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As the Spirit Moves Me: From 'Little White Church' to today's enormity

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Zumbro Lutheran Church was originally Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rochester, Minnesota. In 1909, the church, then known as "The Little Church on the Corner (upper), was constructed on the southeast corner of 2nd St. SW and 2nd Ave. SW. Hotel Martin is visible in the background on the left. In 1926, the property was purchased by Mayo Clinic to facilitate utility connections between Franklin Station and the Plummer Building. The building was razed in 1934. A parking lot now occupies this site (right.)

In May 2010 I wrote a column on "The Little White Church on The Corner." Today, that little church is a big one, with a membership of 3,349 and average Sunday attendance is 725.

Celebrate today and Sunday with Zumbro Lutheran Church ELCA in Rochester's 150th birthday. And would you believe it? There's still some Norwegian blood in the congregation. Prior to the Little White Church on the Corner, names of pastors leading the Lutherans included John Linnevold, the bicycle preacher, John and Solveig Maakestad, and William Koren Naeseth, from Decorah, Iowa.

Each pastor's life and family filled stories in the Zumbro Lutheran Church history. A few have been shared with me by Duane Hovan, who served as pastor at Zumbro for 13 years, 1980 to 1993.

In Zumbro's humble beginning just after the Civil War in 1865, 35 charter members formed the "Rochester Evangelical Lutheran Congregation." For the next 55 years, Zumbro was part of a large rural parish consisting of Kasson, Hayfield, Rock Dell and Rochester. One pastor served this entire area.

Enter John Linnevold on his bicycle. Originally from Decorah, John was a protege of Pastor Ulrik Wilhelm Koren. He has been called the patriarch of Norwegian Lutherans.

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How does the bicycle fit into the story? To get from church to church, John pedaled his bike. From September 1893 until September 1894, he put 3,985 miles on his bike. Grandchildren described Pastor Linnevold as a poet, a musician who played the flute, cello and ocarina. He liked archery, was fond of literature and often stepped out of the pulpit and strolled down among his flock.

One of his grandsons told the story that when he married wife, Anna, he promised he'd quit smoking. After Anna died in 1946, he invited his grandson down to the corner drug store for a milkshake. While there, he purchased a box of cigars and said to his young grandson, "I've waited 40 years for this."

The 150th celebration is on today, tonight and tomorrow. Congregation members are asked to give thanks for Linnevold riding his bicycle and leading Zumbro Lutheran and other congregations in worship.

Last night was a huge music festival in the church sanctuary. Several former pastors shared their memories. Tonight at 6, a celebration dinner will be held at the Kahler Grand Hotel, Heritage Hall. Speakers include past Zumbro pastors, Carol Solovitz, Lester Horntvedt, Gary Benson (via video) and others.

And tomorrow is Celebration Sunday, with services at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. in the sanctuary. Bishop Harold "Huck" Usgaard will preach. A new anniversary hymn/anthem will be unveiled, written by Minnesota composer Daniel Kallman. It's titled "The Word That's Whispered." Today's pastor, Vern Christopherson, will lead the service with text and celebrate Holy Communion.

Reformation Sunday is a celebration Day for all Lutherans. Zumbro Lutheran's 150th theme is "We Follow in Faith What's Begun."

Zumbro Lutheran's current pastors include Christopherson, Shelley Cunningham, Jason Bryan-Wegner and Lisa Kipp. Director of music and liturgy is Kristy Giere, organist; and Bob Giere is the choir director and parish administrator.

A long list of missionary projects include the Dinka Congregation in South Sudan in worship and partners with Zumbro. The church also supports Lambi Hospital in Tanzania. And Zumbro hosts Luther College's third-year nursing program.

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Zumbro Lutheran Church is at 624 Third Ave. SW. Phone: 507-288-2649. On the web: www.zumbrolutheran.org .

Next week: A Prayer for Later Years.

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