Chugiak church celebrates 50th anniversary
There’s a party Saturday — and everyone’s invited.
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (ORLC) is welcoming the entire Chugiak-Eagle River community to celebrate its 50th anniversary Saturday, May 5. A potluck will be held at the church (18444 Old Glenn Highway) at 5 p.m. and a polka band will perform at 6:30.
Former pastors will attend a special Sunday service the following day at 10 a.m. and a reception will follow.
Current pastor Steve Heinsen said the congregation wanted to host the event in honor of the church turning 50.
“We need to celebrate the blessings God has provided us,” he said.
It also gives everyone a chance to visit ORLC, Heinsen said.
“It’s an opportunity to reach out to the community,” he said.
Without support from the congregation, the church’s birthday celebration wouldn’t have been possible, said Lydia Wirkus, who’s been a member of ORLC since the late 1980s.
“People really stepped up to the plate on manning various committees to pull this thing off,” she said.
A long history
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) officially recognized Our Redeemer on Dec. 31, 1962, Heinsen said. In 1968, the church joined the Northwest District of the LCMS and is still part of that organization today.
Eighteen people attended the first Lutheran service in Chugiak on Feb. 23, 1960, according to ORCL’s website. They rented a tiny, non-denominational chapel located where Our Redeemer now sits for $10 each Sunday.
The Northwest District bought the chapel and the surrounding 3-acre parcel for $4,500.
By early 1962, a growing membership forced the need for a permanent church. Armed with a volunteer workforce and a $45,000 loan from the Lutheran Church Extension Fund, construction started in spring 1962.
Arnold Jurchen became the church’s first, full-time pastor in 1972. Jurchen left for Canada seven years later and pastor Orlando Trier led the congregation.
The church continued to expand during the 1980s and in 1986, pastor Dick Thompson replaced Trier, who moved to Washington.
The 1990s brought more growth to Our Redeemer. Under the director of pastor Steve Kosberg, who arrived in 1992, two Sunday worship services were held.
The 1-acre playfield behind the church was developed in 1993, and construction of a garage started soon after.
Kosberg left the church in 1996, and pastor Daniel Werning joined ORLC a year later. In 1999, Reverend Thomas Frizelle replaced Werning.
After serving seven years, Frizelle left and Heinsen joined the church in 2008.
Serving the public
Our Redeemer also provides numerous services to the community, one being its food pantry, which opened in 2002.
The church serves between 400 and 500 people a month, said congregation member Jo Hobbs. The pantry operates out of the church’s basement and is open Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. until noon.
The food pantry is part of The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which is affiliated with the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA buys, processes, packages and ships food to states in the program, according to its website. Then, the state distributes the food to local organizations.
Being associated with the USDA allows ORLC to distribute more variety to food pantry patrons, Wirkus said.
“It allows us to serve more,” she said. “It’s excellent.”
Something for all
Our Redeemer passes out complimentary hot dogs, cookies and water to parade participants each Fourth of July, said longtime church member Gaye Sarvela. The church also has activities for children and a softball game.
Our Redeemer hosts Vacation Bible School every summer. Last year, 55 kids attended, said ORLC administrative assistant Ericka Stoltenberg.
This year, the camp will be held June 25-29 for (fully potty-trained) 3-year-olds through kids entering fifth grade.
“It’s open to anyone, any religion,” Stoltenberg said.
For the past three years, ORLC has held a 13-week course, Financial Peace University, to help people pay their bills, budget, etc.
“It works,” Sarvela said. “People that say it doesn’t work haven’t done it.”
During Christmas, ORLC hosts a “drop and shop” where parents can drop their kids off at the church while they go shopping, Hobbs said.
The “drop and shop” is just one example of how family oriented ORLC is, Heinsen said.
“We are in every sense of the word a family congregation,” he said.
The church is dedicated to giving back to the community, Heinsen said. He estimated ORLC’s outreach is comparable to churches three to four times larger.
“I sense that’s a key part of the DNA in this congregation,” Heinsen said. “And that’s reaching out to the community.”
In the end, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church wants to spread its message, Heinsen said.
“Ultimately, our goal is connecting people to Jesus,” he said.
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or [email protected]