It’s been said by some that south-central Minnesota has some of the most fertile soil on the planet. With rich, deep dirt, few rocks, and a general abundance of rain, it’s a prime area for the production of major grains such as corn and soybeans. Many thousands of acres of those crops cover Blue Earth County, where Eagle Lake is situated. Much of the corn goes into local ethanol plants, later to be used to power automobiles throughout the country. A large amount of the crop is also used to supply foodstuffs for both animals and people.
The “fertile soil” in which the Gospel seeks to be planted, and to grow into a healthy Christian life, is of course the human heart. Though Salem has been a self-supporting church since its inception, it did have a beginning similar to some of our recent CLC mission congregations. Seven decades ago, exploratory work was begun in the area just a few miles east of Mankato, with a view toward organizing a congregation there. At the time, this effort was undertaken by a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), Bethany of Mankato, now known as Mt. Olive.
Salem Lutheran Church exhibits some contrasts with other CLC congregations. Its roots are in the ELS rather than the WELS. Also, early-day members did not meet in a rented space. Nor did they take a long-term loan for a church building. Rather, a church was bought and moved in from about ten miles northeast, in Madison Lake. A member donated property, and all was in place. The November 12, 1944 dedication service was conducted by ELS President Norman Madson and Bethany College Professor C.A. Molstad.
Nearly all of the first two decades saw the congregation served by Pastor C. M. Gullerud of the ELS. Pastor Gullerud and Salem congregation joined the fledgling CLC as charter members in 1960. In 1962 Pastor Gullerud accepted a call to teach at Immanuel Lutheran College, then located in Mankato, Minnesota. Salem congregation then formed a joint parish with Faith congregation of Nicollet, Minnesota, and was served by Pastor Keith Olmanson. Salem became a fully self-supporting congregation in 1975, and was served in the following years by Pastors Robert Mackensen, Robert List, Glenn Oster, Rick Grams, Norman Greve, and George Dummann.
Eagle Lake is only a few miles east of Mankato on U.S Highway 14. This has been a blessing for quite a few Salem families through the years, as their children have attended the grade school and high school that Immanuel congregation supports. One current Salem member, Philip Matzke, teaches high school there today. Some members attend their local public schools. A few families currently home-school. Most Salem members live within twenty miles of Eagle Lake. Current membership is about ninety, with average attendance near forty-five.
Though Salem and Immanuel are quite close geographically, there are very few family connections between the two. Salem also has continued with a preference for a very traditional style of worship through the years. For years the congregation has maintained its Sunday school and VBS, in support of which members have taken part in local parades and canvassed parts of the town.
Many things have remained the same at Salem through its history. Quite a few members today are still active in production agriculture. Others work in education, finance, construction, and a variety of other vocations.
In the Old Testament, the name Salem was used for Jerusalem. It was the holy city, the “city of peace.” There Mount Zion was located with the Temple of God, where the people came to receive God’s proclamation of peace. Salem in Eagle Lake continues to be a place where God’s message of peace is proclaimed. While the people whose names were on the membership roster at the congregation’s inception won’t be found today, many others have, by God’s grace, taken their place. The most important constant, of course, is the continued mercy and grace of our God. While Eagle Lake continues to grow as a smaller town of peaceful living close to a larger town to work in, opportunities will abound to share His message of peace in Christ.
George Dummann is pastor of Salem Lutheran Church of Eagle Lake, Minnesota.