Abbotsford Churches

The Religious Alliance

The Religious Alliance congregation has a heritage that extends back 87 years to sometime after the spring of 1882, and the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Owen Hewes into the Abbotsford Community. It was shortly after their arrival here that the first Sabbath school for religious instruction of children began.

Under their leadership, children met in the School House Sunday mornings. An article found in the cornerstone of the 1925 Abbotsford Presbyterian Church indicated that Sunday School was held first in a school house located directly across the street from the present school building on Highway 29. A few years later it was moved to a site that is presently occupied by the City Hall.

In addition to the Sabbath School was a group call Christian Endeavor that operated under the goal of “The World for Christ in this generation.” The members of these two groups became the backbone, over a 12 year period of what was later to be the Abbotsford Religious Alliance.

In April of 1894, members voted to build a Chapel. Two hundred twelve dollars and $91 in labor were pledged. Trustees elected were: Owen Hewes – acting president, Isaac Nelson, Fred Anderson, Ole Thompson and A. Swanson, later to include Peter Bark and Frank Carlson to provide equal representation of each denomination that comprised the Religious Alliance. Building committee was: Thomas Thompson, Isaac Nelson, Fred Anderson, A. Swanson, Andrew Peterson.

On May 1, 1894, “a part of lot 1, Block A” was purchased from Owen Hewes and his wife for $1. On May 26, Peter Bark was elected permanent chairman of the Abbotsford Religious Alliance, Owen Hewes permanent treasurer, Isaac Nelson permanent secretary. Plans for a Union Sabbath School building were approved to be built in the shape of a cross from lumber purchased by Isaac Nelson, upon a stone wall erected by Andrew Peterson. The various “sills” for doors and windows were to be designed and installed by A. Swenson.

During the period of construction, 1895-1895, a total of $872.46 in cash was donated and labor donated was estimated at $199.60. Total donations toward the building amounted to $1072.06. The building was dedicated in the fall of 1895.

The Abbotsford Religious Alliance continued to 1921. It was the owner and maintainer of the building used by the Presbyterians and by many other denominations. The facilities were ecumenical Mission facilities. Notes paid, the building work continued, walls were plastered, stove purchased, building painted and shingled. From start to finish, the building took 14 years to complete at a total cost of more that $1600.

In 1903 a new organ was approved and placed in the church to be used by each member congregation.

Some programming of the building began in 1904. A meeting of various pastors in the area who were conducting services was scheduled with the trustees to determine Sunday time schedule.

Present were Rev. Muecher of Dorchester – German Lutheran, Rev. Neilson of Stanley – Scandinavian Lutheran, Rev. Roritzke of Colby – German Evangelical, and Rev. Carlin – Abbotsford – Scandinavian.

They made provisions to use the building between the hours of 2 and 5 p.m. on an alternating basis. The Presbyterians held worship at 11 a.m. and there was a service in the evening, probably the Christian Endeavor. The building was also used by Episcopalians, Methodists, Swedish Evangelical Free Society, and by a Baptist congregation.

Between the years 1904 and 1920 use of the building changed drastically. One by one, other congregations created facilities of their own or ceased their work in the community.

In 1907 when a lighting plant was installed in the church, the trustees assessed themselves to cover the cost; in 1912 the number of trustees was down to five, at least three of whom were Presbyterians.

In 1916 the Board of Trustees voted to turn the responsibility of the upkeep of the building over to the trustees of the Presbyterian Church. This is the place where the minutes of the Religious Alliance of Abbotsford cease, although the Alliance continued in effect for about five years longer. The assets went to the Presbyterian Congregation, including the building.

First Presbyterian Church

The First Presbyterian Church had its beginning in a formation of the Abbotsford Religious Alliance Church in 1894. This ecumenical venture was initiated by a group of Christians in the community and the first public meeting was held in the new united church chapel in 1895. Records show that the Roman Catholics, German Lutherans, Swedish Free Mission Society, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists and Presbyterians all shared and used the same building.

By the turn of the century however, this united venture was baffled by a booming of denominationalism throughout the nation. The Lutherans and then Roman Catholics split from the union by the help of their denominations. On May 1, 1900, the remnants banded together and formed the First Presbyterian Church, which eventually superseded the Religious Alliance of Abbotsford. Through the pioneer efforts of this people and the support of the Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church in U.S.A., a new vigorous church was born. And it was evidenced by the progress made up to 1909. The Women’s Home and Foreign Mission Society had 29 members: Sunday School, including teachers, had an enrollment of 202; Christian Endeavor 79; and Adult Bible Class had 40 members.

In the early 1920’s, action was taken to build a new church building. The old church was razed in March 1925, and the new church, at a cost of $12,000, was finished the same year. After a long debate since 1918 the Harper Memorial Presbyterian Church of Riverside was united with the Abbotsford church. The change of the Soo Line Division site caused a loss of many members and so the church depended for a great amount of its financial assistance from the National Mission Board.

It was 1949 that the mortgage was paid and burned. The church had finally become self-supporting for the first time in its history. During this period a few new pastoral arrangements were developed. The first was a coordination with the Edgar Church, which continues to the present time. One other venture was the creation of the Marathon Larger Parish – a cooperative system between Presbyterian Church in Abbotsford, Athens, Edgar and Stratford under two pastors’ leadership. This was terminated by the close of the churches in Athens and Stratford in later years.

In the meantime the congregation had grown and new facilities were a demand in the near future. Fortunately, two elderly members’ contributions challenged the congregations with a great dream. After five years of debates, discussions and planning the cornerstone of the present church was laid in 1968. It was completed at a cost of $130,000 and dedicated August 17, 1969.

The present minister, Dr. Keun Won Park, came in June of 1970. He is the 27th minister. Presently there are over 200 active members, made of people from many other religious backgrounds: Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed and Congregationalist, as well as some Free Church traditions.

Ground breaking ceremonies for the new church manse, located on W. Elm St., were held on Sunday, Sept. 17, 1972.

Christ Lutheran Church

In 1915, a number of Lutheran families in and near Abbotsford, request Pastor Ihno Janssen of Milan to organize a Lutheran congregation in the village of Abbotsford. Assisted by Rev. F.H. Moecker of Dorchester, this organization was formed under the name: The Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Christ.

The charter members were Gustav Bahn, J.P. Olson, Herman Hedrich, Fred Meske, Sr., Carl Griesbach and Carl Prestin.

The newly formed group requested Pastor Janssen to serve them. Services were conducted in the old Episcopalian Church, which was purchased on Sept. 28, 1915. Miss Minna Schueler became the first organist. Pastor Janssen served the church until 1918, followed by Rev. Daib of Merrill and then by Pastor Ziehlsdorf, who served until 1925.

In 1925, the Rev. V. Keiper of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church of Dorchester, accepted a call to serve at Abbotsford in addition to Dorchester. It was at this time, in February, that the old church burned. The congregation, numbering thirty-one voting and ninety communicant members, took steps to erect a new church. The new church, with a seating capacity of one hundred eighty, was dedicated on Aug. 16, 1925.

St. Peter's Church Celebration, Dorchester, 1933

Pastor Keiper served the congregation until 1927, followed by Pastor Wuebben. At this time, St. Peter’s Church of Dorchester and Christ Lutheran agreed to form one parish and Pastor John Brandt, who was serving Dorchester, began duties at Abbotsford also. He remained until 1946 when Pastor F.H. Sprengler accepted a call to serve. In 1965, during Pastor Sprengler’s ministry, the congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary.

After serving for twenty five years, Pastor Sprengler felt the parish had grown to large for one pastor to serve. So in 1970, Dorchester and Abbotsford decided to each form their own parish. Pastor Sprengler chose to remain in Dorchester, so Christ Lutheran called a minister. On Aug. 3, 1971, Pastor Kenneth Loehrke was installed. He is now serving the congregation and living in the recently acquired parsonage with his wife, Valerie and son, Todd.

Church Additions – In 1953 an addition was built which changed the entrance and increased the seating capacity to three hundred. By 1960, it was apparent that more facilities were needed. The building was increased in width which gave the church a seating capacity of four hundred twenty five and provided enclosed educational rooms in the basement.

In 1965, the congregation purchased the Olson property which is east of the church. As there was no need for a parsonage at the time, the house was rented out. In 1970, the congregation bout a house on Hemlock St. from Jack Nikolay for a parsonage and sold the former Olson property.

At present, Christ Lutheran has a membership of six hundred forty baptized and four hundred twenty five communicant members.

St. John’s – Town of Holton

In the town of Holton, three miles northeast of Abbotsford, St. John’s Lutheran congregations had been organized about the year of 1880. Missionaries F. Steyer, J. Schuette and W.C. Brink served this congregation from 1880 to 1882, followed by Pastor F. Otte and Rev. W.C. Brink.

In 1891, D.H. Steffens of Dorchester served this organization and under his guidance a church was erected. Other pastors serving this congregation were Pastors W. George, F.H. Moecker, Ihno Janssen, and V. Keiper.

In 1924, this congregation was asked to affiliate with Christ Lutheran Church of Abbotsford, and on Jan. 28, 1924, the trustees Frank Schultz, Henry Jacobi, and Theodore Wehrmann transferred the property to the Abbotsford congregation. In 1947, the church building in the town of Holton was dismantled.

Christian Assembly of God

The Christian Assembly of God Church of Abbotsford is a member of the Wisconsin and Northern Michigan District Council of the Assemblies of God, with headquarters at Waupaca. It is affiliated with the national headquarters located in Springfield, Mo.

After a series of meetings held in a private home, services were started in a building located on Abbotsford’s Main Street, where Rev. William F. Grams, pastor of the Athens Gospel Tabernacle, served the congregation which was organized May 22, 1945.

It was decided to relocate again in homes when the present church was built. The church was set in order formally joining the Assemblies of God on Feb. 19, 1946, with District Superintendent Robert Spencer in attendance. Rev. George Samuelson was pastor at the time.

The first service conducted in the new building, located at 403 Butternut St., was the funeral of Mrs. Hannah Will, on Nov. 11, 1947. The building was located on land donated by Otto Will.

Rev. Orin Babler served the Congregation for some time and since June of 1953, Rev. Lillian Jensen has served as pastor.

Charter members were Mr. and Mrs. Otto Will, Mrs. Hannah Cox, Mrs. Joseph Spencer, Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Jensen, Lawrence Jensen, and Rev. and Mrs. William Grams.

At the time of the church being set in order, the following joined: Mr. and Mrs. John Remus, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Remus and Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Gauerke.

St. Bernard’s Catholic Church

Early in 1903, the Catholic settlers of the Abbotsford area tried to persuade Bishop James Schwebach of La Crosse that they needed a church in their town. They were turned down due to their small number. Meanwhile they were attending the services at Colby, which had a solid congregations for years. However, the lodge hall in the Beil’s building was rented eventually for Sundays, in order to have the Mass celebrated more or less regularly by a visiting priest.

In 1905, a second attempt was made to build a mission church in the town. Bishop Schwebach gave permission to proceed with the building during the summer, with the land for the church acquired from Dr. and Mrs. G.B. Johnston on Aug. 23, 1905. The long delayed dream of the Catholic population of the area came to completion in the early spring of 1906. Father Wm. Reding was then the pastor of Colby.

The church was dedicated to St. Bernard in memory of one of the sons of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph McCabe who died in early age.

Some names of the first Catholics are still preserved on the windows of the old church; Joseph and Mary McCabe, Joseph and Julia Kehlnhofer, Thomas and Dalia MacDonald, Vallorus and Mary Ballou, Charles and Mary Hagen, John and Maria O’Brian, John and Bridget Welsh, John and Mary Leichtnam.

The nucleus of the little mission was formed by the Irish settlers who built the Soo Line tracks into the little village making it a junction point on the main line to Superior. The Soo Line build its roundhouse and repair shops there.

In 1909, however, this junction of the Soo Railroad was moved to Spencer, where the new direct line to Duluth and Superior had just been completed. The Irish who seem to be identified with the building of most railroads in America in the 19th century, as a rule moved out of a locality as the railroad expanded to new point. This was true in Abbotsford, although enough families remained to sustain the newly founded mission church.

The little village, however, continued to grow, not so much because of the railroad but principally from the influx of farmers who fashioned neat farms out of the stump-filled rolling country side.

The first resident pastor was appointed to St. Bernard’s in 1912. He was Father E.W. Mechler. He established his residence in on room of a private home. Near the church. During the summer, a house was purchased by the congregation and moved to the lot beside the church. Father Mechler remained in Abbotsford until late in 1913, when he was succeeded by Father N. Brommenschenkel.

In the spring of 1917 Rev. Joseph Schulter, O.M.I. became resident pastor of St. Bernard’s, also tending the missions of Withee and Owen, two little hamlets that had sprung up along the route of the Soo Line some 13 miles to the west. There was a small church at Withee, but at Owen the Mss was offered in a private home.

Rev. A.J. Dorrenbach of Thorp had built the Withee mission church in 1903.

In the fall of 1920, Father Schuster was sent by his superiors to Zell, S.D. He was succeeded by Rev. John Stromberg, who administered the parish for two years. In 1922, Rev. Joseph Eisenmann was appointed pastor. Within a year he built the modest church of the Holy Rosary at Owen, thus ending a long-standing impasse with neighboring Withee.

It was part of the ecclesiastical growing pains of the fast developing locality. On Dec. 14, 1946, Owen-Withee was consolidated as an independent parish with its resident priest at the Holy Rosary site.

Rev. Paul Monarski followed Father Eisenmann at Abbotsford in March 1927. His stay was of short duration. In July 1928, Rev. Homerus McGuire took over the spiritual and administrative cares of the parish for about four years. Rev. Joseph R. Gaffney, another Irishman, succeeded him in July 1932 for a period of ten months.

Father John Novak moved into the parish in May 1933 and remained for three and one-half years.

Close to Christmas of 1936, Rev. Charles D. Brady replaced him as pastor. By organizing the CYO for the young people of this locality, he was an innovator far ahead of his time. He was responsible for renovating and painting the church.

From July 1942 to October 1948, Rev. Francis J. Brockman was administering to the needs of the parishioners of St. Bernard’s.

His successor was Rev. Raymond B. Schulz, who stayed at Abbotsford for almost 18 full years. Due to the increased membership, from about 35 in the early twenties, to close to 180 families in the sixties, the old church was not adequate anymore. The need for a larger building was a question of life and death, but the problem of the site remained wide open, as no appropriate lot was available to the vicinity of the old St. Bernard’s. However, due to William Beil, Sr., the lot of five acres was acquired from Mrs. Karsten on the northwest side of the city.

Although the majority of the parishioners wished to have a church, it was decided, on the incentive of the late Bishop John P. Treacy, that a parochial school, large enough to accommodate the temporary church, should be built first. The work started in spring 1961, and was finished at the end of the same year, under the supervision of architect Carl Billmeyer, who drew the plans for it. Unfortunately, the building never served its original purpose, because of the lack of nuns who were supposed to staff the school. Over 250 young people, however, receive their religious instruction on a weekly basis.

The old church and rectory were sold to John Nikolay in August 1966, under the stipulation that the church should be razed in…..(some part of a sentence was chopped of in the book).

It was in these conditions that the present incumbent, Rev. Emil Hodnik, was appointed pastor of the parish on Aug. 24, 1966. During his pastorate, a main goal was to get rid of the debts left from the school building. The debt was retired at the end of 1968.

A good portion of the congregation expressed then the wish to build a new parsonage in 1969, after the house which served as parsonage for three years (originally intended for sisters’ convent) was sold. A new parsonage was built in 1970.

The Rev. Emil Hodnik still serves as pastor.

First Presbyterian Church 1895

Lutheran Church located on North First Street across from AMPI milk plant.  Destroyed by fire in 1924.

First Presbyterian Church located east of the present Decker's Pharmacy n Highway 29.  Building was rebuilt in 1925.

The present First Presbyterian Church constructed in 1969.


Laying of cornerstone of the present Christ Lutheran Church built in 1925 and located on Second street across from the city hall.

Christ Lutheran Church remodeled in 1962.

Christian Assembly of God Church located just east of the Abbotsford Grade School gymnasium.

First Church and rectory of St. Bernard Catholic Church located on Second street.  Church built in 1906.

Present school and church of St. Bernard parish, constructed in 1963.

.Source: Abbotsford Centennial Book – 1973, pg. 33-41.



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