October marks 75 years of services for Faith Lutheran church. For the special occasion, a committee was appointed to organize the celebrations and gather historical information for a DVD documentary. Evert Von Engelenhoven is the chair of the committee. He moved to West Fargo in 1977, and became a member at Faith Lutheran when he bought out a retiring partner at Hektner-Lybeck-Erickson Insurance in Fargo.
"Back then, West Fargo had somewhat of a stigma," he says. "West Fargo was known as a packing plant town. There were a few strip clubs that were eventually ordinanced out and the town had somewhat of a reputation. Nowadays it seems like more of a bedroom community to Fargo, but when I first moved here you wouldn't want to tell someone who lived here that; they had a strong sense of independence."
Faith Lutheran's first service was held in October 1935 in a school auditorium with Reverend J.W. Johnshoy, a professor of philosophy at Concordia College in Moorhead, as pastor. The first church was a chapel refurbished out of a relocated Horace school building. A basement was built in 1940 where services were held until a superstructure was built over it ten years later. In 1961, an education wing was added. Evert takes me on a tour and our first stop is the old sanctuary. It is mostly shadowed with the evening sunlight illuminating the stained glass windows that Evert remarks were all donated in memory of a loved one. At the head of the sanctuary is a drum set and musical instruments, more aligned with a rock band than a church service. It's the first time in years that Evert's been back in the old sanctuary because it is used mostly for youth services.
"At one point they had all of the pews torn out and had painted all of the walls," he says, "though you wouldn't be able to tell it now."
A groundbreaking ceremony was held in September, 1994, for a $1.76 million renovation and addition that expanded the church by 9,900 square feet for a new sanctuary, classrooms, and office spaces.
Walking west from the old sanctuary, we descend into the kitchen and eating area, or Fellowship Hall. Evert indicates that this is where the new part of the church begins. Paula Kaufman is there, a member of the 75th Anniversary committee, to whom Evert credits, along with the others, of doing all the work.
For the 75th Anniversary celebration weekend, the committee invited all of the old pastors and sons and daughters of Faith (members of Faith Lutheran who went to seminary but were not pastors there). They celebrated with a banquet at the Holiday Inn, with 300 in attendance. Past pastors spoke of their era at Faith Lutheran and ten of the original 95 charter members were in attendance.
The Fellowship Hall we are standing in was tiled by the Kingsmen, a group of retired gentlemen who have done a lot of handiwork around the church. One of the most impressive is the prayer garden located between the old and new sanctuaries, but this is just one example. Since its beginning, Faith Lutheran's growth has been a community effort of fundraisers and helping hands.
Evert believes that as the population of West Fargo began to grow, and attract more professionals, the money began to change the church as well. "There's a story about a pastor who comes up and says 'I have good news and bad news. The good news is that this congregation is very wealthy. The bad news is that we can't get it out of your pockets.'"
The original plan was for the new sanctuary to have chairs, because pews were too expensive, but Evert figured out a way to raise the money. He gathered some people for a committee and came up with a plan to sell the pews to people. "They wouldn't have their names on them, but their names would be in a book somewhere. It worked. We sold all of them in less than a month," he explains.
Faith Lutheran continues to expand. Journey in Faith Worship, a ministry of Faith Lutheran, started last March at the Urban Plains Center, and plans are in the works to build a second site on ten acres of land by the 9th Grade Academy on 40th Avenue in Fargo.
Yet, some of the older congregation feels that the new building may cause a rift. "Some feel that the old building will be here for all of the old folks, and that anything to do with youth will be down there. So there's a bit of an uncomfortable feeling, which probably won't be all true either," Evert explains.
However Faith Lutheran expands, Evert hopes to be able to enjoy it outside of a committee. "I've been the church council president at least twice and I've been on almost every committee there is," he says. Yet he is certain that he will find another way to help out with Faith Lutheran's continued growth.