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This booklet is dedicated to the loving memory
The Kingston Redeemer Lutheran Church, as it is known today, was organized on January 20, 1904. The organization meeting took place at the Gust Saarinen home which was located in section 10, about one-fourth mile due East of the church cemetery on Highway 15. This home site has disappeared; the farm consisting of 20 acres being sold to a neighbor.
The charter members consisted of six families, namely: Gust Saarinen, Thomas Hill, Samuel Sorvari, Matt Waataja, Elias Wiisanen, and Jacob Ruotsinoja. These families came to Kingston at about the turn of the century; the hill and Waataja families from the upper Michigan copper mines, the Wiisanens and Sorvaris from Waukegan wire mills, the Ruotsinojas direct from Finland, the origin of the Saarinen family is unknown. Of these charter members, Mrs. Wiisanen an Mrs. Hill are living.
On February 2, 1908 the congregation decided to join the Suomi Synod.
While this is not intended as a history of the material struggles, yet a knowledge of the conditions of that day help us to understand the character of the people and the difficulties they faced. The earning of a living for the family under those pioneer conditions was not an easy matter. The area was heavily wooded with only small clearings for raising crops. The woods were converted into fields with the grub axe and the crosscut as the only tools; dynamite and bulldozers were not available. As an illustration of how hard the daily bread came, one might recall the wood making. Not only for the purpose of heating their homes, but making cordwood for sale to supplement the meager income from farming. A cord of wood was loaded on the sleigh the evening before; then long before dawn the next morning the men and teams, in a convoy, were on their way to Litchfield the "prairie town" to sell their wood. They would return late in the evening with about $1.50, or at the most, $2.00 for their cord. In the meantime, the women with their small children were taking care of the livestock and other tasks at home. Thus we do not wonder that the minutes of an annual meeting of that day contain an entry such as, "We will have the minister come four times next year if finances permit". Rather we, thankfully, appreciate the fact that even under such struggles for their daily bread, they could remember the Lord said, "Man does not live by bread alone", and again, "I am the Bread of Life".
Not having a church of their own, services in the early days were held in homes, in school district No. 61, and in the old Presbyterian church in Kingston (now home of Herman Anderson). However, to have a church of their own, was a cherished thought. With the years bringing increase in numbers and better times for the farmers, it became possible to turn this hope into action. In May of 1925, the actual work was begun. Interestingly, the site chosen for the church was on the same farm on which the congreation was organized, but next to the highway. The land, one and one-fourth acres, was donated by Jacob Ruotsinoja. Except for an experienced carpenter to direct all the work from leveling of the ground by team and shovel to the final painting, was done by free labor of the congregation. Building was completed that fall. Dedication ceremonies were held August 1, 1926. Hearts were filled with joy and thanksgiving! The Lord was present. "Where ever two or three gather in my name, I will be there with you."
The sacred duty of leading the children to the Lord was recognized at the very founding of the congregation. The minutes of the organization meeting in 1904, show that Elias Wiisanen was appointed as the first Sunday School teacher. This labor of love by Mr. Wiisanen continued for over 30 years. Two generations can gratefully remember that they learned of their Savior, and also their ABC's in the Finnish language at Wiisanen's knee. Also a well-attended summer school has contributed much in the teaching of the young. Records of 1915 show an attendance of 70 with Lempi Ruona (Mrs. M. E. Merijarvi) as the teacher.
The language used at services in the beginning was, of course, entirely Finnish. Hardly any of the first generation laymen or pastors knew any English. In this connection, it is interesting to note that during the time of organization, Mr. William Matsen served as the interpreter and assistant in preparing the legal papers. Finnish continued as the only language in the congregation until about 1935 when English was taken into Sunday School for those who chose it. In Pastor Tamminen's time we began having occasional English services. But it was not until the late forties that the conclusion was finally reached that the services must become predominantly English if we were to hold our young people, to have a future for our church. Likewise it was decided to drop the word "Finnish" from the name. We revere and hold dear our Finnish origin and heritage. But 50 years have brought its unavoidable changes; the melting pot has done its work. Our third generation, who are shouldering their share of responsibilities in the church, can no longer be identified as Finnish, Swedish, German, etc. They are all just Americans. Therefore, it is well that we leave off names and practices that tend to separate and segregate. We are one people worshipping the same God.
An important helping hand, particularly in the early days, has been the Ladies Aid, meeting in the various homes by turn. When the regular services with the Pastor could be held only once or twice a month, this organization served as a medium for gathering the people around God's word in the Pastor's absence. It also served as the meeting place for discussing the various problems of the church. It was a convenient place to "Pass the Hat" when Synod quotas or other financial obligations needed to be met. The hat always brought good response. The Ladies Aid also has its social hour with lunch being served.
So that the identity of today's people might be preserved for posterity, the following family names are on the church roster in 1954: Rev. Leslie Lurvey, Frank Anderson, Gerhard Sandlund, Reino Haapajoki, John Haapajoki, Leonard Hokkanen, Fred Kelly, Arthur Laitinen, Wayne Laitinen, Iver Peterson, Evert Pousi, Mrs. Alfred Pousi, Ted Root, Arvid Root, Eino Ruotsinoja, William Ruotsinoja, Helmer Sammeli, Hilbert Sammeli, George Saukkola, Lester Vadner, Mrs. Anna Wiisanen, Mrs. Victor Laitinen.
The names of the early pastors are not mentioned in the records. Dr. J. Nikander made one or more visits at the time of organizing. Then Pastors Keranen, Riippa, and others whose names are not available, served as circumstances permitted. It was about 1910 that Pastor H. Sarvela of Duluth began coming once a month and oftener if possible. His ministering continued until 1917. During that time he became a well-known and beloved figure in Kingston. With his friendly manner and willingness to serve his Master he found his way to many homes, in spite of his limited time. He organized the first choir and taught the people to sing the praise of God. This choir, having nearly 30 voices, was recruited wherever he found willing singers. His services did not stop at congregation lines.
In 1917 the Minneapolis Parish was organized. This included five congregations, namely: Minneapolis, Kingston, French Lake, Owen and Almena, Wis. The Pastors serving this Parish have been: Saastamoinen, 1917-19; Samanen, 1920-25; Kuusisto, 1925-35; Tamminen, 1935-39. Pastor Tamminen, realizing the difficulty of doing the work properly in such a wide-spread area, began advocating division. This was accomplished, leaving on this end Minneapolis, Kingston and French Lake, with the Pastor's, residence in a jointly owned parsonage in Minneapolis. The Pastors served this parish as follows: Juntunen, 1939-42; Wargelin, 1942-47; and Isaac, 1947-51. Pastor Isaac, after being here for some time, began suggesting that the parish should be further divided so that the Lord's work might be done more intensively. He also suggested moving the church into Kingston, the center of population. At first, both suggestions seemed financially impossible. But after prayerful consideration for a longer time, it was decided to carry out both. This left Kingston and French Lake to form a joint Parish. Together they bought a new home in Kingston for a parsonage. Then the Kingston congregation purchased a large adjoining lot on which the church was moved in the fall of 1951. "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." Pastor Clair Jennings served this new parish as its first pastor from 1951-53. Pastor Leslie Lurvey is the present Pastor coming here in December, 1953. During Pastor Jenning's time of service, a school bus was obtained for the church school and other advancements were made.
While the foregoing has been of necessity, a relating of historical facts and dates, yet the most important thing is that our parents sought, earnestly and sincerely, after the Lord and he was with them. May we, in His Grace, continue the striving. "Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart."
Page 3-5 in: "Built on the rock". Fiftieth anniversary. 1904-1954. Redeemer Lutheran Church. Kingston, Minnesota 1954.
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