The History of the Assaria Lutheran Church

The Building of the Church

The Assaria Lutheran Church was established by the Swedish immigrants in the southeast section of Saline County in an effort to eliminate the travel distance to the already established "Mother Church" in Salemsborg. From a diary dated March 23, 1873, the following information was given: "We the Swedish neighbors, had a meeting in the Ben Hessler home in regard to the matter of building a church, at which meeting it was decided: We Swedes living east and west of the Smoky River should, after a period of two years, erect our own church. At that time the people present, seventeen in all, designated $900 for this purpose, which should be paid in three installments. Until the church is built we will meet at the school house, when that is built."

B. P. Hessler donated two acres of ground as a site for the church. An additional five acres were purchased from Mr. Hessler for one hundred dollars. These seven acres are now the congregational property, and on this ground have been erected both the old and new churches, and the remainder of the ground is used for a cemetary.

However, these plans were contingent on the "Mother Church". A petition was formulated and presented on behalf of the members of the southeast section by C.H. Thorstenberg at the annual meeting in Salemsborg, January 18, 1875. The petition requested permission to separate from the Salemsborg Church in order to organize a new congregation. The request of the petition was denied with the following resolution: "In-as-much as the congregation can with difficulty maintain the church and keep a pastor (Pastor Dahlsten), it is the unanimous wish the southeast members remain in the congregation as heretofore; tht the pastor be urged to preach in the southeast part, and also east of the Smoky Hill River on Sunday afternoon as often as possible; the congregation hopes and wishes that the aforementioned members remain in the congregation and continue to attend meetings, which is proper and right."

But the desire for forming a new congregation still persisted. Repeated attems to change the decision by the Mother-Church were futal. A meeting on the 6th of February, conducted by Olof H Thorstenberg, the matter of organization took form. The first motion recorded in the minutes was as follows: "All in favor of uniting themselves with a Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation in compliance with the Word of God and the Augustana Synod, signify so by a rising vote." No one remained seated. One hundred seven individuals became members.

The proposed constitution of the Augustana Synod was adopted. The congregation received its charter on March 6, 1875. The name of the church was based on the mother country, a biblical name (Assaria-"The Lor will help"), and the location of the church. The church and its' congregation adopted the following name: The Swedish Evangelical Luther Church, Assaria Congregation, in Liberty Township, Saline County. Later as the town site was laid out and the Union Pacific Railroad went through in the year 1879, the name "Assaria" was taken form the congregation's name.

At a meeting on August 16, 1877, the decision was made to build a church 50' long and 32' wide with 16' high side walls. On October 1, the construction began and the building was ready for Christmas at the cost of $2,144. In January of the next year during the annual meeting it was decided to paint the exterior and interior wall and to purchase benches, altar ring, table and chairs before 1880. B.P. Hessler gave the church the pulpit. The furnishings cost $725.

In 1883 a new parsonage was built at a cost of $1,225 with the addition of a barn, wood shed, fence, and a well at an additional cost of $275. In 1889 a meeting reported that a kitchen had been added to the parsonage at a cost of $260. The church continued to grow. At the annual meeting in 1892, it was decided to build an addition to the church 12' long and 32' wide, and also a bell tower 12' by 12' by 60' high. This was done at a cost of $1,142.41. The congregational organizations raised money to purchase an organ, bences, communion service, church and parsonage decorating, church bell, and altar rail. The total cost the first 25 years for the support and building of the church and furnishing was the sum of $41,522.62.

Another addition to the church was made in 1904 when a sacristy was built with the dimensions 24' by 24'.


The Assaria Lutheran Church's first century of development is closely associated with the community's history with migration of Swedish settlers to the Smoky Vallery where they could homestead and build their homes.

During the first century of the church's history, many youth of the congregation had been called into the military service of the United States during World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. An influenza epidemic in 1918 caused many deaths within the congregation. In 1926 and in 1928, the church was struck by lightning, resulting in lightning rods being installed after the second incident. The life of the congregation has changed with the history of the community. Yet through hardship and struggle the congregation has held its faith in the words, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8.

At the annual meeting in January 1911, the Assaria congregation expressed the need for having a larger and more inviting church. The ideas was discussed and a committee was formed to study the possibility of raising money for a new church. Two years later, in 1913, the idea became real when another committee was elected and instructed by the congregation to go ahead and raise funds and make plans for a new church.

The congregation of the church did the excavating of the main cellar and footings and were to put in all concrete footings and walls upt to the base course of the brick. The footings beneath the wall wer 6' across. The cornerstone was to be 26" by 17 1/2 " by 25" cut to fit a 17" wall, and to have a hole in the bottom for a box 6" by 6" by 12".

In the early years of the congregation, groups were organized to assist with raising funds for missions and

planned construction of the new sanctuary. Luther League, Ladies Aid Society, Sorosis Society, all had a very active part in helping with this ministry and fulfilling the social needs of the community.

The Women's Missionary Society (1894) worked partly for missions and for special causes within the congregation. It was through their effors an organ was purchased for $275, new pews were installed, and new carpets were laid.

The Youth Organization (1883) was to provide Christian education and inspiration for the yourth. In 1907, this group was reorganized under the name Luther League. The were able to pay for the new organ which was purchased for the new church at $2,000.

The Sorosis Society (1912) was compromised of young women of the congregation whose chief purpose was to create enthusiasm for foreign missions. This orgainzation provided one of the memorial windows, the altar, the pulpit, along with paraments for the altar and pulpit.

Talitha (1917) was organized to allow members to share their talents, music recitation, or poetry. This group later became known as the Junior Mission Band.

All the items purchased by the vairous groups plus pew book racks and hat wires cost $1,066.70. Most of the interior trim and most of the interior lumber is oak. The larger windows and the window sills are of cypress. The total expense for the project was $25,000.00 which included wiring and the hook up to electrical lines, light fixtures. art glass, furnace and hardware, and the church construction. The first service in the new sanctuary was held on Easter Sunday, 1916, and the dedication was held on October 1916.

In the 1930's, the men of the congregation reorganized the Lutheran Brotherhood which made contributions for Bible Camps, Lutheran World Action, devotional booklets, and the recreational park area (located north of the church)

Most services and meetings were conducted in Swedish until 1936 when the English language was used at the Sunday morning 11:00 a.m. service. It was decinded at the annual meeting in 1945 to discontinue Swedish services completely.

In 1974 in preparation for the Centennial Year observance the church was completely renovated and redecorated. During the period of renovation, church services were held in the high school gymnasium across the street. On May 12, 1974, an impressive service was held during which the congregation proceeded from the gymnasium into the beautifylly redecorated sanctuary.


After Word War II, increased enrollement in the Sunday School and increased interest in Adult education put an added strain on the church's limited facilities and classroom space. All church groups and many individuals contributed to a fund to build an annex for education. By the late 1950's, the fund had reached a point where it was felt the church could go ahead with construction. The new annex was dedicated on August 7, 1960. The building, costing $39,560.00 was built by Erickson Construction Company of Assaria. Furnishings added 1,385.24 to the total cost. A library was started for the congregation in 1964.

The added facilities contributed greatly toward adequate space for teaching both Sunday Church School and Vacation Bible School.

In the 50's and 60's some new ideas were added to the church ministery. Including a Candelight Christmas Eve service in addition to the early Christmas morning Julotta service. There was also a "Dial for Devotions" telephone hook up ) in operation twenty-four hours/day) plus the beginning of Lenten Worship Services.

The teaching of God's word to youngsters and adults remained very important. There was a Bible school program each summer plus Bible Camps at Cam Wa Shunga (later replaced by Camp Tomah Shinga). An important educational program was the catechetical instruction (Confirmation) of the youth. Special instruction classes were offered to children in 5th grade which permitted them to participate in the Lord's Supper. High school age members participatd in learning and fun through Luther League activities.

The Lutheran Church men obtained a charter to organize a boy scout program for boys in the community. A men's breakfast and discussion group was opeed to the community. Other church men activities have provided scholarships to students attending Bethany College plus an annual ice cream social.

The Lutheran Church Women and the ladies' groups meet for devotions and Bible studies as well as sponsoring service projects that benefit Bethany Home and other agencies, making quilts to be fiven to relief agencies, serving at funerals and weddings, organizing a visitation schedule to visit the homebound and thos members in nursing homes. The organization is now known as WELCA.

The Church Choir is a valuable part of the worship life of the congregation. The montly church newsletter, The Visitor, has served as a source of communication to the congregation. The Assaria congregation continues to gather annually prior to Thanksgiving Day to express thanks to God for all the Lord's blessings.

In 1979, a three manual Allen Digital Computer Organ was dedicated to replae the pipe organ which had been installed in 1916. In 1985 Little Tot Preschool orgainized and instructed by Trudy (Manning) Lund started meeting in the educational building nursery room. In 1994, the Assaria congregation made the preschool its own and they moved to the basement of the church sanctuary. Wendy (Bessel) Holtz has been the instuctor for the preschool since that time.

The first burials in the church cemetary were made in the 1870's, but it was not until 1914 that attempts were made to operate with planning for future needs. The congregation has continued to maintain the church cemetary. It was decided in 1991 that veterans should be remembered on Memorial Day by flying their flags in the cemetary. The Avenue of Flags was dedicated at the Memorial Day Services on May 27. 1991.

In 1990 a committee was formed to look into the possibilities of remodeling the sanctuary basement kitchen or building an addition to the north of the Education Annex. After many meetings and much discussion it was voted at the Annual Meeting in December 1992 to accept the proposal for Zion Church Builders, Zion, Illinois, to build a Family Life Centr to the north of the Education Annex. The new addition would contain secretary and pastor's offices, a lounge for meetings up to 30 people, a new kitchen, and a fellowship/recreation area that would seat 250 people. On August 19, 1993, final plans from Zion were accepted and ground breaking took place October 3, 1993.

Dedication of the Family Life Center was held on May 1, 1994. The total cost of the Family Life Center including furnishings was $335,155.

This building project was only completed with the help and blessing of God through generous gifts of members, former members and others. Various fund raising projects were held to aid in the funding of the construction.

The Assaria Lutheran Church has a history of leadership, service, and supports to the tenets of Christian teaching and beliefs. The church's history reflects the efforts of good pastoral leadership, strong support of dedicated members, and, above all, the blessings of God Almight. Assaria Lutheran Church is the embodiment of God's word to God's people. Thanks be to God!

Written by Monette Johnson and Trudy Lund