Messiah Lutheran Church was first organized on March 13th,1898 under the name Svenska Evangelisk Lutherska Forsamlingen (The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation) with the Reverend Carl E. Cesander as the first pastor. With the Germans and Norwegians well represented in Madison by Lutheran churches at the time there was a need for one for the Swedes.It was officially incorporated on August 9th, 1898, and a student pastor, N.P. Hansen, assumed active charge of the congregation. By the end of the first year the congregation had 40 confirmed members and 56 children and was admitted to the Illinois Conference of the Augustana Synod. The first confirmation class of five was held on September 17, 1899. After a period of inactivity the church was reorganized in 1905. With its first full time pastor in 1906, reverend Paul Bostrom, the church grew rapidly, and in 1908 a house and lot were purchased on the corner of Hancock and Mifflin streets. Worship was held on the remodeled first floor of the house. Memorable were the lutefisk dinners where several hundred people were served with very inadequate kitchen facilities.
In 1910 the church was served by several student pastors until Reverend E. H. Karlson was called in 1913. He was succeeded in 1917 by Reverend E. A. Petersson who served until 1923. Under his leadership the building of a new sanctuary was started in 1920. By 1922 the structure of the building was complete and the congregation began to hold worship in the basement. It was then that the church name was changed to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.
English was adopted as the official language in 1923. During the early years all services were in Swedish. By 1916 Sunday evening services were in English and by 1919 an English Sunday morning service was offered once a month. Swedish services were discontinued in 1923 due to lack of attendance.The Reverend J.V. Nordgren began serving the congregation in 1923. A choir and Sunday School were organized. On June 22nd,1924, the new sanctuary was dedicated. An attempt to purchase a parsonage at that time was unsuccessful. There was some dissatisfaction with the new name of the church. A desire to find a more contemporary name led the church to change the name again in 1926 to Central Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In 1927 Reverend Edwin C. Munson was called to serve. Between 1927-1948 Pastors of the congregation began serving other churches in Wonewoc, Middleton and Morrisonville. Even though the Depression years were very hard for the congregation, the church never defaulted on its debt and even purchased a new Kilgen Pipe Organ in 1932. That same year two women were elected for the first time to serve as advisory members on the Joint Board of Administration.In 1936 Reverend H. Conrad Hoyer was called and served until 1940. During that time the church became self-supporting, no longer receiving aid from the Conference. It was also during this time that a youth organization called the “Centralites” was formed. Reverend Elton Anderson was called to serve the congregation in 1940. During World War II 63 men from the congregation served their country, four of whom gave their lives. Chimes were added to the organ as a memorial.
In 1954 Reverend Donovan J. Palmquist began his ministry at Central. The next year the congregation faced a serious test as he came down with bulbar polio. During his illness members pitched in and membership even increased.In the late 50’s discussion of the future of the church led to a decision to relocate. Population trends and the presence of larger downtown Lutheran churches convinced the congregation to move to the east side.
Once again the church worshipped for a time in a house – 4617 Martha Lane. People made do with inadequate facilities – even washing dishes from potlucks in the bathtub.
From the groundbreaking through the construction phase, Messiah Church continued to grow in membership and the people took an active part in watching their new church community rise on CottageGrove Rd.Having secured the necessary acreage there was nearly an endless parade of construction equipment throughout 1961 and 1962. The first worship service was held in the new sanctuary on Thanksgiving Eve 1963. The week began in tragedy with the assassination of President Kennedy. The congregation quickly organized an all night prayer vigil to pray for the country.
With a new building and location the congregation quickly grew. Reverend Charles K. Paton began serving in 1965. With the new year, Messiah Church Preschool was formed as an outreach to the community. With strong leadership a reputation in the neighborhood for excellence in preparing three- to five-year-old children for Kindergarten, and a commitment to children, the preschool was an instant success.
Through the years Messiah has been blessed with many faithful pastors. The 70″s and 80’s saw three pastors who gave much to the congregation through their faithful Word and Sacrament ministry. Reverend Leland Longrie came to serve in 1970. A 75th Anniversary was observed in 1973. In 1975 Reverend Bill Berg began a 12 –year ministry here. He was followed by Reverend Peter Franson who came in 1987. In 1990 the sanctuary was remodeled.The arrival of Pastor Rolf Svanoe in 1991 brought more changes to the congregation.
The parsonage and a lot adjoining the church were sold and proceeds used to make some much needed improvements to the building. In 1992 the mortgage was burned and the church became debt free for the first time. During this time the church began to look for a new pipe organ to replace the old Kilgen organ which had been moved from the old church. A proposal to buy a new $140,000 pipe organ was denied after a pledge drive yielded only $65,000 in support. Shortly after that the congregation learned of a slightly used pipe organ in Rochester, New York – sold by a church that was closing its doors. The selling price was $65,000! God had provided, in a wonderful way, an instrument for worship that today would cost $225,000+.
In 1997 the congregation began another project to expand the parking lot and make the building handicapped accessible. By the end of the year the organ was completely paid for. In 2001 Rev. Jeff Vanden Heuvel became pastor. Along with his wife Melissa, Pastor Jeff has decided to set down roots with the family of Messiah, and Melissa and Jeff have baptized two of their three children here.
The congregation continued to flourish and in 2009, Messiah embarked on a major building and expansion program to meet the needs of the congregation for the next decade or more. We have expanded our gathering space, renovated offices and built a beautiful new sanctuary and social hall, all with full handicapped access. We renovated the old worship space into a large community room and tranformed the old social hall into dedicated classroom space. This was the dream of the congregation back in 1963. While the building project looks much different than the conceptual design shown below from 1963, the dream continues to be fulfilled – to touch people’s lives with the love of Jesus Christ and to know the joy of following Him.