LAKEWOOD – More than a half-century has passed since Gloria Dei Lutheran Church opened its doors to the people of Lakewood, and its legacy runs deep within the hearts and minds of those who call the congregation home.
The church will celebrate its 60-year legacy today in Judith Hall during worship services beginning at 8:30 a.m. The public is welcome to attend.
Gloria Dei was established in 1953 through the effort of 62 charter members, including Barbara and Richard Holcomb. Barbara, who is 81 years old, still attends the church. She is one of the few remaining charter members, along with Dorothy Nelson, Mary Hedin and Doris Landy. However, since 1953, 321 members have been confirmed at Gloria Dei.
“I was confirmed at Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Falconer, and then in 1951 I was married in that church, but by 1953 my husband and I began working on Gloria Dei,” Barbara said. “The beginning was quite the struggle, because we first started holding our church services in the Lakewood Memorial Post American Legion before moving to a little church on Fairmount Avenue where the larger church now stands. In the American Legion, Pastor Paul Beck would set up a portable pulpit and we would clear out the ash trays before having our church service. But, we wanted a church, and we worked so hard to get it.”
Small groups of 15-30 people would gather at the legion until early in 1954, when the group began to build their own church across Fairmount Avenue. The church was dedicated on Nov. 20, 1955, and could seat up to 80 people. It wasn’t until 1968 that the group decided it was time to construct a new building, which resulted in moving a mural of the Transfiguration from the original 1954 chapel to the sanctuary.
Many years passed before the church’s members opted to replace what had become known as the educational building with the structure that is today known as Judith Hall in 2007. In order to make room for Judith Hall, the congregation allowed the Lakewood Fire Department to burn the educational building for a training exercise.
“When we look back on times we just can’t really believe that is has been 60 years since we began putting work toward it,” Barbara said. “John Anderson contributed the Judith Hall, which was just wonderful – we really needed it. When the fire department used the former building as training exercise my husband I just couldn’t watch because it was so dear to our hearts. The church has really had an impact on our family, and we really worked hard to establish a relationship.”
According to Randy Holcomb, son of Barbara and Richard, he grew up as part of the Gloria Dei congregation and continues to be a member today.
“It’s really a wonderful place, and a nice group of people. Whenever something happens to one of us we’re all there – it’s a nice feeling,” Holcomb said. “It’s the foundation of our family. We were raised there and are still there. My father was buried there, and I’m sure we all will be.”
PAST AND PRESENT
Gloria Dei’s first pastor, Paul Beck, helped the charter members establish the church from 1953-60, while also continuing to serve as minister for a Lutheran congregation in Mayville.
Beck was followed by Pastor Kaye Olson, who led worship until 1969. During Olson’s time at Gloria Dei, the worship attendance became greater than the number of chairs the church owned, which eventually led to the new sanctuary being built in 1968.
Pastor James Davis came next, serving from 1969-71. Although he only served as interim minister, he was known for having great relations with kids, and had the youth members in civil rights marches in Jamestown.
Pastor Kenneth Soderquist then served from 1971-82. He left Gloria Dei to become involved with jail chaplaincy at the Chautauqua County Jail in Mayville.
From 1982-87 Pastor Kevin Ogilvie, who came to Gloria Dei directly from the seminary, served the church as his first congregation. For the next 10 years Pastor E. Frederick Holst served from 1987-97. He was followed by interim Pastor Elaine Quincy, who served from 1997-99 until the current pastor, Timothy Hoyer, arrived at Gloria Dei.
According to Hoyer, who has served Gloria Dei for the past 14 years, his relationship with the church, and its congregation has been one of giving each other Christ’s mercy.
“You give it one day, then the next and the next for 60 years. That’s how you grow in faith – by keeping the faith each day after day,” Hoyer said. “Sixty years is good in that for 60 years a few members who were around here when it started, such as Doris Landy, have heard this mercy and have developed relationships with other members so that in times when the world doesn’t give mercy, with death and other ways, that we are here to help each other, comfort each other and encourage each other.”
One of the most important aspects of the congregation at Gloria Dei, said Hoyer, is the message that they share with each other.
“The message we tell each other is, ‘You are good,’ which is a contrast to the world that says, ‘You have to win to be good, you have to be rich to be good or you have to do this to be good,'” Hoyer said. “We give each other that goodness, and treat each other that way.”
HISTORY OF MUSIC
Gloria Dei has a long history of members taking on the challenge of bringing music to ears and hearts of the congregation.
In addition to being a charter member, Barbara Holcomb also served as Gloria Dei’s first organist from 1953-69. Barbara performed hymns on a pump organ until the church was able to purchase an electric Hammond organ from the former Peacock Inn Hotel and Restaurant in Mayville.
In 1970, Lois Lindell began serving as organist and pianist until 1985 when Kathy Galbato assumed the role. In 1986 the church was dedicated a Hofbauer tracker pipe organ from Goettingen, West Germany. When Galbato married and became organist at St. James Roman Catholic Church in Jamestown, Joan Ericson, who was directing the children’s choir, substituted as organist until 1995. Diane Kling joined Gloria Dei in 1995, and served as organist until 1999. Teri White also served as substitute organist upon request. Today, Gloria Dei’s organist, pianist and choir director is Carol Svenson.
Gloria Dei also has a history of giving its members the opportunity to express themselves through music. The church’s original choir director was Frank Meier, who served from 1958-66 until Lavern Olson began directing. Olson served until 1985. The original children’s choir musicians included Elsie Olson, wife of Pastor Kay Olson, and pianist Marilyn Lindell. Ericson led the children’s choir until sisters Kim Kent and Kelly Mattson took over. Terry White served as the adult choir director until Svenson arrived.
Gloria Dei’s mission states: “Gloria Dei Lutheran Church is a caring congregation, which proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ and welcomes all those who seek a relationship with God. We are growing in outreach and service to meet needs in our community and the world.”
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church is located at 35 W. Fairmount Ave. in Lakewood. It hosts worship services on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., with children’s Christian education at 10 a.m. For more information, call 763-8979.