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Members of all ages helped break ground for a new addition at Oscar Lake Lutheran Church in rural Farwell last Sunday. The new narthex will be completely built through volunteer labor by church members. (Tara Bitzan/Echo Press)

‘Sheer determination’

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While many small country churches are struggling to stay alive from year to year, Oscar Lake Lutheran in rural Farwell continues to stand strong and even expand.

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Dozens of church members gathered Sunday, May 25 to break ground for a new narthex.

Construction will begin on the 24-foot by 32-foot addition this week, with all of the work being done by members on a volunteer basis. The completion goal is Labor Day.

Oscar Lake currently has about 200 members and is the oldest chartered Lutheran church in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s northwest synod.

It forms a parish with Trinity Lutheran Church of Holmes City. Both congregations are under the leadership of Pastor Denise Croskey.

A major addition of a fellowship hall and classroom space was added in the late 1950s, with that space extended with another small addition just four years ago.

According to members, the success of the church is due to its determined members.

“We’ve had a lot of faithful members through the years who’ve been determined to hang in there,” said member Lloyd Flaaten.

Flaaten was a friend and neighbor to the Anderson family, which is currently in its seventh generation of membership at the church.

The Anderson family reminisced about the church, recalling that their ancestor Carl Johnson, who died in 1892, dug the well for the original church.

Brothers Dale and Wayne Anderson, fifth generation members, recalled when their mother and other church ladies sold pies at the county fair to raise money for a church addition, stoking the woodburning furnace located under the current entry, and using the church outhouse before indoor plumbing was put in.

“I also remember Bonanza being on TV Sunday nights and wanting to stay home to watch it, but I never got to – I always had to go to church,” one of the brothers chuckled.

“A lot of people moved here and didn’t know anybody,” said Nash Anderson, sixth generation member. “At the church, they instantly have connections and friends.”

While 5-year-old Axel (named after his great-great-grandfather) doesn’t have a lot of memories yet, he does love his church. The seventh generation family member recently told the pastor as he entered church one Sunday morning, “This church is so beautiful it blows my mind!”

The Holm family also has seven generations of membership at Oscar Lake Church.

Ronnie and Dorothy Holm, fifth generation members, said membership has remained pretty consistent through the years, and the members have always worked together for the good of the church.

“We have people from so many different walks of life, that what one can’t come up with, others will,” Ronnie said.

He helped break ground Sunday for the new narthex using the same shovel his father, Carl Holm, used to break ground for the new addition in 1958.

Greg Tolifson of Lowry, seventh generation family member, said that it’s “sheer determination” that has kept the church alive.

“We’re family here,” added his mother, Sally Tollifson, sixth generation family member. “We’ll do what it takes to keep this church going.”

Oscar Lake Lutheran Church will celebrate 150 years in 2016.

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Tara Bitzan
Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.
(320) 763-1211
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