A SHORT HISTORY
by Lloyd Nielson
Westerheim Icelandic Lutheran Church
"The first sermon preached in the new Icelandic Lutheran Church, in Westerheim was delivered last week by Rev. Thorlaksson to a large congregation from the surrounding county, and several people from Minneota. This church is now finished on the outside, and although comparatively a small structure, being only 24 by 28 ft.,it presents a strikingly symmetrical appearance, which is very pleasing to the eye, and a credit to the skill of our young architect, Mr. S.M.S. Askdal, who designed and built it."
-Minneota Mascot, Oct. 2,1891
In the fall of 1878, Rev. Jon Bjarnason came to the community and conducted two religious services; also that same fall Rev. Pal Thorlaksson came and held two services, and a meeting was held at the Gudmundur Peterson home to discuss obtaining a resident pastor. Because the pastor called could not accept, the project was tabled.
In 1879, at a meeting in Bjorn Gislason's home, G. Gudmundson and S.S. Hofteig were appointed to attend a meeting for the purpose of calling a resident pastor. The meeting was held in Peter Petersson Jokull's home in Lincoln County.
In 1880, Rev. Jon Bjarnason came to conduct a religious service and also to baptize and confirm the young people. That year, a letter was sent to Rev. Haldor Briem, who accepted the call. He served as pastor for one year -1881-1882. While he was here, the Westerheim Cemetery and the Westerheim Congregation were formed.
In August, 1886, Rev. Fredrik J. Bergmann came to hold services in a school house near Riverside Farm, and later that day he accompanied members of the congregation to town to talk with Ice landers there about calling a pastor to serve all the churches. A call was sent to Rev. Niels Steimgrumur Thorlaksson, who accepted and began serving as resident pastor in all four churches in September, 1887.
On Oct. 24, 1886, the Westerheim Congregation was re-organized and re-named, and a constitution was written for signatures by the members.
In the spring of 1905 a church bell was installed, donated by Jon Benjaminson. On Dec. 28, 1913 the church with all its contents burned to the ground. The church was re-built (by contract made with Ole Vastrand) and dedicated in May, 1914. This structure stood until after the church closed. It collapsed while it was being moved off the church property in 1964.
Sunday mornings began with the mothers and children coming for Sunday School; the fathers returned home to finish chores before Church services. The men congregated before services to talk about rain (or the lack of it), the price of crops and livestock and (in the 1930's) whether this "upstart" Roosevelt from New York, who knew nothing about farming, had a chance. During the winter, the men and boys moved inside to the furnace room. Eventually, Haldor Hofteig would announce, in Icelandic, that the minister had arrived. Even those who didn't understand Icelandic understood this announcement! Rev. Guttormsson, as he prepared to give the sermon, would "scrunch up" his face and nose to adjust his nose-pincher glasses.
The Ladies' Aid was active in the church, and also the Westerlites, a group of young, unmarried people (not only members of Westerheim) who met with fellowship and to sing together.
The Westerlites held annual Ice Cream Socials (the ice cream was, of course, made in large, hand-cranked freezers), presented plays, formed a chorus and played musical instruments together, and had Halloween and other holiday parties. At one of these parties, John L. Johnson (an avid baseball fan) gave a stirring rendition of "Casey at the Bat."
Due to declining enrollment at Westerheim, they decided to close in 1955 and merge with St. Paul's in Minneota. Since then, the former members of Westerheim have been as faithful and dedicated at St. Paul's as they were at Wesierheim.