A New Ministry Begins—The First 25 Years
“In Thief River Falls, Minnesota, was a group of free believers, many of whom had been converted in a blessed revival that swept the community in 1900. One of the instruments used by God in that revival was Samuel Tunheim, a wholehearted and zealous brother living near Newfolden.
At this time, Solomon Bergstrom and family, missionaries to China, came to spend their first furlough with relatives in this vicinity, found sweet fellowship with these believers, and ministered the Word to them.
On March 21, 1901, nine of these believers met to discuss the best way they could in unity promote the Kingdom of God in Thief River Falls and, according to the minutes of that meeting, unanimously agreed to unite in love as a congregation, to be known as the Scandinavian Evangelical Church of Thief River Falls, Minnesota.
The nine men were: S. Bergstrom, Ole Nyhus, Andrew Rindal, Carsten Christensen, K. Jorstad, Ed. Myrsven, L. Ulstad, M. Brude, and Hans Johnson.
At another meeting on April 4, the same year, it was decided to purchase a site on Horace Ave. between 1st and 2nd Streets, for $210.30, on which to build a church. This building was begun in August under the leadership of S. Bergstrom, M. Brude, and Ed. Myrsven. After forty days of labor, most of which was donated, it was completed at a cost of $311.46, and on March 17, 1902, was incorporated.
(In 2001 dollars that would be approximately $3,600 for the land and $5,400 for the building)
For many years the church was served by visiting evangelists and an elder elected annually, S. Bergstrom being the first and upon his return to China was succeeded by Ole Nyhus, Andrew Rindal, George Newland, and John Christensen also served for some time.
Though a Sunday School had been in progress for some year, J.D. Turnwall was elected the first Superintendent in 1910.
In 1911 voting membership was extended to women believers.
In 1918 the church building was improved with a basement and furnace.
A constitution was adopted in 1919, and at the annual meeting January 12, 1920, it was decided to join the Evangelical Free Church Association from whom they were already receiving some support.
Reverend Bot Nyborg was the first pastor of the church, serving from the fall of 1918 until August, 1923, when he was succeeded by Reverend J. O. Jacobsen.”
- excerpted from 50th anniversary bulletin, Oct. 28, 1951
Growing a Ministry On The Prairie
In the fall of 1923, Reverend J. O. Jacobsen was called to pastoral service. The church saw many changes in the thirty years the Jacobsens served here. The church celebrated its Golden Jubilee on October 28, 1951.
In 1936 a seven room parsonage was built at 215 Markley Avenue North at a cost of $4,200. As years have passed by, improvements have been made and remodeling done.
The growth of the congregation in the early years was somewhat slow, but steady, and the time came when it was evident that the church building, in which they had assembled for fifty years, was becoming much too small. This was especially felt in the area of Sunday School and youth work.
In September 1952, the building and property were sold to the Salvation Army (for a sum of $18,000). During the year of 1953, a new building was erected on the corner of 3rd Street and Kendall Avenue. The lot was a gift from Andrew Norby. However, a serious handicap was felt in the lack of an adequate parking area. In 1964, the Norby property adjoining the church was purchased. It contained a dwelling house and a garage, which were sold and moved off the premises. Later, the south half of the lot was purchased from Ager Baird, the building sold and removed, thus doubling the area. In 1965 gravel was hauled in and in 1973 the lot was black-topped, providing excellent parking facilities.
By 1967 the church had enjoyed a much more rapid growth, and it was keenly felt that facilities were inadequate and plans for expansion become necessary once more. After considering the many angles in regard to relocating or enlarging the present building, the later plan was adopted. The addition to the south was erected and the main sanctuary enlarged and remodeled. This provided a rather spacious foyer, a nursery, a fellowship room and a pastor’s study.
Youth organizations that have helped to win young people, deepen their spiritual life and train them for serving the Lord have been: Early Seekers, Crusaders, Jet Cadets, Pioneer Girls, Boy’s Brigade, Junior and Senior
F.C.Y.C., Daily Vacation Bible Schools, Release Time Classes, Christanoes and others. These have been primarily promoted by elected officers of a Christian Education Board.
A church library was started in 1955 when a gift in memory of Hans Sande, who passed away that year, was given by his wife Jennie. This gift was specifically designated to be used for the purpose of purchasing books to launch the project.
Music has played an important part in the church program. Besides the senior, youth, and children’s choirs, other groups and individuals have ministered in vocal and instrumental music in the church as well as reached out as witnesses in other areas.
Believing that much depends upon the faithful prayers of its members and friends, the church has, since early years, maintained a midweek prayer meeting. More recently a women’s prayer group and a men’s prayer breakfast have been added.
In 1955 the church took the responsibility of broadcasting the Sunday evening service over radio station KTRF. This time has been previously used by the Newfolden Evangelical Free Church until Pastor Ernest Vick left the area. Since then, these program shave gone out over the air every Sunday [until 1980].
An event which has become traditional not only for the church but for the entire community, is an annual Scandinavian Christmas Festival held January 1, New Year’s Day. This was initiated by Pastor Ole Sande in 1959.
- excerpted from history notes in the church archives
A Mature Church Still Young At Heart
On October 17, 1976, the Evangelical Free Church of Thief River Falls celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. By this time the church was well known for its Christian outreach in both missions and in sending young people into the service of our Lord. On the occasion of this celebration this is what then President of the Evangelical Free Church of America, Dr. Arnold T Olson had to say to he congregation:
“The Congregation at Thief River Falls has stood as a beacon in the North. Not only has it ministered to the people of the community but it has won to Christ, trained and sent forth many young people who today are Christian leaders in communities to which they migrated. The entire Evangelical Free Church of America has been enriched by her ministry.”
In support of this statement no less than 10 persons were listed in the Diamond Jubilee Celebration booklet as having gone from this congregation into the Lord’s service.
In 1977 Reverend Curtis Anderson was called to minister to the needs of a growing congregation. Under Pastor Anderson’s leadership the church provided leadership in the ministry for five pastoral interns from 1980-1985.
1980 was a year of change for the church. Sadly, the Bread of Life Hour radio ministry was discontinued in 1980. This was a difficult decision for the church to make since the radio ministry was in its 27th year. 1980 was also the year that a second floor was added to the educational wing. Air conditioning was installed in the church and a home to be used as a parsonage was purchased at 240 N. Kendall.
In 1984 a new organ and sound system was purchased.
In 1985 the church called its first Associate pastor, Sheldon Lorenson, who returned from the mission field to help Pastor Anderson shepherd the church in its growth. By 1989, when the Lorensons left Thief River Falls, the church had grown to having two Sunday morning worship services. Sunday morning worship attendance averaged about 260 at this time and Sunday School attendance numbered over 200.
By 1990 more remodeling was necessary to facilitate church growth, so the lower auditorium was remodeled and enlarged. About this time a new telephone system was installed and the church moved into the computer age with a new computer and printer system.
In 1992 the congregation took a leap of faith and hired Reverend Edsel Lindquist as a third pastor. Pastor “Red” served as a full-time pastor in a part-time position. If anyone ever overflowed a job with their presence in that job, it was Pastor Lindquist. Later, Pastor Lindquist would retire and his position would stand idle for a time, but the need for a third person on the pastoral staff was firmly established during the time he served.
Shortly after the 1990 remodeling it became evident that more room was needed. While neighboring houses had been purchased and removed in recent years for more parking area, it was soon obvious that facility expansion at the 3rd and Kendall location was not a good option. While the congregation wrestled with what course of action to take, the Washington Elementary School became available. This 30,000 sq. ft. facility was eventually purchased for $525,000 and became the new home of the Evangelical Free Church of Thief River Falls in September of 1995.
On November 12, 1995, this new facility was dedicated into the Lord’s service. Dr. Paul Cedar, Evangelical Free Church of America President, delivered the dedicatory message.
Shortly after the congregation moved to the new facility it was decided to enroll in the AWANA program. This program, while demanding and intense, continues to be a great ministry opportunity for us in the community. As the program ministers to the kids, our church has a chance to minister to the parents. The positive result has been continued growth of the congregation ever since we made the move from 3rd and Kendall to the new location.
Pastor and Mrs. J.O. Jacobsen: 1923-1953
Pastor and Mrs. Joseph Swan: 1954-1963
Pastor and Mrs. Ivan Carlson: 1968-1977
Pastor Curtis and Lorraine Anderson: 1977-1998
Pastor Sheldon Lorenson: 1985-1989
Assoc. Pastor Linton Lundeen: 1989-1992
Pastor Edsel "Red" and Naomi Lindquist:
Pastor James and Joyce Howard: 1999-2006