Even though Pastor Per Almgren never lived to see the day when the Wilhelmina congregation was organized, he would be noteworthy of reference. In 1902, he became the frontier missionary of the Augustana Swedish Lutheran Synod in Alberta, with headquarters in Wetaskiwin. In a four year period he established eight congregations, including the Fridhem congregation in 1902. Fridhem provided a nucleus of twenty-four confirmed members and thirty-four children to organize the Wilhelmina congregation in 1908. Had his destiny not come to the sudden tragic ending of his life in 1906, it is likely he would have been the founder of the Wilhelmina congregation also. The legend is that as he was travelling along a trail through the woods in his buggy, from a preaching engagement near Pigeon Lake, a tree felled by a woodsman, crashed down on him and he was fatally injured. A monument in his memory was placed at the location. Almgren’s successor was Pastor Olaf Lindgren.
Pastor Olaf Lindgren organized the Wilhelmina congregation and served until 1915, receiving a salary of $50 a year. In 1910, Lindgren moved to Czar and organized a congregation there, but continued to serve the Fridhem and Wilhelmina parish, commuting from Czar. A Lutheran church was built at Kingman about 1914. The three congregations formed a parish until the Kingman congregation disbanded.
Remuneration was very meagre and no doubt there were many moments of dark discouragement and despair. But these men were strong in their faith and through perseverance and determination, their work has been fruitful.
Pastor Leonard Heiner was ordained in Minneapolis, U.S.A. in 1915 and therewith accepted a call to this parish, receiving $100 a year for his service. He was one who faced many trials and tribulations and whose ministry was cut short by his death during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, when he laboured among the sick until he too, succumbed. It is suggested that you read the heart-rendering biography of Pastor Heiner by V.J. Tengwald in the Armena history “Footprints along the Stoney”, p.215-216.
Pastor Otto Eklund, a strong hard-working minister and farmer, was noted for his powerful dynamic preaching. He was well-known and well- liked as he served the parish so many times over the years. In addition to Meeting Creek, he served the Fridhem and Wilhelmina parish. He also had a very profound interest in the Miquelon Mission (north of Miquelon Lake) which he established in 1929, but it was finally dissolved about 1945. Upon his death, as stated in his obituary, was a well-phrased sentiment, “The Oak Has Fallen”.
Pastor Axel Eriksson was another pastor who was noted for his faithful attention to the matters of the parish, even under the most adverse conditions. Stories are told of his great endurance as a walker, often walking the distance of seven miles from Fridhem to Wilhelmina. He also attended to the Miquelon Mission. Death ended his ministry in 1937. It is evident his ministry made a strong impression upon his own family, in that three of his sons, Herbert, Harold and Paul entered into the ministry and a daughter, Helen, became a deaconess.
Pastor Carl Bernhardson can be remembered with gratitude for his very thorough and profound preaching and his faithful ministry until his death in 1947. While he served this parish and the Miquelon Mission, he was also Dean of the Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute. The Swedish language was generally used until 1949, in the service and records.
Pastor Robert Pearson served the parish for a period of six years before accepting a call to the Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute as Dean. During his ministry the congregation discontinued receiving mission aid since he was also teaching at the Bible School and his salary there supplemented his salary from the parish. In 1949, Bethel Lutheran Church was organized under his guidance, becoming the third congregation within the parish.
Pastor Robert Ek arrived from the Seminary in Rock Island but hails from Monterey, Minnesota. He and Mrs. Ek were newly-weds when they arrived in 1956. Under his leadership, the congregation celebrated the fiftieth anniversary in 1958.
Pastor Paul M. Swedberg was extended a call in 1960. He served the parish until 1965, when he made a decision to serve in the mission fields of Africa. During this period the Wilhelmina and Fridhem congregations were struggling for survival, so on the recommendation from the Synod that active members transfer to neighbouring churches of their choice, the Fridhem congregation voted in favour of disbandment in 1963. At a special congregational meeting held at Wilhelmina on September 5th, 1965, the recommendation by council passed by a vote of twelve in favour and ten against, that the Wilhelmina congregation also disband.
From the time when the church closed, there was a feeling amongst the people of something amiss and interest was on the increase to have it re-opened for services. A meeting was called in the fall of 1966. The president of the Western Canadian Synod, Dr. J.M. Zimmerman, presided at the meeting, followed with discussion.
Pastor Donald Miller, serving the Bethel congregation at Camrose, attended the meeting with concern, and offered to lend a hand providing that some arrangement was possible with the Bethel congregation. A suggestion by Dr. Zimmerman that Wilhelmina affiliate with the New Sarepta congregation and Pastor Lyons as a trial, was agreed upon. However, Pastor Lyons departed from Alberta immediately after the first service was held. Arrangements were then made with Bethel and Pastor Miller to serve Wilhelmina which he continued to do faithfully until he left in November, 1972.
Pastor Robert Jacobson and family accepted a call to the parish and arrived in January, 1973. He will be remembered as being a distinctly extraordinary minister, and was very well-liked. He was a strong preacher and teacher of God’s word and encouraged the members of the parish to be good stewards of the land. Upon a recommendation by Pastor Jacobson, at the annual meeting in January, 1975, it was resolved that the Wilhelmina congregation request to be re-instated into the Western Canada Synod as they had not been since the congregation disbanded. The question of realignment with Our Saviour, Hay Lakes, was under discussion in 1977, due to the overloaded responsibility on the pastor. A motion was carried unanimously that Wilhelmina desired to continue the affiliation with Bethel and Pastor Jacobson. However, due to the dominating perseverance from the Bethel congregation and the Synod president, Pastor Sjoberg, the Wilhelmina congregation reluctantly had to eventually come to terms – an arrangement that has in fact worked out to the benefit of both Our Saviour and Wilhlemina over the past thirty years. Pastor Jacobson went on to become bishop of the Alberta/Northwest Territories Synod, a position he filled for ten years.
Pastor Robert Kemppainen, a Senior Seminarian from Minneapolis, Minnesota, was extended a call in May 1977. He arrived to begin his ministry the first of September, 1977. A memorable event of 1979 was the wedding celebrations of Pastor Kemppainen and Marilyn Schoenknecht, R.N., a local lass of Hay Lakes. He continued Pastor Jacobson’s ministry of strong preaching, teaching and stewardship. He also introduced more contemporary forms of worship, putting his guitar to good use on many Sunday mornings. Upon accepting a call from the Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute, Pastor Kemppainen handed in his resignation in 1982.
A call was extended to Seminarian Paul Pfohl of St. Louis, U.S.A. on January 3,1983. He accepted the call and served faithfully until December 1990. Pastor Paul and his wife were newly wed when they arrived in our parish. On April 29, 1984 Pastor Paul’s ordination service took place in Hay Lakes. Pastor Paul and his wife, Joan, quickly became an important part of the community, and were involved in many aspects of community life. Their door was always open and people were welcome to share their joys and burdens over a cup of coffee at their kitchen table. Family and youth were also an important part of their ministry. When they left in 1990, three children had been born into their family and they were expecting a fourth. Pastor Paul was well known for dropping in unannounced for an afternoon or evening visit, and was always willing to pitch in and lend a hand where needed.
The congregation was served for a brief period by Costa Rican native, Pastor Ramos – a decidedly dynamic speaker with a tremendous enthusiasm for God and trust in God’s faithfulness. As one congregational member summed it up with a laugh in later years: “He’ll be well remembered for pioneering the three hour sermon!”
Pastor Mark Sallmen was instrumental in re-introducing Swedish traditions within the church, beginning with the first “Santa Lucia” celebration held in December of 1991. This program has become a highlight of the year ever since it first began and special thanks must be made to Lillian Nordin for organizing the children and youth in the community each year to commemorate Saint Lucia’s story of light and giving to the poor. Pastor Mark also held a Swedish Julotta (6:00am Christmas Morning) service in the Swedish language the year he served us.
Between 1992 and 1996, the congregation experienced a rotation of ministerial leadership.
Rev. James Kruger began by serving for nearly a year and a half. He’s remembered as a strong evangelist, grounded in the Word and Traditions of the church. When the congregation sang a chorus containing the word “Hallelujah” during Lent, we were quickly taught that, for Lutherans, it was inappropriate to use the word “Hallelujah” at that time. Lent was the season of reflection and preparation.
In 1994, Pastor Marilyn Haugen-Strand was called and served for a short time. She spent one year of that time on maternity leave, at the end of which she announced her resignation (her husband had accepted a job in British Columbia necessitating a family re-location). Pastor Vincent Eriksson served as supply minister and also supervised intern Craig Wentland during Pastor Marilyn’s leave of absence. Pastor George Friedrich also served as interim and mentor prior to Pastor Craig’s ordination.
In 1996, Rev. Craig Wentland – who had already been serving the congregation in an intern position – was called as full time pastor. He was ordained at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Hay Lakes, and continued to serve the parish for the next eight years. He encouraged youth participation in worship services, and advocated faith outside of “Sunday”. The confirmation students were involved in external ministry such as visiting the residents of Rosehaven. He also promoted inter-generation activities and worship which met with some success. In 2004, Pastor Craig moved on to become chaplain at the Augustana University College in Camrose.
Rev. Rolf Bjornstad from Edmonton and Pastor Rachel Dart, who also commuted from Edmonton. Due to the nature of interim ministry, and the physical aging of many members of the congregation, Wilhelmina experienced a degree of directionlessness and feelings of fear over the future viability of the congregation during this time. Pastor Greg’s acceptance of the call to serve us has brought a renewed sense of purpose and a re-grounding in God’s word that we are very excited about. We are looking forward to serving the Lord faithfully for the next one hundred years! It’s interesting to note that Pastor Greg was here at Wilhelmina twenty-five years ago as a student. We are delighted to have him back.
From June 2010 through September 2012, Wilhelmina did not have a called or interim pastor. We were served by many faithful people on a rotational basis during this time. Our guest speaker rotation included Donald Bolstad, Ron & Cheryl Chetney, Jonny Aicken, Greg Kjos (LCC), Greg Rokos, Riley Sexton and Rob Lewis (WMPL) along with a several other occassional speakers. Pastor Dean Rostad from Resurection Lutheran Brethren church in Camrose served as our emergency contact pastor. We are grateful for the encouragement, support and prayer we received from so many – support that enabled us to take the step of faith to leave the ELCIC and move forward, trusting God to guide us.
On September 23, 2012, Ron Chetney was installed as our new (part-time) pastor. Ron, and his wife Cheryl, had been speaking and leading worship at Wilhelmina on a regular basis for over a year. The congregation enjoyed our guest speaker rotation but felt it needed greater consistency and leadership in order to move forward in it’s mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to our community. Ron and Cheryl were a perfect fit. With a real passion for the gospel and true compassion for people, Ron and Cheryl have richly blessed our congregation and community.