Dear MBA Pastors:
What is your church history?
Bellow is a set of questions to stimulate your memory about the history of your church. You are not required to answer every question. Email your answers as an attachment to Carolyn Van Loh (firstname.lastname@example.org). Using your information, I will create a document of your church to publish in a future issue of the North Star.
1.Name of church
3.Date the church was established
4.Number of pastors serving your church over the years.
5.Describe continued development of the church
6.How does the congregation reach out to the community, missions, etc.
7.Did you church produce Christian leaders who are serving in Minnesota, across the USA, and as foreign missionaries?
8.Were there any challenges, such as the recent Covid Pandemic, that the church faced? How did God help you overcome the challenge?
You may send a document already written about the history of your church.
The North Star may carry MBA church stories based on the information I received. See the current issue that will carry the story I wrote for the Minnesota Historical website MNopedia.
I have started writing about First Baptist of Tyler, where I was grounded in the faith as a child. The decreasing congregation merged with Lake Benton’s Baptist church a number of years ago.
In His service,
Carolyn Van Loh, member of Westbrook’s Immanuel Baptist Church
By Pastor Shad Vork
Not long ago, a small Twin Cities’ church made the headlines of the Pioneer Press. It was an assembly of about 30 members, the vast majority being senior citizens. The leadership overseeing the church, which happened to be from a different congregation, decided this first church needed a restart. Essentially, they told all the older people to find other places to worship for at least a year or so while the church restarted targeting young people. As you can imagine, the congregation was not happy with the leadership’s decision.
This particular article reminded me of Grace Baptist Church of Stillwater when the Lord led our family here in 2008. At that time, we also had about 30 attending on Sunday morning. Most of our congregation was made up of seniors, a couple families with young children, and some young adults. I remember praying and brainstorming about ways to grow this church.
A little background might help. Grace Baptist was planted in 1978 by Lenard Huebscher who happens to be my father-in-law. Most MBA churches are small, and this one fits the mold. Our auditorium could fit about 100 tightly. Over its history, the church had a number of ups and downs, even reaching a high attendance of 100 at one point. When we arrived, it was at a low point. I do not see that as a reflection on the leadership so much as just a part of the ebb and flow of ministry. In reality, I would have to say that I followed a faithful and loving shepherd who built a solid foundation of gospel work in our community. To this day, I still run into people who were at some point touched by Pastor Huebscher or Grace Baptist.
So coming back to 2008, I found myself at first attempting to create ministry to appeal to young families who were not in our church. Somewhere along the way, the Lord changed my thinking such that we tried to focus ministry upon those whom the Lord had already given us. We were doing evangelism, but we needed to do better at discipleship. Our ministry in those first years here was strong on young adults and on seniors, and I believe the Lord used that over time and by His grace to rebuild us into a much healthier church. I have been bi-vocational for my entire tenure in Stillwater, and I see that as a mostly good thing. Thankfully, the church now supports me nearly full-time, but I see the bi-vocational model more and more in churches like ours. Working in the community has given me many opportunities for outreach. Our early financial needs prompted a couple MBA churches to step up and help. One gave a significant financial donation when the budget was tight. The other paid for my family’s health insurance for the first year, and over the next several years sent two work groups to help with facility improvements. Both churches were a tremendous help and encouragement to our entire church family.
I am glad we did not kick the older people out or write them off. They have been a vital part of our ministry. I hope we keep loving all the saints for as long as the Lord has us here. We are still small, but I’m convinced God is pleased with small churches and is accomplishing so much of His work through multitudes of them throughout the world. In closing, I am reminded of Psalm 127:1, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain…”
Immanuel Baptist Church traces its origin to the grasshopper plagues of the 1870s. The Danish Baptist Church of Clarks Grove, a few miles north of Albert Lea, gathered provisions for people in Cottonwood County who were struggling with the grasshopper disaster.
The Danish Baptist Church commissioned two men to deliver the supplies to settler-colonists living in the future Storden area. On July 12, 1879, a group of local Baptists organized First Scandinavian Baptist Church and called J.M. Nelson, one of the men who had come from Clarks Grove, to be their pastor.
The arrival of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Omaha Railway motivated the congregation to dismantle their place of worship around 1899 and rebuild closer to the Currie Line Railroad. Settler-colonists living closer to the newly incorporated village of Westbrook, five miles west of Storden, preferred to worship in Westbrook.
In 1901 the village of Westbrook donated a plot of land and erected a church building. Mr. Hubbell, a farmer living south of the village, donated $500 to build the structure. A group of Baptists used the money to build Calvary Baptist Church at the corner of Sixth Street and Ash Avenue. About five years later the congregation disbanded when several families moved from the area.
The Baptists east of Westbrook held services in homes until September 6, 1908, when they called a meeting to organize a congregation. Two months later the group met at the former Calvary Baptist Church with the intent of purchasing the building. On November 17, 1908, twenty-two charter members (eighteen from the Storden church and four from Calvary) celebrated the founding of Immanuel Baptist Church.
Settling on a meaningful name for the new Baptist church posed a major challenge to the small group of worshipers. They chose Immanuel because the word means “God with us.” Rev. N.H. Byers answered the unanimous call to be the church’s first pastor. He served in that capacity until 1915, when he moved to a new ministry. Ten men served as pastors of Immanuel Baptist from 1908 until 2004, when Rev. Robert Adams began his ministry.
Many changes implemented over the years enhanced the 1901 building. In 1913 the first addition involved digging a basement, adding a bell tower, and installing a furnace and a baptistry. A thirty-two-by-twenty-six-foot addition, including a new kitchen, was added in 1948. The building grew with the addition of an educational wing in 1969.
In 2001 a major building project added facilities for Westbrook Christian Day school, which had opened its doors to ten students on September 5, 1978. The large classroom on the first floor and activity center in the basement of the new addition met the needs of the growing school. Enrollment reached a peak of forty students, but the school closed in 2006 because of falling enrollment.
Immanuel Baptist Church continues to minister in the Westbrook area while supporting ministries around the world. People whose lives have been impacted by the church’s ministry are scattered from coast to coast in the United States as well as on the continents of South America and Asia.
— Carolyn Van Loh
Edited from a January 2018 copy written by C. Van Loh andposted on the MN Historical Society site at mnopedia.org