Fig Tree Logo

Lutheran pastor restores crucifix from another church

David Olson stands in front of crucifix he repaired. 


David Olson, part-time pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Otis Orchards, recently restored a crucifix from Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Cheney in his woodworking shop at his home in Sandpoint. It was installed April 22 at Peace Lutheran.

The two churches exemplify how the churches have changed over the decades.

The 70-year-old Cheney church sold its building and property in March to MultiCare to use for an emergency health clinic. Before the church closed it gave its pews, furnishings, another cross, art, stoles and other items to other churches.

Liturgical artist Ernst Schwidder had carved and installed the crucifix in the 1970s when Emmanuel Lutheran was a thriving congregation with a campus ministry drawing about 100 students.

Peace Lutheran member Ladd Bjorneby, a retired Lutheran pastor and a former pastor at the Cheney church, knew the church was closing. He also knew David did woodworking and Emmanuel's six-by-nine-foot cross needed attention.

Peace Lutheran installed the crucifix in front of windows at the back of its chancel.

When Peace was built in the early 1980s, eight-foot-tall translucent plastic tubes of water lined the south-facing chancel windows as part of a passive solar heating system that included a concrete floor to absorb heat from the sun and insulation with landscaping sloping seven feet up the side walls.

Those features were removed about 20 years ago. The chancel was remodeled as a raised platform. Trees were planted outside the windows to buffer the sound of trains passing, often during worship.

Quilts made by Peace Lutheran women go to Lutheran World Relief
At Emmanuel, the cross was built around a structural post. David redesigned the 300-pound crucifix to have four sides and stand out from the wall with the windows. It stands in a brace on the floor and has braces attached to the window frames.

"Over years, the mahogany cross cracked, and the finish needed to be refreshed," he said.

He repaired the cracks by driving mahogany wedges into them, gluing them in place and carving them to be flush with the surface. He oiled the finish so it would not dry out and deteriorate in the light from the windows. He said the repairs make it stronger.

"This crucifix combines the death and resurrection of Jesus," said David. "Ernst made several similar crucifixes, depicting Jesus at the moment of death with his head bowed and tongues of fire rising above his head, symbolizing his spirit returning to God.

"Liturgical arts, like the crucifix, proclaim the gospel message visually, another way of sharing the word and being windows to divine realities," said David, who grew up in the American Lutheran Church when crucifixes were mostly in Catholic churches in North America, even though they were common in Europe.

"With ecumenism and changing dynamics, crucifixes gained value as visual symbols of Christ's death and resurrection. Protestants no longer feared they would become idols," he said, adding that Schwidder has hundreds of art pieces and crucifixes in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, especially at Tacoma and Valpariso, Ind., where he lived.

David, whose father was a pastor in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota farm communities, began college at Augustana in Sioux Falls and studied religion at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma, where he first learned of Schwidder's art.

After graduating in 1979, he and his wife Karla—whom he met at Lutherwood Camp in Bellingham—moved to her hometown of Gig Harbor where he began learning woodworking and using it to earn a living.

His specialty was roll-top desks. He also made a cedar boat, exotic hardwood turnings and domestic hardwood cabinets and furniture.

Over the years, David created some liturgical art for churches, including chancel furniture in 1998 for Agnus Dei Lutheran in Gig Harbor and in 2006 for St. Elizabeth Lutheran in Ekalaha, Mont. He also carved a crucifix for Our Savior Lutheran in Thompson Falls, Mont., created an altar rail at St Paul Lutheran Church in Minnesota, and made a baptismal font and processional cross at PLU.

While he had long thought of going to seminary, his decision was clinched while working on a woodworking piece for the world's eighth wealthiest couple at the same time he was listening to the pain of a woman whose husband was having an affair.

"The disparity between working with the wealthiest people and people in a critical moment of need helped me realize my call to be with those in need rather than make something for people who could have whatever they wanted when they wanted it," he said.

Since David graduated from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., in 1988, his focus in ministry has been on pastoral care.

He served churches in Thompson Falls and Baker, Mont. In Baker, he continued efforts his predecessor started to found St. Elizabeth's church in 1997 in Ekalaha, an isolated, declining farm community of 450.

He saw the small congregation grow to 60 members, build a building and thrive. It continues to share a pastor with Baker.

From 1991 to 2013, David served First Lutheran Church in Sandpoint, helping the church work with the community to build an 87-unit assisted living facility, Luther Park Assisted Living at Sandpoint.

Over the years, he found woodworking a good complement to ministry, where he couldn't see what he accomplished in a day, as he could in woodworking.

"It was therapeutic to go to the shop and see what I accomplished working with wood," he said.

Since David stepped back from ministry because of health concerns, he has done more woodworking. In 2013, he reopened Olson's Woodworks.

In 2016, he accepted a call to part time ministry at Peace Lutheran Church.

When David went to Peace Lutheran, it was a small congregation seeking a viable way to continue in ministry in the town-and-country area, where people live on five-acre rural properties.

"In COVID, we reached out to the community through YouTube and Facebook," he said. "We now are reaching out to people moving to Liberty Lake. We're just north of the area of growth between Spokane and Coeur d'Alene."

The lack of sewer lines north of the Spokane River limits growth in Otis Orchards, but Peace Lutheran is near enough to serve new people moving to the Liberty Lake area.

Harvard Road is known as church road because in addition to Peace Lutheran, there are Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Community and Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints churches.

Peace Lutheran shares its building with Point of Grace Fellowship, a non-denominational church that worships Saturday and offers food programs.

"We still use YouTube and Facebook. Boosting sermons just to this community, we have about 400 hits a week, but our main online ministry is for those connected with the church who are unable to come," he said. "About 20 attend worship in person."

Peace Lutheran has an active quilt ministry with seven women making 100 quilts a year for Lutheran World Relief. Karla started the quilters group.

In addition to the Bible study, pastoral care and the quilts, Peace Lutheran actively supports local and national offerings for campus ministry, world hunger and drilling wells, David said.

For information, call 208-290-2411 or email

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May 2023