SPOTLIGHT ON MEMBERS by Michael Zullo
The Norwegian Seamen’s Church in New York City began in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in 1984. It merged two townhouses and relocated to its present site in Turtle Bay, on East 52nd Street, in 1992. Senior Pastor Oyvnd Kvarstein tells of how neighbors believed the church would be a haven for drunken sailors until he opened the doors displaying the church symbol of a seagull. “The seagull,” he explains, “follows ships at sea, so this is appropriate because Norwegians love to travel and wander around cities like New York.”
Pastor Kvarstein typifies the wandering Norwegian. After 16 years of service spent in Norway Japan and Singapore, he was excited to come to the U.S. He wanted to see everything our nation has to offer. Since then, he has visited 48 states and recorded thousands of walking miles, including every street in Manhattan from south to north and east to west.
Partly funded by the Norwegian government, the church is a busy place. It is one of 28 around the world belonging to Sjømannskirken – Norwegian Church Abroad, a non-profit organization with a commission from Norway’s Parliament to serve Norwegians in foreign lands.
The parish more than fulfills its mission, providing a social and cultural meeting place for Norwegians who live and visit here. Morten Sohlberg, farmer, chef and owner of Blenheim Restaurant in the West Village, is a member on the board of directors, Honorable Harriet E. Berg, Consul General of Norway, resides a block away, and Norway’s Consulate General is located close by in Turtle Bay. Each September, the church becomes a home away from home for the Norwegian delegation attending the U.N. General Assembly. During the Hurricane Sandy crisis, the church was the focal point for distribution of food, water and shelter for ex-pat Norwegians.
Pastor Kvarstein, also welcomes many of the thousands of Scandinavian tourists who come here on vacation. Every Saturday at 1:00 p.m., the church’s cafeteria is open for all to enjoy open-faced sandwiches, Norwegian rice pudding, baked goods and other treats. Every May, since 2014, the church has sponsored a 52nd Street block party offering fine home-made Norwegian cuisine.
Beginning on November 15, the church will sponsor a four-day Norwegian Christmas Fair where candles, clothing, food and everything else you need to get a feel of Scandinavia will be on sale.
Norwegian Seamen’s Church
317 East 52nd Street
(Senior Pastor Oyvnd Kvarstein, pictured above right.)