In 1886, three years before North Dakota became a state, Missionary Ole J. Norby, a native of Kloebu N Dalone, Trondheim, Norway, came into this area and discovered so many Scandinavians of the Lutheran faith who did not have a place for worship and community. Mr. and Mrs. Hans Benson had just built a home of logs from trees along the Heart River, six miles west of Mandan. On April 18, 1886, a large group of pioneers gathered at the Benson home, near Marmot, for the purpose of organizing a Lutheran church congregation. It was in this home that the birth of a Lutheran congregation in the Mandan community took place.
Reverend Norby baptized four infants: Nancy Christensen, Oscar Carlson, Annie Anderson and Isaac Benson at this first worship service. Four years later, August 17, 1890, the congregation saw their first confirmands. A class of six was confirmed in the Benson home. They were: Carl Benson, Sander Christensen, Tilda Christenson, Susanna Hoff, Emma J. Olsen and Minnie M. Morck. The first weddings in the congregation were also held in the Benson home.
Pastor Norby lived at Sims, Dakota Territory, and came to serve this Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran congregation once a month. He used the railroad as his means of travel. He also served a church at Taylor and his territory extended over the southwest half of the state to the Montana border. Rev. Norby represented the United Norwegian Lutheran Church. Those were also days of depression. The pastor’s salary was sixty dollars a year, and invariably he’d be paid with a side of pork or some other farm produce.
The first of three churches for the Mandan congregation was located at 222 9th Avenue SW in 1891, when Rev. Norby was pastor. The lot was donated by George Bingenheimer, a local business man. The 20 by 30 foot structure had additions for the altar and bell tower, and was built by A.O. Morck and Barney Anderson.
The congregation was incorporated October 14, 1891, and the church was dedicated May 22, 1892. Parochial school in the Norwegian language was taught during the summers in the early years. Mrs. Ulrick Torne was the teacher. The first Mandan Ladies Aid began in 1891 with Mrs. Martin Bull as the first president. (75th Anniversary-Fristad)
Syndicate and the city of Mandan grew rapidly in the early days and by 1912, the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church needed more room. Reverend Belsheim was the pastor from 1907 to 1914.
In 1912, on the insistence and suggestion of Rev. Belsheim, and unknown and unauthorized by the board of trustees, the members of the ladies guild of the Mandan Church purchased from L.N. Cary, the lot on which the new Scandinavian Lutheran Church was to be built. The purchase price for the lot was $700.00.
By the purchase of this site for the new church, the ladies had solved a problem that for some time threatened to breed dissatisfaction in the membership of the congregation. When the new church was first suggested, the choice of location became a bone of contention between the resident members of the south and north sides of the city. Rev. Belsheim found himself confronted with a grave situation and only by earnest effort was the matter checked until the members of the ladies guild solved the problem by obtaining a splendid location, one generally acceptable to all. (Mandan News—Friday, January 8, 1915)
The new location was at 8th Avenue and 1st Street NW. The architect estimated the cost of the new church to be $6,000.00, which would be built to conform to the architecture of the churches of this denomination in Norway, which were especially inviting. The measurements of the church were 30 by 60 feet, with estimated seating capacity at 300. The first services in the new church were held December 25, 1914. Mr. Christopherson, a student of the United Lutheran Theological Seminary of St. Paul, preached the sermon on the occasion of the feast. The name had been changed from the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran to the Norwegian Lutheran Church by the time the second church was built. Rev. C.J. Fylling served the church from 1915 to 1930. A parsonage was built in 1930, next to the church.
Reverend O.O. Andvik, pastor of the church from 1930 to 1949, perhaps served through one of the most difficult times in the church history: the depression of the 1930s and the years of the Second World War. It was he who felt the name of the church should be changed in 1938 from the Norwegian Lutheran Church to First Lutheran Church. He also served the congregation during the celebration of the 50th Anniversary.
The Rev. Carsten Brien came to Mandan in 1949 to serve First Lutheran church. It was under his leadership that the present church edifice was built. With the congregation constantly growing throughout the years, the First Lutheran Church on 8th Avenue became inadequate. Therefore, with the decision to build a new church, a building campaign was started in 1953. The ground breaking ceremony took place in 1955 at the location of the new church as Anton Olson, age 89, turned the first spade of dirt.
On Easter Sunday, 1958 the first service was held in the new church. Many people of the congregation gave their time and talents to help build the church and it was indeed a privilege for this generation to have the opportunity to participate in the building of this beautiful house of worship. On August 17, 1958 Pastor Brien performed the first wedding in the new church, when Delores Stephenson and Leland Olsen were united in marriage.
Dedication services for our new First Lutheran Church were held on October 29, 1961. This date also marked the 75th anniversary of First Lutheran Church. Signing the $100,000.00 mortgage with Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance Co. of Minneapolis, MN, were: Bryan Edmundson, Fred Keller, Cal Tanner, Percy Livdahl, Clarence Hendrickson and Carl Keidel, chairman of the building committee. It was a great day on February 6, 1977, when the mortgage burning ceremony took place. Rev. Richard Hagestuen, the longest serving pastor in First Lutheran’s history (1969 – 1998), announced the church was debt free at the ceremony. Beginning in the 1960s, First Lutheran had a long association with the seminaries of the ALC, notably Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. The interns from the seminary functioned as youth directors at that time, in addition to their other duties.
In 1979, First Lutheran became the new home of the L.C. Harrison & Sons tracker action pipe organ which was built in 1894 for the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church of Stottville, NY. It is one of the oldest instruments still in use in North Dakota and is one of a handful of tracker action instruments in the state. The organ underwent an “historical restoration” in 2010 by the David Salmen Organ Company in Wessington Springs, SD.
A highlight of the 1980s was the observance of the church’s centennial in 1986. The centennial birthday party was held April 19 & 20, 1986.
The 1990s were years of physical change for the congregation. In 1994, a Building Committee chaired by Gordon Berge explored options for a major renovation and expansion project. The result greatly improved handicapped accessibility through the installation of a larger elevator, new parking lots with additional handicapped areas, and improved entrances. The west facade of the sanctuary was reconfigured into a more contemporary design with a strong cross element. A chapel was added to the north of the main sanctuary to be used for small weddings, funerals or special worship services. Small groups would also be able to use this space for their gatherings. A large youth room was also part of this project located in the lower level below the chapel. Landscaping and stone terraces greatly reduced the intrusion of mud from the surrounding hills and enhanced the appearance of the church grounds.
The new millennium began with First Lutheran continuing to expand the scope of its ministries. Jane Faiman began a new ministry of caring by becoming the first Parish Nurse for the congregation. This ministry of care has been under the auspices of MedCenter One in Bismarck. Jane Faiman served in this capacity from 2001-2006; she was followed by Dana Beck (2006-2008) and Joan Auch (2008–2011). They continued to provide parish contact and care with about 90 contacts per month. In 2009, Terryl Gaebe began her work with First Lutheran as our Care and Calling Ministry Coordinator. Terryl’s focus is members who are homebound and in care centers in our area.
Shantel Penn, First Lutheran’s Coordinator of Christian Growth, who died in a tragic automobile accident in 2007, began a new youth outreach program during the 2006-2007 school year with the kickoff of LAF (Lunch at First), a free meal for Mandan High School students every Thursday while school is in session. This outreach has continued to grow and has been well received by the student body at the high school. LAF averages 125 – 150 students a week. The program is now under the direction of the Evangelism and Outreach Team.
The Fellowship Hall was remodeled in 2002. The chancel area of the sanctuary was completely remodeled in the spring and summer of 2007. The chancel area now has a strong vertical emphasis, with warmer colors creating a welcoming and uplifting atmosphere. As we draw close to our anniversary year, the narthex, kitchen and chancel projects will be underway.
As we prepare to celebrate our 125th anniversary, First Lutheran continues to explore new ways to share the love of Christ in our community and in God’s world. In honor of the pioneers who planted the seed, those who have gone before us who nourished the growth and to everyone in our faith family here today who tend this garden, we express our gratitude.
Over the years, the Mandan congregation grew in size as rural churches closed. Today, members of First Lutheran church still maintain the cemeteries of the following churches: St. John’s Lutheran Church (six miles south of Mandan), Parkin Lutheran Church (Huff, ND), Heart River Church (Crown Butte, ND), and Stone Church (Fallon, ND).