‘Strong foundation’

Bode church celebrates 151 years

-Messsenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Rev. Joyce Schmidt, center, Shirley Baaken, left, and Phyllis Johnson, right, stand in the sanctuary at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Bode. Baaken and Johnson are organizing the church's 151st anniversary celebration this month.

BODE — St. Olaf Lutheran Church of Bode started with just a few Norwegian families and a strong Lutheran foundation 151 years ago, and now the church is looking ahead to the next 151 years.

To celebrate the church’s sesquicentennial, St. Olaf is hosting a special worship service on July 25, followed by a luncheon and an open house at the parsonage.

The 150th celebration was scheduled for July 2020, but the event had to be postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lunch will be a free-will donation, but reservations are required by July 15. To make reservations, call Phyllis Johnson at 515-890-2292, or call Shirley Baaken at 515-368-0985.

The lunch will consist of pulled pork or chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans and cupcakes. During the open house, there will be a sampling of Norwegian goodies.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Inside the main entrance to St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Bode is a board displaying the historical timeline of the 151-year-old church.

The 9:30 a.m. service will feature an “impromptu choir,” Rev. Joyce Schmidt said.

“Music has always been a big part of this church, from my understanding,” she said. “There are a lot of people that are very talented in this area.”

So far, about 150 people have made reservations for the lunch. A few former pastors will be visiting for the celebration.

Schmidt doesn’t have the specifics of her sermon planned, but she’s going to focus on the church continuing to build on a firm foundation. Communion will be served during the service.

Schmidt joined the church as pastor in 2019.

“I’m kind of a newcomer here, but it’s been a very active church,” she said.

The founding families were mostly Norwegian immigrants or of direct Norwegian descent, with deep roots in the Lutheran denomination, she said.

“So there was this very, very firm foundation that was laid, and then has been carried on and built upon throughout the years,” Schmidt said. “And yes we’re looking back, but we’re also looking forward.”

Church members Johnson and Baaken are the organizing chairs for the 151st celebration. Baaken has been a member of St. Olaf since 1956. Johnson has been a member of St. Olaf her entire life, being the fifth generation in her family to be part of the church.

“There was a time when practically everybody in Bode went to the church,” Johnson said. “Especially when it first started, it was a center of community activity.”

At its largest, the church had around 1,000 active members. These days, like most other churches in America, those numbers have dwindled to around 65.

“Families, like in any community, any small community, the kids grow up and they relocate,” Baaken said.

Over the years, 16 “sons” of the church have gone on to serve in the ministry.

“That’s quite an impressive record,” Johnson said. “Not many congregations can say that.”

St. Olaf has also been known for its lutefisk suppers for many years, but the church had to stop hosting because they don’t have enough people to make it happen.

The church is always open to new visitors and new members, Schmidt said.

“These are wonderful loving people,” she said. “And if anybody’s looking for a home church that they want to become a family, this is the place to come. I’ve never seen so much love as this church has to offer newcomers.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Olaf Lutheran Church has not missed a single Sunday service. When it was unsafe to have congregants fill the pews in the church sanctuary, the church hosted “drive-in services” outside.

During the pandemic, Schmidt also hosted an online daily devotion on Facebook.

The church started in 1870 as two separate congregations called North Lotts Creek and South Lotts Creek. Five years later, in December 1875, the congregations merged to create St. Olaf’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Humboldt County. Rev. T.A. Torgerson was the first pastor.

The town of Bode wasn’t incorporated until 1881.

The first church building for St. Olaf was completed in 1887, with the current church being completed in 1901.


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