Norway Lake Lutheran Historical Association
The Norway Lake Lutheran Historical Association (NLLHA) is a Minnesota non-profit corporation and is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)3 of the U.S. Internal Revenue code.
II. The Rev. Lars Johnson Markhus
A few weeks ago, I attended the 7 Lag Stevne in Willmar. One of the sessions I attended was about Kandiyohi County and you can’t talk about Norwegians in our county without discussing Norway Lake. The speaker introduced the topic by projecting a cartoon drawing on the screen which illustrated Rev. Markhus being carried out of the Norway Lake Church by some of its members. I’m hoping by the time I finish today you will see that there are many more important things for which we should remember Lars Markhus than that one incident at the end of his life and career.
A church had been organized, but there had been several problems with getting a pastor. The Norway Lakers had sent a call to a pastor, but District President BJ Muus refused to ordain him. The same thing happened when they issued a second call to another man. History doesn’t tell us so, but it’s quite possible that some of the members of Norway Lake already had a sour taste in their mouths regarding the Synod. Their next call brought more positive results when Rev. Lars Johnson Markhus accepted the call with the approval of Rev. Muus. Lars Markhus probably fit in with the local Norwegians pretty good. He was born in Norway on July 18, 1842 and came to America at the age of seven. He was immediately enrolled in a Norwegian-English school. He would later attend an academy at Newark, Illinois from 1856 until entering Luther College in 1862. Upon graduation from Luther in 1866, he enrolled in Concordia Seminary. He completed his seminary studies in 1869, the same year he accepted the call to Norway Lake.
The frugal Norwegians at Norway Lake were fortunate as Lars was still a single man. They had decided to build a parsonage but since Lars was single and Even Railson said he could have a room at his house, the congregation voted to annul all former decisions regarding the building of a parsonage. Had they not done this, it’s quite possible that the parsonage would have been built in Section 3 of Arctander and there might have been a church on the site today. Crow River was also involved in this project and agreed to the Arctander location as long as Norway Lake took care of the upkeep which they agreed to do as long as the cost didn’t exceed $25 per year. In addition to his regular duties as pastor, Rev. Markhus also was responsible for providing the bread for communion. We’re not told if he baked it himself or hired the work done. His compensation agreement also required each communicant to pay him five cents and every family in the congregation was to bring him two bushels of oats or barley each year.
Lars Johnson Markhus was installed as the first resident pastor at Norway Lake on October 17, 1869, at Crow River on October 21 and at Big Grove on October 24. In his first two months on the job, he conducted eleven worship services, had one wedding, one funeral and took a seven day missionary trip to Chippewa River, Chippewa Crossing and Six Mile Grove. The decision to delay building a parsonage didn’t last long. In November of the same year Markhus arrived, the congregation met and decided to build on land which had been donated by A. Hedin. We might speculate since so little time lapsed between deciding not to build and then deciding to build, that some members had a desire to keep the parsonage further to the east. In January of 1870, the decision was made to build on Hedin’s land.
Things must have been going pretty well for Lars Markhus as Synod President H. A. Preus visited the congregation in October of 1870 and “found everything in good order and that the congregation expressed their satisfaction with the pastor.” The minutes record that attendance at church services and communion was good. By the way, we are also told that communicants were required to register the day before their communion which must not have been easy considering the distance to church and the modes of transportation in those days. At any rate, from President Preus’ report, it appears that Pastor Markhus was still on his honeymoon at Norway Lake. A year later, in 1871, Lars was on a real honeymoon as he was married to Ingrid Egge that year. They moved in to the new parsonage the same year. This is the house where Phil and Carolyn Hatlestad now live. His real honeymoon with Ingrid probably also marked the end of his honeymoon with the Norwegians at Norway Lake. The congregation had, of course, acquired some indebtedness in building the parsonage and the next couple of years would be spent trying to pay off this debt. Some complained that many new members had joined and not paid anything on the parsonage, so in March of 1871, they decided to allot the debt based on each farms cultivated acres with a provision for those who were too poor to pay. They also decided to have those members who didn’t have any cash sign notes at ten per cent interest. Apparently this didn’t work real well as two families were excluded from the congregation for not following God’s command in Galatians to “bear one another’s burden.”
We know the early Norwegians were much more strict in following church discipline than we are today. We know of one case where Pastor Markhus received a letter from a member requesting to withdraw his membership from the church. The membership did not feel his reasons for withdrawing were valid and unanimously decided to send the pastor along with a committee of three men to call on the family. Upon entering the house of this member, he handed Pastor Markhus a letter instructing him to keep his mouth shut or he would throw him out of the house. The other members of the committee were unsuccessful in getting him to
change his mind and so recommended that he be allowed to withdraw his membership. In addition to handling all his duties at Norway Lake, Crow River and Big Grove, Pastor Markhus was expected to do missionary work of an extensive nature. In 1872, he performed 151 ministerial acts at Osakis Prairie, Todd County, Sauk Centre, Lac qui Parle, Stony Run, Solomon Lake, Benson, Norway Lake, Crow River, Big Grove, Red River Valley, Buffalo River, Moorhead, north of Georgetown, Upper Wild Rice, and Shanne. In 1873 and 1874, he began having regular services at Vinji and Vikor (Solomon Lake). So we can see he was a busy man.
The congregation had experienced significant growth since Markhus had arrived. Some members supported the idea of building a new church as the log church was too small. Others wanted simply to enlarge the present church. In January of 1874, the congregation voted 53 to 21 to improve the old church rather than build new. In November of the same year, the question came up again along with talk of forming two congregations due to the growth in membership. The congregation voted 28 to 18 in favor of dividing the congregation in to east and west. Those members from east of the church met at A. Hedin’s in January of 1875 and decided to build where East Norway Lake Church stands today. The Church was built that summer and the first service was conducted on February 23, 1876.
On August 31, 1876 Rev. Markhus proposed the following resolution to the congregation: “Resolved, that the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran congregation at Norway Lake be divided into two separate congregations, which shall be called the East and West Norway Lake congregations, and that both congregations shall, however, hereafter as hitherto, have an equal share in the parsonage.” The resolution was accepted and the decision was also made to move the old log church to the parsonage farm and use it as a barn. In the few short years of the log church’s existence, there were 125 church services, 490 baptisms, 142 were confirmed, 72 married, and 77 buried.
The years 1876 and 1877 were very difficult years at Norway Lake, plagued by grasshoppers and drought, yet the Norway Lake congregation hosted an annual meeting of the Synod from June 26 to July 3. In attendance were 27 pastors, 64 lay delegates and 81 honorary members, most of whom were hosted in local homes. So, in 9 years as the first resident pastor at Norway Lake, Lars Markhus had been involved in building a new parsonage, a new church, hosting a Synod meeting, separating one congregation into two while continuing to serve not only the people at the two Norway Lake congregations, but also Vinji, Vikor, Crow River, and Big Grove. No doubt a formidable task! His load was made lighter in July of 1877 when Markhus installed a new pastor at Vinje and Vikor so they were no longer his responsibility. It also enabled him to use the Sundays freed up by this change to conduct more services at Norway Lake. Markhus still served four congregations and dissatisfaction was beginning to grow because services were too few and far between. Some wanted to divide the parish even more while others wanted to hire more help for Rev. Markhus. The decision was made to hire an assistant for him who would live in the parsonage. Crow River and Big Grove were not in agreement and on October 12, 1879, they decided to leave the parish and call their own pastor. Markhus, however, continued to serve them until August of 1883 when Crow River and Big Grove decided to call Rev. Markhus’ assistant to serve as their pastor. Markhus now served only the two congregations at NorwayLake.
Joel Njus writing in the First Lutheran History titles one of his sections on Rev. Markhus “Storm Clouds Gather.” The Storm Clouds for Markhus first appeared at a congregational meeting on November 18, 1881. Objections were raised by some members to sending any money to the Synod because of conflicts going on within the Synod at that time. The conflict concerned the interpretation of predestination and originated with theologians and clergy primarily. The Norway Lake congregations decided that those who wanted to contribute to the Synod should do so and those who did not want to, didn’t have to. In March of 1882, Markhus expressed his personal opinion on the controversy and received outspoken and lengthy opposition by some members. In the fall of 1884, Markhus attended a pastoral meeting in Decorah, Iowa and along with 105 other pastors signed a statement relating to predestination. In January of the next year, he spoke about the statement at a congregational meeting and a decision was made to hold public meetings during which both sides of the argument would be presented. At one of these meetings on July 8, 1885, with a pastor present who represented views different from Markhus, a resolution was passed removing Rev. Markhus from his job. The vote was 40 to 11, thus the subsequent reference to majority and minority groups. Markhus asked for permission to meet with his confirmation class on the following Friday and permission was granted. The story goes that over the next few weeks control of the church building switched hands a few times but that on July 24, we Norway Lake Lutherans acquired our uniquely infamous heritage when Rev. Lars Markhus was bodily removed from the church by the majority group. As Joel writes “Thus it has been said that while most people are carried into church once (for baptism) and carried out of the church once (at his funeral), Pastor Markhus had the distinction of being carried out of the church twice.”
Pastor Markhus’ health, which had not been good since being caught in a blizzard several years before, deteriorated following his problems at Norway Lake and he passed away on December 19, 1885 in Willmar where he had been staying. He was buried on December 23 with District President Harstad preaching the funeral sermon which scolded the congregation severely for its treatment of Pastor Markhus. He is buried in the East Norway Lake Cemetery among the members he served for sixteen years and along side his son, James, who passed away the previous year. He was survived by his wife Ingrid and four young children. He was only 43 years old.
While his final years at Norway Lake is what he is too often remembered for, Pastor Lars Markhus deserves better. He came here as a young and inexperienced man to serve a community of pioneers as their first pastor. He served all the Lutherans in an area stretching from Belgrade to Willmar and laid the foundation for congregations which still thrive today. If we were to designate one man as our pioneer pastor, it should probably be Lars Johnson Markhus.
Presented at NLLHA Program on Pioneer Pastors
August 15, 2004