West Side Church-Green Bay

Early Times

Early in 1849, M. Olsen, a leader of the group in Milwaukee, sent a request to Norway for a minister. Andrew Michael Iverson, a student at the Mission Institution of Stavanger, accepted the call and left for America with his new wife, Laura. After arriving in Milwaukee on June 29, 1849, Iverson began ministering to the small group and petitioned the Moravian Helpers’ Conference in Bethlehem, Pensylvania, to allow them to be organized as a Moravian congregation and to ordain him to the Moravian ministry.

The newly organized Home Mission Society sent Pastor J.F. Fett to investigate the situation and on his recommendation the group was organized into the first Scandinavian Moravian congregation in America on October 22, 1849. Brother Fett also recommended the establishment of a Moravian settlement on the upper Fox River which coincided with Brother Iverson’s and his congregations’s desire to move out of the Milwaukee area.

On May 6, 1850, Brother Andrew Michael Iverson was ordained in Bethlehem at the time of the Firt Anniversary Meeting of the Home Mission Society. At the same time, he met again with Brother J.F. Fett and with Nils Otto Tank, a wealthy Norwegian who had worked with Moravian missions and who had come to the United States to assist in frontier mission work. Tank agreed to come to Wisconsin to purchase land for the Milwaukee Brethern for the beginning of a Moravian colony.

Otto Tank, his wife and daughter came to Wisconsin later in May, 1850, and along with Pastor Fett began exploring for a suitable site for the new colony. Their search ended in Green Bay where Otto Tank decided to purchase 800 acres of land in the small settlement of Fort Howard on the west side of the Fox River. He also rented a group of old abandoned mission school buildings which were part of a former Episcopal Indian Mission. These buildings would become a temporary living space for the Milwaukee congregation.

As soon as Pastor Iverson and his group heard about the purchase, they prepared to move. However, they were unable to leave Milwaukee until August 1 because many members were ill with cholera. On the very first day of the journey to Green Bay, Pastor Iverson’s infant daughter died of cholera. She was buried in Fort Howard on August 6, 1850.

After moving to Fort Howard, Pastor Iverson’s congregation decided to name their new settlement “Ephraim” and a day after their arrival they chose a “56 foot hall” in the rented buildings as their place of worship. They were called to prayer by a bell every morning at 6:00 and the Daily Words and Text were read by Brother Iverson. They also met at 8:00 every evening for prayer.

A longer worship service was held every Wednesday evening and, of course, regular worship services on Sunday; which meant a sermon at 10:30AM, a second talk or Gemein-Stunde at 3:00 PM and an evening service when the litany was prayed. All of the services were conducted in Norwegian or Danish. Rev.Iverson also organized a “singing school in order to exercise the members to sing our beautiful church tunes with greater precision.”

On the 17th of November, 1850, seventeen members of the group covenanted with one another and were regularly organized as a Moravian congregation. This was the beginning of the West Side Moravian Congregation in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary in the year 2000.

Brother Otto Tank provided work for the members of the new congregation and he was also appointed an assistant in the service of the mission. On December 1st, 1851, a new temporary place of worship, attached to Tank’s home, was set apart for worship at Ephraim.

By the end of 1850, however, there were problems in the community. Otto Tank had divided his land into building lots and farming lots and gave the Brethern the amount of needed land on the basis of oral contracts. The settlers wanted to buy the land from Tank so that they could own it themselves, but Tank would not accept payment and apparently would change the terms of the contracts.

Quarrels ensued and the people scattered to obtain different living and working arrangements in and around the area of Green Bay and Fort Howard. Some of them had trouble finding employment and depended on others in the congregation. However, the congregation grew in numbers and was held together by Iverson’s leadership. Prayer meetings were held in his home every evening for people who were close enough to attend.

In 1853 many members of the Ephraim church decided to leave Fort Howard. They went to the Door County area taking the name Ephraim and Pastor Iverson with them. The settlement of Ephraim , Wisconsin, was established by this group. A small remnant of the congregation continued at Fort Howard, however, and Pastor Iverson periodically traveled there to visit with them and conduct services.

He would stay for a few days and then travel to surrounding areas including Cooperstown, New Denmark, and Mishicot, where he was also doing mission work.

In 1864, Pastor J.J. Groenfeldt succeeded Brother Iverson in Door County and Iverson began to serve two small groups in Illinois. These efforts did not meet with success so the Home Mission Society decided to send him back to an area which promised to show the most potential for growth.

The group in Fort Howard was still together, more Scandinavians had settled there, and several families from Ephraim had moved back. They continued to be without a church or a minister and so they petitioned the Provincial Elders Conference in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to send Andrew Iverson back to them. He returned to Fort Howard and on Saturday, September 22nd, 1866, the group of faithful members and friends of the Moravian Church began the process of reorganizing. The next day, September 23, 1866, Pastor Iverson preached his first sermon as their returning pastor. As usual, he preached in Norwegian.

Reorganization was completed on the following Sunday, September 30, when those who were not already members were received into the fellowship. The membership at this time consisted of nine adults, eight young people and ten children.

At first, services were held in a schoolhouse which stood on the south side of Third Street between Chestnut and Maple Avenues and included 2 services on Sunday, a prayer service on Thursday evening and Sunday school for children. The congregation began increasing in size and soon members started to talk about building their own church.

Pastor Iverson began to solicit pledges and gifts which quickly amounted to several hundred dollars. This success stirred up Lutheran Scandinavian in the community and motivated them to try to raise more money to build their own church, which continues today as the Trinity Lutheran Church.

Brother Iverson also became a friend of a Congregational minister, who offered to let the Moravian group use his church on Christmas Day, 1866. The church was filled to capacity.

In the spring of 1867 the pastor and members worked persistently to obtain funding for a new building encouraging members and other local Moravians to contribute. Mrs. Otto Tank, who was now a widow, donated two building lots at the corner of Fourth Street and Maple Avenue. Pastor Iverson drew up plans for the building and estimated that the cost would be approximately $2000.00.

The church administrators in Bethlehem advised the congregation to begin building as soon as possible and agreed that when the funds ran out they would allow Iverson to solicit donations from Moravian congregations in other parts of the country.

By the fall of 1867, enough money had been raised to buy materials and construction began on November 19th, 1867. In a few weeks time the wood frame and steeple were built but then money ran out and cold weather set in.

At first, services were held in a schoolhouse which stood on the south side of Third Street between Chestnut and Maple Avenues and included 2 services on Sunday, a prayer service on Thursday evening and Sunday school for children. The congregation began increasing in size and soon members started to talk about building their own church.

Pastor Iverson began to solicit pledges and gifts which quickly amounted to several hundred dollars. This success stirred up Lutheran Scandinavian in the community and motivated them to try to raise more money to build their own church, which continues today as the Trinity Lutheran Church.

Brother Iverson also became a friend of a Congregational minister, who offered to let the Moravian group use his church on Christmas Day, 1866. The church was filled to capacity.

Early in 1868, Andrew Iverson began a trip lasting several weeks, visiting Moravian congregations in Wisconsin and Minnesota asking for financial help with the building project. He returned with enough money to resume construction which continued through the spring and summer and fall.

By that time, Pastor Iverson had personally made the new pulpit for the building. In the late fall of 1868, Iverson embarked on another three week trip; this time to Bethlehem. He went to enroll his son, John, at a Moravian school in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, to attend the Provincial Synod as a delegate, and to ask for building donations from the eastern churches. He collected $571.45 from these congregations.

The construction project continued and during the winter of 1868-1869 work was done on the interior of the building.

In the early part of February the work was finally done and the dedication was scheduled for Sunday, February 14th, 1869. The dedication was a day long event beginning with the morning service conducted by Brother J.J. Groenfeldt of Ephraim who preached a powerful sermon in Norwegian.

The service in the afternoon included Brother Feurig, from the Green Bay German Moravian church, and the ministers of the Congregational, Methodist and Baptist churches as well as people from their congregations. Seven ministers and six nationalities were represented. Mrs. Otto Tank was also present.

When it was time for the Baptist peacher to speak, he informed the group that a debt of $250.00 still existed on the church and suggested in very persuasive language that they take up a collection to wipe it out. A cash collection was taken but when it was counted only about one third of the money was contributed.

The Baptist preacher went to the pulpit again and this time appealed for pledges. A collection was again received and this time the amount was sufficient to pay the debt. Brother Iverson thanked the assembly in three languages and ended with a prayer of thanks and the Lord’s Blessing. At 7:30 in the evening Brother Groenfeldt presided at another worship service and delivered the sermon.

The total cost of the church building was $2025.00. At the time of the dedication the congregation had 31 communicant members, 25 non-communicants and 21 children. The Sunday School had 53 students and 7 teachers.

The church building at 521 Fourth St. in Green Bay with several additions and remodelings is still used today as a place of worship. It is in fact recognized to be the oldest building used continuously as a place of worship in the Green Bay area. It is no longer used by Moravians but is now the church of the Voice of Faith congregation.

Some members were lost this way and attendance slowly declined during the 1870s. Older people in the congregation were also dying and it did not seem that younger people were being found to fill the pews. A depression also caused people to leave the area to find work.

From 1871 to 1878 the membership at Fort Howard varied from 96 in 1878 to 67 in 1878. At this point in time the financial situation became so bad that the congregation tried to sell two lots given to them by Mrs. Tank but no buyers could be found. The Home Mission Society had been helping the congregation minimally by giving it a little financial support, but in 1879 it discontinued help due to a Provincial Synod directive which stated that all missions that gave little indication of attaining self support in the near future should be dropped.

Pastor Iverson and members of the congregation did not give up. The whole program of the church was maintained, including prayer meetings, services and classes. Services were attended faithfully and everyone gave as much as they could to help meet the budget. Rev. Iverson went on a solicitation tour and received $52 from congregations in Watertown, Lake Mills, North Salem and Freedom.

In 1879 there was an increase in membership to 30 communicant members, 11 non-communicants and 41 children. Because the congregation was increasing, the Home Mission Society re-enrolled it in the spring of 1880 and sent $76 so the church could be painted and replastered. At the end of 1881, the membership increased to 43 communicant members, 21 non-communicant and 51 children.

In 1883, the Rev. J.J. Groenfeldt from the Ephraim congregation succeeded Rev. Iverson and his pastorate lasted until 1896. During this time, in 1884 a parsonage was built and later extensive improvements were made to the church.

As early as 1869, members of the congregation settled in the Ashwaubenon area. Because they lived so far from the main church building, it was difficult for them to regularly attend services and they began meeting in the homes of Borger Anderson, Peter Christopherson, and Charles and George Smith. In 1890 the families purchased a half-acre of land for $30.00 and built a chapel for a cost of $600. Soren Hansen was in charge of construction and received a daily wage of $1.50. The pulpit was made by Tonnes Davidson.

The group, consisting of one Native American family and ten Danish families, held weekly Sunday School classes and worship twice a month at the chapel. They remained members of the Fort Howard Congregation and went to the village church for the sacraments. A cemetery was laid out in 1891. As the city became bigger, transportation became better, and families moved closer into the city, the chapel gradually fell into disuse.

In 1896, the Rev. J. F. Kaiser followed Pastor J.J. Groenfeldt for a temporary pastorate and he was followed by the Rev. John Erickson who came in 1896 and served until 1902. During this time it was determined that the church needed additional space.

Then the son of J.J. Groenfeldt, the Rev. John Groenfeldt came to serve the congregation in 1902 and the radical renovation was undertaken. The pastor solicited funds both locally and provincially. During the time of remodeling from June 24th to October 26th, 1902, the nearby Baptist congregation on the corner of Fifth Street and S. Maple Avenue, shared their chapel with the Moravians.

On Oct. 26th, the first services were held in the enlarged church. The old steeple had been removed and a new one constructed on the northeast corner. The entrance to the church was now through the tower. The pulpit was on the east side of the old building, and a new wing had been added to the rear of the nave. Brother Groenfeldt made the following notation in his diary. “Oct.26, 1902: Our new church is ready for use, though not for dedication, as there is still a debt. The total cost of the building was around $4000.00, the debt amounts to $900.00. The offering during the day amounted to about $200.00.”

The local newspaper reported on the three services which were held that day. The first sermon of the morning service was preached by Rev. J.J. Groenfeldt, and the second by Rev. Kinsey of Ephraim. The afternoon service had three ministers speaking, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, and a Baptist. Although the weather was threatening for the evening service, attendance was still good and addresses were delivered by Rev. Abel of the east side German Moravian church, Rev. Kinsey of Ephraim, and Rev. S. Groenfeldt of Sturgeon Bay, a brother of the pastor.

The Rev. Albert Haupert succeeded Pastor Groenfeldt in 1905. In 1909 the parsonage was remodeled to make it “a ten room house with all the modern conveniences.” Pastor Haupert was a great Sunday School advocate and worker and found that the church was inadequate for a “progressive, up-to date Sunday School.”

So in 1911 another renovation occurred and the congregation again used the nearby Baptist Chapel during the construction period. A basement was placed under the entire church, a Sunday School addition was put on the east, the pews were again reversed and the old chapel housed the pulpit and the new Terp memorial pipe organ given by Iver. Terp in memory of his wife Mamie.

The ground was broken for this work on July 6th, and the dedication was held on Sunday, November 12th. The morning attendance was 223, with 112 staying for Holy Communion. Sunday School attendance that day was 171. A Scandinavian service was held in the afternoon with 39 attending and 19 staying for communion. 115 people attended the evening service. The cost of these changes was $7,000 which included the $1220.00 organ.

On February 10th, 1914, the congregation was incorporated with the signatures of Isaac Torgerson, Arthur Stram, James P. Lindell, V. Howard Larsen, and Albert P. Haupert. Brother Haupert’s pastorate came to an end on September 12, 1915.