Salem English Lutheran was one of the first Lutheran congregations of its kind west of Chicago to worship in the English language. While other Lutheran congregations were deeply tied to specific ethnic backgrounds and languages (such as Norwegian, German, Swedish, and Danish), from its start Salem was a congregation of diverse backgrounds. This diversity and a desire to worship in the language of the neighborhood is still part of Salem’s calling. As the neighborhood has evolved, Salem strives to speak the “language” of our area and offer an authentic way of being Christian.
The Salem congregation began in 1890. By 1904, parts of the current facility were built with significant additions added every few decades. The last addition, the west education wing, was added in 1963 to accommodate an extremely large congregation of several thousand. Prior to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Salem was part of the Lutheran Church in America.
The era of “urban flight” began before the 1963 addition was complete, and many Salem families moved to the promise of the suburbs. Over the years Salem’s population declined and it struggled to regain momentum and pay for an increasingly costly and unsustainable facility. Out of necessity, at the beginning of 2006, Salem’s congregation’s voted to follow the Spirit’s call to a renewed and transformed understanding of itself and its ministry. On October 29, 2006 (Reformation Sunday), Salem celebrated a long history in its building and with festivities closed the Salem building. The congregation would continue, but the facility was shuttered to save money and allow for time for plans to grow.
In 2005, Salem Lutheran and a nearby neighboring congregation, Lyndale United Church of Christ at 31st and Aldrich, had begun conversations about a partnership. Each congregation faced similar issues of a shrinking congregation and a large and unsustainable facility (Salem’s building was 44,000 square feet; Lydnale’s was around 27,000 square feet). The week after closing Salem’s building, Sunday, November 5, 2006 (All Saints’ Sunday), Salem began worshipping and basing its ministry from the building of Lyndale United Church of Christ at 31st and Aldrich. Their partnership grew with a shared Sunday School, youth program, and some shared justice and community life activities. At that point a few staff were shared (child care staff, a youth minister), and they worshiped together approximately four times each year. During these years in the “wilderness”, Salem and Lyndale moved from Lyndale’s building (when it was sold) to Intermedia Arts. During that time First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) joined the partnership and together the three churches finalized plans for what would become SpringHouse Ministry Center. They moved into this shared ecumenical ministry center at Christmas in 2011.
Transformation continues today and includes the changes in facility, leadership, and congregational culture, as well as the partnership with Lyndale United Church of Christ and First Christian Church Disciples of Christ in SpringHouse Ministry Center.
In the spirit of transformation, Jen Nagel was ordained in an Extra-ordinary Ordination and installed as Salem’s Pastor on January 19, 2008. At the time of the Ordination, Jen had served Salem as Pastoral Minister for four and a half years. Pastor Jen wasn’t able to be ordained by the ELCA because of its ban prohibiting the ordination and service of those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and in a partnered relationship. In late 2007 the people of Salem were ready to have a settled pastor (rather than an interim pastor leading them through a time of transition) and they voted to call Jen as their pastor. Since the ELCA wasn’t able to affirm the ordination at that time, an extra-ordinary ordination was held in a long tradition of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. In 2009 at the ELCA’s churchwide assembly, the policies changed and in fall of 2010 Pastor Jen was welcomed onto the roster of the ELCA.