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Prairieview Covenant Church celebrates special milestone this weekend

Services are held at today’s Prairieview Covenant Church. A celebration of 125 years will be held Saturday, Aug. 22. (Contributed photograph)

On Saturday, Aug. 22, the members of Prairieview Covenant Church will host a special celebration in honor of the church’s 125th anniversary.  

The celebration will start with a worship service at 2 p.m. to be held outside under tents on the lawn behind the church.

“One-hundred-twenty-five years is a wonderful accomplishment for a church that has faced so many kinds of trials and challenges during the past century,” Pastor Joe Sir said. “Prairieview has survived because of their love for God and each other. They are a welcoming and very giving family who love to spend time together, serve and help others. We have been so blessed to be a part of all that God is doing now and we are excited for all that is to come.”

Following the worship service, there will be a barbecue, open house and lawn games, then a folk-bluegrass-gospel concert starting at 4:30 p.m.  

The evening will end with a bonfire, campfire songs, stories and s’mores.

History

The roots of the church date back to February 1884, when the Mission Friends, “Missionsvanner” of Star Prairie, was organized by several Swedish families who had settled in the greater Star Prairie area, including some from Stillwater, Minn. The group met in a rented church, homes and in the Swedish Lutheran Church in Huntington.

As the work of the Mission Friends grew, it became evident that formal organization as a congregation was needed. This was decided at a meeting at the August Anderson home in Alden Aug. 25, 1890.  

The church was named “The Swedish Christian Church of Star Prairie” or “Svenska Kristna i Star Prairie.”

There were approximately 27 members at its inception.

The first church was built in Huntington and completed in November 1891. In the early years of the church, several other covenant churches in the area, including Star Prairie, shared the same pastor.  

One of the first was J.J. Peterson.  

The services were held exclusively in the Swedish language until 1913; by 1935 they were exclusively in English. The church did not have a full-time pastor until 1950.

On Sunday, Jan. 25, 1948, the church was destroyed by fire about an hour before services were to start. The neighboring Swedish Lutheran Church graciously offered the use of their sanctuary until other arrangements could be made. The congregation decided after careful consideration to rebuild in a more central location in the north side of Star Prairie. The new church was completed just nine months later, due to many generous donations, hard work and dedication of members and friends of the church.  

They dedicated the new facility in October 1948; pastor at that time was Gerald Stenberg. The church was renamed “Star Prairie Covenant Church.”

The church experienced many ups and downs during its first 100 years, with more than 30 different pastors serving the congregation. The membership had dwindled by the early 1980s, but experienced a resurgence when Pastor John Solie was called to serve, first as a part-time, then a full-time pastor.

The congregation grew to the point where it became necessary to rent the Star Prairie community center, and a decision was made to look for a new location to build a new, larger church, starting in 1990.

The land search committee had determined two lots had potential, but the purchase had to be approved by the greater Evangelical Covenant Church. A representative from the national headquarters in Chicago rejected the two sites as being unsuitable. As they drove down Hwy. 65, the national representative asked the driver to stop at the Casey farmland on the corner of 210th Avenue and Hwy. 65, got out of the car, looked at the site and declared, “This is where you need to build.”

The land was not even for sale, but through discussion with Mr. Casey, he graciously offered it for sale for $25,000, well below its value.

The land was purchased in 1991.

The 1990s was a dark time for the church; the membership dwindled to just 18 members by 1998. The Lake Pepin District of the Covenant Church decided to do a church plant in 1999, to keep the church alive. Pastor Rudy King and his wife, Nancy, were called and given the task to rebuild the church body, sell the existing building to help finance the building of a new one, build the new church, rename it, and help the church to become financially stable.  

They were expected to do this in just three years.

Nancy King mentioned, “God’s timing was four years.” The plans were drawn up and approved for a new building, and due again to many donations, hard work, dedication of members and  volunteers from the community and other Covenant churches, including several from the Upsala, Minn., church that Rudy and Nancy had served at prior to being called to Prairieview, the building was completed in 2001.  

The cornerstone and stained glass windows of the former Star Prairie church were incorporated into the new building. The new church was named “Prairieview Covenant Church.”  

Membership grew in the early 2000s; in 2011 the church experienced a decline in membership.  The remaining members, unified in spirit and in their love for God and each other, stood firm to keep the church alive.  

Pastor Rudy King retired in December 2013, and the church was served by Ken Hyatt as interim until Pastor Joe Sir was called as pastor in May 2015.

Greg and Pam Gartner, longtime members of Prairieview, sum up their reason for staying with the church for more than 30 years, “The strong faith of the people who have stood by the church throughout all of the hard, difficult times, who stood by each other and kept the will of God their number one priority, is why we have stayed with Prairieview and will continue to do so.”

When asked, the general consensus of Prairieview’s members is:

“We are looking forward to what God is going to do – the past is behind us, and it is time to focus on the future.”

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