1884 – HISTORICAL SKETCH of Augustana
On April 30, 1884, 13 adults and 16 children met with Pastor P.J. Eckman to organize a congregation. Pastor Eckman was already leading congregations in Comfrey, East and West Sveadahl and Kansas Lake. He would preach to the newly formed Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church in St. James, Watonwan County, 6 times a year. They rented space from the Norwegian Lutheran Church for $0.50 per service. (At this time the population of the town of St. James was about 714 citizens.)
In 1893 they built their own church under the leadership of Pastor L.J. Fihn for a cost of $2,300. Membership had grown to 58 communicants and 38 children. Only 29 months later on Christmas Day night in 1896 it burned to the ground. But not to be deterred, they rebuilt (helped by an insurance claim of $1650.00 toward the cost of $3240.00) and were worshiping in the new building only 6 months after the fire! A new joy was felt by all the congregation.
The “Women’s Society” was started October 10, 1884, the same year the church was organized and the “Young Women’s Sewing Society” was begun 12 years later.
In 1905 the church purchased the southwest corner of Mt. Hope Cemetery and sold lots for $10.00. That year also brought a new minister, Pastor Lundholm. During his 12 years, the membership rose to 294 adults and 169 children and many improvements were made during his tenure.
Pastor Conrad came in 1917 and in 1920 the congregation voted to dissolve their alliance with East Sveadahl. The St. James congregation was growing and would soon need its own pastor and East Sveadahl had an opportunity to unite in a parish relationship with West Sveadahl. This brought about the resignation of Pastor Conrad effective Jan.1, 1921.
Pastor A.D. Mattson came in 1922. It was at this time that the name of the congregation was officially changed to Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. James, MN. The English language was authorized for all evening services and for the first Sunday morning of the month. (That means that the Swedish language was used exclusively for 38 years!) Pastor Mattson left to serve the Sveadahl parish in 1924.
In 1925, Dr. L.H. Beck arrives on the scene. There was talk of building a new church to accommodate a growing congregation. Dr. Beck used his considerable leadership skills in the gathering of funds for this endeavor. He retired in 1930 and by this time there was a total of $7,363 in the building fund. This was a sizable amount of money since these were the depression years.
In 1930 Pastor E.A. Bongfeldt came to serve the congregation. Early in 1931 a committee was formed to do preliminary work towards a new building. It was decided that a new church be built as soon as there was $15,000 in the fund. An architect was selected, funds subscribed and in the throes of a depression the new church was a reality in the fall of that same year!
As it was written, “The architecture is Gothic, the dimensions are 48 x 84 feet, with high and well lighted basement, main floor and balcony. The belfry holds the church bell donated to the old church by Martha Armstrong. Total cost of the property was $33,000. A new Wicks two-manual pipe organ, given by the Ladies’ Aid, was installed and dedicated on Nov. 27th.” I am still amazed at how all this was done given the state of the economy at the time. Truly a leap of faith!
During the early 1930’s the Swedish services disappeared, although occasionally one would be held on a Sunday afternoon. Pastor Bongfeldt organized a Junior Choir comprised of ages 8 to 16 years and the talented group was much in demand. They served not only at home but gave 45-minute concerts in many of the neighboring churches. In 1934 the fiftieth anniversary was celebrated. After fourteen years of service to Augustana, Pastor Bongfeldt left in the summer of 1945 and retired from the ministry.
Pastor Herman E. Soderberg began his ministry in St. James in the spring of 1946 following the termination of his service as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. Lots of interesting events took place during his tenure including a new constitution, major remodeling of the parsonage, additional pipes for the organ, and a new location for the Sunday School primary department. It appears there was a sort of “dance of the houses” going on. The church authorized the purchase of the house across the alley to the west of us in 1950. Then an agreement was made with the occupant of the house to the north of us to exchange the houses on an equal basis. This was done and the Primary Sunday School Department moved into that house. Following six years of service at Augustana, Pastor Soderberg resigned to accept a call to Rock Island, IL in 1952.
The year is 1953 and Pastor Glenn Olmon has just arrived at Augustana with his son and daughter, following the tragic death of his wife and youngest boy in a boating accident. It was here at Augustana that the Olmon family began a new chapter in their lives when Pastor Glenn met and married Cordelia Nelson, a sister of our own beloved Bruno Nelson, who recently passed away. Together they had one more son to add to the family.
It was during this time, early in 1954 that it was determined a Christian Education building was needed. The building committee’s plans were adopted and the house on the church’s property to the north was sold and moved. Dedication of the new structure was held on Sept. 30, 1956. Redecoration and other improvements were also done in the church proper at this time making the total cost of this project about $110,000.
In 1962 came the merger of four Lutheran Church bodies into what was called the Lutheran Church of America. (LCA)
In 1963 Pastor Olmon accepted a call to Duluth and a call was extended to Pastor William Bruehl, who accepted and arrived in August. During his ministry here the interior of the church underwent extensive remodeling, including changing the lighting system, new carpet, free standing altar, complete redecorating and the installation of the sanctuary lamp. A service of rededication was held on Nov. 13, 1966. At a later date the kitchen and working sacristy were also improved. Two services were implemented at this time to better serve the congregation’s needs. Pastor Bruehl had a special gift with the youth and with community outreach. You would often find him mingling with the folks uptown and out in the farmers’ fields. He left for a church in St. Paul in 1973. About this time, Pastor Thure Johnson, who had retired from active ministry, along with his lovely wife, Selma, moved to St. James and served the congregation as visitation pastor.
The Rev. R. Christian Hansen became our pastor on Feb. 15, 1974. During his time here he stressed Christian responsibilities, Christian living, and strength for missions. In July 1977 the parsonage, which had been church property for 56 years, was sold to Pastor Hansen and his wife, Norma. It was during his tenure that our present-day pipe organ was purchased to replace the Wicks organ that had been in use since 1931. It was built by Karl Wilhelm in Montreal, Canada and installed in November of 1978 at a cost of $84,000. It is presently insured for $225,000. (It was a good investment!)
On the 98th Anniversary of our congregation, in 1982, a “mortgage burning ceremony” was held with Pastor Bruehl returning as guest speaker that day.
The year is 1982 and Augustana has the distinction of installing two pastors on the same day. One was Karla Kirkeby, who had been studying for the pastorate while serving as a deaconess here, and the other was Don Johnson, who came from Michigan, called to be our Senior Pastor. Pastor Karla’s ordination was held here at Augustana in April. It was while they were both here that we celebrated our Centennial in 1984. A new cornerstone was laid with appropriate remembrances placed inside the capsule. By the end of our centennial year, both pastors had left, one returned to the seminary for more study and the other to a church in Key West, FL. Pastor Johnson’s emphasis was on evangelism and Christian ministry and Pastor Kirkeby specialized in Christian Education, music and youth.
Lucky for us we did not have to wait long for a new pastor. Pastor Theodore Kunze and his wife, Marcia, came to us in August of 1985. At the annual meeting of 1986, with Pastor Ted’s leadership, it was voted to try for an intern to help with the work of the church. Pastor Kunze proved to be an excellent mentor, and the interns proved to be very good for our congregation. A new intern came each fall from the seminary. They were: Kay Herzog, Jim Boline, John Ashland, Richard Webb, Kelly Wasberg, Sara Massey-Gillespie, Laura Botes, Mark Wendland, Nirmala Peters, Bob Friese, Helga Henkel, John Heille, Vera Miller, and Dan Peterson. Each of the fourteen brought new and varied talents to our church, and by being a part of the “Internship Training Program,” Augustana touched the lives of many congregations far beyond our borders. It was also at this time that Augustana began the support of a missionary to the Far East, which continues to the present day. We are asked not to publish his name due to the sensitive area in which he proclaims the Gospel.
In 1987 came the merger of the LCA, ALC, and AELC church bodies into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA.) The first bishop was Herbert Chilstrom of the LCA, who was no stranger to the people of Augustana since he was from Minnesota and had visited us several times.
After 21 years Pastor Kunze and his family saw fit to leave us to answer a call to Slayton, MN. Pastor Dean Larson came to be with us for a year and then a call was extended to Pastor Greg Hall, who came with his wife, Penny, in June of 2007. Much to our surprise he had already been living in St. James, so it was a relatively easy move for him. We look forward to working with Pastor Greg in the years to come. One of his first recommendations was to change our Confirmation Guidelines, which are now called “Longer and Later.” Our newly reorganized youth group (ALCY) is under the leadership of Dominique Berg, who began his duties in May of 2006. He along with our senior choir director, Terry Engel, have formed a new musical group called, “Jesus Peeps”.
It was about this time that the men of the congregation began our “Faith Chest” ministry. Each newly baptized member receives a small handmade chest to store keepsakes from milestones along their faith journey. Our WELCA circles and the Tuesday sewing circle meet monthly and continue with their faithful service to the church, locally and at large, not the least of which include the Altar Guild and the Funeral Committee (with able assistance from several of our churchmen).
In 2011 we began a partnership with East Sveadahl Lutheran Church and called our Kathleen Ulland-Klinkner as our Pastor.
THANKS BE TO GOD, YESTERDAY, TODAY, TOMORROW!
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