Elstad Lutheran Church

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The Elstad Church is located in Amherst Township, Fillmore County Minnesota.  The first Norwegians in the area settled around Newburg directly south of where the church now stands.  This included the Ellertson family, who have the distinction of being the first farmers in this area, though they later moved to Highland Prairie.

In 1854 the first services were held at Elstad and Highland Prairie making these two of the oldest congregations still in existence.  Family names such as Ask, Elstad, Nepstad, Blagsvedt, Dammen, Flattum and Gullickson are still active in the church today just as their ancestors were almost 150 years ago.

Though it may be hard to visualize the thoughts, fears and hopes of the pioneers as they left their homes in Norway to seek new opportunities in America, we can take strength from the knowledge that they knew the Lord was there to guide them through whatever trials and hardships they might come across. It is no surprise that one of their first concerns was the need for a place of worship.  In those early days gatherings were held in homes and the open areas just east of where the present church stands--weather permitting.

Pastor Vilhelm Koren from Washington Prairie near Decorah, Iowa visited this congregation beginning in 1854 and continued to do so for five years.
By this time the need for a regular pastor became apparent, thus Highland Prairie and Elstad extended a call to Pastor N. E. Jensen.
In 1865, after the end of the Civil War, the decision was made to build a church.  Location was a big issue.  The present site was chosen as it had been a popular place for services in the past.  Mikkel Larson owned the land and sold the lot to the members of the church upon payment of twenty-five cents from each member.  The lumber and shingles were hauled from Winona by horses and oxen.  The church was completed in 1866 with the exception of seating and paint. 

Planks were used as seats until money could be raised to install pews. The first pews were the old style Norwegian box seats with doors. The old church was named Richland Prairie Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church as this area in early pioneer days was known as Richland Prairie.  The name was later changed to Elstad at a church meeting.

After ten years of service Pastor Jensen retired and moved to Houston, Minnesota.  Reverend Kristian Magelssen and his bride came to serve the congregations in the fall of 1869. They dedicated their lives to the Elstad and Highland Prairie churches for 40 years.

In 1882 an eight hundred pound bell was installed in the steeple and placed atop a newly constructed church building. The 1900's saw the addition of 20 horse stables.  Hitching posts were placed west of the church shortly after. In 1909 a call was extended to Nils Magelssen to assist his father with the duties of the parish.

In 1910 the present church structure was built at a cost of $12,100.70. Church members hauled all of the needed materials free of charge.  The new church was dedicated on September 17, 1911.

The pipe organ was also installed in the 1900's and is one of few remaining pipe organs of its kind or age.  It was first installed in the balcony but later moved to its present location at the front of the church, opposite the pulpit.  Many of the women in the congregation worked very hard to raise the money needed to purchase the organ.  One woman even drove a pony cart loaded with jars of honey for sale to the various homes in the community to raise money.  The organ bellows were hand pumped until electricity became available.  The beautiful stained glass windows were donated by congregation families. Their names appear in the bottom of the pictures.

The church yard and cemetery were landscaped and leveled and the church modernized in 1923 with the installation of electric lights.  The cost of redecorating and improving the church and basement was $1,000.00.  The electricity for the lights was furnished by a power plant owned by the church until the 1940s when REA came into the area.

The Elstad Church has been an active church serving lutefisk suppers, synod meetings and other activities throughout the years.

The altar painting is one of the church's most interesting and prized possessions.  This painting of Jesus knocking at the door was done by Telemark painter Herbjorn Gausta.  When Herbjorn finished this painting, he said, "Now I finally painted Jesus's eyes the way I wanted!"  This beautiful masterpiece was purchased in 1894, and was first placed in the old church before being relocated to the present church.  It is truly one of the best works by the Norwegian artist.
Pastors who have served the church are Vilhelm Koren, N. E. Jensen, Kristian Magelssen, Nils Magelssen, I. R. Gronlid, Ralph Livdahl, Gary and Mary Sue Dreier, Lane Doerring, Stephen Fiksdal, Rodney Nygren, Pastor Wade Davick , Pastor Dan Watland, Pastor Marie AK Anderson and Pastor Luther Mathsen.

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