Park United Methodist Church celebrates 150th anniversary

Park United Methodist Church in Brainerd will celebrate its sesquicentennial Sunday, Oct. 16. The 150-year-old church is located two blocks off Washington Street at Sixth and Juniper streets, across from Gregory Park, which is how the church got its name.

The Rev. Rory Swenson at the church.
Interim Pastor the Rev. Rory Swenson pauses a moment from his ministry Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, at Park United Methodist Church in Brainerd. The church will celebrate its 150th anniversary at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the church with a chicken dinner planned for after the service.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Park United Methodist Church is having a birthday celebration and the public is invited to the sesquicentennial festivities.

“We trace our roots to 1872 with the formation of a Methodist congregation as well as the start of an Evangelical United Brethren congregation in 1888,” said the Rev. Rory Swenson, interim pastor of the church two blocks north of Washington Street.

Located across the street from Gregory Park, from which the church gets its name, the church will have a celebration Sunday, Oct. 16, of 150 years of ministry in the Brainerd lakes area.

“We have come a long way since those early Brainerd church leaders met in dance halls, hotel bar rooms, private homes and a canvas ‘lean-to addition,’” Swenson said. “But the core mission of following Jesus Christ has not changed.”

Park United Methodist Church
A gallery of photos for Park United Methodist Church's 150th Anniversary includes images from the church's history.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The sesquicentennial celebration and special worship service will start at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the church and will include a free chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, buns and dessert. Gluten-free options will also be available.


“We've got some former pastors, and we’ve rounded up a little choir — just kind of talking about the history of the church, but celebrating who we are today and I'll be the speaker for it,” said Swenson, who has been the church pastor for more than a dozen years.

Besides choral and instrumental music and the chance to reunite with former pastors, staff and members at the anniversary celebration, historical items will be on display and there will be an informal time of sharing and the complimentary catered meal following the worship service.

Four women pose for a photo in the Park United Methodist Church kitchen.
A photo gallery for Park United Methodist Church's 150th Anniversary includes the ladies in the kitchen.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Karen Strobel of Brainerd was baptized at Park United Methodist Church when she was a baby 69 years ago and has been a church member since.

“All people have times when they think they're going to leave, but I always have liked the camaraderie or the feeling of being like a family,” said Strobel, a retired registered nurse.

In 1994, the Evangelical Methodist Church voted to merge with Park United Methodist. In 1993, the Evangelical Church bought a property for a new church development, which became Light of the Lakes Church and then New Light Church. In 2011, it merged with Park United Methodist.

Park United Methodist Church is shown partly demolished.
The photo gallery for Park United Methodist Church's 150th Anniversary includes a look at various moments in the church's history.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“The current congregation is enriched by these converging streams of faith that we celebrate now. … Park Church looks for new expressions and ways to embody God’s love in our community and around the globe,” Swenson said.

Strobel said, “We had a slogan — and it was a few years back — but it said, ‘Open hearts, open minds,’ so sometimes that's what I think of … that we welcome anybody.”

Pictures of the exterior of Park United Methodist Church in Brainerd.
Park United Methodist Church is located at Sixth and Juniper streets in Brainerd and will celebrate its 150th anniversary at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, at the church.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Strobel serves on the church’s 150th-anniversary committee. But she is not the only church member working to better her community.


Brainerd Community Theatre will put on a production of “9 to 5: The Musical” at Central Lakes College. The musical comedy by Dolly Parton is based on her 1980 hit movie about women in the workplace.
“Missing” is a new mystery or thriller about a single mom who disappears on a romantic vacation with her boyfriend. It’s up to her 18-year-old digital-savvy daughter to find out what really happened.
Brainerd High School volunteer archivist/curator John Erickson puts together an exhibit at the school to commemorate its sesquicentennial anniversary.

“We know that our church members are living out their faith in countless volunteer roles and financial contributions as well as their personal acts of care,” Swenson said.

Park United Methodist Church hands out treats and hot chocolate for trick-and-treaters, for example, near Gregory Park.

“Hundreds of people visit our diner at the Crow Wing County Fair each year,” Swenson said. “Those proceeds are used for special projects and donations for local programs such as The Shop, which reaches out to support our area youth.”

The congregation also provides annual mission support for a person in the Democratic Republic of Congo helping communities become more food secure and sustainable, according to Swenson.

For more information about Park United Methodist Church, call 218-829-4116 or visit .

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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