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First Lutheran Church

EHLER, WESSELS, OLSON, ULLESTAD, EIELSON, MCKINSTRY, HUGDAHL

Posted By: Bruce Kuennen (email)
Date: 6/10/2017 at 11:47:10

Iowa's oldest Norwegian Lutheran church marks end of era

By JANELL BRADLEY, newsroom@wcfcourier.com Nov 6, 2012

COURTESY PHOTO
Those in attendance at the final church service of First Lutheran Church, rural Ossian, raise their candles high near the conclusion of the service. (PHOTO BY JANELL BRADLEY)

At left, Bruce Ehler, president of the First Lutheran congregation comments on the transfer of membership to St. Peter Lutheran Church, Eldorado. At right is Richard Wessels, representing the St. Peter congregation. At back center is the Rev. Ginny Olson, interim pastor at St. Peter Lutheran. (Photos by Janell Bradley.)

OSSIAN --- There were tears as Iowa's oldest Norwegian Lutheran church in rural Ossian held its final service Sunday in northern Fayette County.

After more than 162 years, the First Lutheran Church membership dissolved with a service co-officiated by the Rev. Virginia Olson and Northeast Iowa Synod Bishop Steven Ullestad, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Organized in 1850, the country church served early settlers arriving from Stavanger, Norway. Some in today's membership can trace their family connections back six generations. For some, their ancestors are buried in the church cemetery less than a mile north of the church in Winneshiek County.

The congregation's first pastor, the Rev. Elling Eielson, was the first Norwegian minister ordained in America, and walked from Chicago to begin serving the congregation of Norwegians.

As churchgoers sang, "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less," their thoughts may have taken them back to those first pioneers and the first log cabin that served as a parsonage until 1943.

In his sermon, Ullestad affirmed the inscription that is painted on the arch at the front of the church, in the Norwegian language. Translated, it means, "Blessed are they that hear God's word and keep it." In their prayers, church members voiced an intention to continue gathering as a people of God, albeit in a new place. While the day marked an end of an era, it is also the beginning of new opportunities.

The Rev. Roger McKinstry, now retired, served the congregation from 1984-93. He told churchgoers Sunday that when he arrived he had never before known any Norwegians until serving the Northeastern Iowa congregation. But he soon learned the meaning of the phrase "uff da!" when his car took a skid on a curve one snowy Sunday morning on his way to preach the day's sermon.

Former pastor the Rev. Dennis Hugdahl, with his wife, Ardelle, provided special music and told congregants that although they'd moved to Minnesota in their retirement, they took memories of their time serving First Lutheran with them.

The church's 91 members will have their memberships transferred to St. Peter Lutheran in Eldorado, with whom First Lutheran has shared a pastor since the early 1990s.

All of the assets of the congregation, including the building and the land, have been given to First Lutheran Cemetery Inc. A building preservation committee will maintain the church building and grounds. There will be a commemorative service to mark the founding of First Lutheran congregation on Aug. 4, 2013.

SOURCE: The Courier, November 6, 2012

Courier Article
 

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