Our History

Originally called the “First Swedish Lutheran Church of Duluth,” Gloria Dei birthed other Lutheran congregations in the area, including Bethany Lutheran in the west side of the city (1889) and Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in the east (1943).

Empowered by Christ’s love…

The Evangelical Lutheran Gloria Dei Church is a city-wide and globally-connected parish committed to ministry in the Central Hillside neighborhood of Duluth, Minnesota. Since its founding in 1870 by Swedish immigrants, Gloria Dei has existed in the center of the city, moving once to its current location in 1906, a beautiful gothic structure, to which an education and office building was attached in the 1950s. It is located on a major intersection in an urban area that had been primarily residential but has seen houses become parking lots for hospitals.

In the shadow of these hospitals, downtown Duluth has known homelessness, poverty, and crime, though there have been recent revitalization and beautification efforts. In previous decades, there were times when the congregation was asked to consider closing or relocating, but each time it affirmed that God had a mission for it in the Central Hillside neighborhood. As the tagline recently articulated for Gloria Dei puts it, “By God’s grace, we’re here for good.”

… Gloria Dei reaches out through worship and social action…

Worship is central to the life of Gloria Dei. Although the single worship service on Sunday has retained a traditional liturgical character, the worship planning team incorporates a variety of instruments into worship regularly, and a worship band plays an alternative liturgy (non-organ) once a month. There is strength in the numbers and abilities of musicians in the congregation, and the renovation of the sanctuary in 2006 and organ in 2008-09 has enabled the space to be used for more events such as organ (and other musical) concerts, and conferences. Worship also reaches out into the community through Gloria Dei’s live radio broadcast that began in 1942, the longest-running live radio broadcast of a religious service on the same station in Minnesota. This broadcast is now also streaming live on the Internet on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. Community members who may attend a funeral sometimes mention their regular listening and connect a face with a voice. Fellowship opportunities extend beyond the lively coffee hour to women’s, men’s and youth ministries, softball, and other small groups.

Bible studies and discussion groups on books, science and religion, marks of discipleship, and current events are part of the parish’s commitment to “faith seeking understanding” (Augustine).

From recently renovating the nursery area to financially supporting youth activities and welcoming young kids in worship, Gloria Dei values and supports its children on the journey of faith. We have an active Sunday School during the school year and an intergenerational Sunday School once a month that has helped bring more kids and adults together during education hour. Our confirmation and youth program for grades 6-12, and a week of Vacation Bible School in the summer, are done collaboratively with Trinity Lutheran, also in the Hillside Neighborhood. We have been blessed by the active participation of senior high youth in church service activities, youth gatherings, and synod leadership roles.

… as an inclusive, welcoming church.

Gloria Dei strives to be outwardly-focused and give generously to the ELCA, its World Hunger Appeal, and overseas projects, including supporting and exchanging visitors with companion churches in Tanzania, India, Russia, and Honduras. With roots in the Augustana Synod, Gloria Dei has also been instrumental in establishing several additional social organizations in the local community, including CHUM – Churches United in Ministry (a local homeless shelter, food shelf, and advocacy organization supported now by 40 congregations), and the Gabriel Project (discretionary funds from 12 congregations for homeless assistance now managed by a CHUM social worker). In the 1980s it started a Parish Nurse Program that funds part-time health care coordinators in three parishes in the Central Hillside; the program focuses on serving both those parishes and the community and is financed primarily through an annual hospital foundation grant.

When Lutheran Social Services first came to Duluth in 1978, Gloria Dei served as its headquarters for a few years before it outgrew the third floor of our building. It came back in the 1990s and Gloria Dei has housed offices and activity space for LSS programs for youth and young adults since then.

Also in the ‘90s, Gloria Dei became the first Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation in the Northeastern Minnesota Synod, welcoming GLBT persons into all aspects of ministry and leadership, establishing a chapter for Lutherans Concerned North America (now Reconciling Works), and becoming a resource congregation for others considering that process, including Messiah Lutheran Church in Mt. Iron that became RIC in 2010. More recently, Gloria Dei began engaging in more direct food assistance ministries: since January 2006, Gloria Dei has hosted a free monthly neighborhood breakfast, serving about 180 meals on the fourth Saturday of the month. And in 2010 it was an original member of a group of congregations to bring Ruby’s Pantry, a food distribution program, to Duluth.

Open to innovation, Gloria Dei has often been among the first to engage important social issues. In 2008, the congregation participated as one of a dozen community organizations as an “Early Adopter” of environmental sustainability, using The Natural Step framework in a year-long training process that engaged many members and helped develop further conversations, resolutions, and creation care teams in the synod.