The early 1920s were a time of significant change for both the United States and the Lutheran Church. A major issue in the Willamette Valley was the unavailability of worship services in English. The children of European immigrants, who had been born and/or raised in America, were accustomed to a world where English was the dominant language. Many felt out of touch with a church that provided services only in their parents’ languages. Additionally, young church members who attended the local colleges and universities felt forgotten and neglected while they were furthering their educations away from home.
This was a sentiment felt especially deeply by Hedwig (Kraxberger) Pardey, a graduate of both Oregon Agricultural College (now OSU) and Oregon Normal School (now WOU). Being a practical Lutheran, she decided to do something about it, and reached out to her pastor, Reverend William Schoeler. Hedwig challenged Pastor Schoeler to leave his parish, come to campus, and give students the spiritual support and guidance they needed. In 1926, he did just that, and Lutheran Campus Ministry was born.
Initially, Pastor Schoeler held services at the Lutheran Student Center in Monmouth. When enrollment at the Normal School dropped, it became clear that he could serve more students elsewhere. In 1930, the Schoeler family moved to Corvallis, where Pastor Schoeler held English language worship and studies in their home at 854 Jefferson Street. Students from all three colleges (University of Oregon, Oregon State College, Oregon Normal School) attended the services, and also took part in many special events, like picnics and trips to the Oregon coast. Students often enjoyed fellowship centered around Martha Schoeler’s home-cooked meals. Pastor Schoeler and his family left Corvallis in 1940.
The War Years
In 1941, John Lowry came to Corvallis to spend half time on his own graduate studies and half time working with students. It was apparent that the lack of a student center was a problem. Funds were raised to purchase and develop a small cottage on the corner of 15th & Van Buren; however, with the U.S. entry into World War II in December 1941, government restrictions on the use of construction materials halted any development of the site.
In 1942, Reverend Lael H. Westberg (“Pastor Wes”) was called to serve as student pastor for Oregon State College, and Lutheran chaplain for the military pouring into nearby Camp Adair. In late 1943, an opportunity came to buy a residence near campus. The 15th street property was sold and, with financial help from the National Lutheran Council, the present-day Luther House at 211 NW 23rd Street was purchased. Pastor and Mrs. Wes moved into two of the second-floor rooms. Discussion groups, private counseling, social activities, and retreats were all part of a busy program for students and for Camp Adair soldiers.
The Fifties and Sixties
The campus ministry at Luther House flourished after the end of WWII, due in part to the influx of students attending college on the GI Bill. Through the 50s and 60s, student participation in the ministry remained high. Pastors were welcomed to offer credited courses through the Oregon State University Honors College. Students found comfort in the discussion groups, individual counseling, and social activities offered by Luther House. While social and political upheaval took place across the country, Luther House was a refuge for students seeking peace and stability.
Though college enrollment stalled in the 70s, Pastor Michael Meier worked tirelessly to ensure that students were provided with opportunities to worship in a way that was meaningful to them. Of particular interest were programs such as The Order of Christ the Clown (a traveling clown ministry troupe) and a thriving Guitar Choir.
Reverend Jon Magnuson and Deaconess Donna King served as full time pastors at Luther House through the 80s. The pair endeavored to demonstrate equality between male and female, leadership, tolerance and mutuality of responsibility. Both King and Magnuson taught university credit courses through the Honors College. King made a particular commitment to building on the work begun by several Lutheran faculty in the dialog between religion and science. She actively supported efforts to open dialogue between campus ministers and OSU science and technology faculty.
By the late 80s and early 90s, the Lutheran church bodies were feeling the effects of difficult economic times. Funding was simply not available for many campus ministries. At one point in 1988, Luther House was on the verge of being defunded, but was saved by a deluge of supportive letters testifying to the vital importance of the ministry. Pastor Michael Rime and Deaconess Donna King led a tireless fundraising effort to keep Luther House afloat. It was evident that students were no longer attracted by the mainstay programs that had served so well during the preceding decades.
Fortunately, Luther House received a grant that was used to pay seven students to reflect on campus ministry, the Lutheran church and their lives. Using information gained from this GenX research program, Luther House leadership wisely pursued new avenues for student ministry. Of particular note was the 1995 conference To Swim With The Salmon: Ecology of Faith, Creation of Hope. As on-campus sponsors of the event, the Lutheran Student Movement received Honorable Mention for OSU Informational Event of the Year.
Pastor Jim Norlie was welcomed to Luther House in the spring of 1995. Pastor Norlie quickly implemented an organizing theme for the ministry: Hospitality, Community and Service. This theme persists into the present day programs offered by Luther House. In addition to engaging OSU students, Pastor Norlie also made an effort to reach out to students at nearby Linn Benton Community College (LBCC).
The Early Two Thousands
For many, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 were the defining moment of the early 2000s. In direct response to the fear and uncertainty that pervaded the community following 9/11, the Luther House leadership worked hard to strengthen relationships on campus and in the community. Pastor Norlie was asked by the OSU Dean of Student Life to help create the Religious Advisors Association, which became the public face of spiritual and religious diversity at OSU. Programs like Tuesday Come-and-Go Lunch, Sunday pizza gatherings, and QUEST supper discussions emphasized the interrelatedness of the global community. An increasing number of international students found a place at Luther House as campus enrollment grew from 16,700 in 1990 to 23,700 in 2010.
A formative development in Luther House’s mission to welcome all people occurred in 2011, when the Campus Council solidified a welcome statement and applied to be on the roster of Reconciling in Christ communities.
Wishing to be healers in a broken world, we extend God’s extravagant welcome and a genuine invitation for acceptance and full inclusion to-
People of all sexual orientations and gender identities;
People of every age, class, color, gender and ethnic origin;
People who are single, married, divorced, separated, blessed or partnered;
People who are temporarily-abled, disabled, or of differing abilities;
People of differing theological perspectives;
People from all economic levels; and
People and organizations who rent Luther House apartments or use the house for meetings or social events.
Therefore, we invite those in this academic setting more deeply into Jesus Christ and the community that bears his name.Luther House Welcome Statement, 2011
Today, Luther House continues to be a resource for the OSU community. We invite you to engage with us by phone, email, or an in-person visit. The door is open for you!