The first traces of the West Beef River Church are to be found in the ministry of Rev. Ole Waldeland who came from Haa, Jaederen, Norway. He served as an emissary for the Norwegian missionary Society before immigrating to America where he became a pastor at Blair, Wisconsin. Two years after he began work in Blair, meetings were begun in the homes of our pioneers. During 1868 – 1871 he ministered among the Norwegian peoples of the townships of Hale and Unity. Pastor Erik Jensen, who lived at Mound Springs, brought the Word of Life to this area during the years of 1871 – 1873. Inasmuch as he served 12 congregations his visits were very infrequent, but yet proved effectual. At the same time Rev. Lars O Sherven, who resided at Osseo, sought to do work among the scattered settlers. He served seven congregations but yet found time to organize and serve an eighth. It was through Pastor Sherven’s efforts that the Strum settlers severed from the Elk Creek congregation and began their own local church. The meeting was held at the Ole Olson Heg farm home on December 2, 1872 at which time the Hurdal Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran congregation was formed. The first worship service of this new congregation was held January 7, 1873 at the Simon Rice farm.
Difficulty was found in settling upon a name that would be acceptable to everyone. Five months after the congregation was name “Hurdal” it was changed to “Immanuel.” Just a little over a year later, on September 16, 1874, it was changed again to “West Beef River” because of its geographical location.
A constitution was not adopted until April 2, 1874. Those who signed as charter members at that date were: Nils Kleven, Esten Johnson, Johanes Christianson, martin Rosholm, Olaus Lien, Christian Christianson, Johan Syverson, Paul Pederson, Simon Rice, Ole O. Lien, Johanes Rice, Hans Moltzau, Hans Paulson, Andreas Arneson, Anton J Dahl, Martin E Rognlien, and H.J. Rognlien.
Development and Growth
Meetings were held for years in farm homes. The first building program of the new congregation began in September, 1873, when $100 was paid for a parcel of land to build a parsonage. By February of 1874 the parsonage was complete, and Rev. F. Moller was the first to live in it, as he began to work at the time in the parish. In the spring of 1877 two small building were erected as meeting halls. One was located in Romundstad Valley and the other opposite the parsonage, where the cemetery is located. These two buildings served for churches until the first church was completed in 1887. The decision to build was not made until December 2, 1886, but yet, within six months the money had be raised and the church built. This is real tribute to the zealous endeavors of our early members. This House of God erected by their own hands and by their own “congealed sweat” still holds precious memories for many of the their children. For 28 years it was “the home” which greeted new born babes and bade farewell to its aged loved ones. This church outlasted the first parsonage, which was leveled by fire in 1891. Many valuable church records were destroyed at that time.
This congregation was not spared from the controversies that raged among the Lutherans of America. The coming of Rev. I.L.P. Deitricksen from Chicago, Illinois, in January of 1877 to serve the parish brought division into the congregation. Shortly after, in February of 1877, a group of 128 souls left to form St. Paul’s congregation. The coming of Rev. H.F. Haakonsen in June, 1879 brought calm to the troubled waters. however, during the ministry of Pastor H. A. Heyer the anti-Missouri controversy broke out in our midst and a group of 50 souls formed a separate congregation for three years. Because of these controversies the West Beef River congregation itself left the Norwegian synod for thirteen years (1887 – 1900) to which it had belonged from its beginning. It rejoined the synod in 1900 and remained in this fellowship until the union of the Norwegian Lutherans of America into the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1917. Nothing was gained through these controversies, and the peace of union of 1917 brought blessed relief to the congregations. The Holy Spirit has sought to cleanse the church of its ill-wills and broken fellowships born during those trying years. Nearly fifty years later, the peace of God was brought once again to its full fruition in our midst and in our relationship with our sister congregation, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The peacemakers, who are “called children of God,” are many in our midst and thus the blessing of God is resting upon us all. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity!...there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." (Psalm 133).
Pastor Peder Toft came from Menomonie, Wisconsin in 1899 to serve the parish for nine years. He left for Norway in 1908, and the congregation was served intermittently during a year period by Rev. D. KVaase, whose call was at Menomonie. One can readily understand the intermittent services of those early days when transportation changes of the are considered. Also, most of the pastors served from four to twelve congregations and not infrequently these heavy responsibilities made it impossible to render more than one worship service a month in each church.
The coming of Rev. Sigurd Folkestad brought building thoughts to the congregation. The building committee working together with Pastor Folkestad laid the plans for the present brick church. The necessary funds, $15,000, were raised by much personal sacrifice of the members of the church. By 1915 the building was completed, dedicated, and used for services. The Luther League later provided the pipe organ which still serves the congregation well. Just prior to Pastor Folkestad’s ministry (in 1908) a house was purchased from Carl Frodahl at a cost of $2,200 to serve as a temporary parsonage. This parsonage was sold again in 1925 and moved to a location just north of the church. They buying of a parsonage and the building of a church are tangible evidences that the congregation was still making progress. The growth of membership was encouraging as the church kept its eyes to the future. Great rejoicing was evident among the people as their efforts were thus crowned with such visible success.
During the leave of absence of Pastor Folkestad, in which he made a trip to Norway, the records state that Rev. Matias Flekke served as Pastor. Much of the actual building the brick church took place while he was interim pastor.
Rev. J.H. Preus served the congregation for the period between 1920 – 1930, during which time the present parsonage was build (1925). Rev. N. E. Halvorson served the congregation during the difficult years of 1930 – 1935. Coming from Luther Seminary in 1935 Rev. N. A. Berntson brought renewed vigor and life in to the life of the church. During his ministry many improvements were made in the sanctuary, church parlors, and parsonage. Pastor Berntson married Miss Sedona Gullicksrud, a member of the congregation, September 1, 1940.
Rev. A. H. Grimstad began his ministry among us while yet a seminary student on January 6, 1946. He was installed by District President Anderson on August 11, 1946. He was succeeded by Rev. Arthur Olson in early 1949.