Saron
Lutheran Church
Big Lake, MN

Saron History

Early Years

Around 1889 several Swedish immigrant families settled northeast of Big Lake. Worship services were held in various homes. Eventually the congregation was organized and a church building was constructed on land donated by the Aaron Peterson family, about three and one-half miles North of Big Lake. Charter members of the congregation named the church “Saron” and the congregation was founded January 25th, 1892. The original church had pointed arch windows, a pulpit, altar, and a steeple. A large shed was built in the back of the church for horses. The bell (which can be found today in front of the current location) was installed in 1899 or 1900.

During the era of World War I many families sold their farms and moved elsewhere. Church activity had been on the decline for some time in the area and by 1922 there was little hope for the future of Saron.  In March of 1922 a special meeting was called for the reorganization. It was decided that the church would move into Big Lake and begin using the language of this nation (English). The church in the country was dismantled and reassembled in Big Lake. While the church was being moved, church services were held in a hall in the city. The “new” church was dedicated on November 28th, 1922.  It was debt free and the church again began to grow.

Soon after the move the Monticello congregation disbanded and many of those families joined the Big Lake congregation and the Big Lake-Silver Creek parish was formed. Rev. J. E. Hedberg was the first pastor of the relocated church. His services were held in Swedish and he served Saron for about one year. Rev. John Milton was the next pastor to serve and it was at this time that the services were changed to English. Most of the members at this time were “second generation.” Most of the pastors that served between 1922 and 1932 served for only a short period. They include: Rev. J. E. Hedberg, V.P. Rev. John Milton, Mr. David Ostergren, Rev. Paul Erickson, V.P. Rev. G.K. Stark, V.P. Harold Lorimer, Student Ted Levander, Student Rev. Paul Gustafson V.P., and Rev. Ernest Weinhart.

December 17, 1933 was a dark day for Saron. A dense fog had settled over Big Lake during the Christmas program. The fog caused the windows of cars to steam up and it was very difficult to see.  As the Charlie Magney family left Saron following the program, their car was struck by a passenger train going to Minneapolis at the highway 25 crossing. All six people in the car were killed. The members of the Magney family that lost their lives that night were: Charlie Magney, father; Amanda Magney, mother; and their children Ansel age 20, Edith age 14, and Marvin age 8.  Mrs. Bengta Weim, Hans Person’s daughter, John Person’s sister, and Elvin Person’s Aunt was in the car as well. The Big Lake undertaker Albert Johnson took command and a mass funeral was held at Saron.  The family is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery.

If the train accident were not enough, John Person passed away suddenly in 1934. John had been a mainstay of Saron and was sorely missed by the whole congregation.

Rev. Adolf Dickhart served as the Pastor to the Big Lake and Silver Creek churches from 1931 to 1935. The depth of the depression didn’t stop romance. Pastor Dickhart conducted many small weddings in his home. The younger generation was becoming more involved, which led to increased musical talent and involvement in the Worship services. Harold Skillrud served as a student pastor for a very short time and Rev. Ernest Weinhart served a second time at Saron from 1937 to 1940.

The 50th Anniversary of Saron was celebrated on January 25, 1942. The church celebrated the event in June with an ice cream social and a brief historical sketch on the church and congregation by Rev. Peterson. Rev. Ernest Weinhart returned from Bolivia and gave the sermon.

Rev. John G. Erickson served Saron as the first resident pastor from 1940 to 1948. Rev. Erickson was blind from early childhood; was a graduate of Lutheran Bible Institute; studied two years at Luther Theological Seminary; was a graduate of Augustana Theological Seminary; served congregations in Minnesota for 23 years; and devoted much of his time in securing devotional literature in Braille type and talking-book records. Chief, a beautiful German Shepherd was presented to Pastor Erickson as a gift from the Master Eye Foundation in Minneapolis. Chief was specially bred and trained as a service dog for people who are visually impaired. In an article from a local paper Pastor Erickson stated that he expected he would be able to serve his parishioners better, because he had a new guide and companion.

In 1948, a new congregation was formed in Monticello to better serve the area. Silver Creek left Saron and joined with the new congregation.  A growing population and the work of a small number of dedicated families allowed the church to survive.

1950s to 1990s

In the mid-fifties many new people came to Saron from throughout the area. A Senior Choir was formed in 1956 when Elizabeth Luukkonen agreed to direct the choir.  From those roots, the Senior choir became a well respected and integral part of worship services.

Articles of Incorporation, dated August 4, 1958,  were drawn up by Scott Mitchell, Dale Peterson, Reuben Bollinger, Calvin Hinrichs, Walter Broker, and John Hunter. On August 5, 1958 the articles were filed with the Register of Deeds in Sherburne County. A parsonage was built near “Our Lady of the Lake” Catholic Church in 1958 or 1959.

In 1962 the National Church changed from Augustana to Lutheran Church in America (L.C.A). Saron automatically became a member of the L.C.A.

Pastors who served at Saron in the fifties were: Rev. E.J. Lindholm, Rev. Clarence Peterson, V.P. Rev. Richard Hillsrtom, and Rev. C.G Okerbloom.

The early sixties again showed favor for Saron. Rev. Hugh Gilmore was installed and replaced Rev. E.J. Lindholm. He became the second Pastor to reside at the parsonage. Increased membership made the need for a new church a must. Many details needed to be worked out, and there were conflicts about the location. Once again, the Peterson families offered to donate land for the church building. Ground breaking took place on June 13, 1965. The congregation assembled in front of the old church and then proceeded to the new location. The Pastor and council gave brief messages about the ground breaking and each took a turn filling a spade  of earth. Each member of the congregation also took a turn. The Junior and Senior Choirs combined to sing “The Church’s One Foundation.” It took six months to build the new church and the first service was Christmas Eve, 1965. The new church was dedicated February 27, 1966 and Dr. Melvin Hammerburg, Bishop of the Minneapolis L.C.A was present for the dedication.

In mid-June 1967 Saron celebrated its 75th Anniversary. The service was conducted by Rev. Andrew Cornell of Buffalo, the acting pastor since the departure of Rev. Gilmore earlier in the year. A large number of current and former members, as well as previous pastors, were present for the celebration.

Pastor Oltmanns was called to serve Saron in 1967, shortly after the 75th anniversary of Saron. There was very steady growth in the community as well as the congregation during his long tenure. By 1979 a new addition needed to be built; and it doubled the size of the church. The increased membership eventually made the need for additional staff a necessity. First, the congregation was served by two lay parish workers, and then two student interns were brought in to help serve the ever growing number of parishioners.

In 1989, Pastor Doug Duin was called as Saron’s first Associate Pastor. This was an exciting time for the church as membership increased, youth programs expanded, choirs flourished, and organization grew vibrant.  By the time Pastor Oltmanns retired in 1995 after 28 years of service, the congregation had grown to the point where three services were needed.

Pastor Oltmanns said the most important tasks at Saron were the, “On-going preaching/teaching of the Gospel and offering the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” He also commented that the people of Saron have taken their Christian responsibility seriously. The church in this community has continued its day to day response to Christ by having multiple services, Sunday Church School, Vacation Church School, Confirmation Instructions, Adult Bible Study, Youth Programs, Musical groups, Church Council, various committees and other groups.  Pastor Oltmanns said, “The highlights of Saron, as I see them, are first of all Christ and people’s response to him.”

The 1990s

A period of continuous change took place from Pastor Oltmanns’ retirement in October of 1995 through 2003. His long tenure was followed by a lengthy call process for a new pastor. Pastor Duin and Interim Pastor Tom Schultz served until the call of Pastor William Larson in 1997. The growth of the community and the congregation had already necessitated the planning of a large new sanctuary. Pastor Larson oversaw the construction of the new addition and instituted many changes including child communion. The stress of the building program combined with other changes took its toll on the congregation. Pastor Duin left in 1998 after ten years of service at Saron. It would be almost two years, during which Saron was served by Interim Associate Pastors Rod Bringen and Dennis Spitzen, before Associate Pastor Linda Wahlstrom was called in July 2000. The congregation and the area continued to grow but the congregation lost many members who had been active volunteers. A new direction was needed and Pastor Wahlstrom left in June of 2001. Interim Pastor Jim Lindekugel was called to help the congregation through the difficult transition period and Pastor Larson announced his intention to seek a new call and left in April of 2002.

A call committee was formed to begin the search for a new pastor. As the call committee worked through the process it became clear that the congregation wanted to keep Pastor Jim. On Sunday October 19th, 2003 the call committee called a special congregational meeting following worship service to vote on their recommendation that Saron call Pastor Jim as the Senior Pastor. The vote affirmed the call committee’s recommendation.

The future was optimistic with a new, but “seasoned,” Senior Pastor, a growing community, a growing congregation, expansion of many existing programs and new programs being investigated and implemented.

During the next few years, Sherburne County’s Highway 10 corridor became the State of Minnesota’s fastest growing area. Big Lake and the surrounding area changed from farm fields as far as you could see to housing developments as farmers sold their property. Although Saron had steady growth during this period, the growth was not as high as you might expect. Many programs continued to happen within Saron, but as time went on it became apparent that focus on youth and family ministries was needed.  Our volunteer members had done a great job with the youth programs, but more was needed than the volunteers could do on their own. In 2005 a search began for a Youth and Families Ministries Director.  After a lengthy process, Curtis R. Rieck became the Director of Youth and Family Ministries in April of 2007.  There was a lot of excitement and an increase in youth activity almost immediately.

In November of 2007 Pastor Jim announced his intent to retire the following April. He had been a huge force during the last transition and helped Saron set a direction and re-establish our mission.

In May 2008 Pastor Stephen Ganzkow-Wold became Interim Pastor.  During the year, the Youth & Family Ministry had over 60 students enrolled in confirmation, building their knowledge and faith in God.  “Miracle Sunday” brought in a much needed offering, blessing the church with $23,000 and a Transitional Task Force was initiated to prepare for the calling of a new Pastor. The Walk of Faith Walkway was also initiated to memorialize events and to help support purchases of capital items for the church.

Current Times

In 2009, Pastor Kyle Sidlo accepted our calling and was installed as Senior Pastor in January 2010.  Pastor Kyle, along with his wife Val, have added stability to the leadership at Saron.

There have been many activities taking place at Saron.  God’s Grub, a free community dinner offered once a month, was started in February of 2010.  It began one of many efforts to reach out to the community during the weakened economy and has continued to offer fellowship and support to many.

The leadership and people of Saron have been leading the way to nourish our love of God and one another.  Adult education courses, such as Financial Peace University and the Alpha Program have enriched many lives.  We Can Be The Change was an undertaking started during the summer of 2012 that reached out to many in the community needing help with unfinished projects.  And we continue to support charities such as the Big Lake Community Food Shelf, the summer lunch program, Faith in Action, Rivers of Hope and many others.

In the fall of 2012, in response to survey feedback, we changed our Sunday School and worship service schedule.  We narrowed the break between services, and changed Sunday School class times to be held during the second service to try to better meet the time commitments of volunteers and families.  The response has been fantastic!  We have far exceeded our enrollment expectations.

We experienced heartache and sadness during the summer of 2012, when the church was vandalized the night before the Sale of Stuff.  The sale is a major fundraising effort put on by and for the youth ministry.  Hundreds of items were on display throughout the church, in hopes of raising thousands of dollars.  Vandals sprayed fire extinguishers, creating a cloud of fine-particulate and coating the sale items and much of the church building with a thick blanket of it.  Besides being hazardous to breathe the substance is corrosive to metals.  It took several weeks for the church to be cleaned, and the sale of stuff was cancelled.

But, oh, how the community rallied!  The outpouring of encouragement and support was overwhelming!  It lifted our spirits and reaffirmed our commitment to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ!

The growth of the Sunday School and children’s ministries prompted the creation of a new staff position at Saron: Director of Children and Family Ministries.  Molly Schroeder was brought on in August of 2013 in this part-time position and the enrollment, and especially a new vision for children’s ministry, really took off.

In 2014 and 2015, however, giving was not keeping pace with growth and early in 2016 it became obvious our expenses needed to be greatly reduced.  In May of 2106 Curtis Rieck was let go and the position of Director of Youth and Family Ministries eliminated.  It was heart-wrenching on many levels.  As the dust settled and youth and parents were calling for there to be someone to help fill the void the Saron council worked out a plan to expand Molly Schroeder’s position to full-time and include youth ministry, and the position of Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministry was created.  With Molly’s passion, vision, energy and heart we have much to be excited about for the children, youth and all of Saron.

So we continue on our mission “To glorify God by encouraging discipleship of Jesus within our congregation and throughout our community.”  This mission is about inspiring everyone in the Saron family to use her or his gifts to build each other up and bring Jesus to the world around us.  We want that to be all we do and for that to permeate everything we do.

We hope you will join us in this important work in Christ!