Chapter III: Focal Point of the Synod

As it entered the second decade of its existence, the young congregation still had a rather tenuous hold on life; for it continued to be without either a full-time pastor or a church building. Its membership was neither large nor wealthy. However, toward the end of the decade, the dream of having a house of worship was realized, but then only because Des Moines was more and more coming to be a focal point of the Danish Church in America. Meanwhile, and most important, the day-to-day life of the congregation continued to be a blessing to many and an intimate concern of those who shared in it.

The Pastoral Leadership

For the first few years of its life, the president of the college had served as pastor of the congregation. Thus, Vestergaard and Nordentoft, both of whom had been educated at the University of Copenhagen and ordained in Denmark, had each served for about four years. Vestergaard, who was in his thirties at that time, was married and the father of three children, one of whom had died. He served the congregation until 1903 when he returned to Denmark to become a pastor in the state church until his death in 1937.

Nordentoft, who took over after Vestergaard, also lived in the president’s residence, located at the corner of East Ninth and Grandview. He, too, was in his thirties, and unmarried at the time, but his sister kept house for him. He served as pastor for four years, resigning in 1907 to devote his full effort to the work at the college. Three years later he moved to Solvang, California, where he was instrumental in opening a folk school and organizing a congregation. He married during his years in Solvang. He returned to Denmark in 1921, and served in various pastorates there until his death in 1942.

Eilif Wagner, Nordentoft’s assistant in the seminary, and later interim president of the college, succeeded him as the congregation’s pastor. Like his predecessors, he had been educated and ordained in Denmark. His wife was the daughter of a well-known folk school leader and editor in Denmark, and her brother, Erik Appel, was a lay

teacher at the college for some years. Wagner was barely thirty-one years old when he became pastor in Des Moines. His resignation from that pastorate became effective at the end of 1911, and the following summer he returned to Denmark where he began what was to be a long period of continuous service to one parish, brought to an end by his death in 1941.

On January 1, 1912)S. D. Rodholm, then thirty-five years of age, became pastor of St. Johannes congregation. Soren Damsgaard Rodholm, the first graduate of the seminary at Grand View, was the first pastor of the congregation to have received his theological education and ordination in America. After his ordination in 1901, he first served at Fredsville (Dike) Iowa, and then in Boston, Massachusetts. Following that, he spent a brief period in Denmark at the University of Copenhagen after which he came to Des Moines to become Wagner’s assistant in the theological seminary. Rodholm’s wife was the daughter of a prominent leader in the Danish Church in America, Pastor Peder Kjolhede. When the Rodholms came to Des Moines they had four children, and during the years they were here, five more were born.

When in the fall of 1912 Pastor Thorvald Knudson came to assume the college presidency, he was active with Rodholm in the work of the congregation. He shared in the preaching and other work, but it was Rodholm who was officially the pastor. Rodholm continued in that role until he entered the military as a chaplain during World War I, serving at Fort Des Moines. From that time, until the coming of N. P. Gravengaard as the first full-time pastor in 1920, the pastorate was officially vacant. The work went on, however, under the leadership of Pastor Carl P. Hojberg, who was then president of the college.

Homes for Young and Old

During the second decade of the twentieth century, the number of young people listed in the annual report of the congregation fluctuated between seventy and ninety. During this period also, “Holger Danske,” the Danish youth group, grew in numbers and in strength. In the early years of its existence, it had met at the J. L. Jensen home on Boyd Avenue. By 1912 it had outgrown the room that had been set aside for it, and which Jensen needed,

and was ready to build a young people’s home.

It may be well to digress briefly at this point to make clear what was involved in the concept of a young people’s home. Such homes were built and operated by Danish young people in Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle as well as Des Moines. They were intended, first, to provide a place where young unmarried people of Danish background could make their home in an environment which would be both wholesome and familiar. Room and board were provided at a nominal cost and the home managed by a matron who was responsible for the cooking and cleaning. Both men and women might live in the home. A second purpose of such a home was to provide a center around which young people of a common cultural and religious background could rally. For years, for example, the home in Des Moines became a mecca on Thursday afternoons for many young Danish women who served as domestics.

With Jensen’s advice and practical assistance as a builder, “Holger Danske” was able to erect its first home at 1332 Boyd Avenue on a lot which Jensen had owned next to his own residence. The home continued there for eight years until 1920 when a new and larger home was built at 1100 Boyd Avenue, facing the rear of the college. The Young People’s Home continued at that site until it ceased operations as such and was purchased by the college during the 1950’s.

The old people’s home was the outgrowth of an action initiated by C. Larsen, a layman from Racine, Wisconsin, who was a member of the synod board. As early as 1908 he offered a gift of $15,000 to the synod for the erection of such a home in Des Moines. The Synod was to raise a matching sum. The intention was that the $30,000 thus raised could provide for building a home and creating an endowment fund of about $15,000 which would help pay the operating costs. From that point on the story of the Old People’s Home project is long and drawn out, and it is beyond the scope of these pages to give the details here. It is enough to say that, in the ensuing years, Larsen also purchased seven lots in Block Eight of the Grand View Addition. Three of these faced Morton Avenue, but the other four fronted on Grandview and came to figure

prominently in the question as to where the church should be located. After much discussion and fundraising, the cornerstone of the home was laid on January 22, 1914; and on October 4 of that same year, the building was dedicated. By that time it had cost about $20,000. The home was named to honor the memory of Larsen’s deceased daughter, Valborg.

At first, there was some concern because the home was not filled. In the spring of 1915, there were still only four residents. As a result, some of the rooms were rented to the college for student housing. If there was some discouragement, there was also optimism and foresight connected with the venture. In his report to the 1915 church convention, S. D. Rodholm, chairman of the home board, commented on current conditions saying: “It is perhaps no misfortune that the home is so slow in filling . .. it will certainly become a blessing as the years pass and it will also be filled with the aged from the Danish Church.”‘ As the years passed, these words were to prove prophetic. The passage of the years also showed that the proximity of the home to the church was to be a blessing for both.

Membership and Changes

In 1912, for the second time, the congregation was host to a convention of the church. It was one of the largest conventions to that date, totaling some 330 delegates, pastors, and guests. The task of housing these visitors and feeding them three times each day strained the congregation’s human and financial resources to the limit, but it was a happy experience. Most of the guests lived at the college or in nearby homes of members and friends. Meals were served at the college. A corps of waitresses made up in large measure of young Danish girls who worked in Des Moines and who had taken the week off to be among their Danish kinsmen, made the meal service function efficiently and smoothly. The event was not a financial success, but a Ladies’ Aid bazaar later covered most of the deficit.

At the July quarterly meeting following the convention, a rather interesting motion was adopted. It tends to show that the congregation was not entirely an isolated enclave; for it was moved, seconded, and carried that ” .

a picnic be held in the near future and that all those outside the congregation who assisted at the convention are to be guests of the congregation.”

During the ten-year period beginning in 1910, the congregation did not experience any great growth. The figures reported to the synod year by year are difficult to interpret at this point in time. They do show, however, what seems at first sight to be a serious contradiction. The number of contributing members increased by only four during that time. The confirmed membership, as well as the total membership, was almost doubled. This apparent discrepancy may well be accounted for when other factors are taken into consideration.

First, during that period there were over sixty baptisms, exceeding the number of deaths by a ratio of over four to one. This meant considerable growth in child membership but not in contributing membership, for children were not counted as contributors. Second, there were a number of marriages during those years. This, in many cases, would have the effect of reducing the contributing membership because a man and wife, at least in some years were counted as one contributor. To be sure, some of the marriages involved students at the College, but a fairly large number may be assumed to have been members of the congregation who remained in Des Moines. No figures are reported for those who transferred from the congregation during this time, but there is no good reason to suppose that this number would be large enough to significantly affect the results. Thus, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the total membership did grow appreciably by 1920, even though the contributing figures remained almost the same.

This conclusion would seem to be further borne out by the fact that the total contributed to the congregation for all causes was not significantly greater in 1920 than it had been in 1910. In the latter year, local expenses plus synodical contributions fell just short of $900. By 1920 this figure had risen to just under $1500. The increase of some $600 may seem sizable until it is recalled that in the post-war period particularly, inflation coupled with rising income might easily account for the difference. The economic trend of the times makes it not at all surprising

that the member who was able to give $15 per year in 1910 could by 1920 give $25.

A study of the congregational records for these years also reveals other changes. A new generation of church members was coming to the fore. Some of the founders had died during this decade. Others, because of age, infirmity, or simply a desire to let others carry the burden, began to fade into the background. New names appear, not only on the membership roll, but also among the leaders.

A much more subtle change was also taking place. It would still be many years before its full impact would be felt but one can detect it here and there even in this early period. It involved the language used. This was a Danish congregation. Danish was the language used in preaching, instruction, and at all meetings. For the most part, because its membership still consisted of first generation immigrants, it was natural that everything, including the keeping of records and reports, should be in the Danish language. Yet it is precisely this record keeping which gives some portent of things to come. The reader of the minutes finds that from time to time, he stumbles over an English word or an Anglicized spellings. The very fact that these occur infrequently indicates that they are more subconscious than intentional. Words like “pienic,” designations like “Mr.” and spellings like “March” for “Marts,” “July” for “Juli,” and “October” for “Oktober” may be seen as a slip of the mind. But they may also point to the fact that the Americanization of the congregation was inevitable.

A Temporary Church Home

Shortly after Pastor Thorvald Knudsen arrived in September of 1912 to take over the presidency of the college, steps were taken that made it possible to have all the church services in the college lecture hall. Knudsen felt that services should be held there regularly for the students, but he also invited the congregation to participate. A morning service was conducted on alternate Sundays and the late afternoon service was changed to an evening service on the other Sundays.

Conducting services in the lecture hall, which is now best

known as the auditorium, was not an innovation. Services had been held at the school, and after 1904, in the Lecture Hall, roughly half of the time. Although weddings and also funerals had taken place there, it had been the practice to rent a church building for some of the services, especially for communion services. Because the lecture hall at the college was simply not designed as a worship center, practical arrangements were lacking.

Now Knudsen determined to remedy this situation. Under the leadership of himself and Rodholm, and with funds supplied by the congregation, the lecture hall was modified so that it might serve as a worship site in all circumstances. A small platform was built upon which a suitable altar might be placed. A communion rail, with kneeling pads, was placed around the platform. These things gave the room a more worshipful atmosphere on Sundays. The ingenious part of the arrangement was that the altar and communion rail could be removed so that during the week the room could be used as a lecture hall. The arrangement was practical and much less costly than any other.

From the point of view of many members of the congregation, as well as some of the students, however, this church home still left something to be desired. Some congregational members felt themselves to be guests of the college. There was also undoubtedly a desire to be able to point to a building as their church, built to serve their needs exclusively and not incidentally. There was also the feeling that while the arrangement at the college was adequate, it was not as conducive to worship as it might be. Even some of the students felt this.

During the discussion of a church building for Des Moines at the 1917 convention, this was brought out. Pastor N. P. Gravengaard quoted a student as having said, “Yes, it would be nice if we could have a church. We need it. It is not really very festive to attend church on Sunday in the same place that we use for lectures, singing, music instruction, and many other things during the week.” Because the church home at the college was at best temporary, a church building was never very far from the minds of many.

Ideas and Problems in Building

Though the congregation had been established for twenty years when its building was finally dedicated, it never had accumulated a large building fund. In December of 1917, when the church was under construction, the congregation turned over to the synod a building fund of less than $1,300. The congregation also gave the synod one of its two building lots. Certainly, the congregation was small, and none of its members was very affluent, but one cannot escape the conviction that the members did not try very hard to do much to help themselves.

There was no concerted effort to raise money for the building. A reason for this may lie in the fact that there was no emergency that required the members to make such an effort. They had a place to worship; and while it would be nice to have a church, it appears that building a new one was not worth too much effort.

This was reflected in 1914, in an exchange of letters between N. P. Gravengaard, the synod president, and the congregation. At that time, the congregation had appealed for help in raising the major part of the funds that would be needed for the building. In reply to this request, Gravengaard pointed out that if proper steps had been taken in the past, the congregation would have been able to accumulate a sizable building fund. Then he adds, “I cannot refrain from expressing wonder at the fact that no one in the congregation has had enough foresight to do something in this respect. The best advice I can give the congregation is not to let another year go to waste before something is done in this matter.”

From the outset, it was taken for granted by all concerned that the building of a church in Des Moines was not quite the same as a similar project in another congregation of the Danish Church. A church was needed in Des Moines to serve not only the congregation but also the college students and the residents at the old people’s home. The building would, therefore, need to be larger than what the congregation alone would require. Further, unofficially at least, because Des Moines was the center of the Danish Church, it was widely held that any church built there should reflect this fact. Pastor Nordentoft,

writing from California to Kirkelig Samler in 1916, gave expression to this thought when he called for a building in Des Moines that would be ” … a cathedral for the entire Synod.”

A related problem was that of a building site. The lots purchased in 1909 were west of the old people’s home. This did not seem to many to be a desirable building site, not only because these lots were a bit more low-lying but also because they were not directly across from the school. Larsen, when giving the home site, had purchased enough lots so that there were some vacant lots east of the home. Efforts were made to persuade him to trade two lots on the east for the congregation’s two on the west, but he was not willing to agree to this.

Another possibility was to build in a completely different block. Prior to the purchase of land in 1909, the members of the church had given some consideration to buying two lots on the southeast corner of Grandview and East Thirteenth. One advantage of these lots, so it was said, was that a church could then be built to lie in an east-west direction – and the bulk of theological opinion held this to be preferable whenever possible. Whatever the reason, these lots were not purchased and the plan was not pursued. Then, in 1916, the issue came alive, and after an involved controversy regarding the ownership of the building, the project was undertaken the next year.

A Memorial to Luther

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther had posted his ninety-five theses on the church door at Wittenberg. The Protestant world has long marked this date as the beginning of the Reformation; and as a result, Lutheran groups planned to observe the 400th anniversary of this event with thank offerings and projects of various kinds in 1917. The leaders of the Danish Church also sought some kind of project that could be undertaken as a memorial to Luther. There was no dearth of ideas at the 1916 convention at Newell, Iowa.

An old proposal to establish an endowment fund for the college was dusted off and revived. Another and less ambitious proposal was made by Pastor Thorvald Knudsen, who had been president of the college until

September 1915. He believed that a girl’s dormitory was badly needed. A third proposal, which found some support, was that a “Lutherkirke” (Luther Church) be built in Des Moines. These three proposals had varying degrees of support with the result that no definite action was taken in 1916. An endowment fund did become a project in 1920 and a girl’s dormitory was erected in 1947. Interestingly enough, the latter was built during the presidency of Thorvald Knudsen’s son, Johannes.

It was the third proposal, the plan of building a church, that finally came to fruition as the synodical thankoffering. The Danish Church, meeting in convention at Ashland, Michigan, in 1917, voted, thirty-seven to five, to accept the recommendation of its board to, 66 … build a ‘Lutherkirke on the east lot of the Old People’s Home property.” While this motion did not specifically state that the ownership of the building was to be vested in the synod, this certainly was implied; and it was clearly understood by all. The arrival at this point of decision marked the culmination of a good deal of debate on this particular issue.

The ownership question had precipitated a spirited debate in the months preceding the convention. Numerous articles had appeared in Kirkelig Samler and in Dannevirke, and a lively correspondence had been carried on between the building committee in Des Moines and the synod board. Stripped of its manifold details, the essence of the debate was whether or not the synod board could endorse an appeal for funds if the building was not to become the property of the whole church. The position of a majority of the board was that if the synod was to supply most of the money, then it should surely have title to the property. The congregation was to be free to use the building and could, in effect, treat it almost as its own. Further, a basement, which was certainly not needed as far as the synod was concerned, would be finished with the congregation in mind.

The building committee, speaking for the congregation, saw the matter somewhat differently. They wanted a church of their own. They did not want to always be guests of the synod. They felt their congregation to be an

entity in itself, which should have a place to meet and worship other than at the good pleasure of the synod. Attempts at finding some middle ground failed. Thus, there was a minority proposal to the Ashland convention, which said that if the church were to be owned by the congregation, the congregation should then build a parsonage and call and support a full-time pastor.

Locally, opinions varied and even changed. At first, the people in Des Moines were virtually united in favoring congregational ownership. As the debate continued, however, and as time for a decision neared, some division on this point developed. Just prior to the convention in 1917, a special meeting was held in Des Moines. A vote was taken on the question of ownership of the projected church building. Of the forty-one voting, twenty-five favored ownership by the congregation, and sixteen voted for synodical ownership. In any case, the final decision was made at the convention and, in the end, the desire for a church building proved stronger than the desire for ownership.

There was some unhappiness, to be sure. At one meeting of the congregation during the summer of 1917, one of the women members made such inflammatory statements about the synod president that the meeting felt obliged to protest against her remarks. Others were more conciliatory, pointing out, for instance, that the basement was being built with the congregation especially in mind. In a further effort to placate wounded feelings, the congregational meeting ruled that all who objected to turning over the building fund to the synod might ask that their contributions to be returned. In the end, none requested this; and at a meeting in December, the entire building fund of $1,299.97, as well as the easternmost of the two lots, was given to the synod. A proposal to give the west lot was defeated. It was here, some years later, that the congregation built its parsonage. Whatever hard feelings there were seem to have soon dissipated; and in the months ahead, all were able to rejoice together as the building began to rise. Gravengaard quotes a Des Moines member as saying of the meeting in December 1917, “It was the best meeting we have had for a long time. Not a single false note was raised.

From Dream to Reality

Once a decision was reached, it did not take long for the actual building to begin. At a meeting of the synod board in Des Moines on June 26th, plans were studied and approved. A plan that had recently been used for the church at Dwight, Illinois, was adapted to the Des Moines situation. In early September, J. L. Jensen, was awarded the contract. His bid totaled $19,525. This did not include window glass since it was hoped that it might be possible to purchase stained glass windows. It also did not include electrical wiring. The architect’s plan for this item was felt to be too costly, for an electrician had said he would wire the building for much less. Likewise, the bid did not include pews and other furnishings.

Meanwhile, the drive for funds went on throughout the Danish Church. Two members of the synod board spearheaded the drive, which saw other members of the board visiting all the districts and congregations of the church. By late July, Gravengaard could write that enough had now been subscribed to guarantee the execution of the plan. By mid-September the total had risen to $13,000 and the drive was by no means completed. The next year, at the convention, Gravengaard could report that over $21,000 had been pledged for the building, wiring, windows and furnishings. On the day of the dedication, in June of 1919, about $600 remained to be raised. It came that day through offerings and other gifts so that as it was taken into use the church stood debt free.

The actual construction of the building got off to a good start in the fall of 1917. The basement was dug and the foundation laid so that a cornerstone laying ceremony could be combined with a two-day reformational festival, beginning on October 31st. There were out-of-town guests and eleven pastors present for this event. All gathered at the building site at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, October 31st. After the singing of Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress,” scripture reading, a prayer, and meditation, the synod president cemented the cornerstone into place. Into a copper box which was contained in the stone were placed a copy of the constitution of the Danish Church, an annual report, copies of Kirkelig Samler and Dannevirke, and a few words about the event itself.

It is interesting and perhaps revealing to note that the accounts do not say anything about a Bible being placed in the stone. Perhaps this omission was neither inadvertent nor deliberate. More than likely it was perfectly natural. When art glass windows were chosen later, one of them contained a picture of an open Bible. This too may have been perfectly natural. In the Danish Church the Bible was neither ignored nor exalted, and the prominence given the book in one place may have been as natural as its absence in another.

One of the features of the festival was a tour of Fort Des Moines. Otherwise, talks and lectures, centering on the Reformation, occupied the visitors for most of the two days. Once again visitors had an opportunity to see at first hand the extent of the synod’s activities in Des Moines. Upon seeing the school, the old people’s home and young people’s home, and the rising church building, one visitor was heard to remark, “We have more here than I had thought. It had been hoped that the roof could be raised and the building enclosed before winter, but this was not to be the case. Snow fell before the roof was on, and the work came to a virtual standstill during the winter months. The advent of spring saw the work in full progress again; and, by early May, Gravengaard was able to report that the roof was finished and that the church now had a steeple. He hoped that the dedication could be held by late summer or early fall. The interior painting was done by Einar Jepsen, a member of the congregation and a painting contractor. Jepsen has told the writer of sharing a scaffold with a carpenter, and as soon as the latter completed his work on one of the beams, Jepsen would finish and varnish it.

Some debate was occasioned by the question of stained-glass windows for the church. During the fall of 1917, Gravengaard reported receiving an inquiry from a widow as to whether or not memorial windows might be given. He considered this a good idea and proposed that the board consider it. Numerous articles in the Danish papers following this indicate that many did not look favorably upon such an idea. One pastor wrote, “Rich people have the privilege of helping to build a church, but they do not have the privilege of having their name engraved in gold script in God’s house.” Nothing further

came of the idea, but the board did order art glass windows. The one facing the street would have a picture of Luther and the windows on each side would feature the Bible, and the cross and crown, respectively.

A marble baptismal font was given by some interested ladies in Cedar Falls and Fredsville. The pulpit and altar were carved by Jess Smidt, of West Denmark (Luck), Wisconsin. As Smidt had carved many pulpits for Danish churches, it was fitting that his work should also adorn the synod’s church in Des Moines. The cost of these two items was borne by C. Larsen and his wife, who had previously acted generously in the matter of the old people’s home. Smidt also painted and donated the altar picture. It is an original, representing the story of the woman of Samaria at the well. The inscription beneath the picture is taken from that story and says, ” . . hvo der drikker af det vand jeg vil give ham, skal til evig tid ikke torste . . . ” (“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.”). The altar cloth was given by a young girl of Davey, Nebraska. The pews had been ordered but had not arrived. Soon all else was in readiness for the dedication, first tentatively set for November 10, Luther’s birthday, but later scheduled for Sunday, December 8.

One unhappy note marred the completion of the project. The church was constructed during World War I. This meant that the price of materials went much higher than had been anticipated. J.L. Jensen was an experienced builder who had had a major hand in building the college. He had also built a gym hall in 1899, a newer one in 1910, the Old People’s Home, and the two young people’s homes. Jensen was a charter member of St. Johannes and a firm supporter of the synod who had aided the cause of the church in many ways. Now he had taken the contract for the church building, prices had risen, and the result was that he suffered a severe financial loss. It was general knowledge that Jensen had lost money on the contract; and over the years, there was some talk of doing something to help him, and, after he died in 1923, his family. Unfortunately, this never got beyond the talking stage.

Convention and Dedication

While building was in progress the synod board and the congregation worked out an agreement concerning the use of the structure. The agreement provided that the church members and the college were to use the building in common; that the congregation was to have full and free use of the basement; and that the congregation was to assume the expense of heating, lighting, and cleaning the church. Later, the congregation agreed to pay for insurance on the building and for all repairs up to $100 per year. The members also bore the expense of hanging the church bell in 1920.

The dedication was not held in December of 1918 as had been planned. Circumstances arose, which resulted in the eventual postponement of that event until the following June. The fall and winter of 1918 will long be remembered in American history for the great influenza epidemic. Throughout the country, thousands of people were stricken and died within a short time. There was not much that could be done beyond taking all precautions against spreading the disease. To this end, the Board of Health in Des Moines decreed that face masks must be worn at all public gatherings. In view of this, the dedication plans were canceled. Beyond this, the effect of the epidemic upon the congregation was not great. So far as is known only one member, Mrs. Muck Petersen, succumbed to the flu.

Meanwhile, an invitation to hold the 1919 synod convention in Des Moines had been accepted. Consequently, the church dedication and the convention were combined. The usual procedure of opening the convention on Wednesday morning was not followed that year. Instead, the meeting began with the dedication of the church on Sunday, June 15, and came to a close on Thursday evening.

The dedication service was the highlight of the meeting. The church was filled to capacity that Sunday morning as some twenty pastors in clerical attire proceeded from the college to the church where the sacred vessels were placed on the altar. The service began with the singing of, “This is the Day Which the Lord Hath Given.” Pastor K. C. Bodholdt, who was then president of the synod, officiated at the actual rite of dedication. He gave a

dedicatory address, four other pastors read appropriate portions of scripture, and then Bodholdt dedicated the building in the name of the Triune God. After this, the hymn, “Fair Beyond Telling, Lord is Thy Dwelling,” was sung. The sermon of the day was preached by N. P. Gravengaard, and it followed by a communion service.

The church was the scene of two graduation ceremonies that afternoon. The first was for the graduates of the Academy, or high school division. Among the members of this group were Elmer Gravengaard and Johannes Knudsen. The other graduation service was for the members of the seminary class. Of these, pastors Svend Kjaer, Ottar Jorgensen, and Holger Strandskov are still living. Alfred Jensen, Hans Jensen, and Arthur Frost are deceased. Following an evening meeting, coffee was served in the church basement, and then many sat out on the lawn, enjoying the June evening, discussing events of the day – and probably also their hopes and dreams for the future.

There were some four hundred present for the convention. Most of the visitors were housed at the college or in nearby homes. Seventy-five slept in the gymnasium. Meals were served at the college, but on Sunday and again on Thursday evenings, the Ladies Aid served coffee in the church basement. The convention schedule was crowded, becoming so delayed as to force the deletion of a lecture on “Bible Criticism” by Pastor A. V. Andersen.

One unscheduled event interrupted the convention. This was a funeral service for Mrs. Mikkel Lauritsen, who had died just prior to the opening of the convention. It is rather ironic that the first funeral service in the new church should be that of Mrs. Lauritsen. She and her husband had done so much to gather the Danes in Des Moines in Christian fellowship and now at last the congregation for which they had given so much had a house of worship.

In late 1919, as a kind of by-product of the convention’s having met in Des Moines, the two lots just east of the church were purchased by the synod from J. L. Jensen for $850. This came about when visitors at the meeting

suggested that it might be unfortunate if someone else were to build so close to the church. Bodholdt, in his report to the 1920 convention, commented on this saying that it might be a good idea to meet in Des Moines every three or four years. People might then become more familiar with the synod property and make other valuable suggestions.

The Women’s Mission Society met on one of the evenings during the convention in Des Moines. At that meeting, a collection was taken to begin a fundraising campaign for a church bell. Throughout the year that followed, women in all areas of the Danish Church were busy in various ways raising funds. Finally, in June of 1920, they were able to report that a bell had been purchased for $1300. The bell was dedicated on Sunday, October 3, 1920. It had been inscribed with a verse which, freely translated, reads:

“A gift of Danish women to the church on this site,

In gratitude for Luther and for life’s true light.”

That October Sunday marked another kind of milestone for the congregation. On that day Pastor N. P. Gravengaard was installed as the first full-time, resident pastor. Thus a new era began for St. Johannes. Unfortunately, the change did not last. The early twenties were to mark a stormy era in the Danish Church and in Des Moines in particular. But on that happy day in the early fall of 1920, it seemed as if the congregation had at last become firmly established and the road ahead seemed bright with promise.