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Hauges Church in Renville County
(By Rev. Thomas Hanson.)
The History of Renville County, Volume 2
Compiled by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge
Away up north, on the east coast of the North sea, lies a country called Norway. Its inhabitants are called Northmen, or Norwegians. These have not been enervated by the tropical sun or dazed by the equatorial climate, but have been spurred on and quickened to activity by the snapping cold and healthy climate that this country is noted for. The strong, sturdy, noble and brave men of this country were men of great achievements and have figured conspicuously in the development of other countries and not least in the development of this grand country of the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the true and the brave.
One of the first Norwegians to leave Norway's coast and strike out for the new world was Kleng Peerson from Stavanger, Norway. He landed at New York in 1821. After investigating the possibilities here he returned to his native land and induced 52 emigrants to follow him to this land in the spring of 1825, this being in fact the first real emigration of Norwegians to America. No more came until 1836, when the second expedition came from Stavanger, fifty-two in number. In 1837 another expedition came from Bergen, Norway. In 1840 about 1,000 had come and taken up their abode here. In 1850 there were about 12,000. In 1860 over 43,000. And so on until now Minnesota alone has approximately 400,000, and the United States about 2,000,000, of Norwegian birth.
Early settlements were made near Chicago, at Fox River, Ill. Later a settlement at Jefferson Prairie, Wis. From there on La Crosse, Wis., was the goal. Winneshiek county, Iowa, was settled from this point, as well as many other points in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Not the railroads but the boats brought the emigrants in those early days. From Winona was settled Fillmore county, Minnesota, so largely Norwegian. Later from Red Wing was settled Goodhue county, one of the most Norwegian places in Minnesota. The boats could not reach further than St. Paul, on account of St. Anthony Falls. Hence they turned up the Minnesota river to St. Peter. From this point was settled these western settlements at Fort Ridgely, Hawk Creek and even Norway Lake and Lac qui Parie.
Wherever these noble Norwegians settled they were true and loyal to their Christian faith and belief. No sooner was the log cabin built and the farm work started till they began to think of church and religious worship. They wanted their children baptized, their young instructed, the older admonished, their sick comforted by God's Word and the means of grace and their dead buried in a decent and Christianlike manner. Hence they always at every new settlement wrote back to the older settlements or to Norway to send men who could preach the gospel and administer the sacraments and perform the duties of the minister of the gospel.
In 1836 came Elling Eielsen, the first Norwegian Lutheran minister in America to the Norwegian settlement at Fox River, Wis. In 1843 he helped organize the "Evangelical Lutheran Church of America" at Jefferson Prairie, Wis., the first of its kind in the land of America. From this organization dates the Hauges Synod, to which organization the Hauges congregation of ftenville county, Minnesota, belongs.
Fort Ridgely was the goal of settlers when Renville county was first populated. Among the early settlers were Hellek Pederson, Johannes Anderson Juve and others coming here as early as 1862. This first settlement was of short duration as the Sioux Indians made a savage outbreak in the fall of 1862, killing some of the first settlers, burning the homes of others and forcing the survivors to seek refuge at Fort [Ridgely], where a several days' battle was fought with the Indians. After this the Norwegians retreated to the older settlements further east. Several years later they again ventured out to Renville county, now followed by several more. They felt the need of a clergyman to administer to the needs of their souls, as well as they felt the need of bodily support. Rev. Lars Johnson, of Wisconsin, was sent for and came in 1866, but made only a short stay.
In 1867 Peder Nelson, a pious and good man from Fillmore county, Minnesota, came and settled in Camp township, four miles northwest of Fort Ridgely. He gathered the people in the log cabins and sod houses on Sundays, reading, praying and expounding God's Word. In 1868 more of his friends and his like came from the older settlements and from Norway to settle here. Among these might be mentioned Ole Nesborg, Anders Hatlestad, lver Branjord. Later came also Haagen Elstad, Ole Hogstad, Peder Lee and others, with large families and much interested in religion and church work. In 1869 and 1870 Rev. Peder Thompson, of Lac qui Parle county, made several visits. In 1870 he began instructing a confirmation class and held the first confirmation at Peder Nelson's log house in the fall of 1870. There were twelve young people confirmed, namely, Math. Killy, Ole Killy, Sjur Nelson, Oline Korsmo, Hans Larson, Kristina Larson, Maria Skarnes, Indianna Skarness, Gurina Anderson, Anna Anderson and Sophia Borgema.
In 1871 the Hauges congregation of Renville county, Minnesota, was formally organized at Peder Nelson's log house in the Minnesota river valley, near the mouth of Three Mile creek. The congregation tendered a call to Rev. Peder Thompson, which was accepted. The settlers log houses and the pioneer school houses were used as meeting places for quite a number of years, as in the early seventies came the so-called "grasshopper times," which dealt a heavy blow to progress in all lines and left the people too poor to build churches. About the year 1872 Rev. Peder Thompson tendered his resignation and Rev. Johannes Halvorson came to take his place and filled same till about the year 1877, when he was called to Sacred Heart, Minn. The congregation was then served by Reverends Brohough, Utheim and Boyum until about 1882, when a call was tendered Rev. Carl Holter, of Norway Lake, Minn., who served till 1884. Then Rev. M. G. Hanson, the present president of Hauges synod, was called as pastor. He was assisted by Rev. O. Anderson and served the congregation from St. Paul, Minn., where he resided, until 1887, when he resigned and Rev. O. A. Ostby was called in his place, beginning his service in 1888. Rev. Ostby served until 1892. Rev. C. O. Rosing was then called and served until 1895. Then the congregation was taken care of by Revs. Utheim, Pederson and Oppegaard. In 1896 a call was tendered Thomas Hanson, then a student at the theological seminary at Red Wing, Minn. He having calls also from other charges asked some time to decide. He finally decided for Renville county, beginning his duties as pastor of the Hauges church early in 1897, after first graduating from the seminary and being ordained at St. Paul, Minn. Rev. Thomas Hanson has served the church as its pastor ever since that date.
In 1878 the Hauges church was built by the members of the church under the supervision of Haagen Elstad. In 1894 the Hauges synod held its synod meeting at this place. An addition was that year built to the church. In 1913 still another addition was built too, money for this being largely collected by Mrs. Thomas Hanson, wife of the pastor, but donated by members of the church.
The congregation has several months of parochial school every year for instruction of religion to the young. It has also a very large and active young people's society, as well as a ladies' aid society that has sent hundreds and thousands of dollars out for missions and aid for poor, besides helping to uphold the religious work in our own midst.
The congregation numbers at present something over three hundred.
The first cemetery was given by Erik Lokken, lying two miles west of Hauges church, used jointly with Franklin church. Some of the early interments in this cemetery were those, of Johannes Anderson and Anders S. Korsmo. In the year 1900 a place for cemetery was bought near the Hauges church. The first interment in this cemetery was that of Hans Olson. Many of the old, faithful members have now gone to their final rest, but Hauges congregation has never lacked men and women who have been willing to do and to give and to help on the good work of upbuilding the kingdom of God and working for the salvation of souls. Andreas Nilsen was the first song leader for the congregation. After him Ole Steffenson served in that capacity and now John H. Elstad has filled that place for a period of thirty years.
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