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This photo from the Vinje Lutheran Church archives was taken on April 7, 1963, and shows the congregation starting the walk from the old church, at the corner of Becker Avenue and Fifth Street in downtown Willmar, to the new church on Willmar Avenue. (Submitted photo)

50 years on, Willmar, Minn., parishioners to celebrate historic walk this weekend

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WILLMAR — Fifty years ago this weekend, the congregation of Vinje Lutheran Church bade farewell to the building where members had worshipped since the early 1900s and walked together to their new home.

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Vinje is recreating the occasion with a “Jubilee Jaunt” on Saturday and a special service Sunday morning.

“It’s a celebration. It’s a milestone for us in this building and a jumping-off into the future,” said the Rev. Chad Peterson, pastor of the 1,800-member congregation.

The whole congregation, along with the public, is invited to walk, run or bike from Vinje Church on Willmar Avenue Southwest to the old Vinje site at the corner of Fifth Street and Becker Avenue downtown, and back to the church, starting at 10 a.m.

It’s a distance of 1.3 miles, Peterson said. “We clocked it.”

The old Vinje church building downtown is now gone but the building at 414 Becker Ave. that was once the church’s educational wing is still standing. It will be open for tours at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The anniversary celebration continues with a church service at 9:30 a.m. Sunday that will include talks, special music and a display of old photos.

The idea of commemorating the walk through town from the old church to the new one came from someone in the congregation and was partly inspired by a historic photo taken that day, Peterson said.

“We decided it would be kind of fun to recreate that walk in some way, shape or form,” he said.

The church on Willmar Avenue is Vinje’s fourth location in a 146-year history that began with a log building.

The construction of the current church in the early 1960s was groundbreaking in more ways than one. The congregation chose a strikingly modern design, a circle within a square, that 50 years later remains a standout example of Minnesota church architecture.

“It was very progressive,” said John Jahr, director of music and worship ministries and unofficial historian at Vinje. “The circle is an ancient symbol of unity. It’s a symbol of continuity and completion.”

The church’s name remains unique too. No other Lutheran church is called Vinje; the name was chosen in 1867 by the congregation’s founding members, most of whom came from the town of Vinje in the Telemark region of southern Norway.

Jahr and Peterson said the congregation debated at one time whether to change the name but eventually decided against it.

Among Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike, one of Vinje’s oldest and best-known traditions is the lutefisk dinner it hosts every November. The lutefisk dinner’s centennial will be marked in 2017, the same year as the 150th anniversary of Vinje’s founding.

The jubilee this weekend is going to be a warm-up to the sesquicentennial in four years, Peterson said. “It’s given us some energy to get excited about our 150th.”

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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