Lutherans in the Twin Cities

A pig behind the altar, and other stories

Retired chaplain/pastor Fritz Lokensgard has seen just about everything

“My mot important work has been dealing with individuals,” says the Rev. Fritz Lokensgard, a resident of Friendship Village in Bloom-ington, Minnesota. The re-tired Lutheran pastor served 17 years in parish ministry in predecessor bodies of the ELCA and 27 years as a chaplain in the Navy and at Veterans Administration hospitals. “[While] I had that opportunity in the hospitals, I felt I was able to fulfill ministry with individuals.”

The 96-year-old’s sharp memory and wit shine through when he talks about serving in North Dakota and South Dakota parishes during the Great Depression. Asked about his age, he replied, “I’m marking the 57th anniversary of my 39th birthday.”

A graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn-esota, and Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Lokensgard was born at Hanley Falls, Minn-esota. He entered the seminary after graduating from St. Olaf in 1933. While still a student, he served a parish at Redfield, South Dakota, for three summer months, receiving a salary of $50 per month. He lived in the vacant parsonage and went to the grocery store every other day. His purchases of a quart of milk, a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs came to the grand total of 21 cents.

In his first parish at Belfield, North Dakota, he discovered the congregation’s constitution was written in Norwegian. He asked how many in the congregation could read Norwegian. When no one responded, he decided that the first order of business was to get a new English constitution so that church members could un-derstand it.

While serving at Hettinger, North Dakota, near the South Dakota border, he had the unusual experience of conducting Thanksgiving services on different dates a week apart. Then-President Franklin Roosevelt had asked states to observe Thanksgiving the third week in November to allow an additional week between that holiday and Christmas. A rural church in the parish was located in South Dakota which went along with the President’s request. North Dakota refused and continued to observe Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November.

When one couple was to be married at the Hettinger church, the groom forgot the marriage license at the time of the rehearsal. The day of the wedding, Pastor Lokens-gard read the license and discovered it was issued in South Dakota. So, while the wedding guests were enjoying the reception in North Dakota, Pastor Lokensgard loaded the couple and attendants in his car and drove the three miles to the state line. There he read abbreviated wedding vows while the prairie wind sent the groom’s hat tumbling across the field.

After the start of World War II Lok-ensgard received a commission as a Navy chaplain. He served, 1942-1946, at Great Lakes hospital in Chicago and in the South Pacific. While on Ponam Island in the Admiralty chain of islands he found himself without a chapel for services. The Seabees built the walls of a chapel and island natives built a roof of palm branches. That roof held out even torrential rains, he recalled. Hearing about an old pump organ at an abandoned mission on a nearby island, Lokensgard took a naval landing craft to go get the organ. A wild pig jumped out from behind the altar. “I don’t know who was more scared, the pig or us!” The Seabees rebuilt the old musical instrument and rigged up a loudspeaker to hang in a tree for a worshipping crowd.

Another time, Lok-ensgard had been conducting Sunday afternoon worship for Australian servicemen on a nearby island. A Roman Catholic chaplain asked Lokensgard if he’d take a box of rosaries he had blessed to distribute to islanders where there had been a Roman Catholic mission before the war. As Lokensgard distributed the rosaries, one man in the line refused a rosary and said, “Me Lutheran.”

After World War II came to a close, the former military chaplain served parishes in Humboldt, Iowa, and Glendive, Montana. In 1957 he received a phone call “out of the blue” to go to work part-time for Lutheran Social Service of North Dakota. The assignment included serving part-time as chaplain at the Fargo Veterans Administra-tion Hospital. When the hospital expanded, he became a full-time chaplain. From 1965-1979 he served as a chaplain at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Minneapolis.

Lokensgard recalls a hospital call on a veteran who had been identified only as Lutheran and was scheduled for serious surgery. The vet’s mother was with him in the hospital room. As he concluded the visit, he asked if the patient and his mother would like to join him in prayer. The mother replied, “No. You don’t pray right.” (It seems not all Lutherans pray properly!)

The 96-year-old clergyman has been a resident of the Friendship Village senior community for 17 years. His wife, Helen, is a patient in the care section. Lokensgard lives in the apartment section where he takes his noon meal in the dining room and prepares his other meals himself. He’s a regular worshiper at Normandale Lutheran Church in Edina, Minnesota. Sometimes he rides the Friendship Village bus to church.

But, at his young age, he’s just as likely to drive.