A lot has changed for the Lord of Life Lutheran Church congregation since the first service was held 40 years ago, but one thing that has not is the family feeling, said one of the charter members who still attends services at the Ramsey church.
“Lord of Life Church is a family and it’s a friendly family,” said Myra Fossen of Anoka. “I can’t stress the warmth that’s part of this church.”
Fossen and Dawn Larson of Elk River knew Frances Schmidt, a parish consultant for the American Lutheran Church, whose 1,877 calls during the summer of 1973 revealed that a large number of people in the Ramsey Township area were interested in joining a new church.
Larson’s father-in-law was the regional director of home missions for the American Lutheran Church.
“His job, as I understood it, was to search out new properties to get new missions churches started,” Larson said. “It was also his job to send someone out to survey the neighborhood to see if there would be a need for a new Lutheran church.”
Ramsey was much more rural than it is today, but it was a fast growing region in the late 1960s and early 1970s. According to the church’s records, population in the 30 square-mile community ballooned from 650 people in 1967 to about 7,500 in 1973.
Larson and her husband in 1973 moved into a new housing development just down the road from the future site of Lord of Life’s first permanent location at the corner of Nowthen Boulevard (County Highway 5) and 157th Lane.
Today, Myra and her husband Ed Fossen and Larson are the only three original steering committee members who are still alive and attend Lord of Life Lutheran Church. There are about 40 charter members still around though, Fossen said.
Although Larson and her family lived in Virginia from 1983 to 2002 before they moved to Elk River, she remained friends with the people she got to know at Lord of Life. The Larsons initially went to an Elk River church, but Dawn came back to Lord of Life after her husband died in 2005.
“Whenever my husband and I would visit from Virginia, we would come to church at Lord of Life,” Larson said. “It just felt like coming back where I belonged.”
Expanding the church ministry
Rev. Blair Anderson, the longest tenured Lord of Life pastor from 1986 to 2007, believes that the people and not the bricks and mortar are the ministry. Nonetheless, his belief is that “facilities facilitate the ministry.”
“Vibrant ministries need adequate space,” he said.
Before a new church could be built, Lord of Life held its first service Sept. 16, 1973 for 129 people at the Anoka Technical Education Center.
Rev. Robert Lea, who served as Lord of Life’s first pastor from 1973 to 1980, oversaw the development of the first church at 6139 157th Lane NW. This place holds special meaning for Fossen and Larson because their children were confirmed here. Fossen has two daughters and a son. Larson has three daughters.
The next big phase in Lord of Life’s development was to abandon the old church in favor of a newer and much larger building at 14501 Nowthen Blvd. NW.
Groundbreaking took place Oct. 6, 1991. The final service was held at 6139 157th Lane NW Jan. 29, 1992. For the next four-and-a-half months, services took place at Ramsey Elementary School. The first worship service at the new church facility was June 14, 1992.
Today, the Learning Lodge Day Care Center is at Lord of Life’s former location and the church remains on the property it moved to 21 years ago.
Lord of Life opened a Community Life Center in the spring of 2001 that features a gymnasium, atrium, gathering spaces and a youth center.
“It has served us and the community well,” said Anderson. The Anoka-Hennepin School District, Anoka County and the city of Ramsey have utilized the facility for large community meetings and events, he said.
Lord of Life Church has expanded its land footprint numerous times over the years, but has not held onto all of it. It sold 6.5 acres to First Phoenix Group to develop the Stoney River assisted living facility that is breaking ground Sept. 25.
But when asked what has changed the most over the years in terms of programs and activities, Fossen said the No. 1 thing that comes to her mind is outreach to the community.
“When we became Lord of Life Lutheran, we were the church. Today, I don’t think of Lord of Life as just the church. It’s the community,” Fossen said. “We have basketball here, we have Boy Scouts here, the (school) district rents spots from us.”
Being an active part of the community is really how a church can grow, and Fossen said being visibly known as “that church with the cross on the hill” helped.
The No. 1 way the church attracted new members during Anderson’s time as pastor was to change up some of the service formats. Polka, bluegrass, gospel and classical music became part of some of the services.
Various outreach programs also brought in new members. There were 12 “celebrate recovery” groups at one point covering serious topics such as alcoholism, sexual addiction, emotional challenges and weight challenges, according to Anderson.
The church held many clothing drives to help people in dire financial straits, Anderson said. People who needed the clothes were asked to bring a quarter to get a grocery bag they could stuff with clothes, but somebody would often give them a quarter if they did not have one, he said.
A “loaves and fishes” group had over 100 volunteers who once a month served food to people at a homeless shelter in Minneapolis, Anderson said.
After a special Sept. 8 church service that brought back former pastors and church staff, there were about 30 tables set up in the hallway to highlight the various ministries the church offers. And the day would have not been complete without a potluck, which the church frequently hosts.
“The church increasingly grew to have an outward focus where people really believed they were there not just for themselves, but to serve the community and the world,” Anderson said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org