church that proclaims and demonstrates the love of Jesus through words and actions." By God's grace, we will be!