First Lutheran Church celebrates 125 years, reminisces about its history

Upon celebrating 125 years as the First Lutheran Church in Little Falls, Senior Pastor Jake Dyrhaug reminisced about its history. In one way, it’s almost surreal to think that it all started with six Norwegian immigrant families gathering together to worship, he said. Today, the church has more than 1,000 members.
In 1891, a lot at 514 Third Street NE in Little Falls was purchased and the building of the new church began the following year. The church was named “Little Falls Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church.”
The worship services were held in Norwegian by home missionary pastors. Four of the pastors were immigrants from Norway, as well.
It wasn’t until 1901 that the first pastor born on American soil served the growing congregation.
“He was also the first to stay for an extended period of time,” Office Manager Sue Gustner said. “He stayed for eight years.”
In 1906, the church building was completed and it was dedicated on the church’s 15th anniversary.
Even though the church endured financial hardships during the early 1900s, it didn’t stop its membership from growing. However, with it also came change as times were changing. Worship services began being celebrated in English sometime between 1910 and 1917, Gustner said.
“The first service in English was a big deal,” Dyrhaug said.
While some church members welcomed the language change, others were dead set against it.
In 1922, the church changed its name to “First English Lutheran Church.”

The Little Falls First Lutheran Church purchased 4.5 acres of land at Riverview Drive in Little Falls in 1962 and dedicated the new building the following year. With a growing number of members, the former location wasn’t adequate.
The Little Falls First Lutheran Church purchased 4.5 acres of land at Riverview Drive in Little Falls in 1962 and dedicated the new building the following year. With a growing number of members, the former location wasn’t adequate.

Gustner said the name change really reflected the change in English being spoken more and less of the original native language of the church founders. The last worship service in Norwegian was held in 1926.
Gustner said historical records of the church indicate that discussion began in 1925 about changing the church’s name once again. However, that didn’t occur until 66 years later in 1991, when the church became known as “First Lutheran Church.”
When the country faced financial hardships, such as after World War I (1914-1918) and during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the church was no exception. It wasn’t until about 1939-40 the church’s finances began to improve.
By 1956, the current size of the church was inadequate. With 261 church members and growing, there simply wasn’t enough space.
The congregation purchased 4.5 acres at Riverview Drive in Little Falls, plans for a new church were made and soon construction was under way, Gustner said.
The new building was dedicated in 1963. A year later, a parsonage was built across the street from the church. By 1964, the membership had grown to 493 members.
Because of congregational growth, the church held two worship services by 1969. An addition was constructed in 1971 after members Helmer and Ina Stoltz willed their estate to the church. It couldn’t have come at a better time, since the membership count had risen to 667, Gustner said.
Because of the growing membership and responsibilities, the church hired a second full-time pastor with both pastors serving in an equal capacity.
With the continuous membership growth, in the early 1990s, the church leadership began to define the purpose, vision and mission of the church. The church also began to host the site for Share-A-Meal, where anyone can come to the weekly outreach for a healthy supper at no cost.
The pastoral model changed, as well. Instead of two main pastors, the titles were changed to lead pastor and associate pastor.

Worship services were held in Norwegian until the 1910s when services in English were added to accommodate the changing times. The last Norwegian service was held in 1926. Pictured is the original building of Little Falls First Lutheran Church, located at 514 Third Street NE in Little Falls.
Worship services were held in Norwegian until the 1910s when services in English were added to accommodate the changing times. The last Norwegian service was held in 1926. Pictured is the original building of Little Falls First Lutheran Church, located at 514 Third Street NE in Little Falls.

Wanting to step out even more in faith to provide adequate space for the congregation and community, the three-year “Building to Serve” project launched in 1998. A full-time staff position, coordinator of volunteer ministries, was added.
The building project was completed in 2000. New classrooms, a youth room, a larger fellowship hall, a new kitchen, storage room, large accessible restrooms, an improved gathering area and a remodeled childcare space accommodated the growing membership better.
The “Children First” Christian Preschool at the church site was established in 2000, providing much fun and early learning for young children.
“Teaching the faith to kids and adults is a big priority here,” Dyrhaug said.
In celebration of its 125-year presence in Little Falls, the First Lutheran Church held a celebration concert. Several performances by gifted members were featured, Saturday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. with music, song and a special guest appearance by Sven and Ole.