HISTORY OF STORLA CONGREGATION
This history, prepared by Lucille Fraser and Shirley Mickelson, is based on past Ladies Aid/ALCW/W/ELCA records, congregational records and earlier recorded histories.
This history was presented on July 4, 1976 at the Bicentennial celebration and updated for the 125th anniversary, April, 2007
Following the Homestead Act of 1860 and in the early days of Dakota Territory, many northern Europeans, especially Scandinavians came to this area. As early as 1881, a group of northern European pioneers, Lutheran religious roots existed in the Storla area. Formal organization of a worshipping congregation, “Evangelical Lutheran Wessington Congregation,” took place on April 7, 1882. Pioneers often came many miles by horse and wagon, even oxen, to meet at various homes to worship and to hear the Word of God preached. Rev. O. Tjomsland, the first pastor, served for about four years.
In 1885, two congregations were formed in the community. The congregation to the west was called Norway, with Rev. Fossum serving this church; and the congregation to the east was called Wessington.
Because of concern for instruction for the children, a Sunday School was organized in 1883. Classes were held in the Leet and Scott schools with two teachers in each school. Sunday School was perhaps a misnomer since the classes were actually held on Saturday.
On March 15, 1888, the ladies of the community met at the home of Ole Hovda to organize the “Ladies Aid Society”. The purpose for this society, called the “Mission Ladies Aid” was to raise support to operate the Parochial School. For lack of a better place to gather, the first parochial school met in the Andrew Jensen granary, located one mile north of Storla village. The first teacher, Jens Christopher, received $15 for his service. Generally, parochial school sessions would run for four to eight weeks.
In 1892, the Norway congregation, west of where Storla village is today, served by R. Valdahl and the Wessington congregation, located east of Storla, served by C.D. Helland, united to form a new congregation, “the Trinity congregation”. There was a definite plan for building a church, the place was chosen as to where to build it, but a controversy arose. From that time on the groups were known as the East and the West. In 1903, the “East Trinity Church” was built at the Elliot cemetery and the “West Trinity Church” was built one mile north of Storla Village.
Rev. H. Thormodsgaard served as pastor until 1905. He was succeeded in 1906 by Rev. Adolph Egge, who served until 1915. Rev. Mannes from the Victor congregation served a short time after Rev. Egge’s departure, until Rev. T. Thompson entered the work in 1916. His ministry continued until 1920, after which Rev. Nels Klungtvedt became pastor, serving all five congregations, Salem, Immanuel, Victor, East and West Trinity, until 1923.
Early social and economic conditions in the community are well illustrated by the activities of the “Ladies Aid”. The meetings were held as an all day affair. They always opened the morning with a half-hour devotional and an hour devotions in the afternoon. There was a small mission box in the center of the table for any small contributions that could be made. During the first years this box did not contain more that $2. The lunch menu was very simple, usually consisting of bread, butter, syrup and coffee. Transportation to the meeting was on foot, or occasionally horseback, buggy or wagon. One lady walked three miles (one way), carrying a child, just to attend the Ladies Aid meetings. Many times these meetings were the only social contact and emotional support these women had with other women in the area. During this time the Norwegian language was used almost entirely.
In 1924, the West Trinity church was moved from the Jensen corner, one mile north of Storla village, to a more central location on the north edge of Storla. Just two weeks after the church was successfully moved to the new location, a severe windstorm on June 14th destroyed the church building. One item that remained intact after the storm was the altar painting. This painting, a gift from the Andrew Jensen family, pictured the Good Shepherd leading a flock of sheep, carrying a small lamb in His arms.
In 1925, the congregation decided to use the salvageable lumber from the church wreckage to build a parsonage. Through a spirit of cooperation, a simple but modern parsonage was built for a reasonable sum of $3025.62. During this time the congregation met in the Storla Hall for worship services until they could raise funds to rebuild the church.
In 1926, the Ladies Aid began to building fund for a new church building. Money was contributed by setting extra brooding hens to raise more chickens, and by fund raising events such as selling lunch at auction sales, etc. In April 1928, the congregation decided to construct a church building if the crops were abundant and the conditions justified it. Digging and construction work began in the Fall of 1928. Everyone was committed to the project, faithfully and earnestly, by donating labor as well as money so that the building was completed in the Spring of 1929. The first service at the new “Storla Lutheran Church” was held February 24, 1929. Four babies were brought to the Lord in Holy Baptism on that festive day.
During the years, 1923 - 1929, Rev. Molberg served the congregation. During this time two-thirds of the worship services were conducted in English and one-third were in Norwegian.
During the 1930’s, the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II (1930-1944), the congregation was served by Rev. E.T. Lundy. In the early ‘30s it was difficult for everyone to make ends meet economically. Even the minister’s salary was cut by one-third; the number of meetings held by the church organizations was cut in half in order to save mileage and furnace oil to heat the building. In 1933, only 84% of the annual church budget could be collected. The Ladies Aid collections and donations dropped to about one-fourth of what they had been during the previous years of prosperity. Families in the community were losing their farms and it was harder to give $1 to church offering at this time. By comparison, in the ‘20s this offering amount was as high as $10.
Storla Lutheran congregation survived the Depression of the ‘30s, and as the economy began to recover the ladies continued to do their utmost to provide financial support for the congregation. Soon they became well know for their delicious and hearty Lutefisk Suppers. In 1945, it was recorded that they served as many as 800 people.
It seemed that conditions in the congregation were rapidly improving, but with the turn of another decade, the improved economic conditions were overshadowed by World War II. The congregation shared the concern of each family, supporting them with love and prayers as their sons went off to serve the USA in the military.
During years of ’30 and ‘40s, Storla congregation was in a three-point parish with the Victor Lutheran and Salem Lutheran (Mt Vernon) churches. Rev. E.T. Lundy, pastor for the three congregations, lived in the Mt. Vernon parsonage.
In 1945, changes again in the alignment of congregations happened when Storla Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran (neighboring congregation to the east) united and called Rev. O.M. Knudson to serve this new parish. This was the first time the parsonage built in Storla in 1927 would be occupied by the pastor and his family.
More changes came in 1946 when the church at large voted to change its name from Norwegian Lutheran Church to Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The various auxiliary organizations have supported the church faithfully, always striving to provide for the spiritual needs of its members. The Luther League was organized in 1925 as a youth group. Later it was reorganized resulting in a parish Family Night with separate monthly meetings for the Family and Youth. LDR, Lutheran Daughters of the Reformation, was organized for the girls in the congregation. Later it was reorganized to include boys under the new name, Junior Mission Society. Vacation Bible School is held each summer and provides spiritual training and activities for the grade school students in the community. Sunday School continues to grow and develop for all members of the congregation with quality education in worshipful and Bible centered classes.
In 1950, the lives of the Storla community were disrupted again when the young men of the area were drafted into the military service for the Korean Conflict. Again, the congregation offered prayer, correspondence and care packages to ease the physical and emotional needs of these young men.
Rev. H.E. Peterson served the Storla congregation from 1957 – 1962. It was during this time (in 1960) that the church at large decided to unite three major Lutheran synods to form the “American Lutheran Church”.
As Storla congregation grew so did the inadequate physical structure. So the congregation decided to establish a building fund to remodel the basement and add bathrooms and Sunday School classrooms to the south side of the church. This remodeling was completed and dedicated August 14, 1966.
From 1963 – 1968, Rev B.O. Solberg served the congregation.
From 1968 - , Rev A.B. Heltne served the congregation as pastor
In 1970, the physical needs of the congregation needed attention so wall paneling, ceiling tiles and lighting and new carpeting were installed to refurbish the church appearance. These congregation members are quick to respond to needs as they join together to paint the church and parsonage, do landscaping, clean and mow the church grounds
In 1979 a Pastor’s study, utility room and remodeled kitchen were added to the physical structure and dedicated on September 23, 1979.
On May 18, 1980, fire damaged the altar, altar painting and carpeting in the church. With the altar painting in ashes the search was on to find another centerpiece for the altar area. Robert Aldren, a renowned sculptor from Sioux Falls, was commissioned to do a metal sculpture. That new centerpiece was dedicated April 5, 1981.
On April 18, 1982 the Storla congregation celebrated 100 years of Christian heritage, caring ministry and Christian witness to the surrounding community. Our members have been privileged to participate in many mission concerns by giving money, time and talents.
On April 18, 2007, Storla celebrates 125 years of continuous Christian ministry, worship and outreach to the Storla community.
Rev. Neale Thompson
Rev. Dick Steffen
Rev. Howard Stockman
Rev. Don Torala
Rev. Mindy Ehrke
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