What is the Norwegian Seamen's Church? I didn't know we had that many Norwegian sailors in New Orleans.
If you were in the Lower Garden District last weekend, you might have heard the sound of jazz coming from the Norwegian Seamen's Church on Prytania Street. It marked the church's biggest annual fundraiser, the Christmas Bazaar and Scandinavian Festival, which featured food, handmade crafts and music.
Changing times have transformed the mission of the Norwegian Seamen's Church, but its history points to New Orleans' importance as a port city. At one time, more than 30 major port cities in the U.S. hosted such churches. Ours is one of only six still active in America. According to its website, the Norwegian Seamen's Mission, founded in 1864, was established worldwide to offer religious and social services and a home away from home to Scandinavian seafarers.
At the turn of the 20th century, many Norwegian ships and sailors made trips to New Orleans. For example, records show 418 Norwegian ships docked in the city in 1909. To serve sailors' needs, the local church was founded in 1906. It originally was a branch of the Seamen's Church in Pensacola, Florida. There also were churches in Mobile, Alabama and Gulfport, Mississippi. The local church originally was on Magazine Street but moved to 1772 Prytania St. in 1927. It was renovated in 1968.
Over the years, the church has been nicknamed the "Jazz Church" for hosting frequent performances by local and traveling jazz musicians. The church even released a CD featuring some of the secular performances. The tradition of featuring jazz in concerts and church services at the church began when the Rev. Paul Daasvand was pastor in the 1970s. It helped that famed banjoist Narvin Kimball was the church's postmaster and encouraged his Preservation Hall colleagues to perform at the church.
The jazz service continues on the first Sunday of each month.