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". . . are the seed which the Lord hath blessed." Isaiah 61:9b.
At a meeting in a humble pioneer's cabin in September of 1855, the Vasa Lutheran Congregation began. The settlers heard there was to be a worship service at the home of the Carl Carlson family. Pastor Eric Norelius led the service, and with eighty-eight persons organized the Swedish Lutheran Congregation on September 3. The settlement had been known as Mattson's Settlement since Hans Mattson had been influential in bringing the Swedish families to the area. Dr. Norelius proposed changing the name to Vasa after the Swedish royal family at the time of the Reformation in 1523. The name Vasa also became the name of the township and the small village that grew nearby.
Dr. Norelius returned to his home in Indiana. He soon received a call to become pastor of both Vasa and the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Red Wing. He decided to accept this call and moved to Vasa with his wife Inga in May of 1856. Their first home near White Rock was little more than a shack, as were most of the pioneers' homes. His annual salary of $500 included serving both the Red Wing and Vasa congregations and teaching school in Vasa four months each year.
In the summer of 1856, a log schoolhouse was built about 1/2 mile south of the present church. It was also used for worship services. The first confirmation class was confirmed in the fall of 1856.
Vasa became the hub of a network of churches organized by Dr. Norelius. When the Minnesota Conference was organized, Norelius was its first secretary.
Population growth soon rendered the log church too small. Eighty acres of land were purchased which included the highest point of land in the area. The price was $320 in gold. It turned out to be a bargain as forty acres were soon sold for $320. The second church building was built on the hill in 1862. This unfinished frame structure was the site of the third Synod meeting, and the first held in Minnesota. This second church was moved to its present location in 1865 where it later served as a schoolhouse and now houses the Vasa Museum.
The third and present, church building was begun in 1867 and finished in 1869. It was built of bricks made in a brickyard just east of the parsonage, which was also built at this time. Two unique features of the church are that it has no interior pillars to block the view, and an unusual pulpit. The open Bible resting on a closed Bible enables the pastor to preach the Word with an open Bible while "standing upon the promises of God." The new church building was dedicated on September 11, 1870.
No history of the Vasa Congregation would be complete without mention of the Orphans' Home. What began as a personal project of Eric Norelius led to the Vasa Children's Home. The first orphan family was cared for in the basement of the second church in 1865. Later land was purchased and a small home built. The second home was destroyed by a cyclone July 2, 1879, and the larger building that replaced it was destroyed by fire January 16, 1899. A fourth and larger structure was built. It was located about 1/2 mile north of the church and is now a private home. By 1876 the Orphan's Home had become a conference institution. The children were given a Christian upbringing. They attended church services and had morning and evening devotions. School was conducted at the home. In 1926 the present building was erected on a site near Red Wing donated by Professor and Mrs. A. P. Anderson of Burnside. The cornerstone was laid by Crown Prince Gustav Adolph of Sweden before a crowd of thousands. Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota now provides a home for mentally handicapped individuals there.
In addition to the church building and parsonage, the congregation maintains several other structures. A pavilion was built east of the church in 1903. Over the years it has been used for a great variety of events including band concerts, midsummer celebrations, and outdoor services. A chapel was built in 1929. It met the need for a fellowship hall since the present church building was constructed without a basement. It served to host various gatherings, church dinners, mid-week services, and Sunday Church School until 1988. Near the Museum is a former home for the sexton's family. The Sexton’s home is now part of the Museum. The former Vasa School became church property in 1988 and was renamed the Vasa Lutheran Center. Functions formerly held in the Chapel are now carried on at the Lutheran Center. In the 1980s the Museum was given a major remodeling. It is now structurally sound, climate controlled, and accessible to the handicapped. The Museum houses a very large and well-organized collection that preserves the history of Vasa Church and community.
While Vasa is no longer solid Swedish as it once was, the Swedish heritage is honored with such traditions as a Dopt i Grytan meal at Christmas. Often Swedish tourists and others seeking their Swedish roots in the Vasa congregation visit the church. While few members speak or even understand the Swedish language, the Swedish heritage is still important in Vasa.
Besides Dr. Norelius, many other men of state and national fame went forth from Vasa. Col. Hans Mattson, mentioned above, one of the founders of Vasa, served in the Civil War, was twice Minnesota Secretary of State, and U.S. Consul to India and was the author of several books. Swan Turnblad became publisher of Svenska Amerikanska Posten and later built what is now the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. The Hon. John Lind, a congressman and later Governor of Minnesota spent his boyhood here. Prof. Dr. N. L. T. Nelson became a nationally known botanist. J. W. Peterson, John A. Anderson, and T. G. Pearson served as members of the legislature. Many more could be mentioned.
The following have served as regular pastors of the Vasa Lutheran Church Congregation:
Dr. Eric Norelius 1855-58, 1861-69, 1869-79, 1886-88, 1901-06, 1914-15
Dr. P. J. Sward 1879-1886
Dr. J. Fremling 1889-1901
Rev. Bernard Modin 1906-1914
Rev. Edward A. Lindgren 1915-1921
Rev. Arthur G. Benson 1922-1926
Dr. Jno. E. Oslund 1927-1949
Rev. H. Lester Peterson 1950-1956
Rev. E. Edward Tornow 1956-1964
Rev. Ralph B. Belin 1964-1981
Rev. Thomas L. Delk 1982-1992
Rev. Michael Dobbins 1993-2009
Rev. Kristi Mitchell 2010 - 2015
Rev. Maureen Hagen 2016-present
Several groups within the church carry on ministry in a variety of ways. The kitchen committee provides lunch at such occasions as funerals, weddings, fellowship gatherings, and other church functions. The kitchen committee holds a FREE Community Dinner in September thru May on the 2nd Wednesday evening of the month, feeding up to 275+ guests from around the areas. Youth in grades 7-12 participate in activities as led by Pastor and the Parish Life team. Sunday School is an active ministry as well on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Sunday School, ages 3 thru grade 6, 9:00 am during the Worship Service at the Lutheran Center, and 5:30 pm on Wednesday evenings at the Lutheran Center during the fall/winter months. Wednesday evening worship takes place at 6:15 pm at the Lutheran Center.
Vacation Bible School is held in the summer with a strong attendance of over 50 kids. Attendance at Sunday Worship also remains strong.
Support for mission work has been important over the years. In 1994 the congregation voted to support the work of Paul and Jay Mikaelson in Bolivia, Radio Caranavi.
At this writing in the summer of 2022, Pastor Maureen Hagen is serving as our Pastor; Emily Peterson, Office Administrator; Kathy Tilderquist, Treasurer; Melissa McCann, Custodian.
In the year 2005, Vasa Lutheran Church celebrated their 150th anniversary. Let us thank God for the vision of those early founders of Vasa Lutheran Church who laid the groundwork for a Christian ministry in this place. Let us pray that God will guide our hearts and minds to carry on that ministry and plant the seeds of faith in Christ for future generations.
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