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St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Ponsford, Minnesota



Out in the northwest lake country of Minnesota, a summer tourist might well be charmed by the sight of a white frame church set in a park-like grove. It is like so many that were built in early times for rural Christians, those without fast cars to take them to consolidated town churches. But this one at Ponsford was built for reasons of confession rather than convenience.

In his early anniversary history, congregation chairman Lloyd Tretbar tells of the beginnings of St. Paul church. Prior to 1950, the congregation of St. Paul’s Lutheran was a part of the congregation of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Ponsford, Minnesota. At that time Mt. Calvary was affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In the early 1950’s considerable study was devoted to the doctrinal errors increasingly pervading the LC-MS, in particular its departure from the Scriptural basis for church fellowship and its adoption of the Common Confession in 1950. Our pastor at the time was Francis Schupmann. After a thorough study . . . the congregation voted to sever its fellowship with the LC-MS and to join the Orthodox Lutheran Conference. After a court struggle in 1953-1954, the Minnesota State Supreme Court awarded the church property to the Missouri Synod.”

One blow followed another, as test followed test. After discovering that the courts would not uphold the right of a congregation to determine its affairs according to its convictions, the congregation also lost its pastor. Pastor Francis Schupmann was taken from their midst by accidental drowning in 1954, while he was picnicking with the Sunday School.

After more court battles, the congregation, then served by Pastor Arthur Schupmann, left its property at Ponsford and began holding services at the Lloyd Tretbar farm. The formal organization of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church took place early in 1955. A church building was to be constructed on a site offered by Mr. Norman Zauche. For almost a year, members cut lumber to help pay for the building materials. On June 23, 1957, the building was dedicated to the glory of God.

In 1957 St. Paul’s congregation joined the Orthodox Lutheran Conference, an association of congregations which had withdrawn from the LC-MS for doctrinal reasons. This affiliation continued for four years. When Pastor Arthur Schupmann was released to accept another call in 1961, the church joined Mt. Olive congregation in nearby Detroit Lakes in calling Pastor Gerhart Becker of Joice, Iowa. He was installed as pastor on September 17, 1961. He served until 1972, when he asked to be released from his call to enter secular employment as Ponsford Postmaster.

By then an independent congregation, the Ponsford group—along with the Detroit Lakes sister church—extended calls without success for almost a year. Then Pastor Clarence Hanson came from Millston, Wisconsin, to assume the pastorate. In 1975 the parish took formal membership in the Church of the Lutheran Confession.

When Pastor Hanson retired from the public ministry, God filled his place with a graduate from Immanuel Lutheran Seminary. Pastor Mark Weis served the congregation from 1978-1980. God continued to bless St. Paul’s with faithful pastors. Pastor Glenn Oster served the congregation from 1981-1984. St. Paul’s was Pastor Vernon Greve’s last parish before retirement; He served from 1984-1988.

“Genuine care and concern for the other person’s interest.” That is the definition of the Greek word love, the same love which God showed us by giving “His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)  In the fall of 1991, to the glory of God, the members of St. Paul’s and Mt. Olive Lutheran Churches in Ponsford and Detroit Lakes reflected that same “genuine care and concern for the other person’s best interest” by providing a new parsonage for their called servant of the Word.

Years earlier a one-acre wooded property had been purchased, and a well drilled for Pastor Hanson’s mobile home. Later a spacious garage was added. Following that was the addition of half a basement under the mobile home, which provided the pastor’s office and storage space as well as a safe area for a wood-burning stove. But the things of this world don’t last, and the mobile home was no exception. A joint meeting of St. Paul’s (Ponsford) and Mt. Olive (Detroit Lakes) congregations was held in June of 1991. At that meeting it was decided to replace the mobile home with a one-piece pre-built home from a local lumber yard. Hearts motivated by the Gospel were set in motion to come up with the funds for this need. What wasn’t given outright was provided by low-interest loans from members to meet the final costs. And on September 11th a house mover delivered the pre-built house to the property. The arrival of that blessed gift from our God was videotaped by Pastor David Naumann, who served the congregation from 1988 until 1993.

The congregation continued to devote itself to the preaching of the Word of God. In 1993, after Pastor Naumann accepted a call to another parish, a call was issued by St. Paul’s and Mt. Olive to Pastor Theodore Barthels. He served the congregation until 2003. God then called Pastor Barthels to Austin, Minnesota, and Pastor John M. Johannes, who was serving Prince of Peace Lutheran of Hecla, South Dakota, accepted the call to St. Paul’s. He is the current pastor.

Located on the prairie of northwestern Minnesota, St. Paul’s remains founded on the solid rock of God’s Word and the preaching of it in spirit and truth. While the founding members are dwindling and passing into the eternal joy of heaven, the next generation continues on with a confident hope that is built on the blood and righteousness of Christ. Numbers have gone down over the years, but the zeal for God’s Word remains strong. We thank the Lord for the many years of His guidance and blessings, and pray for His continued providence.

John Johannes is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Ponsford, Minnesota, and Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.