“Walsh Heritage,” Vol 3, pg 203 (photo), pg 228 -229 Article
The year 1980 marked a century of Christian worship for Park Center Lutheran Congregation. This landmark of spiritual faith was observed by a joyous celebration and homecoming in June of that year. A confirmants reunion and Norwegian smorgasbord was held on Saturday evening, June 7th. The festival worship service and centennial program took place on Sunday, June 8th. Rev. James Brooks of Freeport, Illinois, was the only former pastor who was able to attend.
Faith being the substance of things hoped for, it was this essential bridge of spiritual faith that inspired the founders of Park Center congregation to cross storm-tossed seas with their meager belongings and migrate across half a continent into a wilderness area to establish a new community. There had to be a sense of divine purpose and meaning in such an adventure to sustain their courage over trials of physical and mental endurance. There were no roads or bridges to guide them through the tall grasses of the fertile prairie that stood untouched by man. For the task of altering this primitive environment into homes for their families they sought God’s help and began to worship in homes, log schoolhouses and barns.
Due to the fragmentary nature of records kept during the early years of the congregation’s history, it is difficult to present a complete history of Park Center Congregation. It appears that since so many immigrants of Norwegian Lutheran background had settled in Walsh County, pioneer Lutheran pastors began visiting this territory, conducting worship services and administering the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy communion. The first of these pastors of whom we have record was the Rev. O. H. Aaberg, who lived at Walle, near Grand Forks, who conducted some services for the Park Center community and in 1880 helped them organize into a congregation.
From the available records, we quote the following,translated from Norwegian: “Park Center Congregation was organized in the year 1880.” After a worship service they resolved to organize as a Christian congregation. Martin Johnson was elected president and Ole Gunderson, secretary. Possibly, the church derived its name from the fact that it is located near the center or middle branch of the Park River. Elected as the first trustees were Gjermund Gunderson for one year; E. Sandland for two years, and Nels Clemetson for three years.
It was next decided that this congregation should unite with Zion Congregation (south of Hoople) and the Park River Congregation (Our Saviour’s) in calling a pastor and that this new congregation would agree to contribute to the pastor’s salary $80 the first year.
Ole Gunderson, Gregar Halvorson, Halvor Peterson Borge, and Martin Johnson were elected to select a suitable place as a cemetery for the congregation. The result of this committee’s work was that Knute E. Sandland donated three acres for the cemetery and church grounds – the present site. There was a total of 167 members as of 1880 (67 adults and 100 children). At the present time (1981), there are 107 adults and 12 children.
Rev. O. H. Aaberg was the first pastor of this congregation, but he could not serve as its permanent pastor on account of other duties. Names and years of the next two pastors were: Rev. Christopher A. Flaten, 1881-1889, and Rev. J. T. Langemo of Edinburg, temporarily for three months. The work prospered so well those years that the members of Park Center began to talk of erecting a church. In the summer of 1892 a serviceable church building, 30 feet by 75 feet, was erected on the present site, costing $7,000. Pastor K. O. Storli was the next pastor, serving from 1900-1906; Rev. O. L. Kirkeberg, 1906-1913 (he passed away in 1925 and is buried in the Zion Cemetery, south of Hoople); Rev. H. O. Shurson, 1913-1915 (while he served the parish he was instrumental in organizing the Lutheran congregation in Hoople); and Rev. Adolph Egge, 1915-1926.
In 1926 the parishes were rearranged with the result that Park Center, with Hvideso and First Lutheran Church of Hoople, would constitute the new parish. Records show Rev. O. A. Norem served the congregation temporarily for five weeks; Pastor Halvard Lie served 1927-1928; Rev. B. M. Branford, 1929-1939; Rev. O. R. Swenson, 1939-1955 (he took a three-year leave of absence to serve as chaplain in World War II – Rev. John B. Rockne of Park River filled in as temporary pastor in addition to serving his own parish of three congregations); Rev. James R. Sonnenberg, 1955-1966; Rev. James L. Brooks, 1966-1972; and Rev. M. J. Sheldahl, 1972-1979, when he retired. Rev. Kent Carlinghouse, who serves at the present time, came to the parish in July of 1979.
In an electronic age we can see a symbolic meaning in the slim steeple of the church pointing skyward as a spiritual antenna communicating God’s will to earth, and a prayer of thanks ascending in return for a century of meaningful living under His protective care.