Breckenridge Lutheran Church Turns 75

(Pastor Mark is writing a series of articles regarding the 75th Anniversary of Breckenridge Lutheran Church)

Part 1

On Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937  Rev. P.A. Gisvold of Bethel Lutheran Church in Wahpeton, officiated at the first worship service of an as yet unnamed church meeting in the Community Room in the Breckenridge City Hall. While services were originally held in the evening, a majority of members expressed a desire to worship at 9:30am, while during the summer the congregation was forced to worship at 10:45am because of scheduling conflicts with Bethel Lutheran.

            By the spring of the next year the congregation was sufficiently organized, a constitution enacted and officers elected so that the church could officially be chartered on Palm Sunday, April 10, 1938. Fifty two family units signed the charter; of those charter members there remains but one still living and still a member: Mrs. Geraldine (Matheson) Langseth, currently a resident of Twin Town Villa in Breckenridge.  Several names for the new  congregation were considered including Our Redeemer’s, First English and Breckenridge English. On April 23, 1938, an official letter of call was issued to Rev. P. A. Gisvold, with  Bethel and  Breckenridge Lutheran linked as a single parish.

            In 1938 a women’s group was started, soon growing to 60 members who met twice a month on Fridays at 7:45pm with lunch at 10pm. A Sunday School was also organized with 36 children and 9 teachers meeting at the City Hall, quickly growing to nearly 100 students.           

Because of this growth, in 1939 1 1/2 lots on 6th Street North  were bought for the sum of $800 plus $155 in back taxes, and the next year a building committee was formed. On April 25, 1940, following services at the Community Room of the City Hall, the congregation marched to the building site and with appropriate blessings, broke ground. Site preparation and a basement were completed in time for the laying of a cornerstone that fall. From that time until the completion of the sanctuary, all church activities and services were held in the newly completed basement.           


Part 2

            After the cornerstone of the new church was laid and the basement was finished in the fall of 1940, all church activities were held in the new basement, yet further work on the church was suspended. This was in accordance with original plans to keep the indebtedness of the new congregation  manageable. However, after receiving assurances about  future finances, the carpenters renewed their work on June 13, 1942. Work was quickly completed and on September 30, 1942 the new church was dedicated.

            With the completion of the building came rapid growth in activities and organizations, some which are still active, and others which have passed by the wayside: the Lutheran Women’s Guild (now BLW), the Lutheran Daughters of the Reformation (for single women, 1939), the adult choir (1941), the Lutheran Business Girl’s Club (1942-45), the church library (1943), the Luther League (1943), the Men’s Brotherhood (1945), the Boy Scout Troop (1946), Junior Choir (1948).

            On May 29, 1946 the debt on the church was retired. By the end of 1946, the membership of BLC had increased to 381. Realizing the need for future expansion, on March 7, 1947 the church purchased 1 1/2 lots adjoining the church for $1100. In 1949, a Wurlitzer organ was installed just in time for Christmas.

            On June 22, 1952, Pastor Gisvold tendered his resignation. With this event the congregation prepared to enter a new step in its growth and ministry.



Part 3

With the departure of the founding minister, BLC entered a new era, installing Rev. Tollef C. Hanson as minister on July 19, 1953. With this the congregation also purchased its first parsonage, adjoining the church property for $14,000.

             On June 6, 1954 the congregation began broadcasting worship over KBMW Radio AM 1450. The original cost was $15 an hour (currently it is $70). In order to better conduct the Education ministry of the church a Parish Education Board was organized in 1954. With this continued growth in needs, the church hired the first church office secretary, Miss Esther Helvig, in 1955.

By this time the baptized member ship had grown to over 900, with a total Sunday School enrollment of over 300. The church began planning for a Parish Education addition on adjacent land, which included remodeling and enlarging the church kitchen. Ground was broken on May 28, 1956, and the wing was completed at a cost of $75,000 in time for a November 18 Dedication Service.

In 1959 improvements were made to the parsonage, and the church began using the Service Book and Hymnal (the “old red” hymnal). On April 19, 1960, Rev. T.C. Hanson celebrated his last worship service as minister of BLC.

During the 1950’s, the congregation had grown to 1078 baptized members, and 608 voting members. With this growth, would come new leaders and new staff ministries during the 1960’s.


 Part 4

 While the 1960’s brought great change to our culture it brought somewhat different challenges to our church. Having grown to 1078 baptized members, and looking for a new minister, the church called Rev. Reuben D. Mellum on August 21, 1960. Changes were afoot in the Lutheran landscape as well, with the church joining the new American Lutheran Church in 1961.

Because of the growth of the congregation, a Pastoral Altar Guild with acolytes was created in 1961. In 1962, Miss Carolyn Lindskog accepted the call of the congregation to become the first Parish Worker, with responsibilities in parish education, Luther League and home visitation.

This church prepared to celebrate the first 25 years of ministry in 1963, having grown to1260 baptized members and 854 confirmed members. The Sunday School enrolled 401 students, with 36 teachers and 28 substitutes. Of the original 52 chartered family units, only portions of 26 units were still members of Breckenridge Lutheran Church.

The 25th Anniversary of the church was celebrated on April 20-21, 1963 with many former members returning. Services were held on Saturday evening, Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon, followed by an afternoon tea. Pastors Gisvold and Hanson both returned, and Pastor Julian Erickson, son of the congregation, was also present. The next 25 years would bring more new people and more new leaders.


Part 5

             In the ’60’s the congregation grew in numbers and programs, and staff was added to meet the needs. Following Carolyn Lindskog’s resignation as Parish Worker, Orv Anderson was hired as Parish Education and Youth  Director in 1964, succeeded by Roger Noer in 1966, and Vicki Johnson (Parish Worker) in 1968. In 1970 Helen Barr became the church office secretary, Hazel Harvego became the Parish Education Director and T.L.  Spoonheim became the Financial Secretary. A Lay Assistant, Gary Lage, served in 1972-73.

The ministry of BLC inspired others to ordained ministry as well. Julian Erickson, son of Jens & Clara Erickson was ordained in 1960. Jay Spoonheim, son of Theron & Ann Spoonheim was ordained in 1965. George Dahl, son of George & Mary Dahl, was consecrated as a two-year missionary to Japan in 1969, and later ordained in 1974. In July of 1970, Benjamin (Skip) Aune, son of Roy & Dorothy Aune, left for a two-year internship in New Guinea.

The congregation began training intern ministers: Rolf (Patricia) Wangberg in in 1969 (later Northwestern Minnesota Synod Bishop), John (Susan) Kintner in 1970, and Richard Holmes in 1971.

Meanwhile, in 1970 the church began the Bethel Bible Study Series, purchased and installed a new six-rank Moeller pipe organ, and remodeled the church.

Next month: new ministers and cultures


Part 6

After 13 years of service to BLC, Pastor Mellum left in 1974 for a call in Ohio.  George R. Qualley became the next Lay Assistant, serving during the 5-month interim, and then until 1976 when he entered seminary. On June 1, 1974 Rev. Eugene Floistad assumed the pastorate of our church. With the resignation of Qualley in 1976, the congregation felt the need to call a second pastor, deciding to call Rev. Julian Erickson as co-pastor in 1977.

As the Vietnam War drew to a close, this congregation received Asian refugees. The Ngoc Phung Dang family (12 members) arrived in 1975. In 1979, the 6 members of the Lan Trat family arrived. In 1981 the Hung Phi Truog family arrived with 7 members.

The 1970’s featured other firsts. In 1977 (and 1978) Miss Neoma Laken was elected as the first woman President of the Congregation. In 1978 the congregation celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Organization. In 1978, The Lutheran Standard denominational magazine went into all the homes of the members. Also in 1978, a community theater production, “Fiddler on the Roof” was staged as a community outreach project. Finally in 1978, we began using the Lutheran Book of Worship (the green hymnal). George Qualley joined the roster of ordained sons of the congregation in June of 1980, the fourth member to do so.

As the 1980’s dawned, the community and church would continue to change.


Part 7

As BLC entered the 1980’s, it also began to be more greatly affected by the demographic changes of rural America. In 1960, Wilkin County had 10,650 residents and Breckenridge had 4,339. By 1980, the county had declined to 8,454, and the city to 3,909. (By 2010, the county would tally 6,576 and the city 3,386). As the changes occurred, many rural people began attending church in town and living in town. In addition, BLC continued a strong educational and youth program, which continued to attract new families in the area.

In 1984, Associate Pastor Julian Erickson left for a call in South Dakota. Shortly thereafter the congregation sold the 7th Street parsonage (moved from 6th Street in 1968) and started paying a pastor’s housing allowance. Mark Halvorson served as a Lay Assistant in 1983-84, followed by Jay Johnson in 1984-85. In 1984, Helen Barr retired as church office secretary after 14 years of service; she was succeeded by Joyce Korth. On August 15, 1985 Rev. Michael Gustafson joined the staff at BLC as an Associate Minister.

Thanksgiving of 1985 ushered in the first Ecumenical Thanksgiving Worship Service, and in 1986 the Faith, Care & Share ministry groups were organized; both of these ministries are still successfully operating.

In 1986, Pastor Floistad left for a new call in Holt, MN and Pastor Gustafson was called as the Senior Pastor of BLC.


  Part 8

As we have been studying, reminiscing, and learning from our past 75 years during these last 8 months of newsletter articles, it has become clear that we have weathered many changes, and adapted to many new circumstances. As we prepare to chart a course for the next 5-25 years, let’s stop for a moment to take a look at where we are now in Wilkin County (according to our Census Bureau).

    Avg. Household Size: 2.0 people

    Est. Median Household

      Income (2009): $44,969

     % living in poverty (2009): 8.1%

     Median Age: 43 years

     # Households: 6,592

Total Families 5,383

     2-person 915

                 3-person 355

                 4-person 294

                 5-person 156

     6-person 60

     7 or more 23

     County Population 1980 8449

           2000 7138

           2010 6576

     % Affiliated with Religious Congrega- tions (# of churches): 72.5%

ELCA (5) 41.7%

Roman Catholic(2) 29.7%

Other Lutheran(3) 12.0%

Methodist(2) 7.8%

Other(6) 8.9%





Below are the articles from our bulletin regarding our visiting Pastors and guests

March 17, 2013

Today marks the beginning of an eight month commemoration of the events, people and Spirit that have brought Breckenridge Lutheran Church to this point in its ministry. During this time, we will welcome back former interns, pastors and leaders that have guided this ministry, complete a 75th Anniversary Pictorial Directory, and celebrate our diverse and changing worship history and styles. We will remember the past while looking to the future, at all times giving thanks for a steadfast God.

 This week at our Inaugural 75th Anniversary Worship we remember the start of the congregation. Breckenridge Lutheran Church began worshiping on Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937 in the Community Room of the Breckenridge City Hall. The congregation was officially organized on Palm Sunday April 10, 1938, and a letter of call was issued to Rev. P. A. Gisvold of Wahpeton on April 24, 1938. 

Helping us to commemorate our beginning is a former  intern from 1999-2000, Pastor Kathy (Kate) Bruns. Pastor Bruns came to ordained ministry after serving as a teacher and journalist among other vocations. After graduating from Luther Seminary in 2001, she received a call as Staff Pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls, and Augustana Lutheran Church in Elizabeth, where she continues to serve. Pastor Bruns and her husband Walt live in Fergus Falls. Walt is the President of Quality Bank of Page, ND. They have three grown children and two grandchildren.

Please stay to welcome them, and join us for a potluck to inaugurate this anniversary celebration


April 14, 2013 

Today we gather to continue our eight-month celebration of the events, people and Spirit that has brought Breckenridge Lutheran Church to this 75th year of its ministry. During this time we will    welcome back former leaders to remember the past, while looking to the future and giving thanks for our steadfast God. 

This week we look back at some of the events that took place in the many Aprils in this congregation. The congregation was officially recognized on Palm Sunday, April 10, 1938 and a letter of call was issued to Rev. P. A. Gisvold of Wahpeton on April 24, 1938. On April 25, 1940 ground was broken at our current church site. On April 2, 1944 the combined choirs of Breckenridge Lutheran and Bethel Lutheran in Wahpeton presented their first combined concert. In April of 1953 the congregation purchased the residence adjoining the church for use as a parsonage at a cost of $14,000. In April of 1988 contracts were let for the construction of the enlarged Education and Administration wing.

 Today we welcome back Reverend Harvey Henderson. He currently serves at Prairie Rivers Lutheran Parish, a 3-point parish ministry with Pastor Bob Caranicas which includes Bergen Lutheran (Lidgerwood), Calvary Lutheran (Hankinson) and Wyndmere Lutheran (Wyndmere). Harvey has also served as an Ethics and Philosophy instructor at North Dakota State College of Science since 2002. From 1995 to 2000 he was the Priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wahpeton. In 2005-2006 he served our church as an interim minister, and later served in 2007-2008 as a staff minister. Harvey was married to his late wife Marjorie, a  local family practice doctor, until her death in 2008. Harvey is the father of two sons and is the proud grandpa of three grandsons! Originally a Winnipeg, Manitoba native, Harvey is now a naturalized United States citizen. Please  welcome him back warmly this morning!


May 12, 2013 

This morning we gather to remember and honor those who were so instrumental in beginning this congregation. The congregation, which began as the result of canvassing done by the Lutheran Synod of the Northwest, grew as an evangelical compromise between this group and Bethel  Lutheran Church, of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. The Bethel Church Council and Pastor, Rev. P. A. Gisvold, finally agreed to conduct services every Sunday, begin organizing a congregation at the earliest time possible, and make plans to build a house of worship. In return, the Lutheran Synod of the Northwest would relinquish any plans to start a new church in Breckenridge. 

On Palm Sunday, April 10, 1938 the group which would eventually form Breckenridge Lutheran Church signed a charter expressing their intention to start a church, and voted to affiliate with the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. Of the original charter group of 52 family units, at the 25th anniversary of the congregation only portions of 26 units were still members of Breckenridge Lutheran. By the 50th anniversary of the congregation, only portions of 17 original charter units were still members. As of our 75th        anniversary, there remains but one surviving charter member: Geraldine (Matheson) Langseth. 

Geraldine Matheson was born in 1921 in Breckenridge, and grew up on 3rd Street. She and her parents and siblings were originally members of Bethel Lutheran in Wahpeton, and signed the original church charter. As a teenager, Geraldine taught Kindergarten Sunday School in the upstairs of the current City Hall, before the church was built. In 1946 Geraldine married Verle Langseth, and the two farmed and raised a family of four: Jay, Linda, Brian and Betty Jo. Brian continues to live on the home farm and work the land located south of Breckenridge. Geraldine currently resides at Twin Town Villas Assisted Living in Breckenridge. 

Today we honor Geraldine as our remaining living tie with the beginning of this congregation 75 years ago.


 June 9, 2013 

            This morning we gather to remember and honor those who guided this congregation through the “middle years” following the first 25 years of the congregation’s organization. At the 25th Anniversary, Rev. Reuben Mellum had been pastoring the congregation for three years. With the growth of the congregation to some 1260 baptized members, and Sunday School to 401, additional staff was needed. Carol Lindskog was the first Parish Worker, serving for two years, and was succeeded by Orv Anderson as Parish Education and Youth Director in 1964. In 1966 Roger Noer succeeded Anderson, and in turn was                    succeeded by Vicki Johnson in 1968. In 1969, discerning a new way for accomplishing ministry, the parish received Rolf Wangberg and his wife Patricia as the first of many seminary interns.

Still, the needs were great: in 1970, Helen Barr replaced Esther Helvig, the first office secretary, after 15 years of continuous service. Soon after Hazel Harvego became the Parish Education director, and T. L. Spoonheim the Financial Secretary. John Kintner became the second intern in 1970, followed by Richard Holmes. The first Lay Assistant, Gary Lage, began work in 1972.

In 1974, Rev. Eugene Floistad and his wife Iris came to live with and lead this church; we are honored with their presence today. During his 12 years of leadership, Pastor Floistad led us through many “firsts”: the first woman President of the Congregation Neoma Laken, the first Vietnamese resettlement family, the first call of an Associate Pastor, Julian Erickson, and the first Community Thanksgiving  Ecumenical Worship Services. They served this church faithfully until 1986, and have regularly come back to visit.

Pastor Floistad and Iris live in Staples, MN. They have 3 living children, one deceased son, and four grandchildren. During 56 years of ordained ministry, they have served 5 regular calls and numerous interim ministries. Please welcome them today as we continue celebrating our 75th Anniversary!


 July 21, 2013 

Through the years, Breckenridge Lutheran Church has served as both an inspiration for young men and women to enter the ministry, and a training ground for them as they developed skills and experience for congregational ministry. Internship, or vicarage as it is also known, is a year-long, hands-on learning experience living in and with a congregation, under the supervision of an experienced pastor. Interns have generally received a 4-year undergraduate degree, and completed at least 2 years of seminary training. Interns are placed in congregations that have indicated a willingness to accept this opportunity, and are placed with an eye toward their gifts, and possibilities for learning and growing into a full understanding of what it means to be a parish pastor. Over the years, BLC has hosted the following interns:

Rolf Wangberg 1969-1970

John C. Kintner 1970-1971

Richard Holmes 1971-1972

James Naushultz 1994-1995

Barbara Hoy 1995-1996

D. Rolf Aanestad 1996-1997

Ken Kirchenwitz 1997-1998

Chad Christensen 1998-1999

Kathy Bruns 1999-2000

Karen Wight-Hoogheem 2000-2001

Gregor Mascher 2001-2002

Terry Monson 2002-2003

Today we welcome back our last intern, Terry Monson. Terry and his wife Linda live in Enderlin, ND where he has served as Pastor at Trinity Lutheran since 2004. Linda is employed at the Ark Thrift Store in Valley City. Terry has 3 children, Jennifer (who has blessed them with 2 grandchildren), Matthew (21), and Emily (15). Before entering the ministry, Terry served in the Army, and as a Manager for Flying J Travel Plaza. Please welcome them as we  celebrate 75 years of ministry together!



September 29, 2013 
During the 75 year history of Breckenridge Lutheran Church, it has always been a place of hope and steadiness in the midst of changes and challenges. No event illustrates this better than the winter storms and spring floods of 1996 and 1997.

            The winter saw at least 13 storms or blizzards leaving over 100 inches of snow (a record) upon ground saturated by over 2 inches of rain at the end of the fall. Flood stage of the Red River of the North in Breckenridge is 10 feet. By the end of March we began preparing for the worst as forecasters predicted a crest in the 16-17 foot range. A spring thaw sent melt water on top of frozen rivers and ditches, surging over their banks. Then on April 5, 3.5 inches of rain fell, followed by a blizzard and 7 more inches of snow. Dikes leaked and finally broke and an evacuation was ordered. Water crested at  a record 19.2 feet the next day, and began to gradually descend; however, warnings of a second crest were issued. On April 9 the river began to rise again, pushed by overland flooding from the south and east. The second crest of 19.2 feet occurred on April 15, and flooded the south side of town nearly completely, as well as parts of the north side near the Otter Tail River. Slowly, the river began to recede, and the flood was officially declared over on May 9, but the long job of rebuilding and recovery had just begun.

Throughout this crisis, members took time from their own self-preservation to preserve the building and ministry of this church, sandbagging as water surrounded the church, and running pumps around the clock for days on end (even sleeping at the church). Soon, BLC became a relief center, housing a temporary Lutheran Social Services office, and providing classrooms for the flooded school. Most importantly, we continued as a source of hope and spiritual sustenance for people whose lives were shattered by the flood. Our faith in action became a witness to God’s strength in adversity.             

            The summer following this, we welcomed intern Ken Kirchenwitz to our congregation; today we welcome him back again to remember our common ministry in both good times and difficult times. Ken was born in Detroit Lakes and raised in Williston. Before entering ordained ministry he worked for 28 years in manufacturing and the printing sales. His wife Cory is an Office Assistant with Sanford Health Care. They have two grown, married children—Beth and Kent—and three grandchildren. (Kent is married to an ELCA pastor, Trichelle, serving in Forman, ND.) Ken and Cory have served Galchutt Lutheran and Emmanuel         Lutheran (Abercrombie) since 1999. Welcome them warmly this morning!

Special thanks to Neoma Laken and the Breckenridge Public Library for assistance compiling this story.