Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran church
Center twp.

Winnebago Church Congregation Will be 90 Years Old in September

Just 90 years ago this Sept. 3, six farm families south of Lake Mills gathered together to organize the Winnebago Evangelical Lutheran church. They were a small part of a large and fast-growing number of Norwegian immigrants who settled in this area. As newcomers speaking a foreign tongue, they at first had no church, few religious meetings, and were utterly dependent upon pastors from Norway.

A resident Norwegian pastor east of Lake Mills, the Rev. T.A. Torgerson, took upon himself the heavy burden of being home-missionary to the enlarging clusters of settlers all around him in addition to the duties of his own parish. Under his leadership, the Winnebago congregation was organized and grew rapidly. Before very long services (held in over-crowded schoolhouses) were conducted in two places, the present Winnebago and Beaver Creek districts.

By 1871 the growing congregation's need for its own resident pastor was urgent, and they sent a request for one to the Norwegian Synod. The following year, the Rev. P.A. Rasmussen was sent by the Synod to Norway to encourage pastors to come to America. On this mission, he met the Rev. J.M. Dahl, missionary to India, who was on leave of absence due to his wife's illness. Upon hearing of Winnebago congregation's need, he promised to give prayerful consideration. By fall 1873, he had accepted a call from the congregation and was installed as pastor of both Winnebago Lutheran churches and the surrounding yet-unorganized groups. The next year a 40-acre farm with buildings was purchased for him. In three short years the congregation had grown to over 100 families and over 600 baptized members.

The private homes and schoolhouses in which services were held, were no longer sufficient. Under Pastor Dahl's firm leadership, a church was built, for about [illegible], and dedicated by Dec. 12, 1876. Within the space of three years, the members (who were yet poor, having come from the "old country" with literally nothing) not only bought a farm for their new pastor but built and paid for a new church. Some of the members mortgaged their land in order to be able to contribute to the building of a church. Pastor Dahl served not only his own congregation, but also Fertile Lutheran church (then of 30 families) and West Prairie (of 25 families) for a considerable length of time.

Twelve years after the church was built, it was struck by lightening and burned to the ground. Re-construction on the old foundation began in the spring of 1889, and the present ediface of Winnebago Lutheran church was built. Because of the size of the congregation (over 1,900 baptized members by then) it was decided to build a second church also. The members to the southeast erected their own house of worship (the present Beaver Creek Lutheran church), but remained within the same parish.

Pastor Dahl was truly a home mission pastor, organizing and ministering to eight other groups or congregations around Winnebago in addition to building up his own parish. Under his spiritual leadership, Winnebago remained a strong and unified congregation throughout a period of theological controversy and change of synodical affiliation, (from the Norwegian Synod to the United Norwegian Lutheran Church).

The tremendous strain on the stong, heavily-built man began to show by the turn of this century, and an assistant pastor was called, the Rev. N.C. Brun, Nov. 1, 1906, the day of the faithful pioneer missionary-pastor were over, and he was buried in Winnebago cemetery.

The Rev. H.E. Fosnes became his successor in 1907, and a new parsonage was built for him. The area was by this time well settled, and the influx of Norwegian immigrants had diminished. Other congregations had been started nearby, and the extremely large area formerly served only by Winnebago was considerably reduced. But there was yet much missionary work to be done. Pastor Fosnes sought to confraont with God's Word the many settlers heretofore unreached by the church. The period of fast population growth was over, and a time of consolidation and more intense spiritual growth began.

In January, 1911, the Rev. Johannes Granskou succeeded Pastor Fosnes. Following the footsteps of his predecessors, Pastor Granskou maintained and increased the already keen interest and support of Christian missions. Throughout much of its history, Winnebago congregation has supported its own missionary in addition to other mission projects and the regular support of its synodical missions. The Rev. H.M. Nesse, missionary to China, was supported for many years, as is Deaconess Laura Peterson of Madagascar today by Winnebago members. Each September throughout the years, a Mission Festival has been held with meetings several days. This has been always the biggest event of each year for the congregation.

After a fruitful ministry at Winnebago, of nearly 20 years, Pastor Granskou resigned. His successor was the Rev. Halvor F. Hueth, who served the congregation from 1930 to 1952. During this time the congregation became fully Americanized. Norwegian services became the exception rather than the rule, and then were finally given up entirely. Today only the words on the beautiful white altar, "Gud alene aeren" (To God alone the glory), the Scandinavian features and accent of some of the members, will remind a visitor of its Norwegian background. Many big improvements were made to the beautiful white frame church building to modernize it for its heightened activity today.

In 1952, the Rev. T.H. Quanbeck, professor at Waldorf college, served during the interim until the present pastor, the Rev. Robert G. Beckstrand, was ordained and installed, June, 1953.

Today the congregation numbers 642 souls, most of whom, are local rural residents. Its excellent central location, halfway between Lake Mills and Forest City, gives promise of continued opportunity in the future for bringing God's Word to a large constituency. In 1954, the members contributed over $15,000 to their church, nearly half of which went to missions and the work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Twelve of its sons have entered the Lutheran ministry:
Gulbrand G. Belsheim
Nels A. Gangsei
T.A. Johnson (Albert Lea, Minn.)
O.T. Storaasli
C.S Halvorson
O.C. Harang (Echo, Minn.)
Walter Carlson (Stanhope)
Arthur C. Odden (Twin Valley, Minn.)
Walter Holtan (Patterson, Calif.)
C.M. Granskou (President, St. Olaf college)
Joseph Huseth (Toronto, S. Dak.)


~Forest City Summit, July 28, 1955
~transcribed for Winnebago co. IAGenWeb by S. Ferrall


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