In the Spirit of engaging in work together and sharing unity through Christ, Trinity Lutheran Church and Riverside Lutheran Church merged into one congregation on June 19th, 1961. After the votes of the two uniting congregations were counted and unification was possible, the congregations in assembly named the new congregation Grace Lutheran Church. The following day, the new congregation, its roots having been established nearly 80 years before, was accepted into the Southwestern District of the American Lutheran Church during its regular convention agenda.
Today, Grace Lutheran Church is housed in a large, beautiful, traditional building that sits in the heart of Dawson, MN that was formerly Riverside church. Our customs and traditions stem from both of the congregations that merged, both with long, rich histories in this area. This ecumenical movement removed barriers and invited the community to be joined together in worship, education, and mission. We are Grace Lutheran Church, and we take the name of our church seriously as we rely on God's grace in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to guide us through the Word in our everyday lives.
The former Trinity building (which was located where the Hanson & Dahl Funeral Home is currently located) was dismantled and some of the useable items were used in Grace and others were given to mission churches or sold at an auction. An education wing was completed in 1967 and Grace basement (later known as Grace Hall) was remodeled and decorated. The narthex of the church which included an elevator was completed in 1976. Extensive remodeling of the sanctuary was done in 1978 and again in 2009.
Pastor L. E. Smelstad was installed as the first pastor in 1961. He was already called to serve as a resident pastor of the former Riverside Lutheran Church and as interim pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church before the merger. The first worship service was held on July 2, 1961 in Riverside. The togetherness was not new to the combining peoples, for since the early 1900s the two congregations had shared annual Lenten services and experienced such good attendance that two services were required. The merger meant formulating only one ladies' organization, one choir, one set of confirmation and Sunday School classes, one Church Council and one Youth group.
Grace Lutheran has always welcomed pastors with love and put them right to work with a measure of flexibility in incorporating ideas. We consider our former and current pastors as friends, caring about them and their families and welcoming them into the community with all the responsibilities and blessings that it entails.
In 2006 our congregation became involved in the seminary internship program. For one year a seminary student serves as the intern Pastor and is closely involved in the life of our congregation. In summer of 2010 the congregation purchased and remodeled a neighboring house to provide housing for the seminary students assigned to Grace in that program.
The mission and ministry of Grace Lutheran Church continues. The regular worship of Word and Sacrament ministry - the means of God's grace - and the encouragement to go out into the world with God's message of love continues to be the hallmark of the congregation's ministry. Christian fellowship is also an important part of our life together and usually includes some kind of wonderful food. There are well-attended coffee fellowship times between our two Sunday services, and Grace Lutheran Women offers service and fellowship during its meetings and within individual circles. We celebrate along with the greater community in the joys of our life together (weddings, baptisms, special accomplishments) and sorrows (funerals, losses). Learning in our congregation takes place in Confirmation, youth and adult study groups, Sunday School and Vacation Bible school. Our youth are also involved in bible camps, partake in mission trips, and attend national conventions. Visitors are always welcomed in these activities.
Witnessing at Grace takes place as we share our talents in the work of the church. Personal witnessing occurs in one-to-one relationships with each other. We are encouraged by our leadership to continue to expand that witnessing by being welcoming and inviting to others outside our congregation.
Opportunities for service abound in the work of our boards and many committees, each with its own outreach agenda. Mission also includes ongoing sponsorship of a seminary student, financial commitment to our synod, foreign missionary support, a partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA World Hunger Appeal, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, sponsorship of the Boy Scouts of America, Green Lake Lutheran Ministries, providing meeting space for various organizations such as Girl Scouts and 4-H, opening our doors to a Hispanic congregation, housing the local food shelf and involvement with the Appleton Prison congregation both financially and with our presence at worship when the prison was operating.
Grace Lutheran congregation works in partnership with its pastors. We look for leadership with a quick adaptation in relating to many different people and an ability to interact with members of the congregation, face to face, as equals in this partnership. We support them and trust they will be with us in celebration and sorrow. Our pastors and staff work well together in the spirit of helpfulness, comaraderie, and mutual professional respect.
We have looked to our pastors for the adminstration of the Sacraments and the teaching of God's Word. Their encouragement has provided us to go deeper into our shared spirituality. Worship leadership and preaching by the pastors and lay members of the congregation has fed our hunger for depth and theologically-sound worship.
Our pastors have related well with our youth. Our children have looked to our pastors as examples, and in many cases have been drawn to the church when they have made that connection. The education of our youth is of primary concern for us as a congregation.
We together are Grace Lutheran Church of Dawson, Minnesota.