Big Grove Church plans sesquicentennial celebration

Jason Raveling, president of the Big Grove Evangelical Lutheran Church Council, stands in front of the church, which is celebrating its 150th birthday, Sunday, July 23. (Roberta Olson Photo).

By Roberta Olson, Correspondent

When Marvin Imsdahl tolls the 130-year-old bell at Big Grove Evangelical Lutheran Church on Sunday morning, July 23, it will mark a day of festivities and thanksgiving, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the rural Belgrade congregation.

Theme of the day is: “Lifting High the Cross for 150 Years.”

Big Grove Church was established in 1867, just nine years after Minnesota became a state, and just two years after pioneers Ellend and Kari Baalson and Hans and Ingeborg Heieie and their families, arrived in North Fork Township. They came from Spring Grove, Minnesota, in 1865, to homestead in a new location.

Andrew Johnson was president of the United States and the U.S. flag carried only 37 stars.

The two pioneer families were soon joined by other Norwegian families, who first lived in dugouts and log cabins built from native trees in the nearby grove. The settlement thrived, and with it the Big Grove Lutheran Church, which was first served by traveling missionary pastors.

The church was organized with the help of Rev. Abraham Jacobson, missionary pastor, and in 1868 the first paster was called — Rev. John Tordensjold Moses.

The congregation first worshiped in a log church built in 1871 near the new cemetery. It was the year Big Grove was incorporated as a town.

The log church served the congregation well for 10 years., until it burned down. A frame structure church was constructed in 1880. Dedicated in 1894, the frame church was demolished by a tornado July 4, 1914. The only thing salvaged was the wooden altar.

The tornado did not stop the growing congregation, and one year later the present brick church was dedicated, complete with the restored original church bell, stained glass windows, a new pulpit, baptismal font, altar, altar rail and pews.

The interior of Big Grove Lutheran Church features an ornate altar with an original oil painting, and a number of intricate stained glass windows. The church building, altar, podium, baptismal font and pews date back to 1915 when the “new” church was built following the 1914 tornado. (Roberta Olson photo).

“This church has been through a lot,” said Jason Raveling, president of the Church Council. He serves with officers vice president, Kurt Kirckof; secretary Deanna Johnson and treasurer Janet Raveling.

Janet Baalson Raveling is a great-granddaughter of pioneer Ellend Baalson. She serves as one of three church organists, as well as on the Church Council. Her parents, Erling and Zona Baalson, are among the oldest members of the parish.

As with their ancestors, the Baalson family history includes baptisms, weddings and funerals at Big Grove Church. Baalson headstones are prominent in the church cemetery adjacent to the church building.

Books written about the history of the Big Grove Church enumerate the highlights and the setbacks of the congregation over the years, including more storm damage, vandalism and burglaries.

Milestones include the installation of the new Moeller pipe organ in 1926; the addition for the indoor restrooms in 1967-70, restoration of the stained glass windows in 1994, the addition of the new enclosed entry in 1995, and the installation of the elevator in 2005.

The 231 member congregation has a strong history. There have been 228 baptisms in the 150-year history, along with 341 weddings. The church history books list the names and dates for every baptism, confirmation, wedding and funeral in the church’s history.

Ten men have been ordained pastors from the Big Grove Church. Carl Quill and Herman Baalson were ordained in 1907; Knud Palmer in 1910;

Martin Quill in 1914; Elmer Baalson in 1918; Arthur Baalson and Elmo Baalson in 1929; Arlyn Anfinrud in 1953; Wayne Anderson in 1976; and Vernal Anderson in 1979.

The Sesquicentennial history book is being written by Julie Ball. She has updated the church’s history, including the past 25 years, since the 125th anniversary booklet was published.

The 150th anniversary event Sunday, July 23, will include worship at 10:30 a.m. with tri-parish Pastors John Dahlen and Ann Zastrow; a 12:30 p.m. dinner, and fellowship, said Raveling.

It is anticipated that Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Bishop John Anderson, and two sons of the congregation, along with three former pastors will attend the event. A combined choir from Big Grove Church, along with its sister parishes, Grace Lutheran in Belgrade and Crow River Lutheran in rural Belgrade, will sing for the services.

All are invited to attend.