“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
As thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.”
Whether or not you can hum that nearly 100-year old tune, the lyrics, written by Thomas Chisholm, are inspiring. As a congregation, the members of Holy Cross and its many predecessor congregations have kept their trust in God who has been faithful to us for generations. One could easily make the case that learning the history of Holy Cross provides a person with a snapshot of the history of Lutherans throughout the midwest.
The beginning of Holy Cross’ history goes back to 1887 when the first baby was baptized into the congregation known as Saint Paul's. In 1898, the congregation acquired a residence and converted it into an attractive parsonage while the upper rooms were used for a day school for the children. It was not until 1909 that a brick veneer building was erected by a small group of just eight families of German heritage. In 1932 the old church was enlarged to better accommodate the growing number of children and young people. Saint Paul’s celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 1942 while Rev. J.J. Williams was serving as the seventh resident pastor. In 1969, when the merger with Faith Lutheran took place, Rev. Paul Bacon was serving the congregation as the sixteenth pastor.
During the same period that Saint Paul’s was being established and growing, in June of 1889, nine families (many of Norwegian heritage) gathered to organize another Lutheran Church in Glenwood City known as "Den Skandinaviske Evangeliske Menighed i Glenwood." In 1893, various members of this congregation made significant contributions to build and to construct by hand the furnishings for this 30 by 60 foot building at a cost of just $1525. The name "Our Savior's" was adopted in 1894 and in 1899 a parsonage was purchased. Just five years hence, the congregation proudly declared that they were debt-free. The longest tenure of any of the pastors of this congregation was that of Rev. R. W. Peterson who served from 1919 -1949; during his pastorate, the call included serving not just Glenwood City but also parishes in Wheeler, Boyceville, and Emerald. In 1949, the call was realigned again to just include Glenwood City and Emerald. In 1962, Our Savior’s merged with Trinity to form Faith, but first, a few words about the history of Trinity.
Trinity came into being in 1891 with sixteen members of German heritage who wished to begin an Ohio Synod Church. During the period of 1900 to 1904, members of Trinity built their church building. In 1904, the congregation joined with Immanuel of Forest for a two point parish. At this time they called their first resident pastor and built a parsonage. By 1909 they had become self-supporting and called Rev. Ernest Koosman who served for seven years. Over the ensuing years, Trinity had pastors that served for tenures of eight to fourteen years. Their last pastor was Rev. Herbert Enser who served them from 1954 until his untimely death in August of 1962. It was only a few months later that Trinity united with Our Savior’s to form Faith Lutheran Church.
Yet before telling about Faith, there was a fourth parish in the origin of Holy Cross, a congregation known as Zoar, located in Emerald. In 1898, twelve families organized this church and for many years, they shared a pastor with Our Savior's. In 1905, the cornerstone for their building was laid on land that had been donated by Mr. Lindefield. By August of 1966, the congregation members made the difficult decision to dissolve. Many of these members joined the somewhat recently merged congregation of Faith.
So now a few words about Faith. With the death of Trinity’s pastor, members of Our Savior's and Trinity voted in 1962 to merge and they chose the name Faith because it was their faith in God that had drawn them together and by faith, they would continue to work together to further God’s kingdom. Rev. Maynard Larson served this congregation which made use of both buildings, as they were located nearly across the street from each other.
The spirit of uniting to work together for the sake of God’s kingdom did not stop there, of course. By 1968, Saint Paul's of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), and Faith of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) voted to merge and build a new church. On September 21, 1969, the cornerstone of the new Holy Cross Lutheran Church was laid. The name "Holy Cross" was chosen as it is the translation of Saint Croix, the county in which Glenwood City is located. The first worship service was held on Palm Sunday, 1970. Pastor Larson only served Holy Cross until October of that year and then Rev. Robert Esse was called and served until 1978. During the eight-month interim, the congregation was served by student and neighboring pastors. In March of 1979, Rev. Ralph Thompson was called to serve as pastor and did so until 2010.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary in 1987, it was noted that this congregation, which had been engaged in so many mergers over the years was participating in an even larger one. The formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) which was a merger of several predecessor Lutheran denominations. What was said by a synod bishop then about that merger still rings out as a clarion call to this congregation as we continue to be a Church of the Reformation, “We have given birth to a new synod; like a newborn, marvelous, but fragile, it needs much nourishment and much love. It will take all members, working together, to help this newborn move from infancy to its first steps and then to full stride as the church impacts the world’s injustice, pain, and oppression which the timeless message of God’s reconciliation through Jesus Christ.”
Over the course of the past decade, Holy Cross has had several pastors. Rev. Julie Brenden served as the first female pastor of the congregation in the interim following Pastor Thompson’s departure. She was followed by Rev. Diane House who served from 2012 to 2017. As of this writing, Holy Cross is being served by Pastor Jonathan Zielske.
In conclusion, Holy Cross has a rich history and wonderful heritage that continues to inspire and shape our ministry in the twenty-first century. We seek to continue building on the legacy of faithfulness and openness to partnerships as we grow as the body of Christ for this new day. And so we sing:
“Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies we see;
All we have needed thy hand hath provided;
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto us!”
On September 22, 2019, we celebrated 50 years as Holy Cross Lutheran Church. You can view the slideshow by clicking on the image below.