WILLOW CITY First Lutheran Church in Willow City has been a beacon of faith and resilience for the community for 125 years. Those years of ministry to God's people will be celebrated Sunday.
Settlers found their way to Willow City in the 1880s and took shelter in crude sod houses. They soon realized a need for spiritual guidance too so they contacted the "Conference," a Norwegian-Danish Synod in Minot, to enlist the services of a pastor.
The Rev. John U. Pedersen answered that call and held the first service in Willow City in 1887 in a Norwegian pioneer home. He also assisted in organizing the congregation, with an official date of organization of June 24, 1888. Charter members then called their first pastor, the Rev. Bernard Hagboe of Rugby. In the beginning services were held in the school and later, when the Presbyterian church was built, the congregation was permitted to have services there. All the services and rites were conducted in the Norwegian language and were plain and unadorned.
First Lutheran Church, Willow City, will celebrate its 125th anniversary Sunday.
Even in the early years the congregation knew that the church was more than a building; it was about fellowship and a place to serve their faith. As the congregation grew the need to build a church became clear. The members voted on March 19, 1900, to build a church and on July 15, 1900, the first service was held in the church. No money was borrowed to build the church which was dedicated on Nov. 1, 1901.
The congregation became a part of the United Lutheran Church in 1917.
The 1930s found the church moved to a location nearer the center of town and a basement was added. The church survived the Great Depression, plus a fire in 1933. In the 1940s rains caused flooding in the basement. New footings raised the church 16 inches to avoid future problems of the same kind. The coal furnace was replaced with an oil furnace at that time.
First Lutheran Church of Willow City will celebrate 125 years of "Ministry in Mission" Sunday. Worship will be at 10 a.m. in the church followed by a noon meal and fellowship at the Willow City Community Hall.
During an annual meeting on Jan. 9, 1947, it was voted to have the name of the church changed from Norwegian Lutheran Church to First Lutheran Church of Willow City. By 1948 the new parish had joined First Lutheran of Barton, Marker Lutheran and Immanuel of Willow City. Immanuel dissolved in 1951 and many of those members joined First Lutheran of Willow City. By 1966 the parish changed again when First Lutheran and Lutheran Free of Barton merged and the parish reorganized with First Lutheran of Willow City and Marker Lutheran remaining as the other members.
Upgrades continued with the purchase of an electric organ in 1955 and the installation of stained glass windows in 1960. In 1991, a narthex entrance and office space were added. A lighted cross was installed in 1993.
Mother Nature was unkind to the church in 2000. The building was struck by lightning and was damaged by fire. Due to the damage, the steeple was removed and the bell was relocated to outside the front entry. Once again, the Presbyterian Church allowed the congregation to worship in their building. The repaired First Lutheran Church of Willow City was rededicated on Dec. 17, 2000.
Mother Nature continued to challenge. Two hail storms struck the church in 2011. Last month the cross was repainted and a roofing and siding project were completed.
During the years many pastors have served First Lutheran of Willow City. The Rev. J. Sneve served on a temporary basis from 1898 to May 1899 when the Rev. M.O. Silseth of Rugby was called as the first pastor and accepted his pastoral duties.
The Rev. Linda Wimmer was installed as pastor of the Tri-Parish of First Lutheran Church, Willow City, Zion Lutheran Church, Towner, and New Hope Lutheran Church, Upham, on Dec. 5, 2010.
She said, "We've been preparing for this anniversary for a year. We are very excited and feel truly blessed to celebrate 125 years of mission and ministry in the community."