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Old Westbrook Lutheran Church

Contributor: 
Cottonwood County Historical Society
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Color image of Old Westbrook Church, 2017. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.

Old Westbrook Church, 2017. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.

The history of Old Westbrook Lutheran Church is the history of Cottonwood County since its organization in 1870. The earliest settler-colonists in the county were the same people who later organized the first Lutheran parish west of New Ulm.

After the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862, military personnel who had passed through the future Westbrook and Storden areas spread the word about available prairie lands. Immigrants soon started arriving from all directions. By 1870, thirty families and seven unmarried men, mostly Norwegian and Danish Lutherans, had moved to northern Cottonwood County and wanted to establish a church.

In April 1870 Rev. John C. Jacobson walked on foot from St. Paul to Madelia. From there he walked to Westbrook via Windom to help organize a Lutheran church. He conducted the first services in a log house belonging to Morton Engebretson. On May 12, 1870, fifteen men met in the Engebretson home and organized Westbrook Norse Lutheran Congregation, the first church established in Cottonwood County.

Lars Lund had immigrated to the United States from Norway in 1868. He was attending Augustana Seminary in Paxton, Illinois, when he received the call to become the first regular pastor of the young congregation. He accepted the call and served from 1871–1876.

Churches rose up in every community in the county as soon as enough individuals of a particular faith joined their efforts to start a church congregation. It was common for people of different Protestant faiths to hold union meetings. Church buildings were built when enough worshipers and funds were available.

A grasshopper plague challenged southern Minnesota farmers in the mid-1870s. L. O. Pederson (pastor 1878–1881), Lund’s successor at Westbrook Norse Lutheran, saw the dreaded pests as a spiritual challenge. He said, “…from an economical point of view the grasshoppers retarded the growth of the church, but the people were very patient and uncomplaining, living as sparingly under the meager circumstances as it was possible to do. But from a spiritual point of view, I maintain that the grasshoppers served to promote growth. If there had been sent out dozens of evangelists and the people had lived in plenty, yet they would not have been able to do any better evangelistic work than the grasshoppers did because the people received the plague as a chastisement from the Lord’s hand and caused the people to seriously meditate and open their hearts for God’s quickening grace.”

The first Ladies’ Aid fellowship began in a home near the church in 1874. After organization, one directive stated meetings would be held in homes with board floors. Several families still lived in dugouts. Three more ladies’ and young ladies’ groups were functioning before the turn of the century.

The twentieth century brought a foreign and home missions group, the Ruth Evening Circle (founded 1947), Prayer Circle (1951), and Dorcas Circle (1989). Other church groups include a choir (1912), Old Westbrook Lutheran Brotherhood (1937), and Luther League (1904).

Because local residents walked or traveled by wagons, they wanted a church congregation close to home. Westbrook Norse Lutheran Church soon became the mother congregation for four more church groups: Highwater Township (1901), Amo Township (1887), Bethany in Storden (1886), and Trinity in Westbrook (1901). One pastor served all five churches until they were able to support their own ministers.

Changing demographics has influenced Old Westbrook church activities. In the twenty-first century the ladies meet once a month for a WELCA ladies meeting. There is no official organization for men of the church. As of July 2017, there were not enough teens to conduct Luther League.

Rev. Arthur O. Aadland, pastor from 1963 until 1977, designed, built, and gave a pipe organ to the church in 1968. One of many unique features is that the organ action is made almost entirely of walnut harvested from the Dutch Charley Creek woods near the church.

An annual Old Fashioned 4th of July Celebration began in 1965. Activities held over the years include picnic dinners, games, parish band performances, guest music concerts, and fireworks displays. The annual event ended with its fiftieth anniversary in 2015.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Brown, John A. History of Cottonwood and Watonwan Counties of Minnesota. Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen, 1916.

Historical Committee. Old Westbrook Lutheran Church, 1870–1970: A Century of Faith in Action. [MN?]: N.p., [1970?].

Related Images

Color image of Old Westbrook Church, 2017. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.
Color image of Old Westbrook Church, 2017. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.
Black and white photograph of the altar of Old Westbrook Church, Cottonwood County, 1972. Photograph by Clifford M. Renshaw.
Black and white photograph of the altar of Old Westbrook Church, Cottonwood County, 1972. Photograph by Clifford M. Renshaw.
Color image of the original parsonage of Old Westbrook Lutheran Church, now a church museum, 2017. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.
Color image of the original parsonage of Old Westbrook Lutheran Church, now a church museum, 2017. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.

Turning Point

In 1946, Rev. L. O. Sunde is the last pastor to conduct the church's services in the Norwegian language.

Chronology

1870

Rev. J. C. Jacobson helps organize Westbrook Norse Lutheran congregation on May 12.

1871

Rev. Lars Lund becomes the first pastor of Westbrook Norse Lutheran Church.

1874

The first Ladies’ Aid meeting is held.

1884

A new church building is dedicated.

1912

Choir becomes a part of the worship service.

1946

The parish is divided into smaller units: Old Westbrook/Highwater and Amo/Storden. Trinity is already separate.

1954

On January 12, the congregation adopts Old Westbrook Evangelical Lutheran Church as the official church name.

1965

The church’s first July 4th celebration is held.

2015

The church holds its final July 4th celebration.