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Indian Lake Baptist Church marking 140 years

Indian Lake Baptist Church is located south of Worthington on Roberts Avenue.

WORTHINGTON -- It's 10 years until Indian Lake Baptist Church's sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) and 15 years past its quasquicentennial (125th), but the congregation felt it was important to acknowledge the church's milestone of 140 years with some sort of celebration.

"Some of us are getting a little older," noted Mike Earll, currently church chairman, "so it's not going to be a huge celebration, but we thought it was important to reflect on the milestone."

"Actually, there was a 135th celebration," added Pastor Jonathan Larson, "but there have been some huge changes since then, so that was part of it."

With a theme of "All for His Glory," this weekend's anniversary events include displays about the church's history and memorabilia, a celebratory worship service with former pastors in attendance, a catered meal and a historical program.

Originally called the Swedish Baptist Church -- although some documents refer to it as the Scandinavian Baptist Church -- the congregation was founded by some of the area's early immigrants -- Swedish farm families.

"There was a sewing circle in 1872 -- Syforening was the name of it -- with ladies in the neighborhood," explained member Fern Anderson, who has researched the history. "They would sew for the needy and themselves, and they also had Bible study and prayer. They helped to get the church started."

In early 1873, seven charter members were listed, joined by five more later that year. Five acres of land were donated by the railroad, and the church later purchased eight more. The plot of land was situated south of Worthington, about halfway to Round Lake, drawing members from both communities as well as northwest Iowa.

While the name the church eventually assumed refers to a nearby lake, there are many people who have never seen Indian Lake as it is hidden from view from the road.

The church's first pastor was Frank Peterson, who led the congregation from 1875 to 1884. Current pastor Larson has only been at the church since July 2011, but his family has a much longer connection to the church.

"My grandmother was born in a sod house two miles from the church," he said. "Her uncle was the first pastor, and she married a man who became a pastor there."

Larson's grandfather, Nels Nelson, died unexpectedly in 1933, and his grandmother moved the family into Worthington. She later moved back to a small house nearby and served as caretaker of the church.

According to Fern Anderson's research, services were conducted in Swedish until 1935.

The "huge changes" to which Pastor Larson referred are due to the new wave of immigrants who have become members of church -- Karen from southeast Asia, who were persecuted in their native Burma.

"About four or five years ago, we had a small delegation come on Sunday because they had a Baptist background in Burma," explained Earll.

The Karen ministry has grown to include a separate Karen-language service each Sunday, although the English-speaking members and Karen group mingle and socialize regularly. For their Father's Day service, for instance, the Karen invited all the fathers of the congregation older than age 60 to their service, where there was special music and gifts for the dads.

The addition of the Karen membership has helped to revitalize the rural and aging population of the church.

"They've had a much more challenging walk with the Lord than we've had here in southwest Minnesota," Earll said. "It helps you to look at things in a different light, especially their willingness to give when they have so little."

"In a couple senses, the church has really come full circle," Larson said. "It was started by immigrants from Sweden, and now we have the immigrants from Burma -- the Karen. But also, the first missionary who was sent out by the Swedish Baptists in America -- Johanna Anderson -- went to Burma and ministered among the Karen people in 1888. Now, 125 years later, the people from Burma have now come to what was once a completely Swedish church."

The new immigrants and descendants of the immigrants will celebrate their church's heritage and future side by side on Sunday. A coffee hour with displays and historical memorabilia will be at 9:15 a.m., followed by the worship service at 10 a.m. Reservations are requested for the catered meal at 11:30 a.m. The historical program at 1 p.m. will include Power Point presentations and a time to share memories.

For more information about the 140th celebration, phone 376-5401.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

(507) 376-7327