Editor's note: Much of the historical information in this article is from Cormorant Lutheran Church’s “150th Anniversary” book. For the church’s full history, as well as dozens of photos and a current church directory, purchase a copy of the book, available at the church. Commemorative T-shirts, mugs and window stickers are also available for purchase.
It was the summer of 1871, and the area around Cormorant Lake was a vast, undeveloped wilderness. The territory had only been opened up for homesteading for about a year, and the railroad was just as new. Trees, lakes and fields dominated the landscape; there were few roads or businesses, and electric power hadn’t even been invented yet.
What was here, was the promise of opportunity -- a fresh start, a good life. Pioneers were drawn to the land’s fertile soil, the lakes’ plentiful fish, and the woods’ abundant supply of lumber.
A small group of immigrants, mainly from Norway and Sweden, found their way into this wilderness and rolled up their sleeves to make a go of it. It wasn’t easy. Their first years here were plagued with crop failures, prairie fires, and destructive swarms of grasshoppers. Their stamina was stretched, and their spirits were tested.
But the people proved hardy. They plowed through their struggles, and by and large, persevered.
Bonded by hardship and banded in their Scandinavian roots, roughly two to three dozen of these immigrant families came together at a local farmstead that summer, on July 25, to meet and discuss their futures in faith. They wanted to establish a church, or “Meeting Hus,” and requested the preaching services of a minister.
They dubbed their new church The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Cormorant Lake.
“Homesteading began in Becker County in 1870. Within a year, new residents were not only building homes and clearing land for farming, they were also forming a faith community,” wrote Senior Pastor Wade Dutton in a statement to the Tribune. Dutton has led the church since 2014. “In good times they gave thanks for God’s blessing. In difficult times (and there were many) they gave thanks for God’s sustaining presence.”
In the church’s first few years, services were held at the homes of various church members, including the Nils Erickson farmstead where that first organizational meeting was held. By 1875, they were holding services at a small, rustic, 18-by-24-foot log church that stood just 50 feet from where the current church building now stands, at 14314 County Highway 4 in Lake Park (Cormorant Township).
The church has gone through a lot of change over the years: Its parish expanded outward in the early days and then scaled back in again as the local congregation outgrew its pastor-sharing arrangement; the church and various outbuildings have been remodeled, expanded upon, added to the property, and torn down all in the name of progress; multiple pastors have come and gone, each bringing their own unique brand of leadership; and worship services and outreach opportunities have increased.
Now, 150 years have passed since the church’s beginning, and today it’s bigger, with a larger congregation, and goes by a different name: Cormorant Lutheran Church. The church now has a congregation of 716 members, and a staff of six.
The church is celebrating its 150th anniversary this summer, with special events planned for Friday, July 23 through Sunday, July 25.
The evangelical spirit of the church hasn’t changed, and some of its original founding families still worship there, six generations later.
“We are ‘surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses’ -- those individuals and families that faithfully met and supported this congregation and its ministries for 150 years,” stated Dutton. “Some of those families are still represented in the congregation! ...We are grateful and indebted to their vision and commitment to have a faith community that focuses on Jesus as the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our faith.’”
“As it did in 1871, ‘evangelical’ means ‘good news,’” he added. “It is our prayer that we will always be known as a ‘good news’ community of Jesus followers!”
If you go
WHAT: Cormorant Lutheran Church’s 150th Anniversary Celebration
WHEN: Friday, July 23 - Sunday, July 25
WHERE: Most activities at the church, at 14314 County Highway 4 in Lake Park; Friday’s gathering at the Erickson Farm
FURTHER DETAILS: On Friday, visit the site where the church was originally organized, the Erickson Farm, for a remembrance program and opening of a 25-year time capsule, then head to the church for a dinner. RSVP for this event by calling the church in advance, at 218-532-2694.
On Saturday, enjoy an ice cream social at the church from 3-5 p.m. Everyone welcome.
On Sunday, sit in on a special outdoor worship service at the church, with memories from previous, visiting pastors, songs by the senior choir, and a sermon by Bishop Bill Tesch, ELCA Northwestern Minnesota Synod. A dinner will follow. RSVP for the dinner by calling the church in advance.