Arlington Hills Lutheran celebrates 110 years on the East Side

Arlington Hills Lutheran Church, located at 1115 Greenbrier St., celebrated 110 years on the East Side on Sept. 8. (Marjorie Otto/Review)

One of the defining features of Arlington Hills Lutheran Church is its music programming. The church has adult and children’s choirs, a handbell choir and an impressive 50-rank Holtkamp organ. (Marjorie Otto/Review)

Marjorie Otto
news editor

Arlington Hills Lutheran Church has called the East Side home for 110 years.

Its mission hasn’t changed much over more than a century, as it continues to be a place that supports immigrants and the community while fostering a caring congregation.

According to a publication made by the church for its centennial, Arlington Hills Lutheran Church grew out of Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church, which is now located down the road at 1669 Arcade St.

The Swedish-speaking Gustavus Adolphus became the mother church of Arlington Hills after 19 of its members spent much of 1909 discussing and considering the creation of an English-speaking church, which would become one of the first of its kind on the East Side. 

On Sept. 8, 1909, Arlington Hills English Evangelical Lutheran Church was formally established in the Gustavus Adolphus school house. 

For the first few years, the church’s congregation moved from one space to another along Payne Avenue, some spaces so cold and drafty that blankets were a requirement for worship services. 

The congregation wanted a more meaningful worship space and purchased four lots at what would be the church’s current site of 1115 Greenbrier St. The first church building, known as the White Chapel, was finished in time for the 1914 Thanksgiving service. 

The congregation quickly grew and a number of additions were built over the years. By the church’s 25th anniversary in 1934, it had 799 communicant members and 435 children enrolled in Sunday school. 

Come 1937, the new large sanctuary was completed and opened at a total cost of $55,972.84. 

In 1948, ground was broken to build a new youth center and in 1949, the church’s 40th anniversary, the community included some 2,000 communicant members and 715 kids in Sunday school.  

As the church expanded, so did its programming, especially regarding music. In 1984, its 50-rank Holtkamp organ was installed, adding to the church’s musical prestige.

“This church has a really rich history of music,” said Rev. Scott Donnelly, who came on as senior pastor at Arlington Hills in January. “It’s a part of the culture.”

The church has adult and children’s choirs, as well as a handbell choir. Around Christmastime, Donnelly said, members from nearby churches often join Arlington Hills for it’s impressive Christmas programming because of the music.

“It’s just beautiful,” he said. “The skill and attention to detail is amazing.”

A focus on community
Today, the church has about 250 members and much of its culture is centered around supporting the community. 

Florence Rasmusson, who has attended Arlington Hills for 46 years and serves on multiple committees at the church, explained it has a program called Alley Shoppe, where those referred by various social service agencies can stop by to get clothing, cookware and a number of other essentials donated by church members.

Around Christmas, the church works with other nearby congregations to collect toys for gift giveaways.

There’s also a program where church members bring communion and music to seniors living in nearby nursing homes, who can’t make it to worship.

“While we’re here, others are not forgotten,” Rasmusson said. 

The church shares its space as well, renting out room to an English-as-a-second-language school for adults called Open Door Learning. The school helps new immigrants learn the language and teaches a number of job skills courses.

Mary Kowitz, a 48-year member of the church who also serves on countless church committees, said that on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving students from Open Door and church members cook a Thanksgiving meal together, including dishes traditional to the students and common American Thanksgiving favorites.

“There’s a strong connection and care for immigrants,” said Donnelly, noting that connection ties in with the church’s “strong commitment to education.” 

Beyond its youth Sunday school programs, Donnelly said Arlington Hills is rumored to send the most congregants onto seminary school of any church in the area.

“It’s just a rumor though,” he laughed.

All jokes aside, Donnelly said he’s never experienced a church quite like Arlington Hills, which he described as exceptionally “authentic in it’s faith.”

He said the church community is unique in that it sees beyond itself and into the community.

“The thoughtfulness — I’ve never experienced it so authentically,” Donnelly said. 

An anniversary celebration was held on Sunday, Sept. 8, including 9:30 a.m. worship at Arlington Hills, with Bishop Patricia Lull from the St. Paul Area Synod, and a lunch at Keller Golf Course. 


– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at

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