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"New" antique interior for old church building

At 150, Chisago City congregation is second oldest Lutheran parish in Minnesota.

When Minnesota’s second oldest Lutheran congregation planned to celebrate its 150th anniversary it was just too significant an event to fit into a weekend, a week or even a month. The result has been a year-long celebration at Chisago Lake Lutheran Church (ELCA) at Center City, Minnesota.
A highlight of the celebration was the completion of a major redecoration of the sanctuary. That project included faux finishes, marbling, stenciling, a painted sky with clouds and gilded tops on columns. And, it took just two weeks short of six months to complete. Eric Carlisle of Mora, Minnesota, who specializes in decorative painting, used techniques that created an exquisite result, far beyond anything an ordinary paint job could have produced.
A final event in the year-long anniversary celebration will be a pair of December 19 Sunday morning Advent services of lessons and carols. (They’re scheduled for 8 and 10:30 a.m. with a carol sing at 9:15 a.m.)
Chisago Lake Lutheran Church was the second of three congregations organized by Swedish immigrants. They were founded during three successive weeks — May 6, 12 and 19, all in 1854. The other two are First Lutheran Church (ELCA) of St. Paul and Elim Lutheran Church (ELCA) of Scandia, Minnesota.
All three churches were organized by the Rev. Erland Carlsson of Chicago. The three parishes retain close ties to this day, says Barb Wikelius, co-chair for the anniversary celebration.
Members of the original Chisago Lake congregation built a meeting house during the summer of 1854. It served as a school and worship center. In 1856 a small frame church building was constructed on the present site. In 1882, a brick building was erected, only to be destroyed by fire six years later. Within a year after that, the present church was completed.
The Chisago Lake Church’s 150th anniversary task force heard about and viewed Eric Carlisle’s work when visiting at Fish Lake Evangelical Lutheran Church at Stark/Harris, Minnesota. That was when they knew Eric was the right talent for their project.
How Eric Carlisle came to Mora, Minnesota, and to painting church interiors (as well as other projects) is of some interest. Born in Oakland, California, he became a cabinet maker. In that trade he was intrigued by the specialized painting he saw on some job sites. He decided to study decorative painting. His marriage to a native of Mora led to a move halfway across the country.
In August of 2003, Eric began the Chisago Lake Church project. It involved uncovering and enhancing the sanctuary’s original architectural characteristics. That included a 40-foot-high, ornate tin ceiling, a curved altar alcove and eight 28-foot-high columns.
Much of the building’s original character had been lost in five previous interior repaintings. Now, there are rich creams, metallic gold and glowing panels that mimic the 1888 stained glass windows.
While Eric had done other large projects with a hired crew, he did the Chisago Lake Church basically by himself. Rather than being a manager for a crew, he appreciated the opportunity to work with the design and colors as he went. He also appreciated the opportunity to get to know members of the congregation, many of whom stopped by to view the progress.
Eric says he got interested in his style of painting because of a “desire to feed the inner self.” He explained, “ You tap into something inside. In this case, the art involved the need to inspire the congregation, to uplift them. It connects to the reason members are there.”
Co-pastors of the congregation are Craig and Barbara Lundstad-Vogt. The 150th anniversary fund of their congregation had a goal of $150,000. It was allocated as follows: 30% for sanctuary painting; 30% for structural integrity of the building; 20% as a gift to a mission congregation (Minnesota Faith Chinese Lutheran Church, St. Paul); 10% for anniversary event expenses; and 10% for fund-raising administration and future ministries.
Barb Wikelius, who served as co-chair along with her husband, Mark, said that, with the $30,000 gift to the mission congregation has come “a new relationship with them as members have participated in each other’s worship services.”
Summarizing the activities of the 150th anniversary year, Wikelius said, “All of our monthly events have been successful. Through-out the year, each of the congregation’s committees has been involved with the celebration. Volunteerism has been wonderful, and a new sense of mission to the community is being realized.”
To learn more about Eric Carlisle’s work, check the web site carlislestudios.com or call 612-730-6455.