Pioneer families living in this area near the Wild Rice River had their spiritual needs and desires met by visiting missionaries and pastors. These men came on horseback, on skis, on foot or on snowshoes. These families had a common bond--their Norwegian heritage and Lutheran faith. These new settlers were accustomed to Sunday worship and yearned to have a church. Prior to this time visiting pastors would come for Sunday worship and they would meet in the homes. The Martin Johnson home was usually the meeting place as it was the largest cabin. Rev. J.A. Hellestvedt was one such pioneer visiting pastor who did much to help these families organize.
On Nov. 27, 1872, a constitutional committee at Pleasant Township wrote a constitution and sent it to the families in Richland Township. This was adopted on Dec. 27, 1872 by the Congregation and St. John's was organized. This was the first Congregation in Richland County and the second oldest church in the state of North Dakota.
At the first congregational meeting P.L. Johnson was chairman and H.C.N. Myhra was Secretary. K.K. Lee and K.L. Johnson gave land to the church for a site for the building and also, land for the cemetery. The church was called South Wild Rice Congregation.
In Dec., 1874, they decided to build a school-house which would serve their purpose until they could afford a church. This pleased them, as now they had both a school and church. They continued to meet at the Martin Johnson home, meantime, and each member was assessed fifty cents. This was most likely the beginning of a building fund.
In 1876 Rev. Hellestvedt was given a leave of absence to go back to Norway, for his health and Rev. Wisnoes became pastor. The work of the pastors was very strenuous and travel hard and long distances. They often went back to Norway taking a leave of absence to rest.
St. John's decided to build a church immediately. The building committee members were: Nils T. Tvedt., Peder L. Johnson, H. Erickson, John Wold, and H.C.N. Myhra. Many of its members who lived near Dwight joined South Wild Rice (Dwight) Lutheran at this time. So the new call became St. Paul, South Wild Rice and Wild Rice (St. John's). Rev. Hei was pastor of Dwight and St. John's until 1893. Some of the pastors who served were: Rev. Rorvik, Rev. Lunde, Rev. Rusvold, Rev. W.B. Dahl. These served only a year or two except Runsvold from 1903-1912 and Dahl 1912-1916. At this time St. John's became a part of Bethany-Abercrombie with St. John's calling Rev. V.L. Peterson.
In 1885 Bethany and St. John's had had a meeting to determine a new call together. Nothing materialized until 1917 when Rev. V.L. Peterson was called to serve St. John's, Bethany and Abercrombie.
The first baptism in the community was Nellie Johnson born June 14, 1871. First baptism recorded in Ministerial book was Anna Jacobson born Nov. 6, 1883 and baptized December 25, 1883 in the church. First baptism by Rev. Hellestvedt was missionary was I.E. Hoel Aug. 18, 1872. First marriage recorded in Ministerial book was Paul Engum and Kari Thoreson--1885. The first marriage in the community was J.O. Wold and Ragnhild Sater in 1872. First marriage recorded in the church was Osmund K. Tweto and Nellie Erickson in 1886. The first burial recorded in the Ministerial book was Edwin Fosmark--2 year old infant son of Mr. and Mrs. John Fosmark in 1889. The first confirmation in Congregation was sometime between 1876-1878 in the Martin Hanson home. Members confirmed were: Mary Enochson, Ingeborg Nelson, a boy and girl from Sounes family and another lad.
St. John's Ladies Aid was organized in 1883, but not records are available until 1886 and those are only annual meetings at that time. Earliest officers were men such as Rev. Hei, Rev. Rorvik, Rev. Lunde, and E. Unde, presidents; Sjur Botnen, Secretary; and P.L. Johns; treasurer. Mrs. Hans Myra was the first woman president. Charter members were: Mrs. H.C.N. Myhra, Mrs. P. L. Johnson, Mrs. K.K. Lee, Mrs. Erick Hoel, Mrs. Anna Johnson, Mrs. Ole Bentson, Mrs. John Olson, Mrs. Pete Linde, Mrs. Nels Thompson, Mrs. Charley Johnson, Mrs. John Myhra, Mrs. John Engum, Mrs. Sjur Botnen, Mrs. Sven Moe, Mrs. Sjur Johnson and Mrs. Ole Lodahl. Meetings held in the earliest years began in the morning with a dinner at noon, and a lunch before departing for their homes in the late afternoon. The time was spent sewing for fall sales, but always, time was set aside for a devotional period led by the pastor or the aid president. Money earned by the aid was used for home and foreign missions, orphan homes, support of church projects, and helping families in need plus various other causes.
The First Sunday School was organized in 1876. First teachers were Martin Johnson and Ole Bentson. In Sept. 1879 the first parochial school lasted four months. One of the first parochial school teachers was Johannes Granskan who later became a pastor in South Dakota. By 1888 it increased to 8 months and St. John's and Dwight saw fit to hire E.J. Unde as teacher for $30.00 a month. He also became the "Klokker" at St. John's and was paid $1.00 a year by each family in the Congregation. Later given offerings on special occasions.
The first confirmation mentioned in the minutes was held in 1884. The following year Nellie Johnson, first white child born in Richland County, was confirmed. In later years St. John and Bethany held joint Sunday School classes until 1939. Luther League was a joint organization with Bethany for many years until in 1933 St. John's organized their own. First president was Elmer Hoel; vice president, Lillian Erstad; secretary, Judith Erstad; and treasurer, Joseph Flaa.
St. John's Young Ladies Aid was organized in 1925 in a meeting at the Theodore Botnen home. Charter members were: Frances Alexander, Myrtle, Hazel and Thea Botnen, Emma Brandon, Grace, Lillian and Ida Erstad, Inga and Alphie Flaa, Pauline Hoel, Myrtle and Miranda Jacobson, and Viola Waterland. This organization lasted for 10 years after which most members had either moved away or married and joined the Ladies Aid.
St. John's still stands today as a monument. Although regular services are no longer held, the church grounds are well kept by the descendants of these pioneers. Since 1940 most of the members have joined the Galchutt Lutheran Church.
Psalm 122:1 I was glad when they said, unto me, "Let us go into the House of the Lord.
(Taken from the History of Richland County Book page 38--written by Mrs. Maurice Myhre
Photos are for personal research use only
Copyright 2005 Pat Maas
Updated: 11:02 AM 9/15/2011
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