In September David Engen began reviewing our history by talking about the first settlers in our area and the importance they placed on organizing places of worship. Within weeks after the pioneer settlers arrived in the Goose River area they began meeting in homes and in 1874 they organized the Northwood Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. However, eight years later a group of these settlers left that organizational structure to become the LFC (Lutheran Free Church), later merging to become the ALC, the ELCA and now back to the LFC organizational structure called the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Congregations). It is important to understand something about the Fundamental Principles of the AFLC in order to discuss pastors, leaders, and constitution.
I quote from John Stensvaag, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Augsburg Seminary”…. let us recall some of the basic convictions of our founders. In the first place, Christianity was to them intensely personal. Religion is ever in danger of becoming external and impersonal. This was the case in Norway when Hans Nielson Hauge, toward the close of the eighteenth century stirred the people by his evangelistic preaching. As he stressed the necessity of a personal experience of salvation, a mighty revival swept over the land. “And in the words of Georg Sverdrup, “to this end Augsburg was built, that the Norwegian awakening might have free course…in the new land.” Consequently, our fathers placed great emphasis on the need of conversion, of an individual experience of sin and grace. …Our founders stood for simplicity in religion.”
They were opposed to having an external structure that exercised authority over the individual congregations. Therefore, the AFLC does not have a constitution, but rather Fundamental Principles. Each congregation has its own constitution. (These principles are currently being reviewed and studied in Adult Bible Class at 9:30 on Sunday morning)
We believe in the priesthood of believers and therefore do not rely on the pastor to do all the work of the church. All believers are to be witnesses of Christ and therefore lay leadership and even lay preaching is encouraged. We have had many effective lay leaders at Ebenezer. I started to think of them but decided not to name them knowing that I do not have adequate knowledge of many of these people. Those of you who have been a part of this congregation for years can take a moment to remember them and thank God for them. The congregation is a community of believers where each one is to use his or her talents in the work of calling people to a living faith in Jesus. The pastor’s primary role is to rightly preach the God’s Word and administer the sacraments. “For the Word of God is living and effective, and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, Joint and marrow; It is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart” Hebrews 4:12.
Ebenezer has had 26 pastors over 125 years, an average of tenure of just under 5 years. Seven were interim. The longest -serving pastor was Gregory Schram, 15 years (1991-2006); excluding interim ministers, the shortest was Barry Chaffee, 2 years 1989-1991. The screen before you will help us remember each one that has been here and an insert in your bulletin has the list of pastors and the years they served; I cannot speak about each of them. Therefore, I will share some thoughts on five of these pastors and hope it helps you to remember how God has blessed the Ebenezer congregation with some faithful pastors.
In 1973 Carl Vaagenes came directly from Madagascar to Northwood. He was born in Madagascar to missionary parents and after coming to the US for College and Seminary returned to Madagascar for 17 years. In 1972 he came back to the US and here to Northwood. Carl Vaagenes authored an excellent book, “An Earthen Vessel” referring to II Corinthians 4:1-7 which ends with,” But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God.” He tells his story to reveal how God directed and used his life in such a powerful way.
God works in mysterious ways. To illustrate this, I want to tell his story of coming to Northwood. Carl tells about a conversation he had with a friend when he was in Madagascar. This friend was expressing a wish to return to McVille ND, to which Carl said, “It would be long cold day before I ever moved to ND. I lived to eat my words. Driving from Minneapolis to our first call in Northwood, ND, January 3, 1973, blizzard, 20 below zero, the underpass on highway 94 to West Acres and north to Northwood was blocked, completely covered with snow. Welcome to North Dakota.”
Why to Northwood? In his book Carl Vaagenes tells this story: His brother Morris, also a missionary and pastor, asked for advice from the SE Minnesota district president Agrimson about a call to his area. Agrimson replied that …”missionaries needed more experience. ND had openings.” Interesting we had three missionary pastors. They were John Mehl – (1965-1872) Carl Vaagenes (1973-1778) and Arvild Jacobson (1984-1988). John Mehl died April of 2020 at the age of 94 and Arvild Jacobson died November 2016. Carl goes on the write, “Bishop Nelson Preus asked why former Madagascar missionaries came to North Dakota. I said,” We came here to Christianize the Sons of Norway.” Ebenezer shared our vision as missionaries.” Carl Vaageness wrote very fondly of Northwood. “From our first meeting in Northwood, and from the day Noel and Peder Korsmo came with their truck to get our barrels from Madagascar, we were treated like family.”
I trust that all the pastors that came to Northwood could say that they were treated like family. Thank you to this congregation for caring for your pastors.
Pastor Ringstad baptized me, and my father often spoke of him. I understood that he had a large influence on my father’s faith. Pastor Hermunslie was my childhood pastor. I remember him as a kind but commanding presence. I was baptized into the faith and believed what I was taught in church and at home. However, one Sunday morning when I was about 10 years old, I clearly remember the exact spot in church where I sat with the sun shining in. I remember it as a holy moment. I was sitting in about the 4th pew from the front of the sanctuary on the west end of the center rows of pews. I don’t remember anyone sitting with me. Pastor Hermunslie was preaching God’s Word in a powerful way, and I felt God calling me to follow him. I felt that he had a special calling for me, and I promised I would do what he asked of me. God’s word is living and effective and we must not forget that.
The next pastor who influenced my life was Pastor Berntson. He made me feel as if he took a special interest in me. When I was thinking of going to Oak Grove, he made a trip out to the farm to visit with me about that decision. And later that year, he somehow found out that I had an interest in missions. One Sunday when I was home from Oak Grove, we had a guest missionary at church and Pastor Berntson invited me over for dinner with their family and to visit with that missionary. I was shy and therefore was so surprised that he invited me, not my parents or family, just me over to have dinner and visit with them.
To say that my life was smooth sailing from then on and that I followed God’s call throughout the years is not true. I failed in many ways. However, God is faithful and did not let me go.
And the fourth, Pastor Mark Molstre. It is such a blessing to be here for worship each Sunday morning and hear such articulate and powerful messages from God’s Word. My spirit tells me that he is a man of faith with a pastor’s heart. Thanks be to God for all the men, women and pastors that have guided Ebenezer over these last 125 years.