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Summer service in historic wooden country church

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Parishioners and visitors July 2 walk into historic St. Pauli Lutheran Church in western Minnesota for an evening service. The church was closed in 1957 but still opens it's doors for special services and events. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls) Gallery and Video2 / 10
Sandy Casper on July 2 opens the church doors of St. Pauli Lutheran Church before the parishioners and visitors arrive for the evening service at the historic 110-year-old wooden country church located 2 miles south of Clinton, Minnesota. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls) Gallery and Video3 / 10
Built in 1886 by Norwegian immigrants, St. Pauli Church opens it's doors two evenings a summer for Lutheran services. The church was closed in 1957 and merged with Trinity Lutheran in Clinton. It has been restored with all it's original contents. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls) Video and Gallery4 / 10
Pastor Bev McNeill welcomes visitors to St. Pauli Lutheran Church for Saturday evening services on July 2. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls) Gallery and Video5 / 10
Sandy Casper moves a candle onto the altar of St. Pauli Lutheran Church before services July 2 at the historic church located south of Clinton in Big Stone County, Minnesota. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls) Gallery and Video6 / 10
The St. Pauli Lutheran Church, located two miles south of Clinton, Minn., in Big Stone County, was built in 1886 by Norwegian immigrants. The church was closed in 1957 and merged with Trinity Lutheran in Clinton. Each summer two services are held on Saturday evenings to bring back the “feel” of attending a historic country church. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls) Gallery and Video7 / 10
Trudy and Larry Anderson sing a hymn July 2 at St. Pauli Lutheran Church, a historic wooden country church south of Clinton in Big Stone County, Minnesota. Parishioners and visitors can attend one of the two special evening services in the Norwegian Lutheran Church that was built in 1886. (Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls Video and Gallery 8 / 10
Agnes and Harold Nelson wait for the July 2 evening service to begin at St. Pauli Lutheran Church. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls) Gallery and Video9 / 10
Parishioners and visitors leave St. Pauli Lutheran Church July 2. The historic wooden country church hosts two services per summer for church-goers to experience how their ancestors worshiped. The church, built in 1886, is located 2 miles south of Clinton in Big Stone County, Minnesota. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls) Video and Gallery10 / 10

What began as an meeting among immigrants in the sod home of Mr. and Mrs. Severin J. Steen of Clinton, Minn., in October of 1877 became the St. Pauli Lutheran church congregation. The little western Minnesota Norwegian congregation met in sod houses and stables. The first pastor was Pastor Hartman, who lived in Benson and was only able to visit the congregation four or five times a year.

On Feb. 14, 1896, the members met again in a sod house and Severin J. Huselid offered the congregation the northwest corner of his land for the church building and cemetery. Located two miles south of Clinton, the church was built later for $1,600.

After the church building was built, Pastor Abel Anderson traveled by train from Montevideo. A family was designated to pick up the pastor at a whistle stop about one-third of a mile southwest of the church. The pastor would stay with the family and it was their responsibility to return him to the Rupert Station after his stay was completed. Pastor Anderson received $75 per year plus the offering on Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

At the turn of the century, 90 percent of the Norwegian congregations were united into the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. The 1917 merger combined Trinity which is located in Clinton and the St. Paul congregations. The two churches then united in 1957.

At that time St. Pauli closed, but the church was preserved with the original contents including the old pump organ, very high pulpit and ornate altar. It has no electricity or indoor plumbing. For the July 2 service, a portable generator was powered up to provide a microphone for Pastor Bev. Mc.Neill and Lector Joanne Vangness.

In 2014, a parishioner found the church bell had fallen. The steeple was reconstructed and the bell placed in a solid cradle during the summer of 2015. Storms have ravaged the cottonwood trees causing them to fall on the fence around the church.

This year, the services began on July 2 and another will be offered on Labor Day weekend.

Music still fills the historic old church, when it is used for a hymn sing and picnic by Trinity Church. Couples now are married in the historic old church as well as children baptized

On July 2, services were held for the second time since the bell and steeple was repaired. Stories and accounts were shared of the how close the congregation came to danger when a partitioner found the bell in the basement.

The old church still stands watch over the soybean and corn fields of Big Stone County. Cars travel by on busy Highway 75, some stop to take a picture of a symbol of our cultural and religious heritage.

The historic church which began in a sod house now stands as an icon on the western Minnesota prairie.

Steve Kohls
I started my career in photography after graduation from Moorhead State College with photography positions at the Daily News in Wahpeton, ND. , Country Echo in Pequot Lakes, The Journal in New Ulm and settling at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1975. I have been teaching fine art black and white and color photography at Central Lakes College for the past 15 years. Currently I have been teaching Underwater Photography for Central Lakes College and the Minnesota School of Diving for the past 7 years. From May to November you can find me at the Mineland Recreation Area either scuba diving and photographing the fish or enjoying the beauty of our area’s newest lakes.
(218) 855-5870