Our Savior’s Lutheran Church began as a sister or mission congregation of Emmaus Lutheran Church. Emmaus was in the northwest area of Racine, and there was a number of families who lived in the southeast area. These families decided to form a congregation so as to cut down on travel to the North Side.
Our Savior’s was formed on July 21, 1896 in the home of Rasmus Larsen as a Danish congregation. Their first church was built at the corner of 12th Street and Racine Street. It is still there today and is used as a church. The congregation met at this location, serving the needs of its families and the community. Services were delivered in English and Danish into the 1940’s.
In 1956, the congregation moved into their new church and parish house on the corner of Washington Avenue & Taylor Avenue (2219 Washington Avenue). The congregation has continued to thrive and serve the community in this location into the 21st Century.
The new church building was designed by Steffan and Kemp. It was to be built on the property occupied by a mansion known as the Kearney Mansion, named for its most current owners. The church building was to be located East of the Mansion and a carport/breezeway would connect the church to the Mansion. The church was to have a capacity of 600 worshipers.
The church was built in the shape of a cross with the top of the cross pointing east. This was to welcome the sunrise and symbolize the new day for us as the result of Christ’s crucifixion. The ceiling in the church is all of exposed wood beams and the chancel area is all wood. This is in the Danish tradition of the church as a ship. The wood is to look like the ribs of a ship/boat turned upside down, supporting the belief that Christ is our ship’s captain.
The Mansion was to be used as a home for the pastor and family, as well as for offices and Sunday School space.
A Ship in the Church?
Our Savior’s is a Congregation with a Danish heritage going back to its beginnings in 1896. There is a Danish custom of hanging the replica of a sailing vessel in the church sanctuary or worship space. This custom is widespread in Denmark and in churches of Danish origin in America, and it can be traced back to times before Christianity.
The custom grew out of people believing that the offering of a miniature ship would assure a safe voyage for the ship and its crew. Such a gift was called a “votive” offering. In the Christian era, a magic character of this act faded away. However, the tradition of carving and rigging a replica of the ship in which a retired seaman had spent his life remained as a hobby of many an old salt, and what better place could it be hung than in the parish church.
This folk custom coincided with an old Christian metaphor of comparing the church itself to a ship. Even to this day, we call the main sanctuary/worship space of our churches the “nave” and this name is derived from the Latin word “navis” which means ship and which is the origin or the words navy and naval. The metaphor of the church as a ship has many symbolic connections. We speak of the Christian life as a journey over the sea and we talk about a pilot that guides us. A well known hymn reads: “Jesus, Savior pilot me/Over life’s tempestuous sea.”
The ship hanging in our nave was made and given to our church by Mr. Marinus Jensen in 1903. It was repainted in 1946 by Christ Jacobsen and repainted and restrung in 1971 by Mr. Donald Frost, Jr.
Our Savior’s “Clouds Of Witness”
In the worship area of Our Savior’s, the sky and clouds can be seen. Near the ceiling around the altar are panels painted with clouds and sky. As you sit in the church, you have a feeling of the outside coming inside. The Decorating Team adds artificial trees and plants during the year to give a real outdoor feeling.
The murals were the brain child of Karen Gunderson. Karen is a well-known New York based artist famous for her cloud paintings. A former member of Our Savior’s, Karen wanted to help brighten up the worship space. She pitched her idea to the congregation and was met with much encouragement. Funding for the project was undertaken by Karen, and all money raised was from private donations.
The project began in 1994. The two side panels were completed a year later and installed in the church. She then began work on the largest panel for the back wall. This took her another year. It was completed and installed in August 1996, just in time for the congregation’s 100th anniversary celebration. Karen said that she worked 12-14 hours a day for about 6 weeks to get it done on time. That was because the first large panel she completed one evening, she got up the next morning, and said it looked all wrong, so she started over.
The paintings are a combination of an oil paint and wax medium on a linen canvas. All three panels were completed in New York and shipped to Racine. Once here, Wayne Kavaliauskas, a congregation member and contractor, mounted the canvas on frames made of redwood. Redwood was chosen for its quality and resistance to shrinking. The cost of the project was $40,000.00.
Karen Gunderson’s paintings are filled with metaphors for those who ponder them.
“Shadows are to remind people that where there are shadows, there is light, and where there is light, there is hope.” — Karen Gunderson
“The clouds reflect a caring spirit in a mean spirited world.” — Pastor Gerald Anderson
The Noah’s Ark Mural
The “Noah’s Ark” mural on the stairway walls to Fellowship Hall was an inspiration of Congregation member Sue Paksi. It began as a project for the youth of the church and neighborhood. The idea was to bring artists in to work on creating this mural with the kids.
Along came Chad Slewinski and Mike Richlen, two graphic artists associated with Karen Johnson Productions in Racine. These gentleman developed the design and did most of the work to bring it to life. They began with the kids helping to prep the walls and get the base coats of paint on the walls. They then began drawing in the jungle and animals. They worked freehand in their drawings, looking at books and National Geographic magazines for inspiration and details.
Chad and Mike spent 1, 2 or 3 nights a week volunteering their time and talent to the mural. Both said that this opportunity to create this artwork was fun and so different from what they did all day at work. They spent 18 months painting and paying remarkable attention to detail in their animals. As you walk up and down the stairs, some of the animals look like they are watching you. The waterfall seems like it is running, and the trees and rocks appear real.
In June 2000, the mural was dedicated with “Noah” himself present and telling the story of the great flood. The mural is a wonderful addition to the walls leading to Fellowship Hall and our Sunday School area. All the animals go out two by two into the new land.
The Murray House/Kearney Mansion History
The land around Our Savior’s Lutheran Church was originally owned by Mrs. Milligan, the sister of Gilbert Knapp, the founder of Racine. She sold it to Daniel Slauson, who originally built a frame home across the road. Mr. Slauson provided the property for the mansion to George Murray, his business partner.
The mansion, also known as the parish house, was designed & built in 1874 by Walter Blythe for George Murray. The house was a cream brick, Italianate style home with gas lighting. The construction was monitored by architect Lucas Bradley. Mr. Bradley was also the architect for the First Presbyterian Church, 716 College Av. & Racine College (DeKoven Center), and 600 21st Street. Corse, Moon, & Davis were contracted to build the home. The original home was the eastern two-story portion. In the very late 1800’s, the western portion was added, and it served as servant quarters. In 1875, the finished home was known to be the most expensive of the time, built at a cost of $30,000. The Murray home was known for its expansive gardens and yard. It was the site of many festive parties, and the farm was once used for the Racine County Fair.
George Murray emigrated to Racine from Scotland in 1850. He went to work for Pendleton & Taylor Lumber Merchants. He later became a partner in Murray, Slauson and Co. He was also known for his herd of Short Horn cattle, breeding them on the farm on Washington Avenue. He married Mary Slauson, daughter of Daniel Slauson. It is reported that Murray, who sold off most of his cattle due to ill health in the late 1870’s, went to the Eastern United States supposedly on business. He never returned, and his whereabouts remains a mystery. Mary Slauson-Murray died in 1901.
Ownership of the home went to Thomas M. Kearney. Mr. Kearney was born in 1856 and was a well known attorney in the area. He subdivided the farm land around the home and installed Kearney Avenue. He died in 1931.
In 1949, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church purchased the house and property for $38,000 from Mrs. Kearney’s Estate. The western portion was then used as the Parish House for the Pastor. The eastern portion was used for Sunday School. The Church was added on in 1955-56. During this period, the Porch on the East side of the Mansion was removed to make way for the carport/breezeway connecting the two buildings. Pastors and their families lived in the western portion until 1961. Today, the Mansion is used for parish offices, a variety of church and community meetings, education, and a community food pantry.
The Murray House was placed on the list of Racine Historical buildings in November 1976, and on the National Register of Historical Places in 1979. Both cite the home’s age and architectural design features as significant for the area.
Some of the following features still exist in the home:
- High ceilings with large windows
- Numerous marble fireplaces
- Expansive porches
- Leaded glass
- Pocket doors
- Mahogany Staircase
- Italian Chandeliers
- Conservatory Room
- Creamery Brick exterior
Although it stands at 129 years of age, the Murray House has served the community well as a home and meeting place. It is the hope of Our Savior’s that it will continue to serve the community in the future.