Wednesday, July 8, 2009

mount tabor lutheran church

The Mount Tabor Lutheran church simultaneously provides its sanctuary users with an intimate feel from the small footprint size, to a grand feel from the height of the volume above the altar. This height continually draws your gaze upward and allows abundant natural light to flow in from above. Amazingly, 240 people can fit in the six rows of seating, drawing everyone close to the ceremony. The classrooms are above the seating in the sanctuary and visually link to the main worship space through a series of slots beneath the circular glass tower. These slots open up to a circular corridor that serves all the classrooms. The six exposed angular wood columns visually and structurally link all three levels together.

Building Timeline
1959 - Decision to relocate the congregation from South Temple
1960 - Purchase of one acre site at 7th East and 2nd South
6 Jan 1963 - Groundbreaking
2 Jun 1963 - Cornerstone laid
Jul 1963 - Completed
8 Mar 1964 - Dedicated
1996 - Expansion of entrance areas, office space, handicap accessibility, and classrooms

The church was designed by retired architect Charles D. Peterson, a member of the congregation, who spent much of his career in Salt Lake, with an office in the Walker Building on Main Street. I had an enjoyable meeting with Charles at his Cottonwood home, where he was gracious enough to give me a blueprint copy of the plans and a section of the building. The first concept, as seen in the image and newspaper article below, was a hexagon. Later, the plan changed to a circle, which is what was eventually built. Another member of the congregation, Sig Zander, built the altar and pews.

From what I have been told, Mount Tabor has a strong music program and supports a number of ministries in the downtown area, including the St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen, the Utah Food Bank, and Crossroads Urban Center.

Tabor Bears Plans for New Church
Salt Lake Tribune 14 Oct 1961

"A 'new look' in churches will grace the downtown area when the proposed $120,000 Tabor Lutheran Church is constructed on the northeast corner of 2nd South and 7th East.

Architect's sketches of the structure which has been in the planning stages for some time, were revealed Friday by the Rev. Arthur W. Sorensen, pastor.

An unusual, hexagon-shaped building, the new Tabor church will feature central seating in a semicircle around the altar, Pastor Sorensen said.

The seating plan will accommodate as many as 240 persons in only six rows, he added. The centrally located altar will be the focal point of the main floor of the two-story structure. A basement is also in the plans and will be used for a Fellowship Hall and Sunday School.

Eight classrooms will be built on the second floor, which will be a mezzanine-type arrangement overlooking the sanctuary. A large cross will hang suspended on wire from the ceiling of the church over the altar.

Other rooms in the church will include a kitchen, nursery, pastor's study and a parish worker's office.

The exterior will feature a multicolored glass tower and the lower part of the building will be a brick facing.

Designed by Charles D. Peterson, Architect, the structure will be only the first phase of the Tabor church's construction plans.

The church has been designed with the intent of expanding on the north end when the growth of the congregation warrants such a move.

Pastor Sorensen said he is planning ground-breaking ceremonies for early spring.

The present Tabor Lutheran Church is located at 61 E. St."

Preliminary hexagon design - image taken from Salt Lake Tribune 14 Oct 1961.

Main floor plan. Existing buildings have since been demolished and an additional wing has been added to the north side of the circular plan. From blueprint drawing of architect Charles Peterson.

Basement plan and 2nd floor plan. From blueprint drawing of architect Charles Peterson.

Section through building. From blueprint drawing of architect Charles Peterson.

Mt. Tabor's Specialty: 'Religion in the Round'
Salt Lake Tribune 26 Mar 1977

"One of Salt Lake City's more unique churches, at least from an architectural viewpoint, is Mt. Tabor Lutheran Church. 175-7th East, constructed in the round.

It's probably the only round church in Utah, said Mt. Tabor's pastor, the Rev. Elwyn D. Josephson.

The small church, which is almost as tall as the diameter of its sanctuary, is constructed as a circle. The foyer inside the north doors of the church is part fo the circle, and at each end of the foyer are entrances to the sanctuary.

The sanctuary is designed in the round, with wood pews nearly surrounding the free-standing altar, one of the focal points in the sanctuary and, said Pastor Josephson, one of the items traditionally emphasized in the Lutheran Church.

He said Mt. Tabor, built 15 years ago, is not particularly unusual in architectural design. He pointed out there has been a departure from the traditional rectangular design within the Lutheran Church during the past 20 years.

During this period, he said, more and more churches being built varied from the traditional church designs.

'The purpose of these variations, such as round or even some triangular structures, has been to focus more attention on the altar,' Pastor Josephson said. 'And many of these altars are free-standing, centrally located ones.'

Building a round church is not unprecedented, either, he said. Some Lutheran churches in Denmark were built in the round and Roman basilicas in the 2nd and 3rd centuries were in the round.

'The focus in Lutheran churches is always twofold,' the clergyman said. 'The first emphasis is on the sacraments, the baptismal font and the altar, where Holy Communion is celebrated. The second focus is on the pulpit, because that is where the Word is preached.'

Mt. Tabor's tall dome, surrounded mostly by glass windows, was also built for a purpose, Pastor Josephson said.

'Height tends to elevate the worshipers' thoughts and hearts to God. It tends to add majesty and instill the feeling of majesty and awe in the worshipers,' he said.

There are also certain advantages to the round church itself, the pastor said.

'By being surrounded, a great sense of warmth, intimacy and fellowship in worship is provided,' explained Pastor Josephson.

Mt. Tabor hosts has about 150 members, the pastor said. Eight or nine years ago, it had more than 400 members, but he said the church has suffered from the same problems that plague many downtown churches.

'Families will transfer out of the area and when new people move in, they move to the suburbs rather than to the city because the houses are in the suburbs,' Pastor Josephson said."

Large multi-purpose space in basement with walk-out to sunken exterior patio. Notice the angled structural columns carrying through to the sanctuary above and supporting the circular roof. Exposing the wood structure in this manner provides an ever-present connection to the sanctuary above.

Sunken patio off of 2nd south with link to basement doors.

Additional entry and classroom wing expansion from 1996.

Upstairs in circular corridor surrounding the double-height sanctuary. Linear window slots and exposed angled wood columns provide connection to the sanctuary. Corridor provides access to classroom spaces.

Circular sanctuary seating with structural wood column supporting classrooms and glass tower above.


  1. Very cool.
    I used to live a block away from this church, but obviously never paid enough attention to it while living there. Thanks for sharing so much more about it.

  2. Very interesting. My dad was the pastor there from spring 1965 to summer 1966 when I about six. I remember all the architectural features you've highlighted, and am grateful you've captured them. - Erik Olson

  3. My uncle, Rev. Arthur Sorensen, was the first pastor here and instrumental in its coming into being. Sadly he passed away this week at his home in California.

    1. I, too fondly remember your aunt and uncle, Art and Joan. Pastor Art baptized our two children, Eric and Sonja. Their ministry at Mt. Tabor was essential to the growth and relocation of the church. Pete and I kept in contact with them following our move to Denver in 1961. We all met at Mt Tabor for their 90th Anniversary and have the Ladies cookbook to prove it :-) Greetings to all our old fiends at Mt Tabor.
      Ruth Peterson

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