Norway Lutheran Church Overlooks Perseverance

Norway Lutheran Church Overlooks Perseverance

We visited this beautiful place, Norway Lutheran Church, in April of 2017. It’s in McHenry County, about 15 miles southwest of Towner, North Dakota, and it is perched on the hill above the Souris River Valley. The Souris, known to locals as the “Mouse River”, has flooded many times, particularly in 1969 and 2011 (a 1976 flood was serious, but not as severe as ’69 or ’11), and 6 years later, the legacy of the 2011 flood can still be seen everywhere. Just down the way from this church, a gravel road still stands blocked-off, partly underwater. Dead wood lies along the river bank in heaps, piled there by land owners after thousands of trees, live and dead, were uprooted and sent drifting downriver in the deluge. In places, there are the remains of flooded buildings, but in many more, new constructions, nicely landscaped and brightly painted. From a safe spot well above the flood plain, and in the tradition of the hardy settlers who came here more than a century earlier, Norway Lutheran Church overlooks perseverance. 

Norway Lutheran Church

We know every little about this place except what we could see from the outside, but it is clear that someone works very hard to take care of this church. Norway Lutheran looks as if it was nicely painted sometime in the not too distant past, all of the basement window wells are diligently covered to prevent the elements from getting in, and it looks as if someone had gone around the outside and knocked down quite a few birds’ nests from the eaves recently. We don’t know if they still hold regular services here, but it certainly looks like they could.

Norway Lutheran Church

Norway Lutheran Church

Norway Lutheran Church

Norway Lutheran Church

There is a stone monument in the cemetery across the road from the church (above), erected in 1952, and the plate reads in-part:

UPON THIS SITE
STOOD THE FIRST LOG CHURCH OF
NORWAY LUTHERAN CONGREGATION

COMPLETED MARCH 1, 1886
FIRST SERVICE OCTOBER 17, 1886
LAST SERVICE NOVEMBER 9, 1890

NORWAY LUTHERAN CONGREGATION
VILLARD, MCHENRY COUNTY
DAKOTA TERRITORY
FIRST CONGREGATION ORGANIZED
IN MOUSE RIVER LOOP

ORGANIZED JULY 20, 1884
BY REV. O.H. AABERG
AT VILLARD POST OFFICE

Norway Lutheran Church

Norway Lutheran Church

Above: a memorial to Sondre Norheim, considered the father of modern skiiing. Norheim and his his family emigrated to America in 1884, first to Minnesota, and then to this part of North Dakota. He has been honored in the opening ceremonies at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, and the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Norway Lutheran Church

The road to Norway Lutheran Church is like something from a storybook.

More photos of Norway Lutheran

What do you know about Norway Lutheran Church? Please leave a comment below.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.

11 thoughts on “Norway Lutheran Church Overlooks Perseverance

  1. I visited the church last Memorial Day as I have an uncle buried there. My mother was baptized in that church and I also remember going to a dedication ceremony for Norheim with my parents back in the 60’s. My grandfather homesteaded about a mile and a half sw of the church.

  2. I had a chance to work with parishioner Lillian Espeseth on the National Register nomination for the church. She authored a terrific narrative, cheered when her nomination was approved by the state and federal government, and brought the whole congregation to the Listing ceremony. These are some of my favorite memories of working in North Dakota.

  3. Thank you for the beautiful pictures of our church. The whole area is very photogenic, isn’t it. I was baptized, confirmed, and married at Norway Lutheran Church. It is indeed a very special place for all of us that grew up with this church. (I have more information in another source that I will forward on to you when I locate it.)

    The church is no longer an active congregation with the ELCA. The church was turned over to a “Trust Board of Directors” in 1997 of which I am a member. Although the church closed in 1997, it is being maintained by a trust and services are held there at Christmas, during the summer, and in the fall every year. During the Hostfest in Minot every year, the Norwegian delegation has a wreath laying celebration on the grave of Sondre Norheim, a famous Norwegian skier, buried in NLC cemetery. Baptisms, weddings and other religious ceremonies are held there as they are scheduled.

    Today Norway Lutheran Church still stands beautiful, overlooking the river valley and prairie land; a monument to God’s undying love and peace to the people who established their faith in this part of the Mouse River Valley.

  4. This is more of the information taken from a church bulletin celebrating the 130th year of the church congregation.

    A Brief History of Norway Lutheran Church
    In 1883, a group of pioneer neighbors met and decided they needed a place to worship. Norway Lutheran Congregation was organized on July 20th, 1884. Worship services were held in the homes until a log church was built in 1886. Members donated and hauled logs by ox teams. The first service in the log church was in October of 1886. The last service was held in June of 1900 when the congregation became too large to worship in the little log church. It was dismantled and the logs were sold. The rock monument in the cemetery stands on the site of the little log church.
    The building of the brick church began in 1907. Members hauled rocks from the surrounding area for the foundation. The bricks were hauled out with horses and wagons from the Denbigh Brick Plant (approximately 12 miles). The first church service was held in November of 1907. The basement was completed in 1929. The cement floor replaced the wooden floor in 1953.
    Norway Lutheran Church and cemetery were placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 14th, 1994. In 1966 a program was held to dedicate a plaque for the grave of Sondre Norheim.
    Norway Lutheran Congregation closed in 1997. The congregation voted that the church contents remain as they are today. A trust has been formed to take care of the church.
    Today Norway Lutheran Church still stands beautiful, overlooking the river valley and prairie land.
    A Day to Remember
    Today, July 20, 2014, we celebrate the 130th Anniversary of the organization of the Norway Lutheran Congregation, the oldest organized in the Mouse River Loop. Some of these pioneer families came as early as 1882 to this area known as Dakota Territory before it became the State of North Dakota in 1889. Let us not forget North Dakota is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, Congratulations North Dakota.
    Records show the first Lutheran services held within the Mouse River Loop was November 1 1883 at Villard Post Office, a little log house with dirt floor and sod roof eleven miles south of Denbigh, by minister Rev. O.H. Aaberg. He returned the following year and on July 20, 1884 organized Norway Lutheran Congregation at the Erik Espeseth home. Charter members were Johannes Kopperdahl, Hans and John Braaten, Anton Jevnager, Erick Espeseth, Marius Stutrud, Marten Bredahl, Lars Hansen, Samuel Koto, Simen Hestnas and sons, Engebret and Bernt, Ole Hovind, and Petrin Anderson.
    Those early members listed on the map in the centerfold, would be proud of us having services and celebrating the 130th Anniversary of its beginning in this Denbigh brick church on the hill build in 1907.

  5. This is the full bulletin…not sure if you can get the pictures, may need to edit them out.

    Norway at Sunset

    Norway Lutheran Church
    stands dignified and beautiful overlooking the deep river valley and prairie land from its height silhouetted against the sky with its steeple pointing heavenward.

    Norway Lutheran Church
    Rural Denbigh

    130th Anniversary of the
    Organization of the Congregation
    July 20, 2014
    Norway Lutheran Church Worship Service
    July 20, 2014 4:00pm
    We dedicate our service today in memory of the early pioneer families whose love and faith in God led them to lay the foundation of Norway Lutheran Congregation on July 20, 1884.
    Prelude
    Welcome and Announcements Rev. Linda Wimmer
    Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness LBW p. 77
    Opening Hymn “Bless Be the Tie That Binds” LBW p. 370
    Greeting LBW p. 78
    Kyrie LBW p. 78
    Hymn of Praise LBW p. 79
    Prayer of the Day
    Readings
    Gospel Acclamation LBW p. 83
    Gospel Rev. Dale Nobban
    Sermon Rev. Dale Nobban
    Hymn of the Day “I Love To Tell the Story” LBW p. 390
    Apostles’ Creed LBW p. 85
    Where
    There’s a dear little church on top of a hill;
    Though I’ve left it long since, I can see it there still.
    It lingers in memory a thing of delight;

    Its walls seem to echo once more “Silent Night.”
    I’ve wandered away from that beloved old church,
    But wherever I go I continue to search.
    How I wish now that I could so keenly see
    Such things as were once, oh, so real to me!

    Nothing but love and peace and goodwill
    Could be found in that dear little church on the hill.
    How I’d like to return, go back through the years
    To that church on the hill and forget all my fears.
    But time marches on; let me find there as there
    Such peace, perfect peace.
    Lord, this is my prayer.
    —Phyllis C. Michael

    Thank You
    It has been a pleasure to have you worship with us on the 130th Anniversary of the Norway Lutheran Congregation. Wherever you go, may God go with you and may the fruits of this worship bring peace and joy to your heart. Thank You.
    A special thank you for taking part in our service today to Rev. Dale Nobban, Rev. Linda Wimmer, Eil Fallet, Leonard Markusen, and Sandy Bacon.
    Thank you to everyone who has helped in any way to keep Norway Lutheran Church in repair, the cleaning, and today helping with the service, meal, and cleanup after the meal.
    Thank you to Western State Bank of Towner for the copy work on this folder, to Arne Garnaas for his work on the center fold map which he compiled for the 100th Anniversary, to Brian Heskin for his front page picture of the church, and to Carroll Bakken for his translation of the Norwegian Hymns.
    The Norway Lutheran Church Trust; Mark Anderson, Ivan Canevello, Howard Garnaas, Vera L. Nelson, and Laurel Wentz are thankful to God for giving us the honor to be part of the heritage of Norway Lutheran Congregation. Each year we have a Summer Service and a Community Christmas Service with dates announced yearly.
    If anyone would like to use the church for a religious function or to view it, we would accept a free will donation to cover cleaning and electricity costs. Contact Vera L. Nelson, phone 701-537-5505 or 357 57th Blvd. N. E., Towner, ND 58788.
    (We apologize for any misspelling of names.)
    Prayers
    Sharing of Peace
    Special Music Eli Fallet
    Offering
    Offertory Response LBW p. 86
    Offertory Prayer LBW p. 88
    Great Thanksgiving LBW p. 89
    Words of Institution
    Lord’s Prayer LBW p. 91
    Distribution Hymn “Let Us Break Bread Together” LBW p. 212
    Canticle LBW p. 92
    Prayer
    Blessing LBW p. 95
    Closing Hymn “On Our Way Rejoicing” LBW p. 260
    Dismissal
    Go in Peace. Serve the Lord.
    Thanks be to God
    Special Program Vera L. Nelson

    Eli Marie Fallet from Tangen, Norway is providing special music in song in Norwegian. She is a descendent of charter members, the Simen Hestnas family and son, Engebret, when Norway Congregation was organized on July 20, 1884. Her grandfather, Engebret, served as an officer of the congregation for a few years before returning to his birthland, Norway. He later married and one of his descendants is Eli. Eli and her daughter, Helene, visited Norway Church and the area in 2012. We are pleased to have her back today and also for her to sing for us in her native tongue:
    1. In Heaven, In Heaven
    2. Lord God, Your Precious Name
    3. Extremely Full of Grace
    Thank you, Eli.

    A Brief History of Norway Lutheran Church
    In 1883, a group of pioneer neighbors met and decided they needed a place to worship. Norway Lutheran Congregation was organized on July 20th, 1884. Worship services were held in the homes until a log church was built in 1886. Members donated and hauled logs by ox teams. The first service in the log church was in October of 1886. The last service was held in June of 1900 when the congregation became too large to worship in the little log church. It was dismantled and the logs were sold. The rock monument in the cemetery stands on the site of the little log church.
    The building of the brick church began in 1907. Members hauled rocks from the surrounding area for the foundation. The bricks were hauled out with horses and wagons from the Denbigh Brick Plant (approximately 12 miles). The first church service was held in November of 1907. The basement was completed in 1929. The cement floor replaced the wooden floor in 1953.
    Norway Lutheran Church and cemetery were placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 14th, 1994. In 1966 a program was held to dedicate a plaque for the grave of Sondre Norheim.
    Norway Lutheran Congregation closed in 1997. The congregation voted that the church contents remain as they are today. A trust has been formed to take care of the church.
    Today Norway Lutheran Church still stands beautiful, overlooking the river valley and prairie land.
    A Day to Remember
    Today, July 20, 2014, we celebrate the 130th Anniversary of the organization of the Norway Lutheran Congregation, the oldest organized in the Mouse River Loop. Some of these pioneer families came as early as 1882 to this area known as Dakota Territory before it became the State of North Dakota in 1889. Let us not forget North Dakota is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year, Congratulations North Dakota.
    Records show the first Lutheran services held within the Mouse River Loop was November 1 1883 at Villard Post Office, a little log house with dirt floor and sod roof eleven miles south of Denbigh, by minister Rev. O.H. Aaberg. He returned the following year and on July 20, 1884 organized Norway Lutheran Congregation at the Erik Espeseth home. Charter members were Johannes Kopperdahl, Hans and John Braaten, Anton Jevnager, Erick Espeseth, Marius Stutrud, Marten Bredahl, Lars Hansen, Samuel Koto, Simen Hestnas and sons, Engebret and Bernt, Ole Hovind, and Petrin Anderson.
    Those early members listed on the map in the centerfold, would be proud of us having services and celebrating the 130th Anniversary of its beginning in this Denbigh brick church on the hill build in 1907.

    Hymns sung by Eli Fallet and translated by Carroll Bakken
    1. In Heaven, In Heaven
    In heaven, in heaven, where God, our Lord dwells,
    There we shall see him as he is,
    In salvation so great and sing Holy! Holy! there,
    And sing Holy! Holy! there and cherish the Lord.

    2. Lord God, Your Precious Name and Glory
    Lord God, your precious name and glory
    Over the world in highest esteem shall be,
    And all souls, the weary and all that are melancholy
    They shall tell of your glory.

    3. Extremely Full of Grace
    Extremely full of grace is, oh God, your great name!
    Day that raptures reminding all to embrace of your goodness to fathom,
    Heaven, Earth, sea, for they prize you every grain and thorn!
    Hear angels sing with trumpets and jubilee horn!

  6. The current church stands on land given by my husband’s grandfather, Louis Markusen. Our daughter still has an acre of land right next to the church. It is a special place for our family.

  7. This church is awesome! And friend Laurel is very instrumental in keeping this church alive and loves it dearly:-)

  8. Thank you for all that you shared here. I enjoyed your comments immensely. I am most thankful to have served this congregation as its pastor (with my former wife) from October 1983 to November 1988.

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