|History of Grace Lutheran Church|
While we can trace our roots as a church back to the early 1870′s, Grace Lutheran, as we know it today, did not come into being until August 4, 1951, the date of the merger of Immanuel Lutheran and Our Savior’s Lutheran Churches.
To fully appreciate our heritage, we need to take into account the early day history of Rock County. The earliest known white settlers arrived in 1867. It wasn’t until four or five years later that the first Norwegians arrived, anxious to obtain the free land which was available under the provisions of the Homestead Act.
Three congregations were formed in 1872, two of them by settlers south and southwest of Luverne, and one north of Luverne. Those in the area south and southwest of Luverne built churches in Hills. The one north of Luverne built the Blue Mound Lutheran Church as their place of worship.
Luverne eventually had three Norwegian Lutheran churches: Immanuel, Our Savior’s and Zion.
On June 4, 1876, Immanuel was the first one to formally organize as a congregation. Records show that the families of B.S. Wold, O.A. Plomason, Isak Isakson, Jacob Aanenson and Rasmus Halvorson were the charter members. They chose to affiliate with the Norwegian Synod, using the name Luverne Norwegian Evangelical Congregation. The Rev. 0.0. Sando was called as the first pastor, who served from 1876 to 1878. The congregation built its first church in 1886 at the corner of what later became Freeman Avenue and Luverne Street, and at that time, chose the name Immanuel Lutheran Church. Cornerstone for the new church was laid October 3, 1886. Cost of the structure was $2,500. Four pastors served the congregation at different times from 1878 to 1909, namely: The Rev. C.A. Naeseth, Rev. A.O. Thurmo, Rev. J.H. Lunde and Rev. S. Berven. The Rev. L.P. Lund succeeded Pastor Berven in 1909, and served 41 years, until 1950, just prior to the merger, which formed Grace. For years, Immanuel Church was often referred to as Lund’s church.
The Grace Lutheran congregation worshiped there until the present church was completed, and after that, the building was sold to the American Reformed congregation of Luverne who used it until their present church was built. After that, the structure was razed and replaced by an apartment building, which is now situated on the site.
Some of the Norwegian settlers, who didn’t fully agree with the Norwegian Synod’s teachings, decided to affiliate with the newly formed United Synod and on July 19, 1884, organized a new congregation, which they named Our Savior’s United Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Rev. H. Wang was the first pastor. The congregation first worshiped in homes, then in some of the halls in downtown Luverne buildings and in the courthouse until 1898. That year they chose to build Our Savior’s Lutheran Church at the comer of McKenzie and Luverne Streets, just two blocks east of Immanuel at a cost of $2,000.
The building was used for the first time Sunday, August 7, 1898. It wasn’t formally dedicated, however, until 1906 when the Right Reverend T.H. Dahl, then president of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America was the officiating clergyman.
Pastor Wang served from 1884 to 1890. He was succeeded by the Rev. Thoral 0. Fossurn who remained for 15 years. From 1905 until 1908, the pastor was the Rev. Nils 0. Rogvar. The Rev. John Mundahl was called to succeed him and served the congregation 42 years, from 1909 until retiring in 1951. It was then that the congregation voted to merge with Immanuel to form Grace Lutheran.
In the early 1900s, after many more Norwegian families had arrived in the area, there were among them those who had been influenced by what was known as the Haugean movement in Norway. They worshiped in members’ homes, rural schoolhouses and in a room at the courthouse for about a year until a group of members decided to build a church in 1904, with most of the labor provided by the members themselves. The following year, at a meeting held February 24, 1905, they incorporated as an official congregation, choosing the name Zion Lutheran Church.
The Rev. Carl Nordberg was called as the first pastor at a salary of $125 per year. He served until 1907 when he was succeeded by the Rev. Ingvald Hustvedt. Shortly after he came, the congregation decided they needed more room. They found a buyer for their building and bought the church being vacated by St. Catherine’s congregation, who had just built a new church.
The story is told that Pastor Hustvedt visited with the priest of St. Catherine’s parish and asked him what they intended to do with the church they had just vacated. When the priest replied, “We’re going to sell it,” Pastor Hustvedt negotiated a deal to buy it for $400. The priest agreed on the condition that carpenters be provided to separate the chancel from the rest of the church. Pastor Hustvedt bargained with a local builder to buy the old church and move it for $500, to which the congregation agreed.
One of the first events held in the church was a concert by the Augsburg College choir. As the story goes, the Catholic priest was given a complimentary ticket to the concert in order that he might see the church after it had been rebuilt Lutheran style.
Succeeding Pastor Hustvedt over the years were Pastors Elias Pederson, Jorgenson, B.P. Farness, M.E. Helland, E.F. Brandt, P.K. Lawrence Builde, Ingel Hoveland, Russell Quanbeck, Norman E. Anderson and Merlin Melby.
Zion congregation did not decide to join the new Grace congregation immediately, and it wasn’t until May 16, 1968, that they voted to merge with Grace. Thus, the three congregations that had served the Norwegian Lutheran community for a half‑century or more ‑ Immanuel, Our Savior’s and Zion ‑ had finally become one.
Plans for building the new church began immediately after the original merger. The Rev. S.T. Nelson, who had been called as the first pastor, was installed August 26, 1951. Plans for the purchase of the church site and the solicitation for funds for the new building were begun in 1951. At a congregational meeting March 20, 1953, the site on North Kniss Avenue, between Crawford and Bishop streets was approved and purchased for $19,000. At that time, Luverne’s first fast food drive‑in was located there.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on Palm Sunday, April 3, 1955, and excavation was started the following day. On August 14′h of that year, the cornerstone was laid. Construction continued without interruption until the summer of 1956 when the church was completed.
Members of the building committee were Rudolph Juhl, Ray Frick, Carl Husen, Albert Christensen and Dave Stephenson. Edna Wulf, Marge Christensen, Edith Remme and Blanche Sherman were members of a ladies auxiliary, which worked with the building committee.
The two committees spent two years planning the new church, during which time they visited many church buildings in the area. They consulted with members of congregations, getting ideas on what features they felt should be incorporated into the new Grace Church structure to meet the needs of the congregation at that time and in the future.
Contract cost for the church and furnishings was $273,230. Final payment on the construction loan was made in January, 197 1, culminating with a traditional mortgage burning ceremony January 20, 1971.
The construction work force consisted of the building contractor and several employees, and dozens of congregation members who volunteered for all aspects of the work involved in the building until it was completed. One of their soul‑satisfying efforts was installing the bell as the bell tower was being completed. This was the bell, which had tolled in the belfry of Immanuel Church for worship services, funerals and other church‑related functions for 70 years. Finally, when the tower was finished, the cross was placed on its rooftop, indicating that the church was now ready for the proclaiming of God’s word within its walls.
As the volunteer men helped with the construction, the women of the church worked to do the interior finishing once the walls were in place. They painted the walls and ceilings in the various rooms and did what needed to be done to make the kitchen and social hall ready for use.
The first pipe organ used was a small Wickes organ that had been used in Immanuel Church for a number of years before it was moved to Grace Church. It was replaced with the Moeller pipe organ, currently in use, which was installed at a cost of $30,000. It was dedicated April 24, 1964.
When the church was built, parallel parking was permitted on both sides of Kniss Avenue bordering the church on the west. A short time later, the street was widened by the state highway department because of increased traffic and parking was no longer permitted there. The congregation then approved the purchase of property east of the church for a parking lot in 1968, at a cost of $8,000. This was enlarged after the acquisition of the southeast quarter of that block.
The art glass windows were installed in 1969 at a cost of $11,300. The air conditioning system, costing about $27,500, was installed in 1989.
The first pastor, the Rev. S.T. Nelson, served until 1957. He was succeeded by the Rev. G.S. Helgeson, who served until 1961. The Rev. Stan Eyberg was called and served until 1973. By 1968, the congregation felt that two pastors were required to provide pastoral services to all its members. The Rev. Michael Hendrickson was named to serve with Pastor Eyberg. When Pastor Hendrickson accepted a call to another parish in 1970, he was succeeded by the Rev. James Parks.
Pastor Norman Olsen was called when Pastor Eyberg left in 1973. The following year, when Pastor Parks took a different call, the Rev. Duane Salness was named as his successor. Pastors Olsen and Salness served until 1981, when together they resigned to accept a call to serve as team pastors at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Mankato, MN. Succeeding them were the Rev. Allan Nelson and the Rev. Gary Danielson. When they left in 1991, the Rev. Maurice E. Hagen was called. He was joined by the Rev. Dell Sanderson who came in 1993. Both still serve as our pastors.
Other pastors who served as interim or visitation pastor for varying periods of time since the founding of Grace Church include the following: Rev. Oscar Brenna, Rev. Louis Olson, Rev. Johan Dahlen, Rev. Ed Youngquist, Rev. Marshall Moen, Rev. C.J. Fellger, Rev. Al Erickson, Rev. LeRoy Davidson and Rev. Dennis Olson.
Three parish workers served Grace in the late fifties and early sixties. They were Esther Berg Paulson, Harriet Burlog and Elaine Birkeland. This position was discontinued when the church added a second pastor.
In the late eighties, the position of youth director was added to the staff. Deb Hanna was the first to serve in that capacity. Randy Emgarten was hired to replace her in 1990. Both have since been ordained into the ministry. Curt Lewis succeeded Randy Emgarten, serving from 1995 to 1997. Joan Sievert replaced him and held the position until resigning in February, 2000.
Five sons of Grace congregation have entered the Lutheran ministry: Dennis Olson, Peter Olsen, Andy Olsen, Richard Fitzer and John Juhl.
Over the years, Grace has provided financial assistance in the establishing of two new churches, Peace Lutheran in Wayzata, Minnesota and St. Andrew Lutheran, in Charlestown, Rhode Island.
In the mid‑nineties, upgrading the chancel, adding a new and enlarged entrance on the east side of the building adjacent to the parking lot, installing a passenger elevator adjacent to the new entrance area and constructing an addition to the northeast corner of the building to provide more office and education space, were deemed necessary by the congregation. Construction was begun in May, 1997, and completed in 1998. A formal dedication service was held on March 29, 1998.
This, then, is Grace Lutheran Church as we know it today in the year 2001 ‑ a congregation that now is made up of people from a variety of ethnic and denominational backgrounds. Now it is a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the synod formed by a union in 1988 of the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the American Evangelical Lutheran Conference. In spite of numerous changes and mergers, changes in population demographics, and an ever‑changing world, people in Grace Lutheran are still worshiping in basically the same Lutheran tradition that was brought to America from Norway more than a century and a half ago.
What has been achieved here during those years testifies to the great Scriptural truth recorded in Galations 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek
Today, Grace Lutheran Church continues to serve the Luverne community and maintains the world outreach that has always been part of its mission.
We are God’s house of living stones,
At the same time, the church has supported individual missionaries in foreign countries. They included Mr. and Mrs. Lowell Gretebek in Japan, Alan Siache in Japan, Russell Sanoden who spent many years in Japan, Jonathan and Mary Preus in Nigeria and most recently, Philip and Lou Marie Knutson in South Africa. Grace also sponsored former members Dick and Connie Terning, who provided air flight service to missionaries in Africa.