By Ken Westby – Goodyear, Arizona
In 1911, over 100 years ago, the Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish settlers of the Nut Lake area joined together to establish the first church in this frontier area. The congregation was without a full-time pastor for many years and called upon pastors at other Lutheran churches to visit whenever required.
Largely through the efforts of his son, Arnfin Martinson, who had emigrated from Norway via Wisconsin to Nut Lake in 1908, the church council extended a call to my grandfather, Martin Madsberg, to become the first preacher. He was installed as the church deacon in 1914 and, as such, performed many of the duties of a pastor until a full-time pastor was found. He continued to serve the congregation until his death in 1934.
Martin was born in Våler, Sølar District, Hedmark County, Norway in 1855 and came to Nut Lake in 1912 (at age 58) along with his wife, Kirsten, and 4 children, Olea, Elsie, Peter, and Signe. Four older children remained in Norway.
While Martin was not an ordained pastor he was raised in a Christian home and served the Lord his entire life. He had attended a Bible school in Norway where missionaries were trained and sent to foreign lands.
At that time there was no formal Lutheran Church organization in Canada so the call was extended to Martin through Norwegian Lutheran Missions (Norsk Luterske Misjonssamband) who paid the travel expenses of the family from Norway to Nut Lake.
Martin and family had purchased tickets on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic. By the grace of God the Titanic was overbooked and they were ticketed on the Empress of Ireland which embarked two months later. They arrived in Canada at Quebec City and travelled by train to Wadena where they were met by their son, Arnfin, and his wife, Olga, with whom they lived during that first winter of 1912-13.
In those early years a church building had not yet been constructed so the congregation gathered every Sunday at various farm homes for Sunday service and fellowship. The services were conducted in Norwegian and formed an important part of their lives as there were no radios, television, newspapers, telephones, etc. – the Sunday church service was their main source of communication. It was unusual for anyone to miss church on Sunday!
After morning service they’d sit down to a potluck dinner, drink lots of coffee (known as the Norsk blood transfusion), the children would play games and the men would talk about their crops and livestock, play horseshoe and a game called ‘nip’.
The women would gather to find out about any illnesses in the congregation, about food, their gardens, clothing, and always found time to work on quilt-making and to do some knitting and crocheting.
Later in the afternoon they’d have a hymn sing lead by Kirsten Madsberg accompanied on the pump organ by her daughter-in-law Olga Martinson. Closing prayers were led by Martin Madsberg followed by a potluck supper. Then they’d all hitch up the horses and return home to do the evening chores and prepare to gather the next Sunday at another farm home.
During the long, cold winters Martin could often be seen on his skis or snowshoes calling on neighbours far and wide with his Bible in his back-pack ready to pray for those in need or to lead a Bible study.
In addition to serving as the choir leader, Kirsten was the local midwife and often was called upon to assist those who were sick as there was no doctor in the area.