October 20, 2014
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Then and Now
Pilgrim Lutheran Church: A vacation Bible school preceded the church
Terry D'Amato Spencer

The origins of many of the churches in Warwick can be found in the need of the community for a Sunday school. This was true in the development of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Hoxsie, as well as Woodbury Union Church in Conimicut and Hillsgrove United Methodist Church. The attraction to Warwick could be seen even earlier as steamboats plowing the bay saw the lovely shore area as ideal for Sunday school picnics.

The most famous of these is the Sunday school picnic that found its way to Rocky Point in 1843. This was the beginning of Warwick’s famous amusement parks and beaches. In a short time, religious groups who wanted a place along the shore for their congregation developed seaside communities of their own. By the turn of the century, the trolley brought so many to Warwick that the summer resorts became suburban entities.

Warwick became a fine place for Sunday school picnics for a number of religious groups, including the Swedish Lutheran Community that made up the Gloria Dei Church congregation in Providence. In the period preceding World War II, many Warwick residents were communicants at that church. In June of 1940 they prevailed upon the Gloria Dei Pastor to conduct a Vacation Bible school in Hoxsie near Warwick Pond.

The school was successful and within a few years interest ran high to hold church services at the Hoxsie Community Center. By 1943 it was obvious that there were enough interested Lutherans in Hoxsie to warrant a parish and, soon after, on July 30, the Reverend Arne Andell was selected as pastor for the proposed church. On Oct. 15, 1944, Andell conducted the congregation’s first service at the Swedish Lodge building on Warwick Pond.

The parish was organized as Pilgrim Lutheran Church with 99 charter members in November 1944. In the following year, the building where the services were held was dedicated. Pastor Andell and his family lived in a section of the early church until volunteer workers built a parsonage next to it. During the next decade the church grew in numbers as more Swedish Lutherans from Providence moved into the area.

Pastor Andell was succeeded by the Reverend Carl W. Bloomquist in 1953. By this time it was obvious that a larger church was needed to accommodate the growing congregation, and in 1956 ground was broken for a new building and donated on Warwick Avenue by Mr. and Mrs. Swan Pearson and Mr. and Mrs. J. Harris Potter. The dream of a beautiful church became a reality by Christmas Eve 1957, when the first service was celebrated at the edifice at 1817 Warwick Ave. Rev. Bloomquist’s 40-year service as pastor witnessed the church’s growth during the difficult days of Hurricane Carol, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, Vietnam and the rapid changes in communication and lifestyles of four decades.

Rev. Bloomquist retired in 1993 as pastor emeritus. He has been succeeded by the Reverend Dennis Paul Kohl. While the church had a very strong Swedish influence, the services have always been held in English, and Lutherans of all ethnic backgrounds have become members.

In June 2007 Pilgrim Lutheran Church, led by Rev. Dennis P. Kohl, continued the outstanding good works that have characterized the church since its conception in 1941. What began as a small congregation with most of its members having ties with the Swedish community in Providence and Warwick has grown to a far-reaching ministry promoting good works from the Hoxsie area in Warwick to Kenya in Africa.

As part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (E.L.C.A.), the Warwick church serves the Lutheran movement via internships where Rev. Kohl and his staff teach people preparing for the ministry in the church. Each year a vicar or intern from one of the seminaries comes to work in Pilgrim Lutheran Church. The program is very successful and has received great praise for its insight and service, mixing the enthusiasm of the novice with the experience of the staff.

Dennis P. Kohl is the church’s third pastor and the first without a Swedish background. The historical and traditional ties with the Swedish community in Lakewood continue, however, as Pastor Kohl is the minister at the Scandinavian Home in Cranston, and he and Sister Carol Weaver conduct services there twice a week. In effect, there are two congregations to be served, one at the church at 1817 Warwick Ave. and one at the Scandinavian Home.

Rev. Kohl believes strongly in the concept of the ecumenical movement and hopes to see an ever-increasing involvement with other churches in the vicinity. Members of the Pilgrim Lutheran Church congregation believe that one of the prime reasons for the church’s existence is to serve the good of the community. This is accomplished through such services as food and shelter for the homeless, involvement in raising funds for Parkinson’s disease research and other worthwhile projects. Pastor Kohl commented on the great deal of service work performed by Sister Carol Weaver in providing meals at the Knights of Columbus and the work of church volunteers in hospice and in helping AIDS patients.

A lot of pride in accomplishment has also been noted in Pilgrim Lutheran Church’s ties with Sister Eliaika Oruko, who has done so much work in Nairobi, Kenya in the orphanage and in other desperately needed programs. The members of the congregation have extended their ministry to wherever they are needed.

Presently, the church is working on a memorial garden that will be a place for reflection on a loved one’s passing. In addition to the very significant traditional teachings and programs of the church, the congregation at 1817 Warwick Ave reaches out to all ages and urges all to join them in worship, fellowship, learning and service.

The story of Warwick’s Houses of Worship will be continued.


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