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Local church celebrating its 100th anniversary

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The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Frances is celebrating its 100-year anniversary on Sunday, June 24 starting at 10:30 a.m. with a service and barbecue lunch to follow.

There also will be a video and picture display, games for children to play, a tree planting, and friendships to enjoy.

You are welcome to come have some fun with us!

It was back in 1918 that 24 Scandinavian immigrants met and agreed to organize a Swedish Lutheran congregation in Fort Frances.

The founding members were Mr. John Asplund, Mr. and Mrs. C.M. Carlson, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Danielson, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hafdahl, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Gustafson, Mr. and Mrs. Victor Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Julien, Mr. and Mrs. Axel Nelson, Mr. and Mrs. Erick Selbom, Mr. and Mrs. Eric Strom, Mr. and Mrs. John Swanson, and Mr. John Thompson.

Pastor Luther Hanson of International Falls, Mn. presided at their organizational event.

The church was part of the International Falls and Loman parish, and thus a member congregation of the Minnesota Conference of the Augustana Lutheran Synod of North America.

Being the newest and smallest of the three-point parish meant worship services were not always regularly scheduled and often were held in the evenings in homes of members until a house was renovated nine years later to be used for church activities.

Swedish was the language used at worship and other meetings in those early days.

In spite of the initial enthusiasm, indifference took its toll early. Records indicate that during a period of about 14 years, 28 confirmed members were dropped from an adult roll of 83, another 13 moved away, and three died.

Nevertheless, the congregation grew. 1928 saw the congregation erect the present church building and this renewed the membership.

The late 1940s was a bleak period because the two sawmills in the community shut down, which lowered both membership and morale. “Should we continue to carry on?” was a frequent question.

Yet the congregation continued.

Interim pastors and seminary students served Zion during the first 36 years of its history. They were (not necessarily in this order) Pastors A.W. Nordin, Warmanen, Oliver Wilson, Samuelson, Oleson, Axel Berg, Lorenz Larson, Jasper Holmquist, A. Stone, F. Chaffee, and Roy Persson.

These were trying times for Zion and despite valiant efforts by these interim pastors, the congregation wilted and the building deteriorated.

Windows that broke simply had boards nailed over them. The furnace did not function properly and many Sundays in the winter, both the people and pastor kept their overcoats on during the worship.

In June, 1950, a home missionary, Miss Anna Wendell of St. Paul, Mn., arrived under the sponsorship of the Board of Home Missions of the Augustana Church. She has been described as a shining light in the midst of the gloom.

Being a resident here from 1950-55, and possessing a radiant faith and boundless energy, she rallied the congregation and was, in effect, an unordained pastor. The improvements to the buildings, especially the construction of the basement, and the brick veneer siding, raised both morale and worship attendance.

Miss Wendell's heroic efforts paved the way for the arrival of the first resident pastor, Dean Lindquist, in 1955. He served until 1959. Since then, four resident pastors have served Zion: Vernon Sundmark (1960-65), Ronald Grout (1966-78), and Erling Lindstrom (1978-91).

It should be noted that, particularly during the period of Pastors Sundmark and Grout, Zion was affiliated with the Trinity Lutheran Church at Bergland and these pastors rendered service in that congregation, as well.

Pastor Robert Ek arrived in 1992. Bob and his wife, Siv, served this congregation faithfully into retirement. In January of 2002, Pastor Ek suffered a fatal fall while skiing near his home at Nickle Lake. Siv now lives in Thunder Bay.

Pastor Brian V. Keffer was called to serve with this community in 1997, and currently is serving through Zion's 100th year as a congregation. His wife, Peg, continues to work as a school principal in Fort Frances. Their four children now are in their late 20s, three of whom are married.

The church building has an added lounge now, with new front doors, stained glass windows, a wheelchair access ramp, a chair lift to the basement, and renovated washrooms. We have a fully-operational kitchen and finished basement, with industrial dishwashers on both levels.

A modern electric piano is now used and the parking lot has been paved.

Since 1997, our communion table meal has been shared amongst all the baptized and open to any who wish to join us. We have been communing weekly for around 15 years.

Zion enjoys a full communion relationship with the Anglican church and often gather with each other. We also share many services and friendships with our United Church members.

Our community also has become more intentional in extending ourselves in gracious, inclusive ways, facilitating studies, funerals, and weddings for a diversity of folks throughout our area.

The congregation has suffered many losses these past years but we continue to try to be faithful, hospitable, and caring partners with the people of our larger community.

Come join us this Sunday (June 24) starting at 10:30 a.m. for worship, followed by the other festivities.

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