Like many other grand old ladies, there seems to be a little discrepancy about how old the St. Olaf Lutheran Church really is.
Yet plans are formalized, now, to celebrate St. Olaf’s 125th birthday this weekend in Devils Lake on Sunday, July 15.
For this week only because of the celebration, both worship services, the 8:30 a.m. and the 11 a.m., will be held in St. Olaf with Bishop Rindy. Normally the 8:30 a.m. service is held on the banks of Devils Lake at the Retreat Center.
Between the services there will be a time of coffee and fellowship in the lower level of the church.
At 12 p.m. the celebration continues with a free picnic in Ruger Park. On the menu will be roast pork, hot dogs, salads, beans, coffee, lemonade and cake.
After lunch there will be a time of socializing and story sharing with games for people of all ages.
At 1:30 p.m. there will be the official burning of the mortgage as the congregation retires the loan from the last major remodeling project.
An eight-member committee has been working for several months putting together Sunday's celebration.
In the memento booklet titled Centennial History of St. Olaf Lutheran Church, which was celebrated June 26 - 28 in 1987, it says that the church was formally organized July 20, 1885, that would make her 127 years old in 2012.
It goes on to add that as many as five congregations constituted the parish at the turn of the century - St. Olaf, Ringsaker, Bethlehem, Vernes and Zion. By 1920 only Vernes and St. Olaf remained, the others meeting various fates.
“As early as 1887, the congregation began to plan for a church edifice”. . . an early history records, “On November 23, 1887, a meeting of the congregation reported that pledges in the amount of $443 had been secured and that there were several others who would give when asked."
Building operations began May of 1888 and the finished church was officially dedicated January 27, 1902.
During the years of planning and building the church, it was “the Ladies Aid who were largely responsible for payment of obligations incurred for lumber and hardware.” writes Mrs. E.O. Tuneberg in a history she authored about St. Olaf’s early days.
St. Olaf became one of the first churches in the country to broadcast its worship services over the then new medium of radio on KDLR October 11, 1925.
The original church was located diagonally across the street from where St. Olaf is located presently. Ground was broken for a new church - built when the congregation outgrew its first home - on Sunday, April 6, 1930, it was completed that summer and dubbed “the cathedral on the prairie.” It was dedicated on Sunday, Oct. 17, 1930.
Page 2 of 3 - Although it was first the depression and then the war years, through its members’ hard work and dedication the mortgage on the church building was paid off and celebrated by a joyous mortgage burning ceremony on Dec. 12, 1943.
The education annex was the next to be built and it was dedicated June 13, 1954.
The Norway Lutheran Church merged with St. Olaf in 1968. The vacated building was moved to its new location on the shore of Devils Lake in 1975 and after much remodeling it serves as the St. Olaf Retreat Center. A fieldstone cairn was built and evergreens mark the spot where it sat on the hill 10 miles west of Devils Lake north of Highway 19 at the Grahams Island turn in Pelican Township. On the bronze plaque on the cairn it reads “Mission Accomplished.”
St. Olaf’s accessibilty addition was begun in 1986 bringing a street-level entrance, cloak room, foyer, spacious restrooms, storage space, more place for group meetings and gatherings and an elevator.
The latest project which remodeled the lower level Fellowship Hall and a completely remodeled sanctuary was completed and rededicated in April of 2007.
Celebrating 125 years
“At age 100, St. Olaf was still very much Norwegian-American in its view of itself. It was a faithful member of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) which had been created in 1960 by a merger of the Hauge Synod (est. 1876), the Norwegian Synod (est. 1853), the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America (est. 1890), the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Free Church. Most of the governing structures of our St. Olaf congregation had been derived from these immigrant roots. But that was coming to an end.
In 1986 the last Convention of the American Lutheran Church was held, and at that convention a new church was formed. A merger of the American Lutheran Church (ALC), the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) created the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and because of this merger, and St. Olaf's acceptance of it, our congregation became a new congregation. We are now both 125 and 25 years old.
Today, the ELCA is an energized church composed of over five million members and nearly 10,500 congregations across the U.S. and Caribbean, and it reflects the rich and diverse heritage of the people it serves. St. Olaf Lutheran Church shares in that rich and diverse heritage. Today we celebrate that complex community that we have become, and we celebrate both the challenges and the successes that have strengthened us,” writes Russ Pearson for the memento booklet planned for the 125th “Memories from 25 Years at St. Olaf Lutheran Church - a meditation on Psalm 100.”
Pastor Jeff Nicla and the people of St. Olaf Lutheran church invite all members to attend the upcoming celebrations including those who are active members and those who have not been active in a long time - come home.
Page 3 of 3 - Nicla adds, this special celebration is open to the entire community of Devils Lake. “We welcome any and all in the community to come and experience worship with our community and to help us joyfully give thanks and praise to our God for all God has done for us!”
“I have now been at St. Olaf for three years. In that time I have just begun to know many of the people who are leaders in this church. These people, and the greater Devils Lake community, have welcomed me, and my family, in many special ways. We truly feel a part of this place and for that we are grateful to God.
I have found the people of St. Olaf to be unique. While being a welcoming congregation they are open to change, which is a huge gift! We specialize in blending the old with the new in our style of worship. We are constantly seeking to find new ways to serve each other and the community.
If you are interested in us at all come and worship with us this Sunday. For those who may be interested in membership please call the church office (701-662-4911), we will be receiving new members in late August or September.”