September 6, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.

Sowing seeds of faith 150 years

Many memories made at Immanuel Lutheran Church-Farming Township

By CAROL MOORMAN | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Art “Buddy” Thober still has his confirmation book he received when he was confirmed with 12 classmates in 1940 at Immanuel Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Farming Township.

This 96-year-old Albany resident has many memories of a church of which he has been a life-long member, along with his parents and nine siblings. Like the early years when women sat on one side of the church and men worshiped on the other side. 

“I sat with mom on one side of the church until I was confirmed and then I sat with Dad,” he said Aug. 23 sitting around a table in the church narthex with his wife, Carol; Julie Blank and Yvonne Bardson, of Albany; the Rev. Fred Kutter, former pastor from 1998 to 2020; and the Rev. David Steege, current pastor. Kutter and Steege are two of the 15 pastors who have served the congregation since 1873. 

Thober recalls Sunday services in English and German. 

“I think I could still say the Lord’s Prayer in German,” he said. 

Kutter said when he was pastor and looked up baptism and confirmation dates, some were written in German.

Thober said what kept him a life-long member was this church stuck to the “true faith and didn’t subtract or add anything to the Bible.” Carol joined him as a member in 1966 when they married. 

“It’s the closeness of everybody,” he said. 

Kutter called it a “traditional” church. 

“Most of us love it here because we know exactly what to expect, … and there aren’t going to be any surprises,” said Bardson, a 35-year member who came from a larger Missouri Synod congregation.  

“It’s such an awesome church,” said Blank, 59, a life-long member. 

Immanuel Lutheran Church dates back to the 1870s when Lutheran families from Wisconsin settled in the vicinity, according to historical information on the Farming Township website.  

Families arrived from Germany, Russia and other parts of Minnesota. The summer of 1873, a congregation was organized by the Lutheran Missionary, the Rev. Vetter. 

Immanuel Lutheran Church is considered the mother church of the Missouri Synod denomination in Stearns County, Bardson said. 

In 1879 the growing congregation built a log house for the new pastor, and with their growing numbers they saw the need for an actual church building constructed of logs in 1884. After some remodeling to expand the space, it was determined a larger building was needed. In 1902 the larger and present church was built. 

“My grandpa, Carl Hamann, helped build this church in 1902,” Blank said. “It was dedicated Dec. 4, 1902.”

In 1910 a new school was built behind the present church. 

Thober attended the parochial school in eighth grade.

“The first two hours were catechism,” he said.  

In 1977, after closing sometime earlier, the school was moved to the Pioneer Grounds in Albany.

Thober said there also was a parsonage where the pastor lived. 

“There was a little barn, and they had a horse and cow, which was milked,” he said. 

In 2011 there were 138 communicant members and 19 Wednesday school children. Kutter, reading from the history book, said in 1948 there were 365 souls. 

“That would be baptized (members) with 285 communicants,” he said, 

Blank recalls at Christmas the church would overflow with people, and “they put up chairs.”  

Thober said at the Christmas service everyone received a bag of goodies. 

“And they always did a children’s service,” Kutter said. 

A bell, delivered to the church by horse and buggy Sept. 24, 1916, is still rung by hand every Sunday.

“They paid $640 for the bell,” Blank said.  

The bell was also rung to let people know someone had passed away; one toll for each year the person lived.  

At one time, the east side of the original church basement was used for bowling, Thober said.  

“When they redid the church, they found there was stenciling, and they took a pattern and Arlon Gilk did it all over and it’s still there,” Kutter said. “His mother, Merlyn Gilk, was the organist.”

Blank said the original altar and windows are still in place, although the windows have a protective covering. 

“At one time, the ceiling was painted a light blue, to look like the sky,” Blank said. 

Thober recalled volunteers removing the pews and revarnishing them. 

The upkeep and maintenance of the church is still mostly done by members, who support it financially. 

Reading again from a history book, Kutter said their fiscal policy was to “gather the money, then do the project.” 

“You have a good, giving congregation,” Steege said. 

There are currently around 135 members, with 35 to 40 regularly attending the 9:30 a.m. Sunday service. 

“Our service has been the same forever,” Blank said. 

Kutter said the familiarity, whether of the service or Bible teachings, has been a “drawing card.” Their hymnals have a 1941 copyright date, although they have purchased new copies over the years. 

“The togetherness is great,” Steege said. 

Bardson said some new members are like a sponge, soaking it all in, including Blank’s son-in-law who “loves it here,” Blank said. “We planted the seed.”

Committee members are hoping former and current members attend a 150th anniversary celebration Sunday, Sept. 10, which starts with a 10 a.m. service, and a second service at 1 p.m.  Leading up to this, they held special events, June 11, July 9 and Aug. 23, at the church, including during which women wore hats and the men sat on one side and the women on the other side.  Their oldest living confirmand, Esther (Lemke) Valenta, 106, has attended these pre-anniversary celebrations. 

“We have a very special church here,” Blank said. 

“I hope it continues and never ends,” said Thober, the oldest active living church member. 

“By the grace of God,” Kutter concluded.


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