North Omaha churches are old and young; congregations are new and merged; buildings are brand-new and historic. One church shows the development of a new African American congregation in a mainline denomination after World War II, and how they thrive in the new millennium. This is a history of Hope Lutheran Church in North Omaha.
History Older than a Building
Hope Lutheran Church is currently the only African American Lutheran congregation in Nebraska. Located on the corner of North 30th and Corby Streets, the history of Hope is older than that single building. While today’s congregation was formally organized in 1946, its roots are deeper and rarely recognized.
Started in the 1920s, the Hope Lutheran congregation was served by ministers from among many churches. The African American congregation was begun as a segregated church during the post-Will Brown lynching era, like many mainline denominations in North Omaha, including the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Catholics. Originally, services for the segregated Lutheran church were held in the Northside YMCA, and at the home of Ella McIntosh at 2709 Ohio Street. No single minister was appointed until 1946.
A History of Pella Danish Lutheran Church
The building at North 30th and Corby Street was constructed by the Pella Danish Lutheran Church. Founded in 1880, this ethnic congregation’s had two buildings before the current building. The original was located in the Kellom Heights neighborhood at 1915 North 26th Street, and the second was a white clapboard church at 2217 North 26th Street in the Long School neighborhood.
In 1913, the Easter Sunday tornado demolished the second church. The congregation didn’t waste time in reconstructing though, and later that year Pella opened their new building at 2723 North 30th Street in the Omaha View neighborhood. (Howard Kennedy School was originally called Omaha View School.)
A massively important institution among Omaha’s Scandinavians, when it was constructed the neighborhood around Pella Lutheran Church was filled with white people. When the Omaha View neighborhood became “too Black” though, racism prompted white flight and the congregation abandoned North Omaha.
Born Anew in the Great Depression
The Black congregation bought the former Pella building at 2723 North 30th Street in 1931, and it was originally called the Corby Lutheran Church. Rev. W. C. Olienburg of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church served the congregation along with his own church immediately after World War II ended.
Rev. Helmut H. Schauland (1918-2014) served the congregation starting in 1946, and became the first full time minister appointed to an African American Lutheran congregation in Omaha. During his tenure, Schauland saw the renaming of the church, the joining of a synod and the opening of a grade school by the church. On Easter Day 1946, the congregation was renamed Hope Lutheran Church to honor its position after World War II. Hope Lutheran joined the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church in 1948.
The congregation was concerned with fighting the image of being a segregated church in the 1950s. Starting in 1951, they hosted an annual race relations program on a radio station in the city. That year, Rev. Schauland proclaimed the church is not a Black congregation because there were white families in the pews every Sunday.
In 1954, the African American congregation hired its first African American minister, Rev. R. F. Jenkins (1912-2000). In 1976, the church held an anniversary services featuring Rev. Schauland, the first minister at the church.
Rev. Jenkins served the church until 1978. In 1978, the church honored its senior members with a holiday dinner. Mrs. Mayne Mason, Mrs. R. E. Watkins, Mrs. Jefferson, Mrs. Anna Brown, Mrs. Myra Kincaid and Mrs. Georgia Sanford were those honored at a large meal served by the Sunday school.
In 1979, there was a controversy regarding Rev. Jenkins’ pension. A column in the Omaha World-Herald said the recently retired minister received $142 monthly from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pension, while the minimum pension for all pastors was $200 monthly. Charging the church with institutional racism, Jenkins said he never made more than $8,000 annually as a minister. A church official responding to Rev. Jenkins’ article in the paper, saying he was off-base in his pricing and explaining the pension plan Jenkins didn’t join. He also said the paper shouldn’t publish church business issues.
Rev. James McDaniels was appointed to Hope in 1983, and stayed at the church until 1987. That year, he was named the newly created position of secretary for Black Ministry within the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. He oversaw the opening of Project Hope, the church’s social action program at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. Offering family counseling, a food pantry and a clothing pantry, the church planned on adding medical and dental screening services.
In November 1950, Hope Lutheran Church laid the cornerstone for Hope Lutheran School at 2720 Wirt Street. A grade school serving kindergarten through eighth grades, the new building was the first school built in this neighborhood in decades. In addition to the classrooms, there was an office, private instruction room, an auditorium and recreation room, and was designed to serve 75 students.
The school struggled to maintain enrollment throughout its existence, and starting in 1955, there was talk of closing the building. From its peak of 64 students, in 1960 there were 40. That year, Mr. Theodore and Mrs. Mary Wellancamp Preuss were the only teachers at the school.
The next year, the entire building was repainted and more attempts were made to fill it with students. In 1962, there were only 18 students in the school. In 1963, the Missouri Synod declared “there shall be no separate schools for non-whites,” which Rev. Jenkins said affected the school. It was closed in 1964 and converted into a daycare program. The students who attended there were offered tuition-free admission to two other Lutheran schools in Omaha, but their parents all rejected the offers and sent their students to nearby schools in the Near North Side, where Omaha Public Schools’ Black schools were located.
The building was demolished with the construction of the North Freeway.
Hope Lutheran Church Today
The Hope Lutheran Church continues worshipping today in their historic building. Despite being almost 130 years old, the building is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nor has it been designated an official Omaha Landmark by the Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission. There is no historical marker or plaque outside the building either.
The congregation keeps its weekly services, conducts a variety of ministries and continues transforming in the new decade.
Past Pastor Directory
- Rev. W. C. Olienburg
- Rev. Helmut H. Schauland (1918-2014) served from 1946 to 1952
- Rev. Vernon Koeper (1920-1987) served from 1952 to 1954
- Rev. R. F. Jenkins (1912-2000) served from 1954 to 1978
- Rev. Julius B. Myhr served from 1979 to 1980(?)
- Rev. James McDaniels served from 1983 to 1987
- Rev. James D. Wilkens served from 2009 to 2011
- Rev. John Deang is currently serving the church
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- Hope Lutheran Church official webpage