''A Promised Church - About the Word of God''
Just seeing the photograph of the sturdy little wooden church standing in the trees says a lot about the hardy group of Scandinavian and other European farmers who determined to build the first Hegland Lutheran Church in Clay County in 1887. You can still see them in the faces of their families celebrating Christmas Eve. They worshiped next to the wheat and barley fields freshly turned, near their prairie homes and indeed their own immigration.
This church is linked to a “promised” stav church in Norway for which it was named. According to a Norwegian letter found in the cornerstone of Hegland in 1972, the name came from a Heggland Church of Fyresdal (Telemark), Norway, about 50 miles inland, 100 miles southwest of Oslo. There are some similarities ...
“It stood on ‘Brokke’s Ground.’ Laying right between Veum and Molands church is Hegglands (or spruce forest; Old Norse ‘heggr’ means bird cherry (tree). In Hegglands forest was one of the most known churches in Telemark. The man that planned the church lived at Brokke or Greivstad. He had many farms. Heggland’s old church was long under (the) care of farmers of Brokke.
“In 1670 the old Heggland church was torn down and a new one built the next year. In 1845 Heggland Church was torn down again.”
Fyresdal was known for findings from the Viking Age and indeed the pilgrim church that stood proudly north of the village center. People travelled there from all over Norway and Europe. Some said that the stream behind it had healing powers. South of the old site a stone with Runic inscriptions can be found.
This Hegland, south of Hawley, has some promises about it too, beginning with a farmer as well. Layman Jens Hoglum, living east of Hegland, first attended to its early members. Then, the Rev. John Halvorson Myhre of Cormorant held services in homes or at the District 61 Schoolhouse a half mile south of Hegland. He was of the “Konferensen” or Lutheran Conference, later known as Augsburg Venner - Friends of Augsburg - which became the Lutheran Free Church in 1897.
In 1886, five area men - Torge T. Jore, Ole B. Braseth, Elias Braseth, Bernt Floberg and Tobias Johnson - persuaded Myhre to organize the church. Hegland Norwegian Lutheran Church was incorporated Oct. 11, 1886.
Anna Matters gave the first acre to build on. Jore, the lead carpenter, and members and neighbors helped lay the stone foundation for the $100 church the following summer. They filled in the single-walled frame, stacked the chimney and built the backless benches that women, girls and young boys filled on one side, men on the other. The pastor came by foot or got a ride until the church bought him a horse and buggy.
“Little by little the church was finished and became a rather cozy little gathering place for the people about the Word of God,” the Rev. Viggo Dahle recorded.
In 1887, there was the first funeral - Mrs. Hagar Kribs, the wife of a traveling evangelist, Ludvig, on Sept. 1 - and the first church wedding - of Torger Kleiv and Aslaug Johnsndatter on June 25. Twelve confirmands celebrated the first Confirmation.
The church budget in 1891 was $254.89 of which $168.84 was for the pastor’s salary.
This was supplemented by members of Grong Lutheran Church, Rollag, who jointly called a pastor in the beginning and shared him with Cormorant Lutheran beginning in 1910 and with Immanuel Church at Dale starting in 1911. By 1896 there were 45 subscribing members at Hegland. It was in the black by $2.31.
Religious training for its youth was so important to Hegland that it maintained a parochial school even before the church was organized.
Sometimes classes were with Solem Lutheran one to two months following the public school year. Through 1922, instruction was mainly in Norwegian.
In 1897, Hegland and Grong Lutheran Church, Rollag, suggested joining the Hawley Church, a mission church, to call a pastor but this did not materialize right away nor did attempts to enlarge and build a steeple, while members decided if they should build a new church or repair and enlarge the original. In 1898, more land north of the cemetery was purchased from Ole Erickson.
By 1916, Hegland’s 30th anniversary, a new church was completed after $3,463 had been saved. Aspelund and some Audubon area congregations were added to the joint pastorship along the way. Pastor Myhre died March 29,1911; he served Hegland 25 years.
The Hegland Young People Society formed in 1908. Luther League helped pay for an electric organ in 1954 and a better one in 1959. A pastor’s wife taught fancy work on items sent around the globe. A Ladies Aid helped with furnishing and rebuilding Hegland and remodeling the kitchen in 1958. Egg money helped as did income from meals women served at the Rollag Steam Threshers’ Reunion beginning in 1959. Today most of the members help at this major fundraiser that draws thousands of visitors for a hearty farm breakfast and a renowned roast beef dinner on Labor Day weekend.
Lightning struck Hegland Aug. 20, 1923, and it burned to the ground with the exception of the baptismal font, pulpit and seats. Just two days later, the growing congregation decided to rebuild immediately.
This time, it would be brick with tile roofing. The insurance company granted $9,055 and with a treasury surplus of $72 and private contributions building began. The new cornerstone was laid Aug. 3, 1924. A parsonage was purchased in Hawley a few years later.
In 1949, members voted to rearrange its church and pastoral assignments because of growing numbers and workloads. Hegland, Grong, Hawley and Immanuel formed the Hawley charge while Cormorant and Aspelund joined Pelican Rapids. Norse services were discontinued in 1957. Immanuel dissolved in 1961. Hegland soon called its own pastor.
In 1962, Hegland and other Lutheran Free Church congregations voted to merge with the American Lutheran Church, which merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988. The interior of the church was refurbished in the 1960s with new ceiling and walls. The top of the altar was removed and a wooden cross hung. The dining room was redecorated and carpeted. A $22,500 addition at the front of the church including a new entrance, office, library and storage was completed in 1972.
Today, Hegland is part of the Hegland-Lysne-Solem Rural Lutheran Ministry with offices at the HLS Parish Center, Hawley. Hegland and Solem, only a few miles apart along Minnesota County 12 belong to Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. Lysne remains a member of the ELCA while it shares Pastor Tom Olson with Hegland and Solem.
There has been a lot of sharing these 129 years. In the ‘20s and ‘30s Hegland and Solem shared a Christmas tree. Immediately after the children’s program, the tree was untrimmed and prepared for Solem’s program. Because wax candles were used, two young men stood guard with long poles and wet rags at the ready in case a flame touched a dry needle.
While hard work and giving were a rich and endearing part of the early church, they’re evident each Christmas Eve as well for this promise in the old pilgrim church is one kept by God who gave us His Word - across an ocean, across generations and among his people who must keep and carry it beyond Hegland’s foundation and after “Silent Night”.
Built on the Rock the Church doth stand,
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in every land,
Bells still are chiming and calling.
Calling the young and old to rest.
Calling the souls of men distressed,
Longing for life everlasting.
(from Hegland Lutheran Church histories, Concordia College & HLS archives)