Our Redeemer merges, deeding building to Oromo Evangelical Lutheran
Lutherans in South Minneapolis begin a new era this month when the congregation of Our Redeemer (ELCA), nearly a century old, merges with Minnehaha Communion Lutheran Church. Our Redeemer’s last worship as a separate congregation is scheduled for Sunday, January 13, 2008.
Ownership of the church building on 28th Avenue South is being transferred to Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“Our Redeemer Lutheran Church was started 94 years ago by a small group of mothers needing a place to worship and a Sunday school for their children,” write longtime members Fern Eidsvoog and Mable Myhre in their recent compilation of Our Redeemer’s milestones. “Today we are a small group of seniors. How far we have reached, how many lives we have touched, we don’t know.”
The transfer of ownership continues a legacy of Lutheran ministry among immigrants to the Twin Cities, shifting focus from Norwegian Americans (early twentieth century) to Ethiopian Americans (twenty-first century). In the original church, constructed in 1925, services in Norwegian were held on the first and third Sundays of each month, with English services scheduled for the second and fourth Sundays.
“We had an exchange pastor from Norway in 1958, Rev. Enok Aadnoy,” Fern Eidsvoog says. “He wore a distinctive white ruff collar. He came with his family and stayed for a year. Later some of our congregation visited him in Norway.” She also remembers the annual lutefisk suppers.
Our Redeemer has dwindled to 80 members as families and the neighborhood have changed. Minnehaha Communion has a membership of 314. Individuals belonging to Our Redeemer will have the choice of joining; if all of them do, the combined congregation will reach nearly 400. Meanwhile, the Oromo congregation numbers 380 members and is growing.
“We see this merger as a significant step forward for the mission of the changing church throughout South Minneapolis,” says Pastor Daniel Ankerfelt, who with his wife, Pastor Sally Ankerfelt, has shared a call to Our Redeemer and Minnehaha Communion since December 2005.
“Ministries will be ongoing as the churches combine,” Ankerfelt continues. “We will support the pastoral ministry of Minnehaha Communion. We will continue to support our Lifeline members. We have invested money in Heifer Inter-national, and that program will also continue.”
In August 2007 members David Anderson and David Whale drove a truck to New Orleans transporting furnishings to two churches devastated by Hurricane Katrina — Grace Lutheran and a Vietnamese Lutheran congregation. Gifts from Our Redeemer include: the white oak altar, cross, lectern, and communion rail from the memorial room; the Tree of Lights, Advent ring and candles, Easter and Baptismal candles, 100 hymnals, electric piano, seasonal banners, five sets of paraments and a burnished silver communion set.
“Pastor Sally asked me how I’ll feel on the last day in our church,” Mable Myhre says. “Right now I’m okay, but I don’t know how I’ll feel then.” Myhre joined Our Redeemer in the mid-1940s, and her late husband’s uncle and aunt were charter members. “We are a unique congregation. On the other hand, many city churches are experiencing something similar.”
“It will be bittersweet to hold our last service in a place that has been our church home for over half our lifetime,” Eidsvoog says. “We have wonderful memories.” She and her husband joined Our Redeemer in 1950. She recalls celebrating the church’s 50th anniversary in October 1964.
“Times were good. The congregation was growing and the church had been remodeled. In the 1960s we sponsored family camp at Lake Carlos near Alexandria. We held outdoor worship. The men cooked breakfast, and everyone enjoyed swimming, adults as well as children.”
There are sobering memories mixed into the good ones. Our Redeemer Church was twice destroyed by fire. The original church burned on November 12, 1934. The next church building, consecrated in 1939, burned on September 18, 1965, an event that Eidsvoog describes.
“We lived a block away from the church. We heard the fire engines, and my husband went to see what was happening. When I realized our church was burning, I couldn’t move. I just shook. Next day I remember that we worshipped at Nokomis Lutheran, and for quite a while after that we met at Roosevelt High School.”
The third church building, designed in the simple style of a monastery, was dedicated three years later, on September 22, 1968. The deed to this property was turned over to Oromo Evangelical congregation in a service conducted by Bishop Craig Johnson of the Minneapolis Area Synod, June 5, 2007.
The Minneapolis Area Service Corporation, an arm of the synod, has assisted with legal aspects of the transfer.
Social aspects are important, too. “Six of us from Our Redeemer live at Nokomis Square Cooperative, and six or eight from Minnehaha Communion live here,” Myhre says. “We’ve had the opportunity to begin melding together by making friends, and that has been a positive experience.”