Dear Friends in Christ,
Some of the earliest Missouri Synod mission work was carried out by Pastors Sievers and Mieszler, who were sent to survey mission opportunities in Minnesota among the Native Americans and the Germans in 1856. This work led to the founding of Trinity First Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, as well as one of the earliest gatherings of the German Lutherans in Corcoran, a group that later formed the congregation where I was raised, St. John’s Lutheran Church, in 1864. Following Pastor Sievers report to the Synod, in 1857, Pastor Cloeter was sent from Saginaw, Michigan to continue work among the Chippewa near Crow Wing. Pastor Cloeter was related to one of Trinity’s current members, Martin Wellbrock.
One of the earliest Missouri Synod congregations that was founded in Minnesota was Trinity Lutheran Church in Waconia, founded in 1865. If Trinity Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls has a “mother church,” perhaps it is Trinity in Waconia. This congregation had a strong missionary spirit. In 1870, the pastor from Waconia, Pastor Both, was sent to traverse the regions of the northwest of the state, and he reached as far as Fergus Falls. This may have been the first Missouri Synod contact in this region.
In 1872, Trinity of Waconia called a pastor to serve as traveling missionary for Minnesota, Rev. Henry Vetter. Pastor Vetter was ordained and installed on July 28, 1872. Two days later, he was already on the road to journey to Todd, Douglas, and Ottertail counties. By 1874, Pastor Vetter’s mission field had grown to include Wright, Meeker, Kandiyohi, Stearns, Pope, Big Stone, Swift,Chippewa, Renville, and Redwood counties. He was the first Missouri Synod pastor to contact the people of Montevideo, the first community where I served as pastor (well over 100 years after Pastor Vetter’s time). He had 42 preaching stations in this field. It is amazing to consider the ground this man covered.
In any case, it is on account of Pastor Vetter’s work in this field and his connection to Trinity of Waconia that we could call that congregation our “mother church.” By 1973, there was an attempt to call 4 more pastors to serve in this field, though only two more were sent from the seminary. One of these two candidates, Rev. Winkler, was ordained and installed as pastor of the first parishes formed in Vetter’s missionary field: St. John’s at Elizabeth, Immanuel of Friberg, and Trinity Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls. Rev. Winkler is regarded as Trinity’s first pastor.
Pastor Winkler and his wife first lived in a rented space in Fergus Falls until the summer of 1874, when the first log church was built. At that point, the Winkler’s lived in the church itself until a log cabin parsonage was built in 1875. I have at times had children assume I lived at the church –apparently, historically, this is not such a strange idea! We don’t have a lot of information about what these earliest years of Trinity’s congregational life were like. Pastor Winkler was here until 1877, when he was followed by Pastor Krueger. Two charter members, Henry Tomhave and Ferdinand Schroeder, led the procession into the “new church” on Union and Cavour with Pastor Friedrich at its dedication in 1926. One of Henry’s descendants, Gary Froehlich, remains a member of Trinity today. It would be wonderful to tell those first missionaries, mother churches, first pastors, and Charter members that Trinity would still be here 150 years later. Perhaps, it is enough to share with them the conviction that “the Word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25).
Peace in Christ,