Augustana delights in being a “family of choice” for a rainbow mix of people. On a given Sunday, you will find people of all ages, with a growing group of young adults that reflects our changing neighborhood. You will also find an energizing mix of interests, backgrounds, and passions in our diverse faith community, with a strong commitment to making a progressive difference in our neighborhood, city, and world. At the center of it all, you will find our shared joy in celebrating the grace we have received in Jesus Christ, expressed in vibrant, welcoming, traditional-yet-always-new liturgy – a real foretaste of the Feast to come! Know that YOU are welcome here!
A Short History of Augustana Lutheran Church
Recording the history of a congregation as vibrant and dynamic as Augustana is no small task. As we know, the true story of this church is more than dates and events. Rather, it involves the lives and experiences of the many visitors, friends, and congregants who have passed through its doors over the past 100 years and who have enriched its mission in the community. Looking back over the decades, however, certain milestones stand out and deserve to be included in any history of this church.
Augustana traces its roots back to St. Erik’s Lutheran Church, started under the leadership of Rev. F.N. Anderson on February 17, 1918. Before 1918, Pastor Anderson would travel twice a month from Baltimore (where he was Pastor of St. Olaf’s Church) to conduct services for the small Swedish community in Washington DC. At its founding in 1918, St. Erik’s had 22 charter members, and was a mission of the Augustana Synod.
In its early years, the congregation held services in an old three-story home at 409 4th Street NW and converted the first floor of the building into a chapel that could accommodate up to 60 people. Under the leadership of the church’s first full-time resident pastor, The Rev. Dr. Arthur O. Hjelm, the congregation later met in the Hotel 2400 on 16th Street. It was also under the leadership of Pastor Hjelm that the congregation launched plans to build a new church to accommodate its growing size. While several potential sites were explored, including the southwest corner of 16th and Euclid, plans to start a building campaign were suspended by news that St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church was planning to merge with another congregation and wished to sell its building. In 1939, the congregation purchased St. Andrew’s and its furnishings – including the pipe organ, marble altar, and pews – for $48,000, and the congregation moved to its current location at V Street and New Hampshire NW. The congregation also changed its name from St. Erik’s to Augustana Lutheran Church.
In the decades that followed, Augustana experienced considerable expansion and change to its physical infrastructure. In 1958, it dedicated St. Eric’s Chapel and a new parish education wing. In 1999, the congregation installed a new pipe organ to enhance the worship experience. Additional renovations, completed in 2005, made the building accessible to all people.
At the same time that Augustana was growing in size physically, it was also becoming an integral part of the neighborhood around it. Indeed, one of the most lasting testaments to the congregation’s vibrancy has been the breadth and energy of its mission to the wider community. This witness can be seen in the many new congregations Augustana has helped sponsor in the Washington metropolitan area: St. Mark’s in Springfield, VA in 1953; Good Shepherd in Palmer Park, MD in 1957; St. Stephen in Colesville, MD in 1958; and Emmanuel in Bethesda, MD in 1961.
Augustana’s mission to its immediate neighborhood has been equally broad. In 1956, under the leadership of Rev. Clarence Nelson, it launched Operation One Mile, an effort to bring neighbors into the church which contributed to the integration of the congregation. In 1973, it began joint Palm Sunday blessing services with St. Augustine Catholic Church, a tradition that continues up to the present. In 1973 Augustana began Spanish language services in St. Eric’s Chapel. This engagement with the Latino community led to the creation in 1999 of the Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria (La Comunidad de Santa María).
Augustana’s witness has extended beyond its immediate neighborhood. Over the past 100 years, it has maintained ties with the Swedish and Latvian Lutheran communities, as well as Lutherans in Africa. In its early years, it also was a generous supporter of missionary activity in China, Japan and Tanzania. Today, people around the world – including from India, Europe, Brazil and the Philippines – are reached through Augustana’s social media tools, especially Augustana Lutheran Broadcast oUtreach Ministries (ALBUM) video broadcast of worship services on Facebook and YouTube.
Recent years have witnessed a deepening and expansion of Augustana’s social ministry. The congregation has been racially integrated since 1954, and Reconciling in Christ (open and affirming to the LGBTQ community) since 1987. Augustana partners with a number of organizations throughout the metropolitan area to serve those in need, including N Street Village, Martha’s Table, and Equal Exchange. Over the years, the church has housed social service agencies, child care centers and other community organizations, thereby extending Augustana’s mission and ministry into our community and beyond. The congregation has also remained committed to providing a vibrant liturgical worship experience, one that highlights the rich choral and organ music tradition of the Lutheran church.
With thanks to God in Christ for a rich and full first one hundred years, Augustana Lutheran Church looks forward to the next century, and prays for the Spirit’s leading as we continue our commitment to serving the Gospel in this community.