The Fields of Northeast Iowa

Peter Faugstad (Lawler, Iowa, USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Peter Faugstad is a graduate of Bethany Lutheran College and Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 2009 and served Parkland Lutheran Church in Tacoma, Washington until 2016. He currently serves the Saude, Jerico, and Redeemer congregations in northeast Iowa <>. He and his wife Kristin have been blessed with five children.

Pioneer Pastor and People

Newly ordained and recently married, Ulrik Vilhelm Koren and his bride Elisabeth set off on the long journey from Norway to America. Their destination was northeast Iowa, where Pastor Koren had accepted a call to serve three congregations. When he arrived just before Christmas in 1853, he found that there was no parsonage for them and no church buildings. He also learned that the three "congregations" were really only geographical areas.

The Saude Lutheran Church

The Norwegian settlers he was to serve were scattered in all directions over an area of several counties just west of the Mississippi River. So he set out to find them. In the winter he rode in a primitive horse-drawn sleigh and in warmer weather a small wagon with no springs under the wagon box. Without signs or even solid roads to go by, Pastor Koren became accustomed to navigating by natural landmarks, wooded areas, rivers, and creeks.

The pioneer farmers knew these landmarks too. That is why two of the congregations I now serve were once called "Little Turkey Lutheran Church" established near the Little Turkey River in 1857, and "Crane Creek Lutheran Church" organized next to Crane Creek in 1867. Both churches were built where their members lived – in the country with no sizeable towns nearby.

As time passed, some of the old country lanes faded and became overgrown while other roads were improved. This is how the Little Turkey congregation, now called Saude Evangelical Lutheran Church, came to be hidden behind some tall oak trees off the beaten path. What used to be a through road is now a dead end gravel road, and a person has to be looking for the church to find it.

When a doctrinal controversy divided the Crane Creek congregation in the 1890s, the majority group decided to sell the building to the minority and relocated north and west to the edge of a tiny town called Jerico. This congregation eventually took the name Jerico Evangelical Lutheran Church. It sits on a paved road, but one lightly traveled.

Jerico Lutheran Church

For the last few years, I have also served a congregation called Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in a town of just over 3,000 people. This congregation originally began as a mission of the Jerico and Saude churches in the 1940s. It is located in a quiet residential area with most of the traffic coming from the immediate neighborhood.

How does a small parish like this conduct outreach in a low population area where hogs outnumber people by the tens of thousands? A bright digital sign outside the churches doesn't seem like a wise investment. But an active presence online where we can introduce ourselves to the wider community does seem useful. On our church website, we wanted to focus on two major areas: who we are (history) and what we are about (doctrine).

Looking Back, Looking Forward

History is important to the people of the area. The older members of the community can take you down one country road after another and tell you who lives on a particular farm site and who used to live there before. Row after row of gravestones in the rural church cemeteries also send the message that these congregations have been here a while. Our cemeteries have stones for Civil War veterans and for once-prominent families that are now all but forgotten. The roots here run deep.

It is important to reflect this history on our church website. For one thing, we want to remind ourselves how we came to be as congregations and what has taken place through the years. For another, we want the community to know our story. We want to explain what sets us apart from the other Lutheran churches around us – why one Lutheran church is not the same as another.

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Church history is not always pretty. People in the community still tell stories about the bitter divisions of well over 100 years ago. The temptation is ever-present to minimize the doctrinal divisions of the past for the sake of unity today. But little compromises have big consequences, as the history of the church shows.

If we do not know our history, we will be poorly equipped for the present and for the future. The Preacher reminds us that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9, ESV). Only the ignorant or the arrogant ignore the past. Having a firmer grasp of how we came to be, we have a clearer idea of where we are heading.

A Blessed Consistency

A great strength of our churches is doctrinal continuity. Certainly some of the local practices of our congregations have changed through the years. Offerings were once given on the major festivals only, but now they are collected each Sunday. For a long time, the men used to sit on one side of the church and the women and children on the other. (This sounds particularly strange to us today, but there was a purpose for it. The men always sat on the pulpit side of the church, so they would be sure to hear the Word and be equipped to bring the Word back to their homes.) Services used to be conducted in Norwegian. Many things in the outside world too have changed since our congregations were established in the mid-1800s.

But what we teach has not changed. Our faith is the historic Christian faith founded on the unchanging Word of God. Pastor Koren could stand in our pulpits today and preach what he did 150 years ago (albeit in English), and it would sound right to our ears. (see note below)

We are sinners just like all who have gone before us, and Jesus remains the only Savior for sinners. We want this Law and Gospel message to be preached clearly in our sermons, and we want it to be presented clearly on our website. This clear message of sin and grace is becoming hard to find in Christian churches today. Many churches pride themselves on community action efforts and social justice causes, but they don't preach the Word.

The Strandebarm school
(open from 1928-36)
building still stands

We certainly want to be attuned to the First Article needs of our community. But our primary mission is to preach the Gospel purely and to administer the Sacraments properly. These "means of grace" are how God promises to be present and active in our hearts, in our congregations, and in our communities. By pointing people to Jesus on our church website, we are inviting them to join us at our spiritual oasis in a dying world. Our congregations are not perfect, and some aspects of our church culture may seem strange to an outsider, but we have plenty of room for more broken, humbled sinners like us.

Our Digital Church Sign

Our history and our doctrine – these are the two main things we want to present on our church website. We could go into more detail about these things, but we don't want to overwhelm. We want to give enough so people have a clear picture of our congregations before they might walk through our doors. You can view our website here and see if it sparks any ideas for your own church's website.

We also maintain a Facebook page for our churches. We use this to promote real-time events, give updates, and provide links to our sermons. While Facebook does not reach everybody, it has allowed us to develop a nice network of people in our community and beyond.

Front page of the
first issue of the
"Assistant Pastor" 1926

Whatever the result of these digital efforts, we are glad to be able to share the message of Jesus with any who may be looking for it or any who may just stumble across it. The light of His salvation is needed everywhere, and He promises that His powerful Gospel will not return to Him void. As long as He allows us to continue, we will proclaim His grace in the fields of northeast Iowa.

Direct links to features of the Saude/Jerico church web presence.

History page In addition to narrative history, this page contains an extensive archive of the "Assistant Pastor," a newsletter that was published regularly from 1926-45 (except for the Great Depression years of 1932-34)

The Saude Lutheran Church

The Jerico Lutheran Church

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Sermon archive

Note: Pastor Koren’s sermons, among other writings of his, can be purchased from the ELS Historical Society. They were translated in four volumes by Prof. Mark DeGarmeaux. E-mail the ELS Museum for more information.

Translate this page into your language
Return to original language with "show original" button at top left.


Ruthann Kuster Mickelson 2020-10-19 4:44:46pm
I really enjoyed reading your presentation and seeing the wonderful pictures of your churches. I grew up in a country parsonage across the street from a country church and your presentation brought back a lot of special memories. It was also interesting to read the names of the pastors and teachers who dedicated part of their lives to God's children in your congregations over these many years. May God send many more blessings to you and your members. Thank you for your presentation.
Peter Faugstad 2020-10-20 7:52:44pm
Ruthann, thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you got to grow up in country setting like we have here - great place and great people!
Judy Kuster (conference moderator) 2020-10-20 10:35:42pm
I loved your article and I love what you are doing! I wish there were histories like this written and maintained by all our Synod churches, especially those with a long history. I know the Saude church and have been there more than once. The cemetery has many people dear to me buried there. I appreciated the current links to cemetery records through where I discovered that Larry Benz was buried a few weeks ago. He was in the Bethany JC class of 1962 and I was in the HS graduating class that year, too. Did you realize, at least today, the problems Google has for people scrolling through the list (not just searching a particular name). Ads cover things up after one goes past a certain point. I was also happy to discover that someone - you? - has also put online the Jericho church and some information about both the Saude and Jericho churches' grade schools. I wonder what records there are about those schools in addition to what is online. If you did that, too, thank you! Two questions - what server are you using and can you share how much it costs? You can contact me personally via email if you prefer.
Peter Faugstad 2020-10-22 4:09:12pm
Hi Judy, it's nice to hear from you! There is a longer history for the Saude and Jerico schools in the Fall 2005 issue of Oak Leaves published by the ELS Historical Society. You can access that issue on this page: As far as website details go, I used a WordPress theme called LightBook (currently listed for $59). Web City Services helped build the site and still gives support as needed:
Tom Kuster (Christ in Media Institute) 2020-10-31 4:52:47am
I've been waiting for somebody to join in here and say, "Hey, Pastor Peter, your site is great but I know of another historical church with a great website too. Visit it at..."
Judy Kuster (conference moderator) 2020-11-01 2:39:00am
Tom, the ELS Historical Society has the quarterly Oak Leaves Newsletter online, indexed at Exploring there are some examples of ELS church history articles, including by Peter, the author and webmaster of the Saude/Jericho websites. I also spotted one for the Scarville and Center Lutheran Churches in Iowa (again by Peter). It has a website link at the end of the article, but it didn't lead the the church websites. HOWEVER, entering the URL that didn't work into the wayback machine (web archive) allowed me to see the church website it as it was several years ago - There are some things that aren't captured (like pictures of a couple past teachers), but there are interesting things to explore such as some sermons by Pastor Rank from 2005, an article by Justin Peterson, a list of teachers of their school including names very familiar to me, etc. THere are small pictures of the church in the photo section but they can't be enlarged by clicking on them anymore. There are newspaper article references that are not linked, but exploring them could lead to more information that could be added to the site. I didn't have time to explore if there are other ELS church history stories in the OAK LEAVES or references to the possibility of other websites. I know how much work it can be to search for information to include, if there are church history stories or individuals with time to develop a website as well. But exploring was fun as was Peter's article in this conference. Exploring the Oak Leaves on the ELS Historical Society site Peter led me to, I discovered a story (I think in an article by Rev. Ferkenstad) how the old custom of men on one side of the church on Sunday and women and children on the other was changed. The pastor was Milton Otto, and one Sunday his dear wife took her children and moved with them to the other side, joining the men. Those were the days when as soon as married women were mentioned in the bulletins or newsletters, they lost their first name - they became Mrs. Clyde Olson for example. I'm glad those old customs are gone!
Al Dickenson (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2020-11-04 6:18:43pm

I really enjoyed reading this selection. I love the idea of preserving our history through our churches - it's something that I've participated in too at my own church (through Doors Open Milwaukee). I find that the church's records are some of the most important ones we have on hand. Maybe their aren't the big ticket items or social movements or legislation, but the value for demographic study or regional divisions, illustrated above, show just how important our churches are too us. Thank you for starting to kick this idea off, and I certainly hope to see more churches follow.
Peter Faugstad 2020-11-04 9:41:45pm
Al, that's a great point about how church record books also provide important societal data. Earlier this year I wondered what kind of impact the 1918 pandemic had on our churches - especially among the younger population. I went right to the church record books, which list member deaths in a given year along with the age at death. At least in our parish, 1918 did not look different than other years.