If you are traveling north of Detroit Lakes on Highway 21, as you wind among the lakes and fields, eventually you will come across Bakke Lutheran Church perched upon a small hill – which is appropriate since the word “Bakke” means “Hill” in Norwegian. I visited Bakke last summer to take some pictures of the cemetery and the outside of the church. This past Wednesday, I preached at their Lenten service so I finally saw the interior. Their altar is gorgeous and it has the verses from Matthew 14:30-31 inscribed in Norwegian. Some of the members told a story about how the altar was made not far from here (but no one present could remember where exactly) and the altar was brought to Bakke by horse and sleigh.
While the sanctuary is lovely and quite traditional, there are also many beautiful new additions to Bakke – and some really, really nice folks. Check it out! Worship at Bakke is at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings. 27492 County Highway 32, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501 · (218) 847-7073. Their Pastor is The Reverend Ann Newgard-Larson.
First Lutheran Church in Audubon was established in the 1870’s. It’s a beautiful building and its’ tall steeple can be seen from far off as you approach the tiny hamlet of Audubon (population 519). For many decades, First Lutheran and my church, Saint Peter’s, shared a pastor but they dissolved that partnership in the 70’s. Even so, we are partners in Christ and the boys and I enjoyed spending Wednesday evening with them as I preached at their Lenten service and their pastor, the Reverend Dean Grier, preached at Saint Peter’s. Here are a few pictures of First Lutheran Church in Audubon. The Norwegian on their altar reads, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
A lovely gem resting along highway 10 in Northwestern Minnesota is Eksjo Lutheran Church. Established in 1871, this church is proud of its’ Swedish heritage with beautiful Swedish accents decorating its kitchen, fellowship hall, and sanctuary. Last summer I took some pictures of the outside of the church and last night I finally saw the inside when I led their mid-week Lenten service. Gorgeous sanctuary! Over the altar area in Swedish it reads, “Glory to God in the highest.”
Saron Lutheran Church was organized in 1889 and closed its’ doors in 1960 due to lack of members. However, its’ cemetery grounds still remain on a beautiful, quiet hill surrounded by fields but its’ building was moved about twenty miles away to another location where it is used for worship during the summer and for weddings. (It is now called Chapel on the Hill and is non-denominational)
The bell from Saron Lutheran was destroyed when thieves tried to steal it. Now it is all that remains of the church in the Saron Lutheran (Hamden) cemetery. The bell is inscribed in Norwegian with the name of the church and the verse from John 15:12 (Love one another as I have loved you).
If you want to find this cemetery, head north out of Audubon, MN on highway 13. When the road turns to gravel, take the first left. The cemetery will be one mile ahead on your left.
This sweet statue sleeps next the grave of a baby buried at Saron Lutheran Cemetery.
On the way back from visiting someone in the Nursing Home in Barnesville, I happened upon the small community of Rollag, Minnesota. Grong Lutheran is right on the edge of town and has a lovely, quiet cemetery. This congregation is in the “Free Lutheran” denomination and appears to have worship every Sunday at 9:00 a.m..
A parishioner told me about this church outside Ulen so my younger son and I went to find it one evening last week. You can see Atlanta Lutheran from a long way off as its’ steeple rises high above the flat farmland that surrounds it. It is a gorgeous building and the grounds and building are well kept even though the church sign says the congregation closed in 2001. Established in 1878, this congregation still gathers for one service a year, usually in August around Ulen’s annual Turkey days.
Sigh, I wish I had a master key that could unlock all these beautiful churches so I could go inside and take some pictures, too.
I have an affection for country churches and I’ve been trying to figure out how to channel this into something that can be shared with any who might be interested as I am. Perhaps it will turn into a separate blog but for now I’m going to share some of my country church adventures here.
Since moving back to Minnesota nearly two weeks ago I have come across a TON of Lutheran country churches – because there are just SO MANY here. I always knew that but had kind of forgotten after being away and serving churches in other states for the last 16 years.
Upsala was not the first country church I went to find – but it is my favorite so far because it is so tucked away that one would not ever know it is there if you just stayed on the paved roads. It is north of Detroit Lakes on highway 59 about 7 miles, then turn right on 240th avenue until you come to “Upsala Church Road” and turn left. As you wind your way on the gravel road that cuts through the grassy hills, eventually up ahead you will see the steeple of Upsala peeking out above a grove of trees. The church itself has a long driveway shaded by oaks – as I drove in I decided I would have to come back in the fall and take more pictures when the leaves are at their best.
Upsala was established in 1871 which makes it older than most of the other churches in this area. It may even be the oldest but I need to do more research to determine whether or not this is true. I walked around the beautiful cemetery and took many photographs, and of course, I had to check to see if the door to the church was open and fully expected it to be locked as every country church in Minnesota usually seems to be. The front door was locked – but a back door was open!! I was full of glee to be able to actually see the inside of this structure which has not been used for weekly worship since 1964!! The altar rail and pulpit were very typical of the Scandinavian style from the late 1800’s.
There was an interesting article hanging on the wall about how the church had been used for Midsummer Night celebrations even after its’ closing and that there was a small group of people who were committed to caring for the building and keeping it nice. I wonder who those people are now and where the church records are kept. The article also said that the church closed because the area was simply “overchurched” at the time. This is not hard to believe since one can practically see Richwood Lutheran (ELCA) from there if there weren’t hills and trees in the way and I believe Lund Lutheran (LCMC) is close, too.
The setting of this church is quite simply one of the loveliest places I have seen. Unfortunately, a home has been built quite close to the church so if you look in that direction the illusion of stepping back in time is spoiled, but nevertheless, when one is in that church yard you can practically picture the early settlers arriving at worship in their wagons, the pioneers coming early to put wood in the stove to warm the church before service, or the preacher coming in on horseback.
I’m so glad this beautiful building has not been torn down so that we can still have a glimpse of what these original churches on the prairie really looked like.