By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN It’s still referred to as the “new” St. Peter Lutheran Church, but the building on Second Avenue South in Lester Prairie already has more than four decades of history behind it.
In honor of the building’s 45th birthday, the public is invited to a special celebration Sunday, Sept. 11.
A 9 a.m. worship service will start the day, with Rev. Roger Klemz of Buffalo delivering the message.
After church, there will be time for fellowship, with the opportunity to view photographs and memorabilia. Anyone who has pictures or information about St. Peter Lutheran Church is welcome to share.
“At 11 a.m., we’re going to have a potluck,” church elder Lyle Kuhlmann said. “With that, we’ll have a short program, centered around construction of the new building.”
Lester Prairie resident Melvin Wolter, 88, remembers the building project quite well.
“He’s the last surviving member of the building committee,” Kuhlmann said.
“I’ve been a member since I got married in 1946,” Wolter said, explaining that he and his wife were the first couple to be married under Rev. Bert Streufert.
In those days, the St. Peter congregation met at a country church west of Lester Prairie.
A tornado that ripped through the area the evening of May 6, 1965 ended that arrangement, however.
After the storm, all that was left was the front steps of the church, located where the cemetery sign is today. The school next to the church was also destroyed.
Members were then left to decide whether to build a new church or merge with an existing congregation.
“There was quite a bit of hee-hawing about what to do,” Wolter said.
In the meantime, services took place at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie.
The members soon decided to purchase about five acres on Second Avenue South from Curtis Basel, at $1,000 per acre. Construction on the 40-by-104-foot building began Oct. 12, 1965, with excavation of the basement.
“The feeling was that if the church moved to town, it would gain more members,” Wolter said.
“They were looking toward the future,” Kuhlmann added.
The total cost of the church, including donations, was $118,780. A pipe organ was purchased from St. Olaf College in Northfield for $1,500, with an added $1,500 for installation.
At that time, Germany native Wolfgang Webern was the pastor, and some services were conducted in German.
“What an exciting and blessed time that it was when we did build,” Webern wrote in a letter for the church’s 10th anniversary in 1976. “We even had building committee meetings in the local tavern.”
When Webern moved to Chicago in 1966, Rev. Harold Bode was called to take his place.
“Pastor Bode had German services for awhile also,” Wolter said.
At first, the services took place twice a month, but by the time Bode left in 1984, they were less frequent.
Although some traditions have disappeared, many are still alive and well.
On Sunday mornings, for example, the church bell is rung three times during the Lord’s Prayer.
Years ago, people who weren’t able to make it to church would listen for the bell.
“The idea was that they could say the Lord’s Prayer with those who were in church,” church elder Oria Brinkmeier said.
The church bell was one of the few items that was salvaged from the old church building after the tornado.
St. Peter Lutheran Church was known as the “farmers’ church,” and many of its members have deep roots in the area.
Brinkmeier has been a member since birth, and although he lived in other cities for 33 years, he’s always had a connection to St. Peter.
“It’s family heritage,” Kuhlmann said. “You can say that for a lot of the members of the congregation.”