Former Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church pastor Kjell Jordheim has died at 97

BAY RIDGE — Beloved former Bay Ridge Pastor Kjell Jordheim died on Thursday, Jan. 16 at the age of 97.

Jordheim was born in Oslo, Norway in 1922. His studies at the University of Oslo were interrupted during WWII with the German occupation of Norway. The university was closed by the Germans after civil disobedience against the German occupation by student groups intensified. Jordheim’s involvement with the groups leading protests made it dangerous for him to remain in Oslo when the Germans rounded up students to be sent to “reeducation camps” in Germany.

Jordheim evaded arrest by hiding in a church basement for several days before escaping the city. He survived the rest of the war as a night watchman at the post office, and later was able to finish his studies in 1948.

 Two years later, in 1950, he received his Master of Sacred Theology degree and married Anne Elisabeth Falkenstein, whom he had met through a local Lutheran student group. From 1951 to 1958, they traveled throughout war-torn Europe aiding in the resettlement of refugees from WW II.

 Following his ordination in 1959, Jordheim and his wife moved to the United States and settled in Wisconsin, where they remained for eight years before moving to Brooklyn in 1967 after becoming a leader in the Scandinavian community.

During his 27-year career at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church at 414 80th St. in Bay Ridge, Jordheim helped spearhead fundraising efforts that allowed the congregation to finish its church building in 1986, after construction had stopped in 1929, due to the Great Depression. Jordheim was pastor at Our Saviour’s from 1967 to 1994.

Jordheim was also the founder in 1969 of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Preschool, which remains today a fixture in the community and a partner with the Department of Education, serving families of all faiths and from all religious backgrounds.

Alice Mulligan, director at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Preschool, recalled how Jordheim interviewed her and first hired her in 1991. “I have a fond memory of the preschool staff and their children hosting a barbecue for him in our garden one evening in late June,” Mulligan told this paper. “All the children helped carry out a large sheet cake and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him.  He was thrilled! He loved the children and they loved him.”

 While going through the school archives recently, Mulligan said that she had found notes Jordheim wrote at the very first parent meeting that took place a few weeks after the school opened.

“He detailed for the families that he wanted the preschool to be non-sectarian and of service to the community, and that the church was ‘not only open to people of Norwegian background’ but to all in the community. I am very grateful that Pastor Jordheim had the vision 50 years ago to create a place for children to learn and grow in our Bay Ridge community.  His desire to welcome all children is truly at the heart of what we believe at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Preschool,” she added. 

Jordheim was also a leader in the Norwegian American community in Brooklyn for 27 years, having served as the Chair of the Annual Norwegian Day Parade in Bay Ridge. He was also the recipient of the St. Olav medal, awarded to him by King Olav V, the King of Norway, in January, 1976.

Norwegian Day Parade Chair Arlene Rutuelo said that hearing about Jordheim’s passing was devastating. “Although he was 97 years old, this news was like a lightning bolt that shot across the U.S. as well as in Norway,” Rutuelo told this paper.

“He served God, the church, the Norwegian community and the whole Brooklyn community as though everyone was his own family. We would do well as a society to learn from his civic-minded example. Job well done! His legacy will continue in the lives of those he loved and served. Rest in peace, Pastor Jordheim.”

Jordheim died at the Lenoir Woods Long Term Care Center in Columbia, Missouri, surrounded by family. He was preceded in death by his son, Jon Steffen, and is survived by his wife Anne, daughter Kristin, son Jan, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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