Ellendale church to hold special service

Published 9:40 am Friday, March 19, 2010

This Sunday will be a special time for the 700 members of Ellendale’s First Lutheran Church as they celebrate the 140th anniversary of this pioneer congregation.

Special services will be held 9 a.m. Sunday and music will be based on old Lutheran chorales. The Rev. Arne Halbakken, pastor of the church since 1997 and the 16th member of the clergy to serve this congregation during its 140-year history, will officiate. A dinner will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

However, an interesting historical question could be asked about a church that’s celebrating its 140th year in a community that’s only 110 years old. The answer is based on the original location of the church organized in 1870 as the Berlin Norsk Evangelisk Lutherke Kirke in Steele County. (Berlin is the name of the township that includes Ellendale.)

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This congregation was formed on March 9, 1870, by several families of Norwegian immigrants who lived south of what’s now Ellendale. The first service was held March 30 of that year at the home of Jens Torgerson with the Rev. Einer Wulfsberg of the Albert Lea area officiating.

Up to 1876, services were held in the homes of the farming families. During this year the congregation decided to build a church on a plot of land acquired four years earlier as a cemetery located a mile to the south of what now Ellendale. The church members managed to complete this pioneer church in 1886 and even purchased a bell to hang in the tall spire.

On June 15, 1892, the original church next to the cemetery was completely demolished by a tornado. Yet, the bell, a baptismal font and several artifacts were found in a nearby farm field. These items are now in the present church.

A second church, somewhat similar to the first church and larger in size, was built at the same site and dedicated on July 6, 1893.

The community of Ellendale evolved in 1900 when the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad built their line from Albert Lea to Owatonna and established a depot. This resulted in the new town becoming an area trade center. Thus, some of the members of the congregation had to travel a mile south of town to attend church services and other activities. In 1916 the decision was made to carefully move the large church structure into Ellendale by real horse power.

This transplanted church served the congregation until 1949 when work was started on the present church structure. This building was dedicated on Oct. 6, 1951. The west end entrance and elevator was added in late 1994 and completed in February 1995.

A new bronze plaque will be on display Sunday. This plaque contains information on the highlights of this church’s history and will be placed at the original site in what’s now First Lutheran Cemetery south of Ellendale just prior to or on Memorial Day.

A trivia question asked in the latest church bulletin is, “How long was Norwegian the (church’s) common language?” The answer given on another page is, “Norwegian was used until 1915, then alternating services with English until 1934, but confirmation classes were still in Norwegian until 1934.”