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Saint Peter Lutheran Church, in Afton, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year through a variety of performances and celebrations. Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith.

Celebrating 150 years of faith

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Celebrating 150 years of faith
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It was 1861 and a group of German families from Martinsville, N.Y., had settled in the small rural community of Afton Township.

At that time, the five-or so families were hard pressed to find a place to worship, so the group persuaded a traveling missionary to conduct services in their homes.


This was the beginning of Saint Peter Lutheran Church, which officially formed Dec. 27, 1863.

Saint Peter Lutheran Church in Afton, which now has about 200 families, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

"We still have 10 or 15 families that can trace their heritage back to the original members," said Doug Stoltzmann, chairman of the church's anniversary committee. "In the early days, people never moved away very far, so neighbors married neighbors and stayed in the congregation."

A growing church

Once Saint Peter Lutheran Church began to grow, it eventually recruited a pastor from St. Paul to conduct services.

By 1863, Saint Peter Lutheran Church had grown to include so many additional families that the church felt it was time to formally organize a congregation, Stoltzmann said.

The congregation first went by the name of The Evangelical Lutheran Saint Peter's Church of Afton Township, Washington County, Minnesota.

It wasn't until May of 1865 that the church acquired its first building.

Three acres of land within the community were purchased at a cost of $22.50.

Additionally, an abandoned mill in nearby Lakeland was also purchased.

The building was eventually dismantled and reconstructed on the property where the church now


The first service in the new church was held on Aug. 12, 1865.

"Then they outgrew that one and they built our second church," Stoltzmann.

The original building was turned into a parochial school for a short period before being purchased, and relocated, by an Afton resident and parishioner.

"It stayed in the family, so to speak," Stoltzmann said.

The congregation's second church was erected in 1898.

At the same time as the new church's construction, a group of parishioners from Woodbury decided to start their own church, which would eventually become St. John Lutheran Church.

"Because of distances they were traveling in those days," Stoltzmann said, "they decided to start their own church."

Saint Peter Lutheran Church and St. John Lutheran Church shared a pastor for several years, Stoltzmann said.

In 1924, St. Peter Lutheran Church burned down and was rebuilt in 1925.

Some of the church's interior was able to be salvaged.

"We brought a number of things from our past with us," Stoltzman said.

Saint Peter Lutheran Church remained in the same building until 2001 when the new sanctuary was built.

The "old church," as it is called, now serves as a youth house.

A changing church

Even though the biggest change over the years for Saint Peter Lutheran Church has been growth in the congregation, Stoltzmann said a number of other changes have transpired over the years.

One significant change, Stoltzmann said, was that the church moved away from offering its services entirely in German during the 1930s.

Other changes over the years have included increased community outreach, added church programs and increased global missions.

"People seem to be looking for different things in their church than years' past," Stoltzmann said.

Additionally, Stoltzmann said the church has started using more projections and videos during its services.

A milestone anniversary

In recognition of the 150th anniversary, Saint Peter Lutheran Church will be hosting events every month through December.

The first event, held July 21, included a special celebration service and dinner.

The church's next anniversary event will be Aug. 25 and will feature Kerry Christensen, a folk/country singer who is a master yodeler.

"It's something you don't hear a lot of these days," Stoltzmann said.

Stoltzmann said it's scary to think about what the next 150 years will hold for Saint Peter Lutheran Church, but he hopes the church continues to grow.

"We continue to try and spread the gospel to those who haven't heard it yet," he said.

Musician Kerry Christensen will perform at Saint Peter Lutheran Church as part of the church's 150th anniversary on Aug. 25 starting at 2 p.m. A freewill offering is requested. More information can be found at

Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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