He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

OUR CHURCH HISTORY

In The Beginning

More than 150 years ago, Herman Amberg Preus, a pastor in Norway, accepted a call from a Lutheran congregation in Spring Prairie, Wisconsin. A few years later, in 1853, he and six other pastors formed the Norwegian Lutheran Synod to serve the state’s vast number of Norwegian-born settlers. Around that time, Pastor Preus also organized a Lutheran parish in Madison and tirelessly served both his Spring Prairie and Madison congregations. Eventually, Pastor S. Gunderson joined him and the two shared their work.

A quarter-century or so later, the Norwegian Synod opened a clergy-training school in a building on the corner of Spaight and Brearly Streets in a building known as “The Orphans’ Home”—a place that once housed children of Wisconsin soldiers killed in the Civil War.

Shortly after the school began, however, divisions among the synod’s members occurred over the “election of grace” teaching. As a result, a number of men, including Johannes Ylvisaker, H.G. Stub, Peder Hektoen, John Rowe, Martin Iverson, M. Starkson, Torkel Hagen and Soren Olsen, organized a new congregation that adhered to the Lutheran Confessions of the year 1580.

That new congregation, formed March 10, 1887, was Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, with Pastor H.A. Stub leading the fold. For the first 10 years of its existence, the church held services in The Orphans’ Home.

THE EARLY YEARS

As they still do today, women played a vibrant role in the early congregation. And shortly after the congregation’s new home, a lovely church of pressed brick, was erected at 1 S. Hancock Street, the Women’s Aid Society paid the $7,900 debt for the land and building almost in its entirety. Our Saviour’s members dedicated their new building Oct. 3, 1897.

By 1906, the congregation’s membership had grown to 150 and it acquired a house at 405 E. Washington Avenue to use as a parsonage for its pastor at the time, Holden M. Olson, although he soon wedded Our Saviour’s member Guida Winden and moved to 110 S. Butler Street. For some time, Pastor Olson preached one English sermon and one Norwegian sermon to his congregation.

In 1910, the Dorcas Society beautified the church with an altar window; that window has survived 95 years and hangs in our church today. During this period the Sunday School had more than 100 children and the confirmation class of 1917 included 28 students.

When Pastor Olson became president of Bethany College, Mankato, MN, in 1922, the congregation called Sigurd Ylivisaker, son of charter member Johannes Ylvisaker, who lived with members until the church’s new parsonage at 13 S. Hancock St. was complete. As Madison’s population had grown to more than 38,000, the young pastor saw the need for a church on the city’s east side and in 1927, a daughter congregation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Cross, formed, with the Christian day school opening the next year.

After not one, but two calls requesting his presence, Pastor Ylivisaker left to become president of Bethany College in 1930 and Adolph M. Harstad signed on as pastor.

According to the 100-year church history, “Early and late Pastor Harstad was busy calling on all his members, especially the ill and the elderly. … His sermons abounded with Scripture. Morning by morning he and his Model A Ford made the rounds to pick up children and transport them to Holy Cross Christian Day School. At the close of the school day they had to be returned home and again he was on the job, assisted at times by members and the pastor of Holy Cross.” Pastor Harstad, who even preached via the WIBA radio waves, accepted a call to a parish in Princeton, MN, in 1946.

Very early each Sunday morning, the congregation’s new pastor, Nils Oesleby, taught God’s Word to occupants of the city jail before conducting regular services at the church. Once a month, he preached in Norwegian and for a time, conducted services at 5 p.m. Sundays.

A GROWING CONGREGATION

At this time, Lutherans throughout Madison were energized and active. In 1945, Our Saviour’s joined Holy Cross and churches from the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods in opening the Madison Lutheran School on Spaight Street. The Dorcas Society changed its name to the Ruth Guild, Holy Cross Church and School were growing, and Grace Lutheran Church opened as a mission congregation at 1 S. Rosa Road on Madison’s west side.

In the 1960s, Our Saviour’s grew to the point that it needed to purchase a bus to transport to and from Sunday School. The choir presented a concert at Bethany College and the junior choir often sang during Sunday services. And for three years, Thomas Kuster joined his father, Pastor Arnold Kuster, as the congregation’s assistant pastor. And in 1970, Charlotte Edwards became the church’s “parish worker.” “Working with the youth, doing secretarial work, keeping church records, mimeographing, mailing, etc. were worthwhile happenings, but the most gratifying experiences were visiting the elderly and shut-ins,” she wrote in the Our Saviour’s 90-year history.

stained glass window In May 1974, after much study and discussion, church members broke ground for a new building at this location, which they dedicated Dec. 8 of that same year. Both the historic altar window and the congregation’s Austin pipe organ occupied space in the new church. In 1982, the congregation purchased the house at 1109 Droster Road to use as a parsonage.

The move was a good one for Our Saviour’s: The church had more than 350 members—more than half of whom were members who joined after the church’s east-side relocation. Pastor Philip Vangen conducted Bible classes on Sunday and Wednesday mornings. A mothers’ group met on Fridays. There were two Sunday services and Vesper services each Wednesday.

After Pastor Vangen left in 1986 to further his education at Concordia College, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Our Saviour’s called Bradley Homan—whose home congregation was Grace Lutheran on the city’s west side—to be its pastor.

The church experienced growing pains once more and, in the mid-1990s, members decided to expand, relocating the church entrance and narthex, and adding this fellowship hall above and Sunday School classrooms below. Construction was almost finished by October 1996 and recently, with much planning and effort, members redecorated the church with rich plum and burgundy colors—a welcome change from the harvest gold of the 1970s.

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church has existed for more than 120 years. In his message in the publication, “Growing in God’s Grace: 1974 to 1999,” Pastor Homan wrote that the consistent theme within our church is change. “No matter how hard we resist change,” he wrote, “it is going to happen. As people of God, who look to a future prepared by God, we should see change as another opportunity to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our community. For it is in time of change that people look for more security. Our one constant is God’s Word, which never changes. This Word teaches us of Jesus Christ, who is the greatest security we can ever know. … Let us embrace change as God’s way of expanding His Kingdom, while we remember that God’s love for us never changes.”