The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The hills are alive

Faith of Black Hammer isn't a heavy metal band. It's an ELCA congregation in rural Minnesota.

The town's name is indicative of its Norwegian roots. A hammer-shaped hill defines the landscape. "Back in the 1800s, the trees on the hill burned, so the town became 'Svart Hammer,' " says William Horn, pastor of Faith of Black Hammer and Our Saviour Lutheran churches. Svart was eventually changed to "black." "Hammer" was retained since it has the same meaning in both English and Norwegian.

Six homes and a church constitute Black Hammer, located 30 miles from La Crosse, Wis., and Decorah, Iowa. Stepping out the church's front door, parishioners have a view of a disused general store, the parsonage, cemetery, and cornfields and pastures.

The congregation was first established in 1858. Its first building, built in the 1860s, now serves as a granary on a farm. The current red brick building was built in 1898.

Parishioners are mos
tly descended from the area's Norwegian settlers. "It's one of those churches where you can take any two people and eventually find that they're related, either by marriage or by blood," Horn says.


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