On November 20, 1905, John Lunde, a young Norwegian-speaking man with a heart for immigrants, began making friends with fellow Norwegians. These Norwegians were among the newest Americans, many of them seamen who were seeking a new life in the land of opportunity. They spoke little English and they were alone. So when Mr. Lunde invited his new friends to get together for food and some conversation, they gladly accepted.
John Lunde loved these men. He earned their trust and he earned the right to tell them the best news they would ever hear: they were loved unconditionally by One who died for them.
Lunde opened the Bible and told them about Jesus. It was a life-changing time for these men who heard the Gospel, decided to become Christians and subsequently settled on Staten Island to found the “Norwegian Evangelical Free Church Mission.”
The new church had eight members.
Early in 1908, land was purchased on Clove Road (near Richmond Terrace) for $1,350 and on Nov. 7, 1908 construction of the first Salem sanctuary was begun. Meetings in those days were held in the Norwegian language exclusively but naturally underwent gradual change toward English. In January of 1935 the church was renamed “Salem Evangelical Free Church.” By 1941 all Sunday services were in English.
Almost 110 years later, Salem Church is no longer “that Norwegian church on Clove Road,” but Salem is still in the business of seeing God change lives.
“The methods have changed, the demographic has certainly changed, but the message is the same,” says Rev. Eddie Cole, Salem’s former senior pastor. “There are very few Norwegians remaining, but in many ways we stand on the shoulders of these early Scandinavian men and women who followed Christ. Today we have about 25-30 cultures represented at Salem and we are still reaching newer Americans.”
Today, under the leadership of the Pastor Welborn, the church ministers to about 1,200 persons who call Salem home and to hundreds more who are touched by the ministries of Utopia Outreach, Salem’s faith-based nonprofit community outreach arm.
Salem’s motto is “Passion for God, Compassion for People.”
The motto is lived out seven days a week within the church walls, but also in the community.
Salem has earned the designation of a “church without walls” by its denomination, meaning much of its ministry happens in the community, not inside its facilities. Salem was recently honored as church of the year by the borough’s largest ministry to the homeless.
Salem features vibrant contemporary worship and Bible-centered preaching. In recent years, Salem has been intentional in its efforts to equip members for ministry and intentional in its mercy and compassion outreaches in the community.
In the past few years, hundreds have been baptized and attendance has doubled in the past four years.
For the past few years, Salem has been helping plant a new church in the suburbs of Oslo, Norway — the first new church in that part of Norway in more than 50 years. These days, Follow Church of Oppegard, Norway, is touching scores of families.
Utopia is one of the major community outreach arms of Salem, working alongside Salem members to provide:
After school tutoring for 1st through 12th grade, including remedial tutoring for special education students;
English as a Second Language classes;
NYC’s only licensed Christian summer day camp;
Backpacks and school supplies to more than 1,000 elementary school students;
Upward Basketball for 1st to 8th graders;
Kids’ Night, free faith-based activities for 1st to 5th graders;
Since Hurricane Sandy hit Staten Island, Salem, in partnership with the EFCA’s ReachGlobal disaster response evangelists, has been helping rebuild the homes and lives of neighbors who were victims of Superstorm Sandy. Salem and its charitable and corporate partners have spent more than $1 million in this compassion ministry.
“We stand in awe of what God is doing at Salem. We really don’t know of many nearly 110-year old churches that are growing and reaching people and making disciples.”
Salem is affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and the EFCA’s Eastern District Association. It has strategic partnerships with many Christian ministries and other local, national and international faith-based organizations.
The church, through Utopia Outreach, has partnerships with several New York City licensing agencies and has other government and corporate affiliations.
Norwegian Evangelical Free Church Mission met at Starin Rose Hall in West Brighton (1905-1941) All Norwegian Services. Rev. Abraham Thompson
Work began to build first church at 179-181 Clove Road
Mortgage paid off
Name changed to Salem Evangelical Free Church
English services began.
Groundbreaking for present church building, 634 Clove Road
Mortgage paid off on new building
Tom Maddox Memorial Center was built
UTOPIA, Salem's community outreach ministry, is incorporated by New York State as a not-for-profit.
Dr. Eddie Cole, pastor
John Welborn, pastor