Belfield Lutheran Church celebrates 100 years

BELFIELD -- It's time to blow out the candles, all 100 of them. It's the 100th celebration of Belfield Lutheran Church and the congregation is inviting everyone to come and join the party on Sunday. The celebration includes former members, past c...

BELFIELD -- It's time to blow out the candles, all 100 of them.

It's the 100th celebration of Belfield Lutheran Church and the congregation is inviting everyone to come and join the party on Sunday.

The celebration includes former members, past clergy and others coming back to town. The day will begin with a 10 a.m. worship service followed by a dinner at 11:30 a.m. and a special program at St. Bernard's Parish Hall in Belfield.

The planning committee for the church includes choir director and organist Jean Franklin, who is a Title I teacher at Belfield Elementary School, and Doris Urban, who is the Belfield/Medora Food Pantry Director and church council member.

The committee also includes Cheryl Malcowski, church custodian and a choir member, rancher Marilyn Oyhus who also assists in the Dickinson State University Art Department and the Rev. Roger Dieterle who also works part time as a family therapist at West River Regional Medical Center in Hettinger.


Dieterle is pastor for Belfield Lutheran Church, Daglum Lutheran Church in South Heart and Medora Lutheran Church in Medora. The three churches have always shared resources including clergy. Daglum also celebrates its centennial this week on Saturday.

Getting involved

The centennial celebration plans by the committee have been in the works for more than a year, but celebrating has gone on all year.

"The reason we wanted to have the (main) celebration now is the high school reunion," Oyhus said.

The church has a history of being involved with the community as much as possible. One thing they do is the food pantry with Urban at the helm.

"Part of our community mission is to help others and involve those who want to help others," Dieterle said. "The old church parsonage is the food pantry now."

The basement of the old parsonage was dug out after the building was constructed, he added.

"This is a place of hospitality for those on the edge," Dieterle said. "This is our way of reaching out to others."


Belfield Lutheran Church has a four-part choir. The church's music program made a CD a few years back, Franklin said.

Future generations of clergy have come out of the church also. Most recently Joe Baranko had his ordination there in June.

Looking back

Cindy Nelson, daughter of local historian C.C. (Sunny) Thompson has come from Minneapolis with history of the church and created the 100th anniversary book which includes all the history about Belfield Lutheran Church.

The book is available for free at Sunday's celebration with a free will offering.

As early as 1883, the Rev. Norby came from the closest Lutheran church in the area, about 95 miles east of Belfield. At the time Norby saw there weren't enough people to establish a church. He came back in 1889, when there was and did occasional services.

Services were held in Norweigan households along Norweigan Creek southeast of Belfield. At a meeting on March 4, 1907, at Peder Indergaard's home, settlers organized an official congregation which was called the Norweigant Lutheran Congregation. There were 39 charter members.

The first church building was erected in 1909, and located near the area where Belfield Public School is now. In 1963, the current building was constructed by volunteers with one paid foreman, Nelson said.


"They were running out of space at the old building," she added. "They broke ground in the fall of 1962, worked all that winter and dedicated the new building in the spring of 1963."

The church has had about 20 pastors, that have been shared among churches in the southwest area.

In 1909, the first American born Lutheran minister, the Rev. Henry Thorpe, started having services in English. Morning services were done in Norweigan and afternoon was in English.

It became exclusively English in June 1930 with the Rev. Notsund. In 1937, the Rev. Fritz Lokensgaard, who is returning for the centennial celebration, retranslated the church's constitution from Norweigan to English.

"Many who moved here and who joined the church were of Norwegian descent, but the church always remained open to anyone regardless of ethnic background," Dieterle said.

Although a large percentage of the community is included as Catholics, all the churches despite denomination have come together more during the past 100 years.

"The relationships between the churches in town have become less isolated," Dieterle said. "Our church is a bridge builder with all the churches with things like the bible school and food pantry. We want to celebrate oneness with all churches despite denominations."

Although the church has shared clergy with others during the past 100 years, it has always remained Lutheran based, he added.


Belfield Lutheran's congregation population peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s during the oil boom while today's congregation size is at its lowest since it was first founded.

Besides congregation size and location changes, the Belfield Lutheran Church continues to function well.

"We have less people and it costs more to continue functioning today," Dieterle said. "Endowments and fundraisers are a big part of helping us continue. Otherwise the church mainly relies on donations or free-will offerings."

New and old traditions

A long part of Lutheran tradition is the church women who often are the ones to get things going whether it's fundraising or social events, Dieterle said.

The women involved in the centennial committee say there are two things which have remained the same with the church -- comfort and food.

After all, having plenty of food around is a Norwegian tradition, they said.

"There's always food around, it's the Norwegian way, potlucks are big," Franklin said. "But everyone here is good to you. Even though many of us aren't originally from here, the church becomes a home away from home, a safe harbor."


Urban said the church is family and accepts people with open arms.

"They are there for you when you need them," she added.

When Malcowski lost her husband she remembers gravitating to the church community.

"I never felt uncomfortable about coming back by myself," Malcowski said. "The church is so much a part of my life. It's been my home and base."

Each member brings something unique to the table. Oyhus started her own tradition in 2000 with puzzles during an event. Now puzzles can be seen framed and mounted on the walls of the church fellowship areas.

"It's like therapy," Oyhus said of doing puzzles. "We get one done just about every week."

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