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A new church

As time went on with the settlers in Minnesota, the need for a Christian congregation developed. The pioneers walked or drove by oxen and wagon to Willmar, the Kandiyohi County center, a distance of about 20 miles (30 kilometers) to attend church and partake of the Lord's Supper (nadverden?). The need for a place of worship in the community became evident. Erik Joseph Larsen talked with Rev. Paulson in Willmar about the possibility of forming a congregation in the Lake Lillian community. After some investigation, the Rev. Kleven was sent to see what could be done. On August 16, 1885, a few families met at the Erik Larsen home and under the direction of Rev. Kleven, Tromsø Lutheran Church was organized. The name Tromsø was chosen because it was the city close to where at least 24 of the original members had lived.

The congregation accepted the norsk evangelisk lutherske symbolical books. There were 36 original members and Erik Joseph Larsen was elected the Formand. Because so many of the early members were of Sami ancestry the church was sometimes called by the negative word, the "Finn church" by others in the community.

A church building was begun in 1885 but was not completed for ten years. Erik Larsen died in 1891 so he did not live to see the church building completed and the congregation become established.

A painting of the new church

As years past the original Norwegian-speaking members died. In the 1920's English was used for some of the worship services but later only English was used. It was not until 1929 that Tromsø Lutheran Church had the first American born pastor. Until then all the worship was in Norwegian. The children were the first to learn English in the schools. If the children spoke Norwegian in school they were often punished. The younger children in a family would learn English from their older siblings. There were probably several adults that did not learn to speak English but others wanted to learn English and become "American".

The congregation was first affiliated with the Norwegian Lutheran Conference and later with the Lutheran Free Church Synod. In 1946 a new church was built in the village of Lake Lillian and the congregation was renamed Grace Lutheran Church. Now it is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Synod.

As years passed, the population of the area declined. This is a farming community and the farms became larger and did not require as many workers. The children would move from the area to larger towns and cities to work. Grace Lutheran Church had fewer members as people moved from the community. There was another Lutheran Church in the community that was organized by Swedish settlers years ago and these two congregations have now merged. A few descendants of the original families are still part of this congregation. There may be thousands of descendants from these families still living in Minnesota and throughout America. The church cemetery is still being used and the name was changed to Tromsø Memorial Cemetery.

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