Our History

Our History

Throughout the years, many people have served to develop the faithfulness of those who join together as Christ’s body, the church. The earliest of those who gathered to form McFarland Lutheran Church were Norwegian settlers from the village of McFarland and the surrounding Town of Dunn. The congregation was established in 1867 by the Rev. Aall Ottesen, a Norwegian pastor called to serve as a circuit rider to several Lutheran congregations in this area of the New World. The Rev. Otteson served both McFarland Lutheran and Christ Lutheran Church in Stoughton until around 1890 when the two parishes were able to support their own pastors. Worship services were held in Norwegian until some time in the 1920s.

The first church building, dedicated in 1876, was destroyed in a windstorm in 1881. The second church building, constructed in 1881, burned to the ground on Christmas Eve in 1895, probably due to a lighted candle on the Christmas tree that was not properly extinguished. The next structure, the third church, was built in 1895, stood until 1975 when it was burned as an exercise for the local fire department. Destroying that wooden structure made way for the existing sanctuary, which was added to the 1962 education wing. Further expansion to the current structure – a gymnasium-sized multi-purpose room called the Family Life Center, education rooms and a larger narthex or gathering space – was undertaken in the 1990s and finished in 1997.

Pastors called to serve the congregation in the past include the Rev. J. A. Otteson, Rev. C. M. Hvistendahl, Rev. A. Bredesen, Rev. R. O. Brandt, Rev. Morris Sorenson, Rev. G. T. Bergee, Rev. H. J. Rasmussen, Rev. Harvey Johnson, Rev. Thomas Smrcka, Rev. Michael Baucom, Rev. Peter Jonas, and Rev. Willard Lund. The church now numbers close to 1,900 members.

One of this congregation’s most significant accomplishments was opening a preschool in 1980 under the auspices of Martin Luther Christian Day School in Stoughton. By 1991 the preschool had grown to the extent that the congregation dropped its affiliation with Martin Luther, and committed to supporting the school independently. The preschool – now called Child Life Ministries (CLM) – continues to serve the McFarland community with preschool classes, day care, after school, and school-age child care. Our CLM outreach ministry takes its place along with other opportunities for ministry and discipleship, like Befrienders, Bethel Series, Alpha Bible Study, Life Keys, women’s circles, youth ministry, and so many more. McFarland Lutheran Church currently rallies under the E.L.C.A. theme, Fanning the Flames of Discipleship, as we seek to grow deeper into Christ and the community that bears his name.

Our History


According to the Norwegian Lutheran Encyclopedia, McFarland Lutheran Church was organized under the pastoral leadership of the zealous pioneer missionary, the Reverend J.A. Otteson of what was then the far-flung parish known as West Koshkonong. The first worship services had been held as early as February 19, 1864, in a log schoolhouse on the site of the present east cemetery.


Building of the first church began, taking several years to complete (finished in 1873 – dedicated in 1876). The site was where the present cemetery exists.


McFarland Lutheran Church becomes a separate congregation (formerly a branch of West Koshkonong). The Reverend C.M. Hvistendahl installed as Pastor of a newly formed parish consisting of the East Side Church in Stoughton and the McFarland Lutheran Church.

The Church Choir and the Ladies Aid were organized.


Pastor Hvistendahl resigned to return to his native Norway. The first church building was destroyed in a windstorm. The church was rebuilt using salvageable materials at a cost of three thousand dollars. The Reverend Adolph Bredesen called to the Stoughton and McFarland parish and the first class confirmed.


Second church building destroyed by fire following the Christmas tree program.


Third church completed at cost of $ 5,017.28 (site, organ, carpet, bell).


The congregation voted to divide the parish and called the Reverend R. O. Brandt as its first resident pastor. The first parsonage was built at this time at a cost of about two thousand dollars including the site. This house still stands directly east of the church. The first Sunday School with an enrollment of thirty-five pupils and six teachers.


The “Luther Alliance” is organized. Its name is changed in 1904 to the Young People’s Society. It later is called the Luther League.


Three Norwegian Synods united to form the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. Pastor Brandt urged the transition from the Norwegian language to English in McFarland. English soon became used at about half of the worship services.


Pastor Brandt was stricken with apoplexy while presiding at a meeting of the congregation. Funeral services were held on March 28, 1927. He and his wife who died in 1939 are buried in the family lot in the McFarland cemetery and a monument was erected by the members of the congregation in loving remembrance. The Reverend M. A. Sorenson installed as pastor on November 6th. At this time Norwegian services were conducted only on the first Sunday of each month. 


A Men’s Club was organized.

Northeast corner of the church extended to make a place for the choir. An envelope system for contributions introduced. The church constitution, translated from Norwegian to English for the first time, was adopted by the congregation.


The first Circle was formed, a Bible study group of the Ladies Aide. At its peak, there were 11 Circles.


McFarland Lutheran celebrates its 75th anniversary. The church’s first history, written by Iver M. Kalnes, is published.


Discussions regarding the remodeling of the church were begun. Rev. Sorenson resigned on September 8th, 1948 to accept a call to Argyle, Wisconsin after a pastorate of more than twenty years in McFarland.


The Reverend G. T. Bergee called as pastor. Building committee elected. Women’s suffrage voted in.


Plot 132’x 284′ north of the church purchased.


Complete remodeling of the church basement and sacristy addition. The first Norwegian smorgasbord took place, an annual fundraiser of the Ladies Aide. It continued until 1993.


On a call to Japan Morris Sorenson, Jr. was commissioned as a missionary.


Building of the new parsonage.


Parsonage debt paid.


Property bought for expansion.


Educational building constructed and dedicated in January of 1963.


Bethel Series (Bible Study for Adults) instituted.


Pastor G. T. Bergee resigned to accept a call to Beloit, Wisconsin. Pastor H. J. Rasmussen installed.


Educational Unit Mortgage burned, 100th Anniversary Celebration, Altar Guild organized and Building Fund established.


Pastor H.J. Rasmassen retires.


The Rev. Harvey Johnson called as pastor.


Planning Council established.


Building Committee appointed.


Groundbreaking September 1, 1974.


Pastor Johnson passes away after being stricken with cancer. Funeral services were held on February 1, 1975. The Rev. Thomas Smrcka called as pastor. He stays at McFarland Lutheran until 1990. The third church is destroyed by fire in a controlled burn. Dedication of new worship center.


A second church history, written by Pauline Larson, is published.


Rev. Michael Baucom installed. He stays at McFarland Lutheran until Sept. 1989.


Rev. Peter Jonas installed as associate pastor, replacing Baucom. He stays until early 1992.


Interim Pastor Rev. Joel Diemer arrives in January 1991, stays until the summer of 1992.  McFarland Lutheran votes to administer and finance McFarland Lutheran Christian Preschool independently from Martin Luther Christian Day School located in Stoughton.


Rev. Terry Peterson installed in June as MLC’s 10th senior pastor. He stayed until June 2007.  Rev. Willard Lund was installed as associate pastor, staying until 1997. MLC celebrates its 125th anniversary.


Rev. John Bergson installed as associate pastor, marking the first time in MLC history in which three ordained pastors were on the staff. Bergson stays until 2003. The Youth Education Ministry begins.


Construction started on the new addition to the current church (new Family Life Center, the new entrance and Gathering area, new Sunday school rooms, additional preschool rooms and remodeling of the old Educational Wing for church staff)


Rev. Jerry Pribbenow replaces Lund as the part-time pastor stays until 2010.


Meg Nielsen became MLC’s first lay ministry associate. She remained on staff until 2010.


Rev. Jeffrey Tomberlin is installed as the associate pastor. He stays in this role until 2007.


Tomberlin replaces Peterson as senior pastor. He resigned in 2009.


Interim pastors Jerry Tews and Jack Finney lead the congregation through the summer of 2011. The mission statement, SHARE GOD’S WORD, SHOW GOD’S LOVE, SERVE GOD’S WORLD, is adopted.


Pastor Timothy Dean is installed as MLC’s senior pastor. During his first year, Dean is assisted by interim pastors Katya Ouchakof and Sara Gillespie.


Pastor Kelli Schmit is installed as MLC’s first permanent female pastor.


Work begins on the remodeling of the sanctuary.


In November, the congregation moves into its newly remodeled sanctuary. Huldah Ellestad is named Coordinator of Lay Ministry and Adult Education.


Basement renovation work is completed.


MLC celebrates its sesquicentennial through year-long observations, including the publishing of an updated church history.