At the beginning of the 1880s, a number of Danish immigrants settled in Blair. They learned that Rev. A.M. Andersen regularly preached in Orum and some of the Blair residents attended a meeting there to invite him to preach the Gospel in Blair. By 1882 the work of the church had progressed far enough for members to be thinking of building their own church. A developer offered the church 2 lots—1 for the church and 1 for the parsonage. The land at 2104 Park Street is where First Lutheran Church was organized on January 22, 1884 as the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Blair.
The new church body realized early the need for training, so in 1884 a school was started in A.M. Andersen’s home. The school was later established as Trinity Seminary, which became Dana College. The city of Blair donated land and others raised money and the first structure for Trinity was dedicated in October 1886.
This era was a time of change for churches. During the summer of 1896, two Synods merged to form the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church (UDELC). By 1899, Blair had become the capital of the United Danish Church, with the Synod’s headquarters, seminary, college, and publishing house located in town. Blair was “the heart of the Synod” and First Lutheran Church “the cathedral of the Synod.”
In October 1901 it was decided to proceed with construction of a new church. The existing building was moved and made into a residence (near the pool), and on April 27, 1902, the new church was dedicated—at a cost of $4,000.
From the beginning, the language of the church was Danish. When the United States entered WW1, the demand for English to be spoken in public meetings forced the church to switch from Danish to English. This was later modified so the church could use Danish as it wanted, but the language question had not been settled. At first, both Danish and English services were held each Sunday, but by 1929 Danish was used only on the first Sunday of each month. In 1934, the church Council recommended English be used for all services, and Danish was discontinued except for special occasions.
The name of the church was officially changed from the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Blair to First Lutheran Church by a vote of the congregation in January 1928.
The church continued to grow, and late in the 40s, they again redecorated. By 1951 the question before the congregation was whether to construct a new building or to remodel once again. In January 1952 they launched a $150,000 fund drive to build a church east of Good Shepherd Home. Everything went smoothly, and in November of that year, a ground-breaking ceremony was held on the present site. Phil Larsen, Chair of the Building Committee and still a member of FLC, cemented the cornerstone in place. In that copper box are brochures about the church, a history of its golden anniversary, and a copy of the Blair newspaper.
March 18, 1956, the congregation assembled in the old church for the first part of the ceremony—service of baptism, songs, narration—and then the congregation was asked to rise and march to the new church. The new church cost $230,000 and had a seating capacity of 650, with 26 classrooms, a social hall, lounge, and kitchen.
On New Year’s Day 1961, the American Lutheran Church was organized and the UELC ceased to exist. The other two groups forming the ALC were the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was Norwegian, and the American Lutheran Church, of German background. First Lutheran became a member of the ALC in 1960 and in 1963 adopted a new constitution. In 1959 the first attempt at multiple ministry was made when a visitation pastor was called. A committee was appointed in 1969 to propose definite ideas as to the cost, financing, site, etc. for the construction of a new parsonage. It was determined to be feasible, and a loan of $25,000 was arranged with Washington County Bank, and a fund drive was launched. On November 8, 1970, the parsonage was dedicated, and it is still in use today by the church’s senior pastor.
(NOTE: This is an excerpt obtained from THIS THY HOUSE, A Centennial History of First Lutheran Church 1884-1984…a publication by Mark Friis-Hansen and Richard Jorgensen, Editor, and also from the ELCA website, www.elca.org. Copies of THIS THY HOUSE are available in the church office.)
For more information about the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Danish Lutheran Publishing House, or Danish history in Blair, Nebraska, please visit the Danish American Archive’s website at danishamericanarchive.com.