After Finnish laborers completed St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, they asked Russian authorities if they could build a Lutheran church for themselves. The Russians allowed it, but only if the building didn’t look like a church. That building was torn down in 1888, but you can still see what it looked like: the current Lutheran church (which looks like a church) has a model and photo of the original.
The Lutheran Church is right across the street from St. Michael’s, and it’s the first Lutheran Church on the West Coast of North America. Built in 1840, the church had a thriving congregation of Finns (Finland was part of Russia at the time and provided many of the skilled laborers for this area). But the church languished, and the original building was torn down in 1888. An informal group of Lutherans worshiped in homes and in private until 1942, when they completed construction of a new church. However, the building was destroyed in the 1966 fire that also took out St. Michael’s.
The church building that stands today was constructed in 1967, but it contains several items from the previous churches, including the original pipe organ. Built in Estonia in 1844, the Kessler Organ is played at church services, and church officials invite any visiting organist to play it. You’ll also find the original pulpit, as well as crosses and altars made from pews salvaged from yet another fire, this one in 1993, that did only minor damage.
The church is open daily, and visitors are welcome. They have knowledgeable volunteers, even though they are usually visitors themselves—members of Lutheran congregations who volunteer for two- to four-week stints. You’ll find original hymnals, an alter rail from the original church, and a Transfiguration painting from the 1840 church. There’s a Sunday service at 10:30 a.m.