History of Messiah Lutheran Church and Parsonage


First English Lutheran Church of Red Lodge held its first recorded meeting on April 7, 1935, in the basement of the Red Lodge library.  The first pastor was A. B. Carnelson, who traveled from Absarokee to preach here at a salary of $5.00 a month.  On May 29, 1936, a meeting was held to disband the congregation.  It is said this was because of lack of mission support.

From 1936 to 1942 the church records were stopped due to the disbandment.  On March 15, 1942, a meeting was held to reorganize the church.  Rev. Gilbertson was the pastor at this time.  During this time it was suggested that the Red Lodge and Absarokee parishes be combined.  While they tried to find a church building, the congregation continued to meet in the library.

On January 7, 1944, at a meeting held in a member’s home, it was decided to continue the work of the church even though the number of members was dwindling.  Rev. Hovland was the pastor, traveling from Absarokee.  In 1949 the congregation asked for its own pastor, but the request was denied.

Rev. Evans Knutson was the pastor in 1950-51 and with the help of the congregations the building problem was solved when it was decided to use the Finnish Lutheran Church (located on S. Platt where the city fire station is now located).  Needed remodeling was done.  The building was built in 1904.  The building never had plumbing.  (The Finnish church was established June 30. 1894, according to the January 1969 annual report.)

In July 1951, the congregation had its first resident pastor, Rev. Gulhaugen.  The first resident pastor’s home was a one-bedroom, shared-bathroom apartment at 111 North Platt.  Rent was $40.00 a month, his salary, with ELC Home Mission Support, $125.00 a month.  Shortly before Pastor Gulhaugen’s second son was born, a corner 3-bedroom house across from the then-football-field became home (across from Mt. View playground.

Rev. Herbert Strom became pastor in 1955.  A second-floor, one bedroom apartment, ½ block from the church was the Stroms’ first home.  The house at 524 North Platt – two tiny bedrooms, barely room for a spinet piano, frost on the baseboards in cold weather (no basement, of course) served the Stroms, James Hamres and Paul Shoups until 1966.  All were rented.

December 31, 1957, First English Lutheran Church was changed from a Home Mission Subsidy to a fully self-supporting member congregation of the ELC.  The subsidization had been approximately $14,000.

In 1957 Joliet became part of the parish.

In July 1959 the name of First English Lutheran was changed to Messiah Lutheran Church of Red Lodge.

On March 13, 1960, the congregation voted to purchase the site of the old Lincoln School on the corner of 19th Street and Adams.  The school had been torn down, but the basement still stood on the property.  In April of 1960, the Finnish congregation officially deeded the church building (on Platt) to the local ALC congregation.

In 1962 the bank note on the land at 723 South Adams was paid off.  In March of 1965 the first building committee was selected in consideration of building a new church home.

In September 1965 the congregation voted to purchase a house at 1024 South McGillen for $15,000 to serve as a parsonage.  It would be owned jointly with Joliet sharing the expense.  It served Shoups, Interim Pastor and Mrs. Hjortholm, the Tom Morgans, Neal Ruedisilis and John Knapps.  The unexpected purchase of a parsonage made the dream of a new church in the near future look extremely bleak.

In 1966 the seventeen remaining members of the Finnish congregation were formally accepted into membership at Messiah.

In 1967 several lots across the street from our proposed church site were up for sale and the congregation voted to purchase these lots for parking area.

!n 1969 a church of slab construction, Tudor-arch design, was voted on by the congregation.  Construction was to begin when the amount of cash in the Building Fund reached $7,000.  Two weeks after the January 1970 annual meeting, the council meet with an architect.  Plans ended up being for a two-unit frame building, put up by a contractor and finished by volunteer labor.  The cost of this structure would run between $40,000 and $45,000.  Nothing could be done until some decisions were made about what needed to be done about the basement that was on the lot.  Eventually part of the work of demolished the old basement was done by volunteers and part was contracted out.

During the Christmas holidays of 1971, the huge cross on top of the old church blew down.  Fortunately, no one was on the ground beneath it at the time, but it was one more indication of the need for a new building.  There had already been worries about building codes, etc., being in violation back in 1969.  The hanging lights would swing when the wind blew.

On July 17, 1972, the church council and building committee met with architects and inspected a set of blueprints of a multi-purpose building with four center posts.  Reactions were generally  favorable in spite of the drastic change from established church designs.

One July 24, 1972, Pastor Neal Ruedisili and several members were hard at work cleaning our church lots on Adams when we heard the fire whistle blow and looked up to see a black cloud of smoke rising skyward across town from us.  Pastor Neal exclaimed, “I hope it isn’t our church.”  (Someone had actually started a fire in the church a few weeks previous).  His fears were confirmed when a neighbor up the street came running to tell us it was the church.  The men left their work and went to salvage what they could.  Church records were handed out of the window of the study, the only things of value saved on the main floor.  The old organ was in the basement and was water damaged but saved and later refurbished.

A special meeting of the congregation was called on July 31, 1972, to view the model and discuss plans for the proposed church.  (The model had been kept at the parsonage.)  Another meeting was held August 14th to finalize and accept the plans.

In September 1972 we began renting the Assembly of God Church on Hauser Avenue (now a home across the street west of the Roosevelt School).  Their members met there on Wednesday nights only.

On October 23, 1972, the congregation voted to accept a bid of $49,900 from the Billings Lumber Company for construction of the new church.  On January 14, 1973, the city offered to buy the land on Platt from us which would include the cost of razing the old building ($5000).  A memorial service was held at the old church on January 25, 1973, before the building was demolished.

April 18, 1973, was the first workday on the new church.  Then there was a three-day blizzard!  On August 4, 1973, the last minute work was being done on the church for a wedding scheduled that evening.  The next day, August 5, 1973, was the first Sunday service in our new church.  The new altar for the church was build by member Dick Hegge, who owned the lumberyard here at the time.

After Ruedisilis left, our next pastor was John Knapp.  In 1979 the parsonage was getting in disrepair and Knapps were asked to move into rental space in August so remodeling and renovation could be done.  There was much discussion within the congregation whether or not to put the amount of money that was needed to update it into an old house or to build or buy something else or not to continue owning a parsonage.  It was decided to put the parsonage up for sale after minimal repairs were done.  Joliet did not want to sell the parsonage but after discussion and looking over the house, they agreed to the sale.  Pastor Knapp submitted his resignation to be effective September 16, 1979, so their move was permanent.

Some repairs were made to put the parsonage in a more livable condition but plans were to sell it.  When Pastor Ron and Kathy Jensen arrived, they moved into the “old” parsonage.

On September 25, 1980, a Parish Council agreement was accepted by the Messiah Council.  The first formal meeting of the Messiah/Joliet Parish Council was held on December 27, 1980.

In the January 1981 Annual Report it was recorded that the council’s recommendation to the congregations was that the parsonage be sold now for $45,000 and that the pastor be requested to submit to the Parish Council an adequate Boise-Cascade home floor plan.  Jensens served Messiah/Joliet about three years, then went into the mission field in Madagascar.  They were in the old parsonage until they left.

The McGillen Avenue parsonage was sold June 1, 1983, for $41,000.  The note still due on it was $9769.31 and the balance was distributed to Messiah and Joliet.

While a search was ongoing for a place to buy or build a new parsonage, the church was offered a very good deal on the present parsonage by members Jack and Sue Prather.  The house at 923 South Adams was purchased from them on July 29, 1983, for $26,049.01.  After the parsonage was sold, Messiah Congregation proposed that they pay to Joliet their share (25%) of the money received from the sale.  The reasoning was that “with the vision of each congregation eventually to become self-supporting in the not-too-distant future, ….. Messiah feels they would now be able to pay this amount, where in the future, were each congregation to become self-supporting, the value of the new parsonage on South Adams Street would have possibly increased in value to such an extent that Messiah would be financially unable to purchase Joliet’s share.”  Joliet at that time owned a house that they could have used for a parsonage should they get their own pastor.  In the 1983 Parish Annual Report was the quote, “the cooperation of both congregations was beautiful and the request of Messiah to have sole ownership was completed with peace and harmony.”  Lee Rupprecht (First Parish President)

Interim Pastor Jim Smith served our congregation during the time after Jensens left (early 1983) and Pastor Jim Johnson arrived in April 1983.  The Rev. James Johnson family  lived temporarily in a house on South White until the present parsonage at 923 South Adams, which was purchased in July 1983, was ready for occupancy.

After Pastor Johnson left in 1987, Rev. I. C. Gronneberg and Ruth were with us as Interim Pastor until Rev. Jerry Olson was called.  Pastor Jerry Olson accepted a call to Choteau, Montana, and resigned October 4, 1998.

Rev. Jeff Olsgaard from Billings became our part-time Interim Pastor, with various pastors also coming up on occasional Sundays during the timespan of nearly a year without a regular pastor.  Rev. Bart Coleman and his wife Sharon accepted our call and arrived on September 14, 1999.  They left in August 2003 for Idaho, where he is studying to be a hospital chaplain.   

Since his departure, we were served several Sundays by Pastor Tim Meyer, and finally got an interim pastor, Pastor Ron Paulson, in December 2003.

Pastor Kim Wilker joined us on March 28, 2004, for his first Sunday worship.

In February 2006 we became independent of the relationship with Joliet, and Pastor Wilker came to serve Messiah in Red Lodge full time.

(extensive quotes and some adaptation of an article by Marilyn Hericks in 2003)

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