Despite hardships, the congregation remains strong
By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN As the congregation of Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church celebrates it 25 anniversary, its members recall all they have overcome, including the tornado of 1992.
“We’ve seen God’s hand at work in our church quite a few times,” said long-time member Roger Haugen, noting the tornado was definitely the biggest example.
When the tornado ripped through Cokato the evening of June 16, it caused extensive damage to Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church, which was then located along Third Street just north of the railroad tracks.
With the roof torn off and a structure that was deemed unsafe, Haugen remembers thinking as chairman of the congregation, “What are we going to do next?”
At that time, Good Shepherd was still somewhat an early church, having been established in August of 1985.
The church didn’t have its own building until the First Baptist Church moved to its current location, leaving an empty church available for purchase.
Up until the move, the congregation was meeting at Cokato Elementary. It was actually an infant death within the congregation that prompted the board to find a more formal location for a funeral in November.
The church was able to purchase the property through its affiliation with the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations.
Unaware of how good its insurance was at the time of the tornado, the congregation received nearly 90 percent in replacement costs.
The congregation was blessed to be able to use the money toward building a new church building located at 5939 Oliver Ave. SW. and purchase its furnishings, according to Pastor Lyndon Korhonen.
Some of the remnants of the former church building can actually be found inside the new church.
Karen Haugen, wife of Roger, noted the beautiful stained glass windows in the church, many of which were constructed from those blown out by the tornado.
Church members designed and built windows inside the current sanctuary using the salvageable remnants from the windows.
Service that following Sunday after the tornado was at First Baptist Church, but later took place at Cokato City Hall, before the new church was completed in May 1993.
Even during the transition period, the congregation stuck together.
“It was certainly a hard time for us, when you don’t have a building,” Korhonen said.
During construction of the new building, the congregation was once again reminded of Mother Nature’s strength.
It was during that winter when a strong wind blew down the framed walls of the southwest wing of what is now the Sunday school wing.
Korhonen also remembers one Advent just a few years after the building was constructed when there was a fire which could have been detrimental to the new church.
Upon entering the church, Korhonen noticed haze in the peak of the sanctuary.
An Advent wreath with candles on it hadn’t been snuffed out. The candles burned to the ends, causing the Styrofoam wreath to catch fire.
Though just that little fire caused quite a bit of soot to be cleaned, the damage could have been much worse.
“We believe the Lord snuffed it out,” Korhonen said with a smile.
There are still burn marks on the oak floor below.
The current congregation
Pastor Korhonen started at Good Shepherd June 1, 1990, having come from a church in Culburtson, MT, where he served from 1983 to 1990.
“I have always enjoyed the freedom to preach whatever God’s word is,” Korhonen said as to one of the aspects he has valued at Good Shepherd.
He recalls members of his current congregation telling him, “We want you to preach what God says, not just what we want to hear.”
“I’m very thankful for that,” he said.
He has also valued the fellowship he has seen among the men of the congregation.
Korhonen has noticed in this congregation that the men are considerably active within the church, from sharing Christ to fishing trips.
The men are also more apt to take on leadership roles whereas in many other churches, he has seen the women filling those roles.
Community outreach has also been something Korhonen values within the congregation.
There are a number of community gatherings at the church including soup luncheons, game feeds, plays, and Christian education programs.
Good Shepherd reunion Aug. 7-8
The Haugens have been on the 25th anniversary reunion committee, along with Tony and JoAnn Onnen, Howard and Brita Ylitalo, and Lori Nelson.
Through this endeavor, the Haugens have realized just how many people have gone out from the church on mission trips to serve the Lord in different capacities.
Some of the missions have included travels to the Czech Republic, Africa, Mexico, and the Congo, according to Karen Haugen.
A book of the different missions will be available at the reunion.
Some of the returning missionaries will share their testimonies during the celebration program scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 8 beginning at 1:30 p.m.
“It will be fun to see and hear what the Lord is doing in and through their lives,” Korhonen said.
The program will also include Good Shepherd’s first pastor, Robert Lee, who served from 1985 to 1987.
Founding members Tonnes and Mary Pollestad will share their memories.
“They were very instrumental in getting the church going,” Roger said.
Tonnes was also one of the first members of the congregation to become a pastor. He currently serves with the Bible League.
Youth leaders will also be recognized at the program and will have the opportunity to share their memories.
The church’s first full-time pastor, Pastor David Hinrichs, will also speak.
The reunion begins Saturday, Aug. 7 with games for kids and social hour for adults at 3 p.m.
A tailgating potluck (cooking outdoors) will be at 5:15 p.m., and worship, testimonies, sharing and a bonfire will be from 7 to 9 p.m.
Festivities Sunday will include a 9 a.m. worship service, a catered meal by the Wright County Pork Producers at 11 a.m., followed by the celebration program at 1:30 p.m.