Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Christ Church Lutheran designated as historic landmark

The walls of Christ Church Lutheran (ELCA) in the Longfellow neighborhood
of Minneapolis are not just brick and stone, they are a work of architectural
genius. Designed by Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen, Christ Church
Lutheran recently received designation as a National Historic Landmark. It is
one of only 23 buildings in Minnesota to hold this designation; it is the only
church and the only post-World War II building.
The construction of the congregation’s current building was completed in
1949. The church, established in 1911, originally drew plans for a Gothic
Revival church when the need to expand became evident. However, World War
II intervened and not only put the project on hold, but led the congregation to
a new architectural vision.
After the war, construction costs made the earlier design prohibitive. As an
alternative measure, architect Eliel Saarinen, famous for his art nouveau
buildings of the early 20th century, was approached to design the church in a
Modernist style, in hopes that it could be built less expensively. Saarinen
accepted the request, perhaps because of his ties to the Lutheran church as
the son of a Lutheran pastor.
What Saarinen created is described in a congregational brochure titled Christ
Church Lutheran: A Saarinen Masterpiece in Minneapolisas a “functional and
spiritual [design that meets the] requirements of a building for worship. [lt is]
a building with great architectural impact and impeccable acoustics; yet one
that retains a very human scale and possesses a feeling of serenity and
repose. Instantly acclaimed and broadly influential, this building is an
enduring testament to Saarinen’s unique style of Modernism.”
Perhaps the greatest masterpiece of the building is the sanctuary. Pastor
Kristine Carlson, who serves the congregation, calls the space “an example of
thoughtful, sensitive, creative architecture [that] can shape a worshipping
community.”
Carlson points to the theological details in the design of the worship space —
the angle of the windows that pull the eyes forward as one enters the
sanctuary and out into the world as one leaves, the sunlight upon the cross,
and the placement of the baptismal font.
The church regularly receives visitors from all over the world who wish to
view Saarinen’s masterpiece. However, they do not come to see just the work
of Eliel Saarinen, but also that of his son Eero Saarinen, who designed the
1962 education wing to “harmonize with his father’s triumph.” Following in
the footsteps of his Modernist father, Eero is most famously known for his
design of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and the “tulip chair.”
Mary Bode, a lifelong member of Christ Church Lutheran, who was deeply
involved with the church’s historical designation, says, “This building has
brought in people for the architecture; not even necessarily that they are
Christians. People have come to this building because they are architects or
are influenced by art. They’ve just heard this is a building in America you
need to visit. Our guests are from all over the world. Whether they are there
one time or many, it’s just beautiful outreach where we can witness our
faith.”
Because of the building’s importance not only to its congregation, but
historically, a group named Friends of Christ Church Lutheran was formed.
The group’s sole mission is to raise funds for the preservation of the church.
This group, a nonprofit with funds independent of the church’s annual
budget, allows people to give money to maintain the structure of the
building, rather than to the daily operation of the congregation.
“I really feel that our stewardship today is to care for this so that we can use
it as outreach; this building is a fabulous outreach tool,” Bode says. “[Our
building] has been a wonderful tool, it’s also been a huge responsibility
because [as a church], we have programs to do, people to see and care for,
and outreach to do. This is a different kind of ministry where people are
coming to us.”
Pastor Carlson says the people of Christ Church Lutheran are deeply
committed to their church. “The vision and courage the congregation has
shown to this building is in the DNA of this congregation. This congregation
has deeply respected the aesthetic of this building.”
Friends of Christ Church Lutheran welcome Finnish musicians
Three Minnesota-based Finnish ensembles will collaborate to present iltamat,
a Finnish concert and dance, to help raise funds for the preservation of Christ
Church Lutheran. The event will take place on Saturday, January 10, at 7:30
p.m., at Christ Church Lutheran, 3244 34th Avenue South, Minneapolis.
The iltamat will begin with a performance by brass septet Ameriikan Poijat
(Boys of America), a Northfield, Minnesota-based band. The group will
perform dance and popular music composed largely by Finnish-Americans in
the first few decades of the 20th century.
Following the concert, participants can experience traditional Finnish dance
music led by the Twin Cities-based Finn Hall band, as well as a dance
demonstration by the Twin Cities-based Kisarit Dancers. Audience members
will be encouraged to participate.
The public is invited. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children under
15. Tickets may be purchased at the door, or online at
www.finnishconcertdance.eventbrite.com.
The fund-raiser is a project of the Friends of Christ Church Lutheran, a
501c(3) organization formed to preserve this Saarinen landmark through
fund-raising, education, and public awareness.