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When Rev. O.H. Aaberg made his first missionary journey to Fort Totten in 1881, there was only one white family living north of Devils Lake. On a later journey in 1883, he found many Norwegian families in the Devils Lake area, among them Ole Serumgard and Tollef T. Lee. In visiting with them, he became acutely aware of their yearning for a church of their own, and promised to return to them the following summer to perform ministerial acts, such as baptisms, should there be need for them. The summer of 1884, he returned and conducted the first Lutheran service in Devils Lake on August 24, 1884. Services were again held September 7, November 23, and Christmas Day of that year, and on New Year’s Day, 1885. The following June, Rev. Aaberg moved to Devils Lake, and formally organized St. Olaf Congregation, July 20, 1885. A constitution was adopted, and Rev. Aaberg accepted the call to be their first pastor. He served St. Olaf until January 1, 1888. In a short time, he had organized nine congregations in Ramsey County alone, six of which he served himself.
About the same time, a group of Norwegian-Danish Conference members had organized a small congregation in Devils Lake. When their pastor left, the two congregations merged. On February 4, 1887, a revised constitution was adopted and signed by twelve charter members: G.O. Bjerkeland, T.T. Lee, N.N. Fladeland, R. Olson, S.N. Sorenson, Ole Serumgard, Edward Hove, Theo. N. Nilson, A. Nilson, N.S. Moen, A.S. Bratlie, and Ole Olson. In the next 14 years, St. Olaf was served by seven pastors, one as a supply pastor. It was during Rev. J. J. Strandness’ pastorate that Vernes congregation was organized, November 5, 1899. This congregation later joined St. Olaf, July 26, 1931, having belonged to the parish from its beginning. As many as five congregations, St. Olaf, Ringsaker, Bethlehem, Vernes, and Zion constituted the parish, at the turn of the century. Bethlehem at Doyon transferred to the Hamar and Warwick parish March 18, 1908 and Zion disbanded in 1920, its members joining either Crary Lutheran or St. Olaf.
No record is found of the fate of Ringsaker, but after 1920, the parish consisted of Vernes and St. Olaf until 1931.By 1888 St. Olaf had erected a wood frame church on the corner of Sixth Street and Sixth Avenue in Devils Lake. Various groups within the congregation, such as the Ladies Aid and Luther League, and individuals contributed money and labor to build and furnish this church which would serve the congregations. In faith, they chose to build a church when it would have been easier to concern themselves only with surviving in a frontier environment. Times were hard; but their faith was stronger and the congregation grew. St. Olaf grew to the point that, in the 1920’s, it was apparent that the congregation had outgrown its present building. Plans began to be made for a magnificent brick structure that would give glory to God and serve the needs of God’s people for many years to come. On April 21, 1929, land for this new church was purchased diagnonally across the intersection from their present building. The stock market crashed later that same year and our country entered the Great Depression; yet it was decided to go ahead and build the beautiful new structure that had been planned. Groundbreaking was held on April 6, 1930, and the new church was dedicated on October 19, 1930. It was truly a step of faith to build such a church when the nation’s economy was in a shambles. People of lesser faith would have said, “Let’s make do with what we have until the economy improves.” Thankfully, those members of St. Olaf in the early 1930s didn’t see things that way and, as a result, the congregation continued to grow. A further step of faith was taken in the early 1950’s when an education unit larger than the original church was added in order to accommodate the education needs of a rapidly expanding congregation. And in 1987, another major addition to the building was made, called the Centennial Project, to provide fellowship space and handicapped accessibility. Both of those major building additions were made in faith - faith that they were God-pleasing endeavors and faith that funds would be found to finance them. And that faith was not in vain.
Over the years many changes have occurred. Property surrounding St. Olaf was purchased and made into 2 parking lots. Norway Lutheran Church congregation joined St. Olaf in 1968 and in 1975, land on the shores of Creel Bay was donated and the church was moved there to become our Retreat Center where worship is held on Sundays June through August.
Two major projects are underway in 2023: to update elevator and restoration and preservation of the stained glass windows at St. Olaf.
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