VELVA -- Members of Oak Valley Lutheran Church in Velva will celebrate the 125th anniversary of their church Sunday. The theme for the celebration is "125 Years of Vibrant Faith."
The spiritual foundation for the church was laid in 1881 when the Rev. O.H. Aaberg of Grand Forks County and the Rev. B. Harstad of Traill County made several trips to the Mouse River Valley. Their first attempt to contact Norwegian settlers was futile but Aaberg didn't give up. He returned twice in 1884 and twice in 1885 to help organize the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran congregations. On those trips, he preached, administered sacraments and conducted a wedding and a confirmation service.
In 1885 the Rev. Torjus S. Reishus was called to serve as pastor of the Mouse River Loop which stretched from Towner to Burlington. He met with parishioners on Nov. 30, 1886, to organize the Oak Valley congregation.
The 125th anniversary of Oak Valley Lutheran Church, in Velva, will be celebrated Sunday. Congregants agreed to organize on Nov. 30, 1886.
During the early years services were held in the Lewis Larson home. They were later moved to the Velva School.
A building committee was charged with finding a site and to secure estimates on a church in 1894. Five years later construction began and on Aug. 19, 1900, the first service was held in the church.
A tower, bell and basement were added to the church in subsequent years. The bronze bell, which was cast in 1909, remains in Oak Valley's tower to this day.
The 125th anniversary of Oak Valley Lutheran Church in Velva will be celebrated Sunday starting with a worship service at 9:30 a.m. After the service former pastors will be honored, letters from pastors who couldn't make it will be read and interviews with previous members will be shown on a screen in the sanctuary. A roast beef dinner will be served at noon by local grocer/caterer Shawn Vedaa and church council members. Sunday's events will conclude with singing by an anniversary choir, directed by Marlowe Kittelson.
The church building was enlarged in 1928 and in 1936 the congregation marked its 50 anniversary.
A new home
During the annual congregational meeting on Feb. 5, 1961, an announcement was made that Mr. and Mrs. A.R. Kumm wanted to make a gift to the church in memory of their daughter a completely furnished parish education building. Members at the meeting immediately voted to build a new church at the same time.
Ground breaking for the new church was held on March 12, 1961, an actual work began about a month later. The cornerstone was laid on June 25, 1961, and on Nov. 5 of that year the first church service in the new church was held in the fellowship hall. The parish education building was dedication on Dec. 3, 1961, and on May 13, 1962, Oak Valley members took part in a Service of Entrance into their new church, which was dedicated on June 24, 1962.
The original bronze bell was taken from its old tower in April 1961 and stood on the front lawn of the church until a new tower was complete. It rang out once again on June 21, 1964 the day the new automatic bell ringer was dedicated.
The final payment on the church building was made on Dec. 30, 1972.
Oak Valley became a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a new church body formed by the merger of the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches on Jan. 1, 1988. It continues to be a member of that church body.
That spring it became apparent that major repairs were needed to the church and Debt Reduction Sundays were held with offerings designated for the roof repair. The church also became more visible when a large sign depicting the "Come Share the Spirit" logo of the new ELCA was erected along U.S. Highway 52 just west of Velva.
In January 1989 council members formalized a Statement of Purpose and Mission of Oak Valley. It reads in part: "We are here as witnesses to enthusiastically proclaim Christ through worship, service, education and fellowship."
Today the church continues to stand as a living monument to the affirmation of the faith and vision of its members.
The Rev. Tim Johnson, pastor of the church, said "Oak Valley has always been a church of vibrant faith. Spiritual needs were being met from day one and the call is to continue to enthusiastically proclaim Christ."
Johnson said he will be preaching on Sunday from the Narrative Lectionary (Luther Seminary) which falls on the call and ministry of the prophet Jeremiah. That theme is the potter and the clay. Like the potter, God starts with a lump of clay (the church) reshaping it to be a vessel of God's own choosing.
He added that the WOW (Welcome on Wednesdays) family night on Nov. 30 the actual day of organizing the church in 1886 celebrated 125 years of music was well attended. The evening included a potluck dinner and cake walk, a narrated Gospel music format from Solid Oak, vibrant faith stories and music by the SonRise band.
Johnson said, "We hope and pray always that Oak Valley will be a vibrant place where faith in Christ is enthusiastically proclaimed and lived."