In 1905 Evangelical Lutheran national church leaders envisioned a new mission in Madison, Wisconsin that would use English as the primary language and service the students at the University of Wisconsin. With that, a small Bible study group founded Luther Memorial. From these humble beginnings, the congregation grew and in 1923 they dedicated their new church building, hailed as the “Cathedral of the Northwest.” A Madison landmark now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the neo-Gothic architecture reminds one of a European cathedral. The building stands tall in the heart of the University of Wisconsin campus despite the challenges it has faced over the decades including fires, threats of bankruptcy, a bombing and cultural shifts with the denomination itself.
These days, the church services the intergenerational faith community in the region of the state’s capital. Entering the nave, a stone living-water font greets worshippers into this architecturally stunning worship space. The floor plan is laid out in traditional cruciform design. With 40-foot high arched ceiling, a domed apse frames an ornate centerpiece that rises two stories above the altar with a statue of Jesus Christ looking down watching over his flock. On either side, ornamental organ pipes add to the majestic look with their 56-rank Austin pipe organ and Steere tracker organ. When trying to define the church itself, Walt Miner writes in The History of Luther Memorial Church,“In daily speech it’s often a building, but also an organization, a religious fellowship, a pattern of changing activities and goals springs over more than a hundred years.” He continues, “It is made – and continuously remade – by the One who says ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”
In 2016, Luther Memorial leaders developed a new master plan for the church. That included infrastructure improvements ranging from a new permanent free-standing altar platform to replace the aging “temporary” platform that was installed in 1988, restore the walls and flooring in the nave area, and upgrade both lighting and sound. Milwaukee-based Kubala Washatko Architects was called in to assist in restoring the church to its original grandeur. They noted, “The sanctuary suffered from poor lighting and acoustics,” aside from other structural defects highlighted in the church’s master plan documentation. Having worked previously on audio systems with System Design Engineer Jason Keagy from Baraboo, Wisconsin-based Peak Systems Group, they were invited in to partner on the upgrades.The existing audio system was comprised of speakers built into the pews, with a pair of two-way passive cabinets perched high on the proscenium for precedence. According to Peak Systems’ Project Manager Mike Mundth, with the room exhibiting a nearly three-second delay time, the intelligibility was being compromised.
\"The sanctuary suffered from poor lighting and acoustics\"