Early Norwegian settlers had been homesteading along the Forest and Park Rivers, and on the prairies between, in northeast Dakota Territory. In 1883, some of these early homesteaders were being served by a Rev. M. Holseth, pastor of the Forest River Lutheran Congregation, Grand Forks County. In 1885, he helped these settlers organize as the 3 congregations of East Forest (Fordville/Inkster area), Middle Forest (Dahlen area), and West Forest (Section 1, Sarnia Township, Nelson County, Michigan area). The history of Sarnia United Lutheran Congregation begins here as the West Forest Lutheran "Norsk Evangelisk" Congregation.
At that time Rev. J. J. Ringstad, United Lutheran Church Synod, was called to be their pastor. West Forest held services in Knut Loken's sod-roofed home the first year. They also used the Sarnia Township schoolhouse #1 before they were finally able to build their church in 1903. Records show that West Forest started with 39 voting members plus 17 spouses, and 44 children making a membership total of 100. The Constitution was adopted March 29, 1886. A teacher was hired to teach a month of parochial school. Ten women organized the West Forest River Ladies Aid Society that same year.
Times of hardship and disappointments, crop failures, & severe winters took their toll on the community so that in 1890 the congregation had dwindled down to just a few members. A reorganizational meeting was held on June 7, 1893, without any change in name or constitution. New members were added, bringing the voting membership to 28. Only 14 of those had been present at the 1885 organizational meeting. The next 4 years work went forward steadily, membership increased, and plans were underway to build a church.
The year 1897 was a time of dissention, strife, and misunderstanding between members. The final outcome was two congregations and two pastors (from 2 different Synods). Both groups used the original constitution, by unanimous decision, as the statement of faith. Both of the beloved pastors served faithfully in spite of difficult circumstances.
So this is how there came to be 2 rural churches, each with its own cemetery, just 4 miles apart. The west group retained the name West Forest and built their church in 1899. The east group decided to build and incorporate as Sarnia Lutheran Congregation in 1903. Their 1903 church building was demolished by a tornado in 1907 but another one was built immediately.
Both congregations served faithfully over the years until they voted to unite and, on February 11, 1944, Sarnia United was organized. The merging of Sarnia and West Forest Ladies Aids, March 2, 1944, was another joyous occasion in the community.
In 1912, the Soo Railroad came through to the south and soon the small town of Whitman was built. Members of Sarnia United decided on June 12, 1949, to have a building project in Whitman. Both the rural buildings were moved into town, joined together with an addition of a new entrance with bell tower. This Sarnia United Church building was dedicated on July 30, 1950, on the occasion of the congregation's 65th Anniversary of its original establishment.
The congregational history includes the many contributions through the years by Pastors, Deacons, Trustees, Ladies Aid members, Young People's Society, Lutheran Children of the Reformation, Cradle Roll Mothers Club, Sunday School, Choir, Men's Quartet, and Ministerial Acts statistics number in the hundreds.
"O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home." This was the theme chosen over 25 years ago upon reaching the 100-year milestone. The message still speaks to the membership of Sarnia United.