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Many of the early settlers of areas in and near De Smet were of Scandinavian and German descent. It was from this circle of pioneer settlers who early in the 1880’s even as they were erecting their sod houses or claim shanties to provide homes for their families, began to plan for the public preaching of the Word of God among them. Realizing the truth of Jesus’ words that where “two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”.
American Lutheran Church, De Smet, is the combination of three such pioneer efforts: St. Petri (originally Lake Thompson Evangelical) located in an area eight miles southeast of De Smet; St. Paul (originally know as Emmanuel) comprising an area including De Smet and to the west and north of town; and St. Matthews, a group of Lutheran families primarily of German descent south and southwest of De Smet.
The early history of the Lake Thompson-St. Petri congregation is clearly recorded in well-preserved minutes written in the Norwegian language. Only vague records are available for the early years of the Emmanuel-St. Paul Congregation but the two groups were always served by the same pastors and in most cases joined together for special services so that the general history of the two congregations is the same.
On February 4, 1885 with Rev. Satre acting as chairman, members of the Lake Thompson congregation voted to incorporate as St. Petri Congregation. In 1887 much consideration was given to the advisability of building a church but no action was taken. Worship services, with the exception of special services, were conducted in the Johnson schoolhouse until St. Petri Congregation merged with the congregation in De Smet. East Bethany and West Bethany were a part of the congregation at this time.
In De Smet, Rev. Satre keenly felt the need of a church building to fill the needs of the people of De Smet and surrounding territory, a church to be dedicated to service of the Lord as a place of worship. As a result he immediately launched into the building project. He himself assumed much of the responsibility both for the work and the financing. St. Petri, having worked closely with this De Smet group all these years, again displayed their fine Christian spirit when they immediately volunteered funds and many days labor to complete the erection of St. Paul, simple white frame church building dedicated to a place of worship to our Lord.
Records of the congregation in De Smet are incomplete until a meeting of that group is recorded on April 17, 1898 as holding a “Menighedsmode I prestiboligen” (Congregation meeting at the parsonage) in De Smet with Rev. Satre as the chairman and secretary”. It further states that due to so many membership changes because of removals from the town and deaths it would seem advisable to reorganize and adopt a constitution. Seven families were listed in membership at that reorganization meeting of the St. Paul Congregation.
Rev. Martin A. Johnson was called to serve the parish and preached his first sermon in October 1918. He was the first pastor to conduct the services in the English language with an occasional service in the Norwegian language. It was during his pastorate that in December, 1919 the St. Petri and St. Paul Congregations united as The American Lutheran Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in De Smet, South Dakota. It was determined at this meeting that Norwegian services were to he held once every two months as long as five members requested it. There were 137 souls on the charter membership list.
As St. Petri Congregation closed their work as that group they could recall a history of 37 years of zealous effort in the Lords work. As the Lord had prospered the labors of the St. Petri and St. Paul Congregations, with their union as American Lutheran Congregation, new doors were opened to even richer and fuller service to our Lord.
In 1936, hard times were still with us but we were beginning to feel some relief. The need for a new church was becoming more and more critical. In December 1940, a committee was elected to gain information regarding the type of church best suited to our needs and the approximate cost. On December 8, 1934, the original motion had been made to create a building fund for a new church building
Rev. Simonson worked unceasingly to encourage the increase of the new church building fund. He instilled into the hearts and minds of the members a goal—a new church. The slogan became “Work, Pay, Give”. In 1944, it was voted to include a section in the offering envelopes for the Building Fund.
In January 1945, the Building Committee was authorized to make investigations regarding the type of church to be recommended to the congregation. By vote of the congregation the present site was selected for the future building.
A committee from the St. Matthews Church approached the American Lutheran Church Council relative to the merging of the two congregations.
After several months without a regular pastor, Rev. N. C. Renslo was installed. It was during his ministry that the corner stone was laid for the new church. Members of St. Matthews Congregation were regular attendants at all services and activities of the congregation and active in planning the new church.
The construction of the present church became a reality and on December 23, 1948 a Carol and Candle lighting service directed by Rev. Aadland was held the new basement.
Members of St. Matthews Congregation were invited to join this American Lutheran Congregation and upon their declaration of such intentions they were granted all voting privileges and members graciously serve diligently on special committees. In January, 1949 at a morning service in the basement of this building then under construction, they were officially accepted into American Lutheran with three churches becoming one.
The property adjoining the church lots to the east was purchased as a site for the Parish Educational Unit. Also the congregation bought the lots south of the church as a parking area.
The new Educational Parish Unit was dedicated on May 26, 1962.
On April 25, 1969, at 6:30 a.m. a bold of lightning struck the steeple of the church. The resultant fire crept along the roof line and completely gutted the interior. The jeweled cross window above the altar withstood the blaze with minimal damage, but the large stained glass window of the balcony was largely destroyed-a small remaining portion proclaim the message “Thy will be Done.” The congregation accepted the challenge to rebuild, planning at the same time some important changes to the chancel, moving the organ to the balcony and enlarging the narthex.
A grateful congregation received invitations from all churches of De Smet to use their facilities, and weddings, funerals, and other special occasions were held in church buildings of community. Regular Sunday services were held in the armory. With much celebration, the rebuilt and refurbished sanctuary was rededicated on April 25, 1970, with Bishop E. O. Gilbertson and the Rev. Sterling Simonson taking part in the service.
The architecture of our church makes stained glass windows very desirable. We were pleased to receive, in 1972, a memorial gift of a replacement for the large balcony window executed from the original design. In January of 1980, the Memorial Committee was authorized to proceed with the remainder of the windows in the chancel and nave. The sixteen windows of the nave were programmed to tell the story of God’s mighty acts of salvation in history from the Old and New Testaments. The four chancel windows dealt with themes of word and sacrament, prayer and praise.
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