Saturday, August 18, 2012

Reflections on 46 years of worship at Augustana Lutheran

By Jon P. Carlson

My first visit to our sanctuary at 704 11th Avenue South occurred in 1964, during my junior year at Gustavus Adolphus College. Our concert choir sang in the balcony during a visit from the king of Sweden.

Then as a senior in college, I returned to Augustana to be with the first real love of my life, Anne Berg, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1965. Her father, Pastor William E. Berg, was being installed and I managed to get invited to dinner after the service. Even at that early time in our romance, I suspected he might one day be officiating at a wedding—which indeed occurred June 28th, 1968. 

Pastor Berg and Marta, Anne and Paul Carlson, and my parents, Elvera and Emery Carlson

We attended Augustana during my last two years in medical school at the U of M.  During that time, the Crossroad program started. With six weeks of summer Bible School for children in the neighborhood and free parking lot dinners often served by partner congregations, this program had a great impact on many people's lives. Sadly, the ’60s also brought great changes with the swath of two freeways (35 & 94) removing hundreds of homes and cutting off some of Augustana's long-time neighbors. 

I did my post-graduate training at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver from 1970 to ’76. We found a very similar urban congregation at St. Paul Lutheran, located in the southeast corner of downtown Denver. But when my first born, Jon Michael, was to be baptized in 1973, we came back to Augustana and Pastor Berg baptized and anointed him. In 1976, I accepted a job in oncology and hematology at the St. Louis Park Clinic (now Park Nicollet) and we moved back to Minnesota, settling in Minnetonka. We tried to find a church close to home; I had grown up in a town of 800 folks and was used to walking to church, school and work. However, the vitality of worship and ministry at Augustana, as well as the diversity of age, income and the ethnically-mixed neighborhood, drew us to drive the 15 miles to church, choir practice, confirmation and many other activities. 

My father-in-law, Pastor Berg, officiated at two more baptisms of our children, Jeffrey William in 1976 and Kathryn Marta in 1979.  He retired from Augustana in 1980, but continued his active ministry in the International Christian Ashram and returned to officiate at the weddings of my three children, shown here:

 Jon and Mari Carlson, 2000 

 Jeff Carlson and Monica Mesa, 2003

Katie and Matt Schoeppner and the whole Berg family, 2005

In 1986, all three of our children were in school all day, and my wife Anne, who had taught elementary school, was looking for a challenging way to use her talents to meet the needs of young preschool children. She formed the Crossroad Preschool, which now is headed by Michelle Espelien and is under the aegis of Hope Community Church, at the same location as it has been for 25 years. One of my grandchildren attended the preschool for two years and three of my four grandchildren have been baptized at Augustana. 

We continue to have four generations of Bergs/Carlsons in the pew at worship now at the Community Emergency Service at 1900 11th Avenue South. Augustana Lutheran Church was founded in 1866 and the sanctuary at 704 11th Avenue South opened for worship in 1883. The congregation now meets at CES, which is one of the many outreach ministries of Augustana.  Early in Augustana's history, social ministry to people in need was a strong priority. A home of single women and orphaned children was started in the early 19th century and now has grown into the Augustana Care Corporation, which has its nursing facility and apartment complex just south of Elliot Park on 14th Street. In 1971, Community Emergency Service was started in the basement of Augustana. With its rapid growth, it then moved to its current location at 1900 11th Avenue South, when we purchased that property from the Methodist Church.

The CES motto isBeyond bread to the Bread of Life,  Beyond ourselves to Jesus Christ.” The mission, that “Community Emergency Service (CES) is dedicated to assisting community people in meeting basic physical, emotional and spiritual needs in a warm, accepting and Christ-like manner.” The website for CES is

Our decision to leave our beloved old sanctuary, now being renovated by Hope Community Church, was a difficult one and made only after much prayer and a long period of searching. For me what really helped make this decision feel like it was from the Lord was the warmth and reverence that Hope's proposal and people expressed to us about our long and rich heritage of ministry. The crowning moment was our joint soup supper and Lenten service this spring that filled the sanctuary with songs of prayer and praise. We at Augustana Lutheran Church are grateful to Hope Community Church for assuring us that those songs of praise will echo at an even higher decibel level in the Sanctuary at 704 11th Avenue South for many years to come.  We are confident that ministry to those in need will continue under your prayerful guidance in the Elliot Park neighborhood.   

J. Paul Carlson, Augustana Lutheran Church at CES


  1. This is great -- thanks Jon for sharing about the rich history of God's people occupying the Augustana space. I'm in awe of the history, especially thinking about Tim's ancestors worshiping in the sanctuary, not knowing that their great-grandson would lead worship there a hundred years later!

    Jessica Johnson

  2. Thanks for sharing all of your beautiful Augustana memories. It's history is so rich with God's love. I pray that we can continue this legacy.