A Brief History Of Glenwood Lutheran Church

In The Beginning 

Norwegian immigrants settled in Northeast Iowa, many coming from the Hadeland and Telemark areas of Norway.  At this time, no church building was in place.  Services took place rotating a missionary around the area.  Pastor Nils Brandt was the first missionary.    A Northeast Iowa congregation was started in 1854 called The “Little Iowa Menighed” or Little Iowa Congregation.  This Little Iowa Congregation was made up of five present day congregations - Madison, Washington Prairie, Stavanger, Calmar and Glenwood - still pastored by the missionary Pastor Nils Brandt who served as secretary for The Little Iowa Congregation.

A Call to the First Pastor

In October of 1852, a letter of call was written to Vilhelm Koren, an acquaintance of Pastor Nils Brandt. Koren received this letter in June of 1853 and promptly accepted the call, was ordained and married. He and his wife were in Northeast Iowa for Christmas of 1853. Koren conducted his first service in January of 1854 in a parishioner’s home. Koren served as pastor of Glenwood and neighboring churches for several years, and he continued as pastor of Washington Prairie by itself for another twenty years. Koren was also one of the founders of Luther College. During his time as pastor for The Little Iowa Menighed, Koren divided the area into an east and west district with Glenwood being in the east district. Koren held the first confirmation classes in a school house about one mile south of the present Decorah airport where a pioneer cemetery is still located.

Church Properties

A parsonage was built late in 1854 and is at the present location of the parsonage for Washington Prairie. The pastor’s salary was set at $400. In 1858, it was provided that each farmer should either supply 1/4 cord of wood per year to heat the parsonage, or pay the sum of fifty cents. The first cemetery was the triangular cemetery about a mile southeast of the present Glenwood Church. Land was donated later on for another cemetery just south of the present Glenwood Church. A third cemetery was acquired upon the merging of Glenwood and Pontoppidan.

The First Glenwood Church

The first Glenwood Church was built in 1856 close to where the present building stands. The church was a frame building, 30 by 40 feet, painted white on the inside. Only a small box stove heated the building. Pastor Koren said he sometimes wore mittens to keep warm while he preached. As the area became more populated, the need to divide The Little Iowa Congregation became necessary. As previously mentioned, U.M. Koren served as pastor until 1883 when Pastor Nils Amlund accepted a call to the Glenwood congregation. Services were held in the Norwegian from Glenwood’s origination until sometime in the 1930’s. The services alternated between English and Norwegian until it was switched to all English around 1940.

Luther College is Founded

Pastor Koren had raised $6000 and acquired the site of the present campus in Decorah for Luther College before the first classes began in Decorah in 1861. Luther College actually started in 1860 at Halfway Creek by Holmen, Wisconsin, while waiting for the buildings at the Decorah location to be completed. The area congregations supported the college by assuming the responsibility to pay toward the debt of the college while raising money to build the churches. Generous donations were given in the form of cash, selling a cow, and the oxen harness.

Glenwood Lutheran Church

With most of the congregation members living in sod shanties, the Glenwood settlement was rapidly growing, causing a need for a new, larger church. A committee was formed to plan the building of the new church. The church was built of native gray limestone so the members could quarry and haul it with their own labor. Lime mixed with water was used for mortar between the stones. Construction started in 1869 with the spire on top of the tower being completed in 1892. The church was dedicated on November 4, 1874. The original church was moved one-half mile south of the present church. The first constitution of Glenwood congregation was adopted on March 17, 1885. Many additions have occurred since the present church was built, but the outward appearance of the church remains the same. The parish hall was built as a separate building in 1916 as a project begun by the young people’s group. In 1954, the main church and the parish hall were connected at the east end by a second addition, a Sunday school unit. This was built of the same limestone as the main church with the parish hall to provide handicapped access to both the church itself and the parish hall basement. This was built in 1996 from limestone quarried by several members.

Pontoppidan Lutheran Church

During the decade of 1880, Norwegian-American Lutherans experienced doctrinal disagreements on the theological questions of predestination. Many Norwegian Lutheran congregations eventually split into two or more congregations. Pontoppidan Lutheran congregation, including a number of members who had previously belonged to Glenwood, was organized August 21, 1888. A frame church was built one-half mile south of Glenwood church and was dedicated November 1, 1891. As the years passed, the Norwegian Lutherans and their three main church bodies, the Hauge’s synod, the United Church, and the Norwegian synod, came to feel that most questions about predestination were among the unsearchable mysteries of God. The three church bodies were able to agree to a common view of predestination and united in 1917 to form the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. Pontoppidan church was closed in 1964. Its members joined Glenwood or other nearby Lutheran churches. The cemetery and church building were given to Glenwood. The razing of the church building was finished in 1966, and the material was used for buildings at the Ewalu Bible camp. The Pontoppidan church bell is now the camp bell.

Haugen House

August 1, 1926, a log immigrant house was donated, during Pastor Brevik’s tenure, to Glenwood Church. It was located on the parsonage ground. Members of the congregation provided furnishings. The reason for acquiring the house was to have a central location for a type of fall festival. The bishop of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America attended this festival. The house and its furnishings were given August 5, 1929, to the present Vesterheim. It is available for touring outside Vesterheim and is known by the name of Haugen House.

The Glenwood Parsonage

After Glenwood called its own pastor in 1883, 20 acres of land was purchased one-half mile north of the church. The amount of land was necessary because, at that time, the pastors all farmed part-time to supplement their incomes. A barn, farm buildings, a schoolhouse, and the parsonage were built. The schoolhouse was used for the pastor to meet with confirmands. It was used continuously until the Sunday school addition was built in 1954. The schoolhouse is still there, but other farm buildings have been removed, since the pastor no longer farms. The land is rented out. The first parsonage burned to the ground on March 4, 1927. A new parsonage was immediately rebuilt on the same site. The fire caused more loss than just the building; the pastor’s records from 1853-1927 were destroyed in the fire. Work has been done to reconstruct the records to the best of the ability of the pastor and parishioners. The parsonage has gone through some remodeling since first being built - addition and modernization.


Many pastors have served Glenwood over the years.

Nils O. Brandt-1851-1853 (Missionary pastor)
U.V. Koren-1854-1883
Nils Amlund -1883-1888
Micheal Borge-1888-1905
S.A. Scarvie - 1906-1918
Olaf Brevik-1918-1930    
Alfred Bredesen-1930-1948
Norman Dversdall-1948-1954
Donald Lee-1954-1963
Olaf Brandt-1964-1977
Jim Jensen-1977-1984
Landis Olson-1984-1991
Joseph Lambert-1991-1998
Susan Debner-1998-2006  
Douglas Mathison-2006- 2011
Stacey Nalean-Carlson-2012-2021
Matthew Rossler-2023-Present