The Norwegian Seaman’s Church perched high above the northeastern waterfront of San Francisco is one of a network of 30 churches and 16 mobile services worldwide, established in 1864 to serve the moral and religious needs of Scandinavian seamen as well as a place to speak Norwegian with fellow countrymen in the faraway places their seafaring took them. Today, the churches serve about 7,000 Norwegians annually who are travelling abroad and want to read a newspaper from home, buy familiar food and find general respite in a welcoming environment. In places where consular services are not available, the churches and travelling pastors can provide assistance with such things as marriage and birth certificates and general travelers’ aid services.
There were several institutions in San Francisco that served Scandinavian sailors, beginning in the 1890s with the Lutheran Seamen’s Mission open to Norwegian, Swedish and Danish seamen into the 1940s. In 1898, the Norwegian Club was founded to promote fellowship among the Norwegian-American communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Club still exists and is located at 1900 Fell Street.
Serious discussions about establishing a Seaman’s Church in California began as early as 1936 as the Norwegian merchant fleet grew and more sailors were arriving here. The southern California location of San Pedro was chosen for the site of the first Norwegian Seaman’s Church in 1941. Six years later, in 1947, a San Francisco committee was formed with the support of then Norwegian Consul General J. Gable. They eventually located a suitable property at 2454 Hyde Street, a private residence built in 1937. Funds were raised, a loan taken, and the property was purchased for $47,500, and an additional $10,000 spent on remodeling. The official opening came on October 15, 1951. In addition to its magnificent view of San Francisco Bay, the location had the important advantage of having easy access to the seamen whom its mission was to serve.
The ground floor of the building features a chapel for weekly worship, weddings and other celebrations. It is also available for nonprofit meetings and RHN held its 2022 Annual Meeting there. The Francisco Park Conservancy held its meetings at the Church throughout the years of planning for the new park. The second floor has a terrace with a commanding view, a comfortable lounge, kitchen facilities and a gift shop with Norwegian crafts and specialty foods. There are also on-site living quarters for resident pastors or location hosts who take multi-year assignments to oversee the activities and mission of the Church.
Currently, Pastor John and his wife Julie are residing at the facility and the newly arrived host couple, Hildegunn and Trond live close by in the neighborhood. RHN was honored to have them attend our holiday party and get to know them better. If you are walking by the Church, consider dropping in and introducing yourself. On a Saturday, you might find yourself enjoying Norwegian porridge. There is a reading room, holiday activities of many kinds, and Sunday worship services. You can find more information at the Church’s website that is in Norwegian but there is a tab for English translation: San Francisco | The Norwegian Seamen’s Church (sjomannskirken.no).
By the way, RHN has long recognized the importance of the Church to our neighborhood. In the 1980s, then RNH Newsletter editor Jack Casford wrote:
“One of the most spectacular panoramas in any American City – San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Hills, as seen from the corner of Hyde and Francisco Streets – there flies incongruously yet somehow wonderfully, the flag of the Kingdom of Norway. It has since 1951 been the home of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church. Although it occupies a handsome, white neoclassical mansion, and is passed by multitude of tourists, it remains an undiscovered jewel in the neighborhood. A retaining wall, broken only by an iron grill and a brass address sign, obscures it from all who pass by – unless they look up – the Norse have, indeed, landed! Next time you climb the hill on Russian Hill, look up and note the flags.”
Better yet, climb the stairs and find yourself welcomed in for a cup of coffee, a waffle and interesting conversation.
What a delightful resource that we as Russian Hill residents are privileged to enjoy!