HISTORY OF THE APOSTOLIC LUTHERAN CHURCH
OF SEATTLE, WASHNGTON
I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.
Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren
and companions' sakes, I will now say peace be within thee. (Psalm 122:1, 7-8)
The Apostolic Lutheran Church of Seattle was incorporated in 1935. However, the history
of the Apostolic Lutheran Church in the greater Seattle area dates back nearer to the
beginning of the 20th century. Our national church federation, the Apostolic Lutheran
Church of America, has it roots in the Laestadian Revival Movement which spread through
Finland and the Scandinavian countries in the 1800s. There were adherents to the Laestadian
Revival Movement in Kent, Washington, a community south of Seattle, in the very early
1900s and possibly the late 1800s.
There was an Apostolic Lutheran Church in Soos Creek-an area east of Kent, Washington,
where many Finnish Christians from the Laestadian Revival Movement had settled. They
had their own church building in Soos Creek, their own local preachers, and many of the
elders of the faith from Finland and other parts of the United States had preached there.
Pastor Isaac Seppala continued conducting services in Kent until the late 1960s. It was
in the early 1950s, however, that the church in Soos Creek was sold due to declining
membership. In the years immediately prior to that time, we had the practice of canceling
a Sunday service in our Seattle church once each summer and both groups met in the old
Soos Creek church. There was also another small Finnish Lutheran Church in Kent. In the
latter years of that congregation's life, it was without a pastor. Their members invited
Brother Isaac Seppala to conduct services in their church, monthly and sometimes twice a month.
In the north end of Seattle-at Richmond Beach, there was a group of Norwegian immigrants who
came about the turn of the century, in the early 1900s. This group included a man by the name
of John L. Johnson, known to most as J.L. Johnson, who came from Tromso, Norway. He was a
preacher in the Laestadian Revival Movement and was active in arranging services in the
Richmond Beach area with many of the services being held in his own home. He was also listed
on the unordained ministerial roll of our national church and was instrumental in making
arrangements for our rental of the Free Lutheran Church at Richmond Beach during the years
1945 to 1949. Mr. J.L. Johnson died in 1948.
Then across Puget Sound in Poulsbo, Washington, was another settlement of believers from the
Laestadian Revival Movement-many of whom were also immigrants. A man by the name of John Fogman,
who figured much in the early history of our Seattle congregation, had lived in Poulsbo before
moving to the Ballard District of Seattle. In the case of the Erickson family they made their
home in Poulsbo before moving on to Clatskanie, Oregon. One of the Erickson daughters married
Matt Ruhkala, an early preacher who lived in Rocklin, California. In the 1940s members of our
Seattle congregation would ferry from Edmonds to Kingston, Washington, to attend home services
in Poulsbo. The last member of the Poulsbo group was Wendla Johnson-who passed away in the
later 1970s. Bill and Hilda Isakson, who moved from Clatskanie, Oregon, to Suquamish (near Poulsbo)
in the early 1970s, were close friends and frequent visitors with Wendla Johnson and commuted
across the sound to attend our services.
And then in the city of Seattle there came to be many families of the faith in the 1920s and 1930s-so
that by the early 1930s consideration began to be given to organizing an ALC congregation in Seattle.
Among these early families were the John Selins, Isaac Seppalas, the Pihl families-Hilding and Folke
from Sweden, Oscar Wirkkalas, Leonard Sathers, Leppaniemis, Degerstroms, John Fogmans, Leonard Smiths,
Arnold Andersons, Ditlef Korshavens, Helmer Skutviks, Cornelius Forshaugs, and Carl Hansons. And when
the economic conditions began to improve after the great depression, there was an influx of young single
people to Seattle seeking employment.
Services were first held in homes-these Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian Christians meeting together and
using the means of translating sermons in an effort to benefit everyone.
The organizational meeting was held on April 27, 1935, at the home of Oscar and Ida Wirkkala. The minutes
of that meeting show that Isaac Seppala was selected as temporary chairman, Arnold B. Anderson as
temporary secretary, and John Selin as temporary treasurer. These three men acted in these capacities
at additional meetings until the constitution and by laws were drawn up and approved. The first permanent
board was elected at a meeting on December 1, 1935:
John Selin --- Chairman
Cornelius L. Forshaug --- Vice Chairman
Joseph Wirkkala --- Secretary
Arnold B. Anderson --- Treasurer
Isaac Seppala was chosen as the minister
Oscar Wirkkala, Clarence Anderson, and John Wirkkala were later elected as additional board members.
Mrs. Hjordis Skutvik was elected as the first Sunday school superintendent.
Joseph Wirkkala, Clarence Anderson, Hilding Pihl, and Oscar Wirkkala were appointed as a committee
to locate a church that would be suitable for rental. The Swedish Baptist Church, located on NW
67th Street, just north of the Ballard High School, was selected at a rental fee of $5.00 per month.
The congregation met at this location from 1935 until the summer of 1944. The membership fee was
established at fifty cents per person per year. An offering taken at that early meeting amounted
to $3.75. These nine men have served as chairman of the congregation:
Gerald Stratton, Present
Isaac Seppala continued to serve as minister although there were other brothers who participated
in the services. Among them were John Fogman, Leonard Sather, John L. Johnson, Leppaniemi, and
Arnold B. Anderson. Translations continued to be used in an effort to reach everyone. In addition
to John Selin, Leonard Smith, and Cornelius Forshaug, Elsie Selin, Melga Sormula, and Hazel Hilman
were used in this translation work.
The Holmgren family moved into the area in the fall of 1940. In 1941 Chris Holmgren was chosen to be
an assistant to Pastor Isaac Seppala. Isaac Seppala and Chris Holmgren continued in these positions
until 1946 when Brother Seppala declined to remain as pastor. The roles were then reversed, and
Brother Holmgren became pastor with Brother Seppala as assistant. Cornelius Forshaug also assisted.
The congregation met at rented facilities from 1935 until 1950. In addition to the Baptist Church
already mentioned, the congregation also used the Finnish Lutheran Church in Ballard on 17th
Avenue NW and NW 65th Street during the summer of 1944. This congregation was served by Pastor Otto
Kaarto. During this era, the Finnish Lutheran Church congregation had listed their church for sale
and had broken ground for a new building on NW 85th Street and 13th Avenue NW. Although our congregation
submitted a bid of $3,500 to purchase their NW 65th Street church and parsonage, we were not successful
in purchasing it. Difficulties arose in the Finnish Lutheran congregation and nearly half of the
membership left. A considerable number of them began to worship with us. Most of these members were
nearing retirement and many were already retired at that time; thereby increasing the senior population
of our congregation. As for the Finnish Lutheran congregation, it continues to operate with the help
of the State Church of Finland.
Next our congregation conducted services at the Free Lutheran Church at Richmond Beach from 1945
to 1949. The Free Lutheran congregation, now known as the First Lutheran Church of Richmond Beach,
had begun the first phase of construction on their new church located on 8th Avenue NW just off Richmond
Beach Road. Although their old church was offered for sale, our congregation voted against the purchase.
The third effort to purchase a church was in Ballard-the Evangelical Free Church on NW 61st Street
(a block south from the church we actually purchased). In July 1949 we submitted a bid of $5,000, but
it was not accepted. Our next effort was the purchase of a lot on North 105th Street and Linden Avenue.
The county government denied a building permit because they determined the lot was too small-not enough
parking space. The last rental facility of that period was the NW Branch of the YMCA in Ballard, now
known as the Sunset Hill Community Club, located on 30th Avenue NW and NW 66th Street.
Next we will see how God led us to the church in Ballard on NW 62nd Street that would become our church
home for twenty-three years from 1950-1973. In 1949 our national church federation invited the first
visiting minister from Finland to tour the United States after World War II. Eino Miettunen from Rovaniemi,
Finland, was called. He was not a State Church pastor, but was a cantor and organist in the State Church
of Finland. At this time our congregation was holding services in the YMCA building. Pastor Chris Holmgren
expressed dissatisfaction with that facility for the upcoming series of special services and asked his
son Alvin Holmgren to accompany him in search for a church that could be rented for this occasion. After
driving around in the Ballard District, they came across the Zion Lutheran Church on NW 62nd Street and
20th Avenue NW. While driving slowly by the church they saw an open door on the east side of the building.
They stopped and knocked on the door to inquire whether or not the church building could be rented to us
for a series of services scheduled in the near future. The pastor invited them in for a tour of the
facility. Then he suggested: "Maybe you would like to buy this church? It is for sale." The Zion Lutheran
congregation rented their church to us for the three days of services with Eino Miettunen. This gave our
congregation sufficient opportunity to evaluate the building and consider purchasing it.
As a side note, the three-days of services in 1949 with the Finland pastor were well attended. The sermons
delivered by Pastor Eino Miettunen were spirit-filled and ably translated by Pastor Arnold B. Anderson,
a charter member of our Seattle congregation, who at the time was the pastor of the ALC in Esko,
Minnesota. Special memories of those services have lingered long in the hearts of the attendees as voices
were raised in praise and thanksgiving to God.
In 1950 our congregation purchased the church building in Ballard from the Zion Lutheran Church, a
congregation of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren. The purchase price was $7,500. A member of our
congregation financed an interest free loan of $6,000. We had joint occupancy of the building with Zion
Lutheran until the end of the year. The Zion people continued the use of the morning hour and we held
our services in the afternoon.
Our former church home located at 1763 NW 62nd Street, Seattle, Washington, is the oldest church building
in Ballard that is still used as a church. It was built in 1890 and is on the list of historic buildings
that prevents exterior alteration and is also pictured in a book titled Early Churches of Washington
State by Arnold and Esther Pearson, published 1980, University of Washington Press. The German congregation
that built it in 1890 was served for five years by a pastor who made his living working at one of the
many shingle mills in Ballard. Later the congregation was not able to continue without a pastor and so
they rented it to the Ballard School District for use as a school building. It was in 1904 that the
congregation reclaimed the building, enlarged and renovated it, and began its ministry again.
While we were still in this building, each year one of the professors in architecture at the University
of Washington would bring his students to see this classic church. A dozen years ago the present owners
of the building made major repairs to the exterior-replacing the roof and large sections of siding,
repainting, pouring new sidewalks, etc.
It was in 1950 that our congregation joined the federation of churches known as the Apostolic Lutheran
Church of America.
When Alvin Holmgren returned from military service in 1953, he was elected as the Sunday School
Superintendent. By 1955 the congregation asked him to participate in the services by leading in prayer
and giving testimonies of faith as well as leading the weeknight Bible studies. Alvin Holmgren was ordained
into the ministry in June of 1958. Pastor Andrew Mickelsen came for the ordination service; Alvin's
father Pastor Chris Holmgren assisted in the ceremony.
During this era, Larry and Harriet Rasaka were members of our congregation. Brother Larry Rasaka assisted
in the preaching of the Word as well as in translating sermons. Sister Hilda Matta also translated sermons
when the Finnish language was used.
In 1959 the congregation purchased the house on the west side of the Ballard church from Mrs. Lulu Rud
who was permitted to live in the house as long as she was able. The house was then demolished and the lot
developed for parking.
In 1964 Alvin Holmgren was elected as pastor of the Seattle congregation and in February of 1965 began
full-time ministry which continued for 30 years before Pastor Holmgren opted for semi-retirement and the
opportunity to travel and accept speaking invitations from congregations within the federation.
In 1966, with a view toward building a new church, a lot was purchased on the east side of Aurora Avenue
on North 167th Street and Stone Way. However, due to the economic downturn of the late 1960s, this lot
was sold in 1970 and thought was given toward enlarging the old church. The city refused to grant permits
for the proposed project, so we began looking for land north of the city of Seattle.
The elder pastors Chris Holmgren and Isaac Seppala remained active in the congregation's ministry until
advanced age. During the latter years of Chris Holmgren's ministry, he was no longer eligible for a
driver's license, so his son Alvin Holmgren assisted him with hospital calls, nursing home visits,
funerals, weddings, and so on. However, Pastor Chris Holmgren and his wife Carrie did not need
transportation to the church in Ballard as they lived in the house next to the church. Following the
death of Pastor Chris Holmgren in 1971, the congregation purchased the Holmgren home on the east side
of the old church from Mrs. Carrie Holmgren. Pastor Isaac Seppala passed away in 1973 and his widow Mrs.
Mary Seppala relocated to the Bay Area to live near their son Ivan Seppala and his family.
In 1972 our present location on the corner of North 198th Street and Fremont Avenue North was purchased
for the sum of $25,000 and our Ballard church was sold in 1973. During a period of six months we shared our
Ballard church with the buyer. Our worship hour was at 9:30 a.m. and they began at 11:30 a.m. During that
time we were unable to have our regular Sunday school sessions, so we devoted a part of the worship time
for a service for the children. After the opening hymn and prayer, a message for the children was given
and a song from the children's section of the book was sung. The remainder of the service was the same.
Our agreement with the buyers stipulated that if we needed to remain in the church building longer than
six months, we would have to pay rent. When the six-month sharing period was over, we decided to rent the
Nordic Hall facility in Ballard, allowing us to return to our normal schedule. We even hosted fall
Ground breaking for our new church building was on October 7, 1973, the first service was conducted on
March 31, 1974, and the first wedding, David and Karen (Selin) Impola, was conducted a week later. At
the time of construction the address of our new church, 19555 Fremont Avenue North, was considered an
unincorporated part of Seattle, Washington. Our property now falls within the city limits of Shoreline,
Washington. We owe much to many members of our congregation for what was done to enable us to build our
current church building. The members of the congregation worked well together. Former member Ted Halone,
who was living in California at the time, volunteered to come and supervise the job. Len Holmgren's general
contractor's license was used since Ted Halone did not carry a Washington State license. Edward Selin was
the treasurer at the time and was much involved in the project. Clarence Holmgren and Olaf Johnson and
many others were active in the construction process.
Dedication of the new church was on June 2, 1974-the Day of Pentecost that year. Our late brother and
faithful laborer Pastor Andrew Mickelsen came to dedicate the church.
Brothers Ivan Seppala and Ben Johnson, who also began their preaching here, served with Pastor Alvin
Holmgren until they moved from the city. Ivan Seppala continues to serve the Berkeley, California
congregation, and Ben Johnson serves the Astoria, Oregon congregation.
In later years, God called three of our local young men into the ministry: Stan Lampinen, Bruce Selin,
and Gene Mixon. First, brothers Stan Lampinen and Bruce Selin began serving with Pastor Alvin Holmgren
in our congregation as well as answering the call of the ALC Western and Foreign missions. Stan Lampinen
and Bruce Selin were elected as Assistant Pastors in our congregation and both were ordained into the
ministry in 2004. Pastor Earl Kaurala was the ordaining pastor for Stan Lampinen, and Pastor Ivan Seppala
was the ordaining pastor for Bruce Selin. While Gene Mixon was serving as our Sunday School Superintendent,
God called him to preach his Word as well. In 1995 Pastor Alvin Holmgren went into semi-retirement and,
as his health declined over the intervening years, the congregation began to depend upon on our three
local speaking brothers to deliver the sermons and conduct the work of the church. Alvin Holmgren retired
as pastor on December 31, 2004 and was granted the title Pastor Emeritus in recognition for his 46 years
of service to the congregation since his ordination. Brother Gene Mixon was elected pastor in 2005 and is
assisted by Pastors Stan Lampinen and Bruce Selin.
Our Seattle congregation has hosted two national conventions of the Apostolic Lutheran Church of America.
The theme selected for the first one in 1980 was taken from Isaiah 54:10, "For the mountains shall depart,
and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my
peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee." Little did we know that Mount St. Helens would
experience a severe volcanic eruption one month prior to the convention. Pastor George Wilson, who was
the chairman of the Central Board, told us that he received many calls from throughout the country
requesting that the convention be moved to a safer place. Some thought attendance would be severely
curtailed for fear of other eruptions; however, all arrangements had been made with the Seattle Pacific
University, an institution of the Free Methodist Church, and cancellation would have resulted in a
penalty of a portion of the rental fees. The convention remained in Seattle and attendance was greater
than we had expected before Mount St. Helens erupted. The second convention we hosted was held in 1998
and was the 90th annual convention of the federation. The theme selected for this convention focused
on Psalms 119:130, "The entrance of thy words giveth light." The facility that we used, Shorewood High
School, is near our church.
History Compiled by Pastor Alvin C. Holmgren
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know
I the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh
it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.
This commandment have I received of my Father (John 10:14-18).