First Lutheran to celebrate 150 years

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

ST. ANSGAR. Iowa -- A year from now, they will be talking about the weekend that was in St. Ansgar.

When 150 was every citizen's lucky number.

When not one, but two sesquicentennials were observed.

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When the town celebrated its sesquicentennial on a Saturday and First Lutheran Church celebrated its own sesquicentennial on a Sunday.

When the Rev. C. L. Clausen, founder of both the city and the church, was a household name everywhere.

That weekend to remember comes Saturday and Sunday. The community's annual Town and County Day celebration is giving way to twin 150th anniversaries.

The Rev. Robert Porisch has seen the anticipation building each Sunday in the historic church.

"I think you can feel the excitement growing all the time," Porisch said. "Part of that is because we have had presentations each Sunday on church history.

"We started with the first four pastors, we've done one on the seminary, we've had others on confirmation and weddings. There's a lot of church history to share," he said.

First Lutheran Church is the oldest church west of the Mississippi River. It also has held the longest-running continuing services of any church.

Nels Golberg, one of the faithful, can take visitors into the church basement where the hand-hewn oak timbers cut from the woodlands around the Cedar River a century and a half ago.

The Rev. Clausen came to Mitchell County, Iowa, started a church named "First Lutheran" and then started 20 others in the Upper Midwest.

Twenty-five years ago, Mrs. Clyde Roehr wrote about Clausen, 23 at the time, and the Norwegian immigrants he led to the town that would become St. Ansgar.

"They arrived here in the spring and held their first public worship service under an oak tree on the last Sunday in June 1853.

Fifty-years ago, a centennial pageant called "The Birth and Rise of St. Ansgar, James Larson had the honor of playing the man, Claus Laurits Clausen, himself.

It took three episodes of the 1953 production to recreate Clausen's impact on the community.

When the town observed its 75th anniversary in 1928, "The Church," as it was reverently called in 75th anniversary history books, inspired poetry.

"The groves were God's first temples," begins a poem dedicated to the Norwegian immigrants and their young pastor, who first worshiped beneath the giant oak trees of the Iowa prairie.

On Sunday, the congregation and its friends will step back 150 years in time to revisit the past in order to better appreciate the future of their beloved church.

Audrey McKinley, the town's most respected historian and a descendant of one of the 25 founding member-families, is excited.

"I think interest is growing all the time," she said. "The historical programs we have had on different subjects at the church has helped and we have some hard-working people and so many committees that care about their church."

McKinley's youngest son, Bryan, is a soloist at the second service Sunday, when the Celebration Ringers bell choir will also entertain.

"Things are falling into place. Everyone is doing their job," McKinley said.

Sunday's schedule

The sesquicentennial schedule at First Lutheran Church begins with 8 and 10 a.m. worship services with communion.

From 9 to 10:30 a.m. there will be coffee and fellowship.

Lunch will be served 10:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the parish center by reservation only.

Tickets are $5.50 each and the menu includes croissant with turkey, ham and cheese, potato salad, cole slaw, fresh fruit and beverage.

A special 150th anniversary program begins at 2 p.m.

Audrey Schulz and Amy Brandau will accompany, on organ, a special sesquicentennial choir.

All adults and friends of the congregation are invited to join the choir. The last rehearsal is Wednesday, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Fred Langrock will help direct the rehearsal choir. The sesquicentennial choir will be directed by Mary Beth (Comnick) Morken. Harvey Hanson will be soloist.

For more information about the First Lutheran Church sesquicentennial plans or to make reservations for the anniversary dinner call the church at (641) 713-4873.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at