Lutheran church celebrates 75 years of service in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2001

Resurrection Lutheran Church celebrates its 75th anniversary this weekend with a workshop, a special service and a banquet.

A fixture of downtown and Juneau's first Lutheran church, Resurrection belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. ELCA is the largest Lutheran branch, said the Rev. Paul Beran, current Resurrection Lutheran pastor. The other Lutheran churches in town are Christ Evangelical, Faith Lutheran and Shepherd of the Valley.

Parishioner John Furuness, born here 73 years ago, can look back nearly to the first days of the church, which formally began in 1926.

"I was baptized by Rev. Harry Allen," said Furuness, referring to the church's second pastor, who served in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Members first met on Douglas Island. When their place of worship burned in 1937, services moved to a former cigar factory at Third and Main streets in downtown Juneau.

"There wasn't a whole lot of renovation" of the factory, said parishioner Clifford Berg, 83. "They put in some pews and that was it."

In 1952, the congregation moved to Tenth Street, to an A-frame on a lot purchased from the Messerschmidt family.

"It was rough going putting money together for the new church," said Louise Brabaw, 79, who joined the church as a child. Nearly 1,000 people attended the dedication in 1954.

Arson in 1973 left only a shell.

"The congregation used Psalm 66:12 as a guide: 'We went through fire and water: Yet thou hast brought us forth to a spacious place,' '' recalled parishioner Linda Gwyther. Temporary quarters were established at Holy Trinity Episcopal on Gold Street, while Berg Construction built anew.

"We used parts of the old foundation," Cliff Berg said. The new structure was dedicated Oct. 12, 1975.

The 75th anniversary celebration includes a worship service at 10:30 a.m. Sunday led by the Rev. Ron Martinson of Anchorage, bishop for the denomination's Alaska Synod. The service will feature music by the church's hand bell choirs and the Chancel Choir.

A banquet will follow at noon with a short program including a video of some of the most senior parishioners and their reflections.

An all-day Evangelism Workshop will run Saturday from 9 a.m. to mid-afternoon with the Rev. Dick Wendt of Seattle, director of outreach for the Alaska Synod.

Resurrection Lutheran's role in the community embraces a strong youth program with a teen-age hand bell choir and sponsorship of Boy and Cub Scout troops. Adult programs include a quilting group that sends 200 quilts a year to Third World countries through Lutheran World Relief. Another outreach is Helping Hand, which distributes food vouchers to the needy.

"I find this is a church that embraces the grace of Christ, which we both talk about and practice. I emphasize 'practice,' " said Beran.

The church has made history twice. In June 1999, it hosted a celebration of the first Concord of Agreement between the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America - the first in the United States.

"It was saying that some of the tenets of the Protestant Reformation - such as justification in faith by Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation were adhered to by both Lutheran and Catholic churches," Beran said.

Beran himself is historic, said parishioner Florence Sachs. His appointment in 1999 made him the first Presbyterian pastor of a Lutheran church in the denomination.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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