A BRIEF HISTORY OF
CONCORDIA EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CONGREGATION
From the 75th Anniversary Program – July 17, 1949
Download a copy of the booklet here(.zip file)
“Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations... And a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday.” Psalm 90:14.
A thousand years in the eyes of God, are but as yesterday, but measured In human terms, even seventy-five years is a long time. It is, therefore, no easy task for us who live at the present time to pen an adequate narrative of the Concordia Lutheran Congregation which, under God, celebrates its Diamond Jubilee July 1, 1949.
Among the earliest homesteaders in Moland Township in Clay County, Minnesota, on the banks of the Buffalo River were three families who came from Houston County, Minnesota where they had made their homes for about ten years after emigratIng from Telemark in Norway. The movements and experiences of this group will have to suffice as an example of the many of them who followed in their footsteps to this new settlement as both information and space forbid a full description in this brief history.
The first family in this venturesome caravan of “Covered Wagons” was Ole Gunderson Thortvedt, his wife Thone and four children: Jorand, 16; Thone, 13; Signe, 7; and Levi who was ten years of age. The second family was Aamund Gunderson Gedastad (a brother of Ole O. Thortvedt), his wife Thone and four sons: Gunder 11, Gustav 7, John 5, and Andrew 3. The third family consisted of Tarje and Gunhild Skrei and their only daughter, Signe.
Among the single men In the group were Halvor Salveson Findalstvedt, Ola Midgarden, Ole Anderson, and Tarje Muhle – all potential homeseekers in the “Breadbasket of the World” – the Red River Valley . The Westward Ho started on May 18, 1870. Of the numerous camping places on the way may be mentioned: Rushford, Chtfield, Rochester, Pine Island, Cannon Falls, Vermillion River, St. Paul, Anoka, St. Cloud, Sauk Center, Alexandria (where the land office was located), Evansville, Pelican Lake, Stony Brook, near Breckenridge, near Comstock, and Moorhead. From there some reconnoitering was carried out on both sides of the Red River until the group finally decided on taking homesteads along the Buffalo River about seven or eight miles from Moorhead. Here the first home, a log cabin, which still stands as an emblem of their courage and fortitude, was built by these sturdy pioneers.
Here is a brief description by one of the company of how the countryside appeared to them at that time: “You never would believe that Minnesota could produce such a brilliant sight as the Red River did in 1870 and a little later. Here we were moving slowly northwards. The sky was clear blue, the woods on one side and the prairie on the other, as level as a lake shining brilliantly of yellow and dark violet mixed. It made a fine sight of lively oceans as far as the eye could see.”
Some of the many things found in their new environments were hay for their stock, honey for sweetness, ducks and prairie chickens and fish for food, logs for homes, and an abundance of wild flowers for beauty. And so they said, “Her vil vi bygge og her vil vi bo” (here will we build, and here will we dwell). And so they did for themselves, for their children, and for their children’s children until this day.
As our Saviour said, “Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God,” so also here, and as a pioneer pastor so aptly put it:
The above families and others who came here about the same time and shortly after were therefore but a short time before they felt the pressing need of a house of worship.
The mighty mountains and the grandeur of the nature in their former homeland of Telemark had, together with their venerable pastors, preached for centuries to them and their forebears of the power of God, yet also his Infinite love to man in Christ. Then there were also the memories of the old church “on the high knoll.” Beneath its shadow rested from their labors parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers, even perhaps little children. Here they had been baptized, here confirmed in their faith, here also some had led their brides to the altar of God to join hands and hearts in mutual love for life. “Skjonne og lyse minder” – Wonderful and beautiful memories of bygone days.
Now they were in a strange land after a long and tiresome journey, a strange language and strange customs and environments. Yet amid all these new and unfamiliar things they had after all the same God and Saviour “who is mighty to save” the same means of grace, the same promises from on high.
They had received a valuable heritage, not so much in dollars and cents, but in a catechism, A Pontoppidan’s Explanation, a Bible, a book of lofty yet devout hymns, and perhaps for good measure, a book of sermons. “Dei ga os an arv til aa gjemme den er storre en mange vil tru” (We were bequeathed an inheritance greater than we know).
And with this heritage they laid the foundation of a Christian congregation in Vesterheimen (the home in the west) in which to rear spiritual temples in the hearts of men.
Where there first plans were promulgated or where the organization meeting was held is not known, nor do we know where the first services were conducted. Two congregations were organized at about the same time: Our Saviors and Moland. These two continued independently of each other until 1892 when they united into one congregation under the present name of Concordia and at which time a new constitution was also adopted.
Very little is known about Moland as the records are lacking. About the only information we have is that it was organized in 1871 by pastor B. L. Hagboe and later served by P. A. T. Nykreim, C. I. Wold, and J. H. Brono. In 1873 it had sixty souls and in 1892, the year of union with Our Saviors, 138 souls. Of Our Saviors Congregation, on the other hand, we have the secretary’s records since 1874, the first meeting being held on November 12 of that year. At that time it was called the Glyndon Congregation, evidently adopted as the name when organized. But already at the next business meeting at the same place on June 8, 1875, the name was changed to Our Saviors and the first constitution was read and accepted. At first Our Saviors was affiliated with the Norwegian Synod until 1884. From 1884 to 1891 with Anti-Missourians and from 1891 with the United Lutheran Church until 1917 and since that time with the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, now called the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
According to what we have been able to glean from the scanty records available the following seems to have been the charter members. Links are to published biographies in pdf file format:
Most of these men had families. But it is known that some of them were single men at the time that Moland and Our Saviors were organized. It is also very likely that we have missed many of the charter members of Moland, as we have no secretary’s records of that church. Nothing would have pleased us more than having a complete list of them all.
The pastor who organized Our Saviors Lutheran Congregation was Knute O. Bjorgo. He was born at Voss, Norway, in 1847 and emigrated to America at the age of one. He was educated at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, and the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri and ordained to the ministry in 1873. The same year he accepted a call to Lake Park, Minnesota, and served also our Saviors at the same time.
Bjorgo was a very able pastor and served the congregation conscientiously until 1884 when he resigned due in part to the strife concerning the doctrine of “election.”
Of things taking place during his stay may be mentioned the procuring of a site for the church and cemetery from Vetle Lisland in 1876. The cemetery was dedicated in 1878, and the first church built in 1884 at a cost of $3100.00. Prior to this time the congregation had met at the various school houses already in existence.
Due to the large field of labor, an assistant, Pastor K L Guttebo, was called in 1879 and served concurrently with Bjorgo until 1884. In that year the congregation left the Norwegian Synod and joined the Anti-Missourians. The pastor to continue the work was Pastor J. O. J. Haugen who was pastor in Fargo. He served from 1884 to 1892. It was during his tenure of office that Moland joined Our Saviors on the 30th of December, 1891. It was also while he was pastor that the united congregation adopted the name of Concordia and accepted a new constitution that was in force until 1923 when the congregation was incorporated.
In 1892 Concordia together with Trinity in Moorhead called Pastor A. A. Oefstedal who accepted and was installed Nov. 20th 1892.
The main part of the church was built in 1884; but seemingly not finished until 1895. We therefore find that Pastor Hougen dedicated it on Oct. 26, 1894.
The following year the Young People’s Society bought and installed the Church Bell at a cost of $210.86.
By this time many of the members had spread Northward so the distance to church had become rather great. As a result, a request came from this group to organize their own congregation to be known as North Buffalo. This was granted on December 10, 1895, with the following stipulations: first, that they would be allotted one-fourth of the services allotted to Concordia. Secondly, that North Buffalo assumes one-fourth of Concordia’s salary to the pastor, and thirdly, that they be permitted to collect funds in Concordia for the new church.
North Buffalo Congregation, organized in 1897 while Oefstedal was pastor is therefore a daughter of Concordia and has always remained in the same parish. After Pastor Oefstedal left in 1897 the congregation was served for awhile by Pastor G. A. Larson and Prof. R. Bognstad of Moorhead.
So far, the congregation had shared in the parsonages with Lake Park, Fargo, and Moorhead. But before the next pastor was called it was demanded and unanimously agreed that the minister was to live in their midst.
So the next task was to build a parsonage. The lot for this purpose, approximately 3 ˝ acres, was procured from Jorgen Jensen, and the parsonage was built in 1898 and 1899.
Pastor H. B. Kildahl succeeded Oefstedal in 1898 and was the first pastor to live in the new parsonage. He served but a short time, as he already in 1900 accepted a call to Chicago.
The next pastor called was L. M. Skunes. He, like his predecessors, served faithfully but less than three years.
In his steps followed B. G. Bondal in 1904. He ministered to the congregation for about four years. Towards the end of that period he was forced to resign on account of illness and died shortly thereafter. He is resting from his labors in Concordia’s cemetery.
To succeed him, N. F. Kile was called. He kept good records of his work and was an able preacher. But due to laxity and carelessness in other matters the congregation became impatient and desired his resignation. Upon his departure, in 1916, H. J. Wickre was called in 1917. The same year as he took office the congregation decided to build a basement under the church. The records are not clear as to when the basement was somewhat completed, but presumably in 1921.
In 1920 the Young People’s Society was instrumental in providing electric lights and other repair work around the cemetery.
Pastor Wickre resigned in 1923, and M. G. Hagen took up the work in 1924. His ministerial records are very complete in every detail, and it appears his work otherwise was accordingly. He was and is a diligent Bible student, a well prepared preacher, and has a friendly attitude in all his dealings. According to an excerpt from “Nordmanden” it was about this time that the Concordia Congregation celebrated its Golden Jubilee, either in 1923 or 1924 with Pastor J. O. J. Haugen as the festival speaker. Pastor C. B. Runsvold followed Hagen in 1930. During his pastorate several things occurred in the congregation.
The church the pioneers had built and cherished for themselves and their children was destroyed by a tornado on 27th of May, 1931.
Now the congregation was without a meeting place, a depression period had set in, and means with which to build a new church were hard to obtain. The records are replete with these and other unfavorable circumstances to the erection of a house of worship.
Pastor Runsvold was, however, by this time an experienced man in the ministry. He had learned to take the bad with the good, as had many of his parishioners.
Undaunted by poor farm prices, overcoming some pessimism, and trusting that “God still leads on” the congregation and her pastor labored prayerfully and hopefully on. It took some time, but in 1938 the church was ready for the laying of the cornerstone and dedication. On the 9th of October the same year, Pres. L. T. Aastad performed both of these rites. And today, at the Diamond Jubilee, it stands in our midst as a monument to the “Glory of God” and as an achievement to the “willing workers” of the thirties.
After a strenuous ministry of serving five congregations for sixteen years, Pastor Runsvold resigned to accept a call to Elk Point, SD.
Since he took leave in the fall of 1946 the congregation has been served by two pastors on a temporary basis. First by Dr. J. Walter Johnshoy, dean of philosophy at Concordia College, who labored efficiently and faithfully until his unexpected demise in the fall of 1947. Since October of 1947 the parish has been ministered to by Rev. Thos. Anderson formerly of Perley, Minn.
The main project of late, recently completed has been the modernization of the basement.
As we are drawing to a close we are mindful of the many men and women of the congregation, who have rendered valuable services during these seventy-five years. Many are now resting beneath the sod, others are carrying on. Their names and work deserve to be mentioned, but we must of necessity limit them to two: Tarje J. Holte and B. J. Gunderson, whose services added together, as secretaries and other positions of trust and confidence practically span the entire existence of Concordia.
As we have read the records we have also noted the pioneer’s devotion to the house of God; their enforcement of church discipline, and their kindness towards the unfortunate. Scrutiny was used in accepting new members, and religious instruction for the children has been paramount in their planning for future generations.
May the Lord, in the future as in the past, hold his protecting and guiding hand over Concordia Congregation!
CLICK HERE to read a translation of the histories of Concordia, Moland and Vor Frelsor's Congregations
as published in "Norsk Lutherske Prester i America" (Norwegian Lutheran Pastors in America) by O M Norlie
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