December 12, 1868, a group of 25 Swedish immigrants gathered for the first Swedish Lutheran worship led by Reverend K. Karlen of Halland, Sweden; they determined to establish a Swedish Lutheran congregation in Austin for the many immigrants who had recently settled in this area. The first house of worship, dedicated March 10, 1874, was on 9th street across the square from the current Travis County courthouse. February 14, 1875, the congregation was officially established and joined the Augustana Synod as Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Gethsemane Church with 84 Swedes, 3 Norwegians, 1 German and 46 children. The Texas state capitol burned to the ground in 1881. The Swedes gathered the remaining building materials and brick and built the still standing church on the corner of Congress and 16th Street; it was dedicated November 11, 1883.
The Swedish language gradually gave way to English, after the first service in English in 1914. 1923 was the first year the minutes reflected the English language. As the Capitol complex expanded northward the congregation sold that structure to the state of Texas and moved way out to Anderson Lane when 183 was a sleepy little two-lane road. This was a great adventure and the current facility was dedicated March 3, 1963. The grand Swedish heritage has grown to include a very international community of God s people. Currently members come from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, China, Laos, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand, France, Japan, Scotland, Germany, Sweden, Mexico, El Salvador, and Lebanon. The diversity has been a great blessing to remind us of the worldwide community of faith that we are called to join.
The history of Gethsemane is closely intertwined in the rich diverse history of Austin. Gethsemane has been blessed with faithful pastors, men, women and youth who have consistently contributed their time, talents and monetary gifts to continue the ministry. Individuals have given generously of their time to serve on councils, boards, committees, choirs and in a variety of volunteer service opportunities representing our congregation. We are grateful for the large and small contributions of every individual.
You may obtain booklet copies of “125 Years of Faith: A History 1868-1992” and “Heritage of Faith” for a more complete history. The following is a brief capsule of Gethsemane’s history:
1868 December 12th, a group of 25 Swedish immigrants gathered in Austin for the first Swedish Lutheran service in Texas. Service was led by Reverend K. Karlen from Halland, Sweden. A meeting was held to discuss organizing congregation.
1869 January 10th, next meeting held with 75 persons present. Agreed to organize the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Austin and provide residence and salary for the pastor. This was to be accomplished by an annual subscription of five dollars gold from each adult member.
1870 Congregation was formally organized with 39 members, considering itself a branch of the Lutheran Church of Sweden.
1874 March 10th, the first House of Worship was dedicated — a stone and wood structure with a basement and an upper story. Located in the middle of the block where the Austin History Center now stands – 9th Street between Guadalupe and San Antonio.
1875 February 14th, through recommendation of the Archbishop of Sweden, the congregation joined Augustana Synod as the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Gethsemane Church. There were 84 Swedes, 3 Norwegians, 1 German and 46 children.
1883 February, the original church building was sold for $900 after a fire at an adjoining church. There weren’t enough funds to rebuild at another location. Through the courage of Reverend Dr. J. A. Stamline and a membership of only 30 people, Dr. Stamline made a public plea in the name of God to the Lutherans of Austin for help to save the fledgling Swedish Lutheran Church in Austin.
November 11th, the second church building was dedicated at 16th and Congress (still standing). Built at the cost of $6,500 using brick, stone and timber from the burned State Capitol building. Wheelbarrows, carts and hands carried material 2 blocks to be assembled by craftsmen and other members of the young congregation.
1914 First worship service held in English language.
1917 Celebration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses.
1918 Electric blower installed for the organ; new altar installed with 7 beautiful memorial stained glass windows.
1923 First English recorded in minutes of the Annual Report of the Sunday School. All Sunday School classes except two were in English.
1925 Membership includes 264 communicant members and 83 children.
1934 February 11th, Reverend J. E. Chester called as pastor. Official name became Gethsemane Lutheran Church. All reports in English.
1940 Luther Hall built. Designed and fund raised by youth with a youth member donating the first penny.
1952 Reverend M. L. Lundquist arrives. New pipe organ installed.
1960 Land purchased for new building site on West Anderson Lane,then a two lane road.
1961 January 29th, the final service in the 16th and Congress church building was held before the Texas State Building Commission acquired the property. It is now a state and national historic landmark and houses the Texas Historical Commission and is open to the public. Services were conducted in the T. A. Brown school across Anderson Lane form the church property until the new building construction was completed.
1962 March 4th, ground-breaking ceremony for the third and current church structure. The Augustana Synod became the Lutheran Church in America (LCA).
1963 March 3rd, current church building is dedicated. Stained glass windows were created by Gabriel Loire in Chartres, France. The front wall of glass 36 feet high was created to be the “lighthouse set on a hill”. The pipe organ from the former building was moved to the new location.
1965 Gethsemane Child Development Center begins.
1968 100th anniversary of first Swedish Lutheran service.
1972 Pastor Karl Gronberg begins ministry with Gethsemane.
1977 Pipe organ expanded to 1202 pipes — increase of 304 to original organ.
1978 The 1963 mortgage retired.
1979 The 12,000 square foot narthex and education wing was dedicated. It was re-dedicated in 1992 as the Keith Leslie Johnson Memorial Education Wing.
1981 Pastor Kent Bohls joins Gethsemane in part time ministry.
1984 The pipe organ was expanded to 1763 pipes and dedicated on April 26th. three manual Cassavant consoles and 561 pipes were added creating 38 ranks. The second phase of Gabriel Loire’s stained-glass windows (chancel windows) was completed in April and dedicated November 22nd.
1988 January 1st, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was born through the uniting of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC).
1990 September 30th, mortgage on new education wing retired.
1991 Final phase of Gabriel Loire’s stained glass windows (Clerestory windows) was completed in April and dedicated on July 21st.
1992 Three additional lots for future ministry were purchased on Wonsley Drive across the street form the church.
1993 Gethsemane celebrates it’s 125th anniversary.
2003 Pastor Susan Marie Schnelle joins the staff in part time ministry.
2006 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has 10,549 congregations and 4,850,776 baptized members.
2007 Gethsemane baptized membership is 1,089.
2007 Celebrated Pastor Karl Gronberg’s 40th anniversary of ordination (6-1-1967); served Gethsemane 1972-present.
2008 Celebrated the 60th anniversary of Pastor Will Erickson’s ordination (6-13-1948); served Gethsemane 1967-1971.
2008 Celebrated 5th anniversary of ordination (6-12-2003) of Pastor Susan Marie Schnelle; served Gethsemane since her ordination.
2009 Celebrated Pastor Kent Bohls’ 35th anniversary of his ordination (7-14-1974); he served Gethsemane 1981-2014.