Evanger Lutheran Church’s roots in the United States begins two years before Minnesota became a state with (East) St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Byron, formed in 1856. The church grew and, ten years later, they divided into 2 congregations, East St. Olaf and West St. Olaf. At the annual meeting of the West St. Olaf congregation held January 30, 1878, a resolution was passed granting permission to those members who lived south of the Mower County line to organize an independent congregation, should they so desire. In compliance with this resolution a meeting was held in the Eastby school house, District 91 in Sargeant Township, February 5, 1878, located at that time on the corner of the late P.W. Jensen farm, which was later moved to its present location. This meeting was attended by members of the West St. Olaf congregation who lived in Sargeant and Dexter Townships. An organization was affected with Rev. J.A. Thorson, president, and Knut Aarhus, secretary. A constitution was adopted and the name Evanger Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation was adopted, so named after the Evanger Church in Evanger, Norway, dating back to the year 1315, where several of the charter members had their roots.
The names of the charter members are:
Nils Johnson Fosse
Sjur H. Aarhus
Ole K. Overlid
Gunder Gunderson the older
Johan M. Pederson
Johannes T. Gjernos
Philip Larson Thoe
Jens A. Berge
Gunder Gunderson the younger
Nils T. Gjernos
Philip T. Johnson
The congregation voted to call a pastor in conjunction with Hayfield, Kasson and Rochester. Rev. Thorson continued to serve the congregation and conducted services in the school house until the first pastor, Rev O.G. Felland was installed. He served two years. Following, the congregation seemed at a standstill. Several families moved out west to take up homesteads.
There was no permanent pastor until 1892, when Rev. J. Linnevold was installed. During his pastorate, the congregation was incorporated and a church was built in 1895, the site donated by Mr. and Mrs. Ole Bungum. There were at this time 17 voting members (only men could vote).
The members of the first building committee were J.M. Pederson, Hans Gunderson, William Brekke, lars Brekhus, Mathias Simonson, with drawings furnished by Mathias Simonson of the Church and Altar constructed by Erick Lee.
Rev. Linnevold served until 1898. Rev. S.J. N. Ylvisaker became his successor, and server four years. In 1902 Rev. S.T. Normann was installed and served nine years. Rev. S. Berven of Nerstrand, MN, conducted services at Evanger until Rev. H. Halvorson was installed in 1912.
[More modern picture of church (still black and white)] Evanger Lutheran, enlarged with basement and barn with 14 stalls.
During his pastorate it was found necessary to enlarge the church and a basement was added. The building committee was Mathias Simonson, P.W. Jensen and Gregger Gunneson. Rev. J. D. K. Preus served seven months as an interim pastor until Rev. G. Oppen arrived in 1919. He served two years.
In the fall of 1919, Evanger became affiliated with Trinity Congregation, Hayfield. May 15, 1921 services were held at Evanger and Trinity on alternating Sundays. Rev. B. A. Johnson was installed and served until 1938. Due to his illness, Rev. J. C. Thompson of Grand Meadow and Rev. M. N. Knutson of Glenwood assisted him for a few months.
On July 15, 1922, the church was completely destroyed by a cyclone. This was especially unfortunate because there was no insurance then for cyclone damage. All that was left was the foundation, but in that open basement a congregational meeting was held, and a unanimous decision to rebuild immediately was made. M. Simonson, Oscar Gulbranson and P.W. Jensen were elected to the building committee. Again drawings of the church and altar were furnished by Mr. Simonson. Mr. P.W. Jensen furnished drawings of the steeple. They were constructed by Knut and Selmer Thoe. Ed Thoe constructed the pulpit. Nels T. Lee of Hayfield constructed the Altar.
An invitation to hold services in the West St. Olaf Church was accepted. The cornerstone of the new church was laid April 18, 1923. On May 30, 1923, the new church was dedicated by Rev. C. J. Eastvold.
Church members would process to the altar and kneel for confession. And a second time, bringing their offering to the altar after communion, processing first behind the altar and emerging from the other side. There was a confessional room off the sanctuary where families would meet with the pastor before church on communion Sundays one Sunday each month. After church, people would leave the church quietly, not saying a word, often until they were part way home.
By 1923, cars began arriving at church instead of horse drawn wagons, buggies or sleighs and the horse barn was taken down. In 1929, the Fordson tractor rolled into the area as well as the Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression.
The First annual Lutefisk Dinner was held in 1930. In 1931, 21 Norwegian and 12 English services were conducted. The last class confirmed in Norwegian were those confirmed in 1937.
It had been tradition for the men to sit on the pulpit side of the sanctuary during worship and women and children on the other. However, newly married couples began sitting together on the same side of the church. Some of the first couples to do so were Ralph and Anita Senjem and Spencer and Ellen Wilson.
In the 1940s, Evanger got running water.
In 1956, a wedding party of 40 people was isolated in the church and compelled to stay the night as a blizzard raged.
Rev. E.R. Weeks was installed Nov. 27, 1938 by Dr. Nils Kleven. He served twenty years, until 1958.
Evanger discontinued parish alignment with Trinity in 1958. The south of the church and parsonage was built in 1958. The building committee was Walter Jensen, Stanley Gronseth, Kindred Edgar, Henry Jensen, Ed Severson, Fred Gieser, Manton Johnson, and Lionel Simonson. The parsonage was dedicated Nov. 2, 1958. The first pastor to live in the parsonage was Rev. B. N. Jacobsen. He was installed by Dr. Reinertson and served until 1960.
In 1960, Evanger joined the American Lutheran Church (ALC). Evanger was then served by Rev. E. Stolen on an interim basis until 1961. On Feb. 12, 1961, Pastor E. Valen was installed by Dr. reinertson. He served thirteen years until 1974.
In 1964, a project was completed which included extensive remodeling of the sanctuary and additions to the church. Members of the building committee were Arthur Johnson, Clarence Peterson, Eddie Spiten, and Carl Scharberg. Upon completion, the new project was dedicated by Dr. Melford Knutson July 12, 1964. In 1971 the basement was fully renovated.
Pastor R. M. Torrison was installed September 15, 1974 by Pastor Robert Evans of the Southeast Minnesota District Staff.
Until 1975, the amount each member had given throughout the year in offerings was posted next to his/her name in the annual report. At that last public recording, the highest single donation was $1924.
In 1976, the kitchen was completely remodeled with a new entrance and small room added. On the kitchen committee were Mrs. Francis Bungum, Mrs. John Linbo, Mrs. Nels Lee, Mrs. Luther Larson, Mrs. Larry Larson, Mrs. Lyall Larson, Mrs. Edwin Olomon, Mr. Luther Larson, Mr. Wayne Anderson, and Mr. Francis Severson.
By 1978, one hundred years since its formation with only 20 families, Evanger had grown to a membership of 553 baptized individuals. By the 125th anniversary, Evanger’s membership was 435.
The “Fellowship Circle” (outdoor fire ring) was built by Ed Severson in 1974. Each member of the congregation was asked to bring a rock to church which was incorporated into the structure.
The red baptismal banner “By Water and Spirit” was given by Richard and Alice Jensen in 1978. It symbolizes the gift of the Spirit and the water of life poured out by our Lord for all members of the congregation. Blue beads on the white cords represent every baptized member of our congregation. A new bead is added during the baptismal service of each child and adult as they are welcomed into the family of our Lord and of Evanger.
(Picture of the front of the church)
Pastor Delbert Ring was installed in 1981 by a pastor of the Southeast Minnesota District Staff. Evanger hosted several missionaries during his tenure: Priscilla Mdziniso of Swaziland, South Africa; Phillip and Judy Hyland, former missionaries to Japan, and Daniel Namarra. Advent Vespers were an addition to the holiday season. A renewal Committee was also formed. The front addition, elevator and handicap-accessible restrooms were completed in 1990.
Pastor Paul Hauschild was installed Januarty 15, 1995 by Marilyn Hanson of the Southeastern Minnesota SYnod of the ELCA. In 1997, he hosted a trip to the Hold Land with 5 members of Evanger. Two “Talent” Shows were held featuring many “old” Norwegians and jokes. A Vision Committee was formed in 2001, a Prayer Chain was begun. New carpet, wiring and lights were added in 2003.
Pastor Todd Harkins was installed February 15, 2003 by Larry Iverson, Assistant to the Bishop of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. Work on Natural Church Development was begun. In 2004 a separate office was made for the church secretary.
Pastor Lissa Kahl was installed November 9, 2008 by Pastor Linda Gunderson of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. She was contracted at ¼ time for 3 years. Passover Seder Meals were held for first communion and confirmation students and their families. A website was created for the church with the help of Ruth Christie. Polka services with Leo and friends became a yearly summer standard. A Prayer Vigil and another “Talent” Show was held.
Custodians throughout the years were Oscar Helen, Anton Jensen, Lori Heydt, Ed and Karen Olomon, Betty Reynolds and Larry Wood. Secretaries have been Alice Jensen, Gina Moser, Abby Severson, and Jacque Nelson.
EVANGER CEMETERY ASSOCIATION
In 1896, one year after the original building was constructed, Hans G. and Anne Gunderson gave the congregation one and one-half acres of land to become the cemetery on the west side of the road. The deed is dated February 14, 1896. In 1958, additional land was acquired from the Quill family. In 1975, another parcel of land was secured from George Gunderson and Robert and Lois Sawvel, adding to the north and west sides of the property. Eighty-five pine trees were planted by volunteers from the congregation, the trees having been raised and donated by Edward Severson.
During the first years of the congregation, a fee of one dollar per year was collected from membership to maintain the cemetery. In later years the fee became three dollars per annum. On May 15, 1960, the first Cemetery Board took office and established perpetual care for the grave sites. Cemetery rules and Bylaws were also established and later revised in 1976 and 1985.
Evanger initially was a part of the old Norwegian Synod, which, in 1917, joined with others to become the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America (NLCA). In 1946 the NLCA dropped the “Norwegian” from the name and became the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC). In 1963 the ELC joined with the American Lutheran Church and the United [Danish] Evangelical Lutheran Church to become the American Lutheran Church (ALC), with the Lutheran [Norwegian] Free Church joining in 1963. It joined in fellowship with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).
In 1989, the ALC joined with the Lutheran Church of America (LCA) and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) to from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The LCA itself being a merger in 1962 of the United Lutheran Church in America, the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the [Danish] American Evangelical Lutheran Church. The AELC had been formed from congregations that left the LCMS church in 1976.
As the ALC considered merging with the LCA and AELC churches, questions were brought forward about the change in constitution from the confession that the bible is “inerrant” and “infallible” to “the authoritative source of norm for faith and life”. In October of 1986 an open letter was sent to the ALC churches by Bishop Lowell O. Erdahl, assuring them that this change was true to what the founders of the church knew and intended from the beginning. Fredrik A. Schiotz, last president of the ELC and first president of the ALC wrote, “the ALC holds that inerrancy referred to here does not apply to the text but to the truths revealed for our faith, doctrine and life.” Additionally, that understanding was held and taught by Professor Ole Hallesby of the conservative seminary in Norway.
In 2009, the ELCA changed its policy and allowed gays and lesbians who were in committed, life-long, monogamous relationships to serve as rostered leaders in the church. Evanger spent time studying the issues and other possible church associations. They took a vote to leave the ELCA in January 2011, and needing 66% for the vote to pass, it failed by 7%. However, bylaws were added to the constitution upholding the traditional view of marriage, that Evanger will not call a pastor of same-gender orientation, nor will civil unions or public recognitions of same gendered couples be allowed in the church or presided over by a pastor serving Evanger, yet the church will welcome all people as children of God and treat them with kindness and respect.
On January 16, 1899, Religion School was organized and held in the Estby Schoolhouse. Student Larson was the first teacher and he was hired for two months – May and June. For many years three months of school was held, one month in the fall and two in the spring. It was always called “Norwegian School”. No English was used. Confirmation classes met at the church every Friday. The first Christmas Tree Festival was celebrated on the eve of December 26, 1896. When English School was in session for nine months, religion school was discontinued.
On June 8, 1924, Evanger Sunday School was organized to be held in the church. Mrs. Thea Kyllo and Mrs. Inger Hanson were the first officers. Seven teachers and 52 children were enrolled. On July 31, 1949, the 25th anniversary of the S.S. was celebrated. Rev. B.A. Johnson was the uest speaker. During those 25 years the S.S. had been served by 34 regular teachers. By 1978 enrollment was 123 students with 13 regular teachers and 11 associates. The Christmas offerings each year go to children’s homes and other programs that meet children’s needs.
Some of the superintendents since 1924 have been: Mrs. Theo Kyllo, Mrs. Ben Simonson, Mrs. John Bungum, Mrs. Clarence Peterson, Mrs. Jens Jenson, Mrs. Mabelle Gegna, Mrs. Lyall Larson, Mrs. Ralph Senjem, Mrs. Emmet Twait, Wayne Groteluschen, James Gronseth, David Wright, John Linbo, Larry Wood, Delmont Martin, Erma Grovdahl, Joanne Larson, Cheryl Jensen, Wendy Edgar, Lynette Haugm, Brenda Gronseth, Don Grovdahl, Kim Jones, Kim Edgar, Alice Jensen, Patti Clement, Vicki Moen, Heather Hawkins and Cathy Severson. After Cathy Severson’s resignation in 2013, the superintendent position within the Sunday School was removed and leadership of the S.S. was shared amongst the teachers.
Bible School was held in several school districts until 1957. At that time, it was organized at the church. Half days were held for two weeks for many years. Then it was changed to al day for one, then half day for a week then in the evenings for a week.
The first annual Lutefisk Dinner was held in 1930. Four hundred pounds of lutefisk was served at the first dinner. The total expenses were $143.53. They brought in $165.05, profiting $21.52. In 2002, they served 957 guests 1500 pounds of lutefisk with 200 workers and had a gross income of $6182.60. The most memorable lutefisk supper was in 1956 when the lights were off for several hours and candles, oil lamps and flashlights were used with little delay resulting. For many years lutefisk dinners were served to the public until 1972. A congregational lutefisk dinner was held in 1977. Evanger held lutefisk dinners open to the public in 1979, and from 1984 until 2005. As many as 2000 were served in a single year.
In the early days there were no hymn books in church. Parishioners carried their own books to church. Several women would have their book wrapped in a big white handkerchief. There were no organs or choirs at this time. A “Klokker” also known as a “Kirk Singer” was appointed to offer the opening prayer and to lead the congregation in singing hymns. Knut Aarhus was our first “Klokker” (1880). Christ Bremer (1896) also served for many years.
The first organist was Mrs. Martin Senjem (Cora). One of the early organs was a large one that was in the front of the church and had to be pumped by hand. Other organists were Mathilda Hanson, Christena Jacobson, Alma Reed, Serena Simonson, Thea Kyllo, Lorraine Christie, Mrs. R. N. Torrison, Linda Jensen, Cindy Olomon, Pat Nelson, Grant Jensen, Elsie Wilkerson, Marilyn Erickson, Sharon Scharberg, Terry Hoopman, Kim Taylor, Karen Skow, Ruth Christie, Barb Nason, Deb Oelkers, and Kris Alas.
Pastor Norman was the first to conduct a choir. Some of the other directors were Clarence Distad, Charles Zeimer, Agnes Sjoquiest, Mrs. Dean Fritze, Margaret Peterson Bjerke, Ernest Sire, Iva Musolf and Ruth Christie. For some years the choir members participated in a Choral Union with other churches and they also had joint concerts with Trinity in Hayfield. In 1976 a community Lenten Cantata was directed by Pastor Torrison with singers from six area churches. The Ladies Chorus sponsors a coffee on Memorial Day and has also had ice cream socials featuring homemade ice cream. In 1978, Evanger had a Cherub Choir; junior and senior high school students. In 1979 the green LBW hymnals arrived, a new organ was dedicated with an organ recital to commemorate the day.
The Evanger Brotherhood was organized in the 1940s and met monthly October-March for many years. Many fine programs were presented each year. Some guest speakers were George Grimm, Luther Youngdahl, and Bob Ryan. People shared trips they have taken, their hobbies and several foreign exchange students have spoken. The Brotherhood took trips to the Twins games in Bloomington. For several years an oyster stew supper was held in December.
Three church signs were purchased as well as some Concordia Hymnals and sponsoring improvements in the church sound system.
EVANGER LADIES AID
The Ladies Aid had its beginnings back in September of 1893 when a couple of neighbor women had coffee with Mrs. Haldor Berge. They decided to have a meeting at the home of Mrs. Severt Giere for the purpose of organizing a Ladies Aid Society. Rev. J. Linnevold, who was pastor at the time, presided at this meeting and Mrs. Haldor Berge was honored to be chosen the first president. She continued in this leadership for several years. Only five women were at this first meeting: Mrs. Haldor Berge, Mrs. Phillip Larson, Mrs. Kjittil Gronseth, Mrs. Severt Edgar, and Mrs. Severt Giere.
Each member contributed $0.25 that day to buy material for sewing and hand work to be done at the meetings. They did things like knitting stockings and mittens, sewing men’s shirts, sewing aprons with cross stitching on gingham material, embroidery, crocheting, carding and spinning wool, and braiding rugs. All of this was carried in a wooden box that Mrs. Berge had made for this purpose. This box was given to and highly treasure by Mrs. Berge’s great granddaughter.
In 1917, it was decided to divide the general aid into three divisions, the South No. 1, the West No. 2 and the Northeast No. 3. Later it was divided into five units and still later into circles now named Rachel, Esther, Ruth, Naomi and Mary. In 1960, the name of the general aid became American Lutheran Church Women, and in 1989, it became Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or WELCA. The circle members conducted Bible Study at each meeting and a program was presented at the monthly meetings.
Some of the functions of the circles are serving at weddings, funerals, congregational dinners and special events, including a dinner and program to honor the “Golden Members” of the church. The General Aid held a bazaar each year. In the early ears they had an auctioneer to auction off the goods bought. In 1984, two ladies from Evanger attended the ALCW National Convention in Detroit. In 1986, they hosted the World Day Prayer at Evanger.
During the war years, the young men in the armed services were remembered with letters and boxes of food and other articles. The Service Flag and the Service Plaque in the church were kept up to date.
The Altar Guild was started about 1960. Paraments were made by the ladies. Individual baptismal towels made by Cora Gunneson, Florence Larson and Ruth Wood were given to the babies who were baptized. Two members of each circle comprise the Altar Guild each year.
YOUNG PEOPLE'S SOCIETY --
The first young people’s group meeting was held March 17, 1901, and was called the Young People’s Society. The youth and their families, coming in two-seated buggies, surreys, and top buggies met on Sunday afternoons at various homes. There was always a good program prepared and a big lunch followed. After lunch the young people would play games and the men would play horseshoes. They purchased the piano formerly in the basement to take to meetings. Many ice cream socials were held and plays given to raise money. Eventually the name was changed to Luther League. “Christian Leaguers Rally” was used as a theme song.
During the years of World War Two, testaments were sent to servicemen. Since 1964 the League has presented the Easter Sunrise Service and also serves breakfast following. In 1975 and 1976 they presented the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.
Young people from Evanger have attended Luther League Conventions in San Fransisco, Seattle, New York and Miami. In 1975 a large group went to New Orleans for the All Lutheran Youth and Adult Gathering. The biggest project to raise funds was the “Rock-athon” when they rocked in rocking chairs for twenty-six hours. They attended the National Youth Gathering again in 1985 in Denver, in 1997 in New Orleans, in 2000 in Denver, and in 2003 in Atlanta.
Shannon and Lisa Sandquist served as Tentmakers – area youth directors with Trinity and the Catholic Church in Hayfield, and others from 1987-1991.
In 2004 the youth went winter camping at Good Earth Village and had a summer camp-out and pajama Sunday at church. There was also a church softball game. In 2006, one youth and parent went on a mission trip to Jamaica.
In 2008-2015, youth attended the Youth Encounter weekend retreats in the Wisconsin Dells. They hosted the band Captive Free for a weekend in 2009, and also went on a mission trip to Sisseton, South Dakota in 2010.
Good Earth Village near Spring Valley has been the site of camp for youth in grades three through twelve. Youth have attended week-long camps there as well as overnights and confirmation kick-offs.
Starting in 2013, church lock-ins became a common event in the Luther League. Participants would come to church usually Saturday evening and complete various service projects benefitting the church as well as multiple charities. Following the service project, they would sleep over in the church basement.
Previous to 1958 the donors, amounts, and places of designation of memorials were read at the funeral of the deceased. As memorials increased, this practice became very time consuming and was discontinued. The memorials were first recorded by the financial secretary and the cards were given to the family.
In 1958 the congregation voted to have a memorial fund secretary. Mrs. Stuart martin was appointed as the first secretary. She kept records and sent memorials as designated, then gave the cards to the family as in previous years. The first designations were to the Evanger Building Fund, Kitchen Fund, WCAL Radio Station, Cancer Society, and Missions.
In 1966 it was decided that the family should have the memorials first and then turn the money over to the secretary for recording and mailing to places designated.
In 1954, Evanger’s total income was $8,287, expenses were $7,346, with their offerings to missions totaling $4,350. The largest donation for that year from a single individual totaled $121.50. Those receiving this mission money included: Lutheran World Action, Missions, Kenyon Sunset Home, Ebenezer Home, Crippled Children’s Home, Heart Fund, W. St. Olaf Building Fund, Luther College, Luther College Building Fund, Lutheran Welfare, Hayfield Medical Center and Lutheran Children’s Fund, Psalm of Life, Soul’s Harbor Cancer Fund and Heart Fund.
At the 100th anniversary in 1978, Evanger’s total income was $50,188, expenses were $50,242, with the offering to missions totaling $7,619. Those receiving mission money included: ALC, Southeast MN District, Missions, Fieldcrest Nursing Home, St. Mark’s Home, United Mission Appeal, WCAL Radio, Crippled Children’s Home, St. Mary’s Hospital, Cancer Fund and Heart Fund.