The following is a story mostly of the founding, organizational changes, and buildings of faith (along with a few pastoral shifts). The story of God’s people is, of course, much more complex, and there are many ways to tell this story. It is also much simpler, and as God’s people in Jesus Christ we are not defined by where we’ve come from, where we’re going, or where we happen to be right now, but by our Lord Jesus who is always at work in this world and in his church, shining light into our darkness, and giving new life into a world that is always burying its dead and leaving behind what we call history.
The following history was compiled and condensed from our 125th Anniversery booklet, “Faith’s Coat of Many Colors.”
Faith Lutheran Church was founded as Athens Lutheran Church on April 7, 1878 in Athens Township, south and east of the current city of Isanti. The historic meeting to organize a new congregation took place at the homestead of Anders Granholm.
The pioneers who lived in this place had formerly been members of Cambridge Lutheran Church, and in the early years of the new little Swedish Lutheran congregation, the minister from Cambridge took care of the pastoral duties. Pastor Engdahl, who had proposed the organization of Athens Lutheran, served them from the time of their organization until 1884.
Construction on the church building began in 1879, but because materials needed to be transported over wooded trails from Anoka, it was not completed until 1882. During construction, the new congregation met at the home of Anders Granholm. The building was called “Cemetery Church” and the Swedish Lutherans, who had labored for over three years to construct it, were proud to have their very own “kyrka.”
The first church building, “Cemetery Church.” This structure was completed on the site of our church cemetery on Isanti County Road 9, southeast of Isanti in 1882. It was torn down around 1900 and a new building, “Athens Church” was constructed.
Our church cemetery, Athens Lutheran Cemetery. This was the site of our congregation’s first church building, “Cemetery Church.”
After Pastor Engdahl left, Rev. J.P. Neander was called to serve Cambridge Lutheran and Athens Lutheran. And as the little congregation continued to grow during those years, it became apparent that both Cambridge Lutheran and Athens Lutheran would need their own pastors. It also became apparent that these Swedish farmers and herdsmen needed a larger house of worship. So around 1900, Cemetery Church was torn down and a new building, Athens Church, was constructed a mile down the road.
Athens Lutheran Church was constructed around 1900 and served the congregation until it was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire on Sunday, July 27, 1930.
Not long before this new building was constructed, Cambridge Lutheran and Athens Lutheran parted ways. It was during Pastor Neander’s time of service, and between 1893 and 1896, Athens Lutheran was served by capable laymen and a few theological students.
On July 24, 1896 Athens called the first pastor they would not share with Cambridge. He was a newly ordained man by the name of J. E. Carlson. His stay was brief, and in December of 1898 he left to take a call in Almelund, MN.
In 1897 the congregation was united with St. Francis Lutheran and Bradford (now Long Lake) Lutheran into a parish. St. Francis dissolved in 1907, but Athens and Long Lake continued their relationship until 1965 when both congregations felt they needed their own pastors.
During the time that these two congregations were yoked, it was difficult to provide the pastor with a salary. To make up for this, the congregation provided a parsonage, which was built during Pastor Carlson’s time, along with forty acres of land which the pastor farmed in order to provide for his family.
The first church parsonage, built sometime between 1896-1898.
This house, along with the adjacent forty acres of land, served as a large portion of the pastor’s salary.
During the first part of the 20th Century, the people of Athens Lutheran Church went through many joys: The services of God’s house were attended. Pastors came and went. A Ladies Aid group was formed. Music was played, many old Swedish tunes. There were also many struggles: Because the nearest doctor was many miles away, when sickness came it was likely to spread over the whole settlement, and many new graves would appear in the little cemetery where the first church had been located. Childbirth was very difficult and dangerous for the same reasons, and while most of the time both mother and child fared well, any complications could lead to both being lost. Along with all of this, a World War was fought, taking its own toll.
Also during this time, this Swedish Lutheran Church learned to speak English, and new hymnals with English services in them were purchased by the Luther League.
In 1926, Pastor M. T. Andren of Amery, WI was called to serve the parish, at a salary of $1200.00. It was during his time that services in English were begun. It was also during his time of service that the forty acre farm attached to the parsonage was turned over to the trustees to be seeded in alfalfa. The days of the pastor-farmer were over.
On September 17, 1929, Mrs. Andren became sick and died, leaving behind her husband and children. Less than one year later, tragedy of another kind would strike the church. On July 27, 1930, lightning struck the steeple of Athens Lutheran Church, and the building was destroyed by fire. A few quick-thinking parishioners were able to save the altar, communion railing, and the pulpit (some of these items are still in use in our present building).
Pastor Andren and his family were gone for the day, and folks felt that it would be too much of a shock for him to drive up and see the smoldering ruins. So some of the men waited at the intersection of highway 65 and 9 to stop him and tell him of the disaster before he would have to face it.
The altar inside Athens Lutheran Church. When the church burned down in 1930, the altar, communion rail, and pulpit were saved and are still in use today.
The loss of their church building brought up a number of questions. The most pressing question was whether to relocate to the Village of Isanti, and after a couple of meetings and much discussion, it was decided that the little country church would be moving to town.
In the interim, the congregation met for services at the Methodist Church building (Community Church) and in the Woodman Hall, both in Isanti. Community Church in Isanti was no longer a home to its own congregation, so the village, by a special election, gave the building to the Athens congregation. Plans were made for a new structure to be built that would incorporate the existing structure within it.
Construction wasn’t finished for a few years, but on Sunday, March 13, 1932, the congregation held its first service in their new building.
In 1939 Athens Lutheran Church was renamed Faith Lutheran Church.
Over the years many changes have taken place: Pastors have come and gone. Additions have been made to the building. People have come and gone, been born and buried. But the faith of the people of this place has remained strong. We have continued to preach the word of God, baptize into Christ Jesus, serve the Lord’s Supper, and help our neighbors, knowing that it is Christ who makes and preserves the church. We are thankful that he has seen fit to work in this place, through our own people, through so many years! Thanks be to God!
Faith Lutheran Church at its current location on 2nd Ave in Isanti in the late 1930s. The church was renamed “Faith” in 1939.
Faith as it looks today. It’s not always this snowy.