The first settlers who came to Otter Creek valley during the years 1867, 1868, and 1869 were, a majority of them, separated from the old state church in Sweden, the reason for the separation being the results of the great revival which swept over that country from fifty-five to sixty years ago, at which time the people commenced to study their bibles more earnestly and prayed to God for His Holy Spirit to guide and lead them into the light. The learned from the New Testament that the church of Jesus Christ in our days should consist of members who had repented of their sins and been regenerated and by faith received Jesus as a personal Saviour. They also found that such persons should be baptized in the water by immersion as the only mode used by Christ and His apostles and that the ministers of the gospel should be servants of God and be anointed with God's Holy Spirit or as the Apostle Peter says they should be in I. Peter 5, 1-4.
By comparing these beliefs with the conditions in the Swedish State church, as it existed during those days, they found the church did not measure up to the qualifications stated in the word of God and this was the reason for the separation and the organization into a church as the bible teaches and for the purpose of worshipping God according to their own consciences.
There arose a persecution similar to the one held in Jerusalem against the first church of Christ. Many were arrested and lodged in jail and liable to fine and while in jail they were fed on a bread and water diet for twenty-eight days. This was the worst form of punishment possible as the law prohibited starvation as dangerous and likely to cause loss of life.
This punishment the new ministers of Christ suffered merely for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to lost and unsaved souls. This was the law in our country, a country which had the reputation of being a Christian land and the ministers of the State church with the governmental officials were the ones who lead the persecutions.
After being persecuted for many years many of the inhabitants who had heard of this country with religious liberty decided to leave their own land and set sail for the other side of the sea and thus we find the reason for the large number of Baptists who first settled in Otter Creek valley.
The first Swedish Baptist church was organized on the 16th day of August, 1869, at the home of Carl Peter Frodig, now in Stockholm township, and consisted of the following members: Nels Lindberg, Carl Peter Frodig, Hans Hallander, Ingermar Michaelson, Charles J. Star, Anders Anderson, Nils Petter Erickson, James Anderson, Waldemar Peterson, Peter Carlson, John Hoaglund, Mrs. Beck, Mrs. Frodig, Carolina Nelson, Lovisa Holmberg, Sara Charlotta Erickson, Anna Hoaglund and John A. Erickson. Of the above charter members, there were nineteen in all, the only members yet living are Ingemar Michaelson, John A. Erickson and Lovisa Holmberg or (Duncan).
This church since its organization has kept up regular services, first in the humble homes where all met together to worship and later, when the school house was completed, in the latter part of the summer of 1869, moving into the new building for a place of public worship. The religious services were held in this school house until 1876 as it was a well built structure and in a conveniently located spot for both school and church. However, geographically, according to the school laws, it was situated in the wrong place, as it was difficult to ascertain the correct lines for the laying out of public highways and erection of buildings at that time and later it was necessary to change them somewhat.
The meetings were conducted along the lines of free testimony, exhortations and prayers as well as preaching by those who were appointed as leaders, and they were of the best kind, interesting and helpful. That is, not the kind to create excitement, but the power of the Holy Ghost was felt and the members loved one another and when they met together at homes for a social or any other kind of a gathering, whether many or few might be present, it was always customary to read from the scripture, sing together and pray to God. Now, I ask, is this custom observed in our days? To my sorrow I answer it is very much neglected and too much worldliness has come into the church.
There was unity among the members of the church, each one serving the Lord in the beauty of holiness, until new settlers came into our vicinity with the thought that Christians should observe more closely the law and lay special stress upon the keeping of Saturday as the day of rest. That is, they laid this as the foundation of salvation and preached Sabbath days more than the cleansing from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ as the foundation for the salvation of mankind. This doctrine was accepted by a few of the members of our church and created a division which is and always has been a menace to the church of Christ. Such men would be far better off if they never tried to make divisions among those who serve God, but we are foretold in the scriptures that such men should come and whenever these times come, may we be watchful and pray that we may not be among those who draw disciples from Christ. We have known several of this sort of men who thought that they could be saved by keeping the law, but in each case divisions were created in the church and every time caused sorrow in place of good fellowship with Christ.
The latter part of 1875 there began a revival such as had never been held in this part of the country before. This revival, which continued until early spring, was conducted by A. Hayland, of Nebraska, who held meeting almost every day when the weather permitted and on the Sabbath twice. He was a good speaker, a gook singer and played music well, but better than all this, he was anointed with God's holy spirit. The meetings continued until the fore part of April, 1876, and many had been converted during the winter to believe in Christ as their personal Saviour, the number of converts reaching perhaps a hundred. On the 8th day of March fifty persons were baptized in Otter Creek, Carl Peter Frodig performing the ordinance, and a short time later about twenty more were baptized and taken in as members of the church. These scenes are long to be remembered and will not be forgotten by those who were present in a life time.
In chapter twelve we mentioned the epidemic of diphtheria in the Swedish settlement and the many who died as a result of the disease. Many of these victims had been converted in the revival and before they passed away they offered up the most glorious testimony of their salvation and peace with God which was a blessing to hear and it seems as though it must have been God's hand that was in the revival as well as the epidemic.
Now, there were a large number of persons added to the church and we had no meeting house. The old school had been sold to a private party and moved away from its original site and used as a living house, therefore the church members decided to erect a house of public worship. A site had been promised by Anders Anderson, who was now dead, so his widow, Christina Anderson, stood by the promise her husband had made and donated a site of two acres of very fine land which was high and afforded a beautiful view, the land being located about one mile south of old Kiron. A deed was obtained to the land and soon the lumber and building materials were hauled from Denison and the work begun. Anthon Sather and Charles J. Johnson were employed to do the building and all were willing to donate money and labor according to their means, and some really gave more than they were able to. The building was 28 x 45 and it was not a long time before the church was completed and ready for dedication.
During the year 1880 there was trouble in the church and some of the older members left to organize a new church, which they called the Church of God. In 1899 it was decided to move the church building to the new town of Kiron after the railroad was built. To this a few objected, but it was accomplished and the parsonage and lot were sold to Per M. Sjogren.
In 1908 it was determined to take down the old church building which had served as a place of religious worship since 1876, about thirty-two years, and to erect a new and modern structure much larger. Plans were submitted, a building committee elected and Joseph A. Engberg was appointed to superintend the work. The pastor, A. G. Lagerquist, was at the head of the movement and raised money and worked for the erection of the new building. Early in the spring the old church, which had been a landmark, was torn down and the excavating commenced on the new structure. The brick work followed, the contract having been let to a man from Denison. The carpenter work in those days was all done by the day and a great deal of it given free of charge for the church. The basement was divided off into a large auditorium for Sunday school and weekly meetings, a smaller room for class meetings and kitchen, two furnace rooms and coal bins. The main floor consisted of a large auditorium, one class room on the south and one at the north end with folding doors which open and close as desired. There are two galleries, a public library and reading room and two smaller rooms for private use and especially for the caring of children at the meetings, and a large and roomy platform for the piano and singers. The building is heated with hot air from two furnaces, has city water in the building and is lighted with gas. A large roomy parsonage is built on the east of the lots which cost three thousand dollars. The church property is worth fourteen thousand dollars and was, at the time of the dedication, clear of all debt.
The following pastors have served the church from its organization to the present time:
The membership of the church on Jan. 1, 1915, was one hundred and forty-four.
This is the history of the first church organized near Kiron of the Swedish Baptist denomination in 1868 and which is at the present time forty-seven years old.
There were a few Swedish pioneers who settled in the town of Denison in an early day and organized a Baptist church, but I am not able to tell much of its history. There was a time, however, in about 1873, when there were about twenty-five members, Gust Nylen serving as pastor for some time and later C. G. Roos. Some of the members moved to all parts of the country, a few died and the remainder joined the American Baptist church of that town.