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In the beautiful and fertile valley on both sides of the winding stream of the James River, a group of Norwegian settlers homesteaded. Some of their homes were dug-outs built in the hillside; some were sod houses with hay or straw roofs and dirt floors; some were built of logs hewn from the timber along the James River.

The earthly belongings of these pioneers were few, but among them were a Bible, a hymn book and a book of sermons from which they would read on Sundays to their families at home. Or they would gather at a neighbor's home for devotions and worship, with some member of the group reading the sermon. The wants of these early settlers were not many. Their one great concern was how to rear their children to become God-fearing and useful citizens in this new country where there were neither churches nor schools. The pioneer mothers would work at the side of their husbands in the building of their homes, in teaching children prayers, Bible verses, the Commandments and hymns. 

Their simple faith in God, their love and reverence for God's Word, their rugged constitutions, their indomitable courage, and their adaptability and resourcefulness made the pioneer fathers and mothers well-fitted to become builders of the Church and nation.

On December 24, 1871, a group of Norwegian settlers met and organized a Lutheran congregation. After some discussion, the name "The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation" at James River, Dakota, was chosen. This congregation became known and referred to as "The James River Congregation". Prior to this meeting, a copy of the constitution of the Norwegian evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Chicago, IL, had been secured and was adopted by the new congregation at this time with a few changes.

There are indications that Rev. J.J. Naesse visited the congregation as early as 1872. However, the first pastor to serve this congregation was Rev. Gunder Graven. His first service was March 13, 1873 and he was paid $8.50. His next visit was October 22, and then in the spring of 1874. These services were held in different homes with much anticipation. During these visits children were baptized and the Lord's Supper was administered.

The James River Congregation dedicated its first church building on Sunday, November 29, 1885 after a two-day circuit meeting on regeneration and prayer. The cots of this church was $1,400 with 4 acres of land for $12 to allow room for a cemetery.

In the summer of 1889, several members withdrew from the James River Congregation, and on December 3 organized the "Norway Congregation". On November 24, 1890, it wad decided to hold Sunday School. These classes began in the homes of members and then later in the church. In 1898 it was decided to build a church for the congregation. The church, which was finished in 1899, blew down in a tornado on June 24, 1902. With perseverance the church was rebuilt in the spring of 1903 at a cost of $2,100 plus one acre of land at $1.00, for a cemetery. From that date until 1920 Norway and James River churches served their separate congregations.

On January 28, 1920, James River Congregation and Norway Congregation decided to unite and chose the name "Our Savior's Lutheran Church". The James River building was called the "East Church" and the Norway building was called the "West Church". Services were conducted alternately in the East and West churches. The Norwegian language was used exclusively until 1921 when partial use of English was demanded.

On October 7, 1935, a meeting of Our Savior's Lutheran Congregation was called to consider the construction of a new church building. At another meeting on October 11, it was decided to build a church basement at a point between the two existing church buildings. Ground for the church, located six miles south of Menno and near the James River, was donated by Cora Akland. A sod breaking service was held on October 14, 1935, at the site of the new church basement.

Worship services were held in the basement of the church for a number of years. Children were baptized, young people were confirmed and couples were married in the basement until the present sanctuary was built. 

When the young men had returned home from WWII and building materials were more readily available, plans began to take form. All were eager for construction of the new church edifice, which got underway early in the spring of 1948.

This rock-gathering project began in February 1948, with the actual construction of the edifice underway in April that same year. Six months later the cornerstone was laid on Sunday, October 10, 1948.

Thorwald Thorson of Forest City, IA, was the architect. Isaac F. Smith of Sioux Falls, SD was the stone mason. Iver Gevik and Ellsworth Haugen were hired to help with the masonry work full time. Iver mixed all the mortar by hand and Ellsworth carried the mortar and rocks to the mason. Joseph Pillar and Ed Blaalid were the carpenters, together with help from many of the local men of the congregation who donated much time and volunteer labor. The men split the rocks with stone hammers. Arthur Bjorum, a trustee at the time, had the honor of laying the first stone in place.

Native stone gathered from the community and split by members of the congregation were used to build the church which was completed in 1950. The first worship service was held in January, and on July 9, 1950 dedication services were held.

Looking at the peak in the front of the outside of the church, one will notice a cross made with pink stones brought  over from Norway, the father land. At the front of the church, in the sanctuary, you will notice the chancel window "Christ in Gethsemane". As you exit the front door you read "I Am The Door", a reference to John 10, signifying Christ as the way to eternal life. The entrance of the church faces East to the rising sun.

The church is 70 feet by 30 feet (inside measurements). The sanctuary has a seating capacity of 200 and the balcony of 40. The serving capacity of the church parlor is 110.

From the very beginning, the pioneers had adverse conditions and numerous difficulties to overcome in a time marked by world chaos. Through it all, these pioneers looked to God and the future. Men and women with courage, faith and love of God equal to that of their sturdy pioneer forefathers visualized a beautiful church with its spire pointing heavenward as a mute testimony to the spiritual sincerity of the  men, women and children who worshiped within its walls.

Since the 1930's the church has been a place of worship for many different ethnic backgrounds, all seeking to know Got better.

Our Savior's maintains two cemeteries, one to the East one mile,
where the old James River Church once stood,
and one to the West one mile, where the old Norway Church once stood.
Here lie many of the forefathers and foremothers
of Our Savior's Lutheran Church.
Each cemetery is owned and maintained by Our Saviors Lutheran Church.

Our Savior's Lutheran Church current affiliation is LCMC/NALC.

It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.



 
 
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