First Lutheran Church History

In 1917, when three Norwegian Lutheran synods merged to form the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, two Sioux Falls churches, St. Olaf and Trinity, located only a few blocks apart, began to discuss a merger of their two congregations. The issue of which language, Norwegian or English, to use in worship prevented a quick merger. Trinity favored a move to English while St. Olaf wished to retain Norwegian, at least on an every-other-Sunday basis. 

In 1918 Trinity, located at 14th Street and Duluth Avenue, voted to reorganize as a purely English-speaking church. This resulted in the formation of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. Merger negotiations continued between the newly named Grace congregation and St. Olaf congregation, and on Sept. 21, 1920, the two congregations met in a formal joint session and formed First Lutheran Church of Sioux Falls, S.D. They decided the language to be used at all services would be English. The St. Olaf church building, the larger of the two and located at the present site of First Lutheran, was to be the new congregation's place of worship. The Rev. H. J. Glenn, then pastor of Grace Church, was called as First Lutheran's first pastor.

The new congregation quickly outgrew the old St. Olaf church, and thus within two years, efforts were launched to replace the building with a larger structure that could accommodate the worshipping congregation and provide space for Sunday school classes. A fundraising campaign was begun, and architects were hired. Despite the poor economic times of the early 1920s (five local banks failed), plans progressed to remove the old building and begin construction of the current building. Total cost of the project was to be around $150,000 at a time when the annual budget was $15,000 to $20,000. The cornerstone of the new church building was laid on May 3, 1925. The difficulty of raising the money required to furnish the new church delayed dedication until Nov. 30, 1930.

Rev. H. J. Glenn

Rev. H. J. Glenn

By the mid 1950s lack of space became a concern. The Sunday school enrollment numbered 1200 and had outgrown the accommodations built back in 1930. Space was also required for choir rehearsals, for youth activities, for a nursery, for staff offices and for kitchen facilities. A need was felt for a church library, for a reception room and for a small chapel to be used for occasional services. So, once again the congregation girded itself to conduct a drive for a project to build a parish hall that would ultimately cost $750,000. The new parish hall provided spacious classrooms, an assembly room, library, reception area, staff offices, youth lounge, rehearsal room and Christ the Victor Chapel. This new addition to the physical facilities was dedicated in 1960 and at this time the congregation celebrated the 40th anniversary of its organization in 1920. In addition to the construction of the new Parish Hall, it was decided to purchase a new organ, to be located in the rear balcony of the sanctuary. 

The strength of a downtown church depends on more than excellent programs. It also depends on adequate and convenient parking that is located so that the church entry is clearly visible. When the beautiful structure of First Lutheran was built in the late 1920s, little thought was given to where the parishioners would park on Sunday mornings. As the needs for off-street parking grew, the First Lutheran Development Fund was created in 1955 for the purpose of obtaining the two houses directly west of the existing church. After purchase, the houses were used for children’s programs and offices until they were removed to make room for the new Parish Hall building. First Lutheran was not the only entity having growing pains related to parking. The Sioux Falls School District maintained its headquarters and maintenance shop on the corner of 12th Street and Main Avenue and was rapidly running out of space. The district put the property up for sale and the church quickly seized the opportunity to negotiate a purchase agreement. The buildings were removed and the lot paved with blacktop, providing the congregation with its first major off-street parking. 

This lot, though a block away, was a significant step in easing the parking situation. In 1982, the lot on the northwest corner of 13th Street and Dakota Avenue was added to the parking system. Following that purchase, the Business Resource Building at 312 S. Minnesota was secured in 1983, giving much needed parking behind the Parish Hall. The Blackstone apartment, a large, three-story building directly south of First Lutheran was the next acquisition, purchased in 1987. The old building was in a state of disrepair and was immediately demolished, making this area the prime-parking site. The major goal was to own the entire block south of the church. A key to this goal was a building on the immediate corner of 12th Street and Minnesota Avenue. This two-story building had a varied history, having been a gas station, beauty parlor and apartment building. The site became available and was purchased in 1997. After considerable bargaining and negotiating, the Ideal Yardware Building was closed and purchased in 2000. The Party Store (Polka Dot building) was purchased the following year. The goal of owning the entire block south of the church became a reality with the purchase of the branch bank on the corner of 13th Street and Minnesota, currently leased to Starbucks Coffee.

A Welcoming Home in the Heart of Sioux Falls

On September 18, 2005, dedication ceremonies were held for the completion of our capital campaign, "Building a Campus for Christ: A Welcoming Home in the Heart of Sioux Falls." The construction yielded an expanded parking lot with drive-up service to the new canopied front entrance, a sky-lit atrium with a workshop below, Reformation Hall that doubles as a gathering area and gymnasium, a large commercial kitchen, a loft above Reformation Hall, a meeting room above the kitchen, and classrooms, a youth gathering room, and music rehearsal rooms below Reformation Hall.