Heritage Sunday at a country church in Redwood Co. on Sun., May 6, provided a variety of experiences to both satisfy one’s appetite and one’s intellectual curiosity about building a new church in the open prairies. Nearly 200 people gathered for the 145th birthday of Rock Dell Lutheran Church, rural Belview, for this special event.
Bob Donner, a congenial cattle farmer, was first to greet you and direct your parking. Bob knows the Rock Dell church like the palm of his hand. That’s understandable since you practically drive through his farmstead which sits adjacent to the church. As he walked you to the church he informed you of the activities and excitement just ahead.
For example it starts with a tasty Norwegian lunch chock-full of a variety of incredibly delicious ‘Norwegian’ foods. However this special Heritage Sunday also included an intriguing visual presentation depicting the 140-year history of this beautiful country church nestled on a hilltop overlooking the Minnesota River Valley. And God obliged with a perfectly gorgeous day enriching and blessing the spiritual life of everyone attending.
Rock Dell Lutheran Church is about six miles north of Belview and about two miles through the woodlands above Glacial Ridge Winery, new on the Minnesota scene seven years ago. A gravel road access the last three miles gives visitors a genuine ‘close up’ view of the rolling prairie of this Redwood County area.
Pastor Andrew Soule, 28, with good help from church members did the 40-minute historical presentation. He covered in detail the 145-years of this country church, even including the occasional differences that sometimes resulted in a ‘redistribution’ of church membership. Even Lutherans don’t agree on everything was the sage and kindly comment of an assisting church elder!
However, everyone on May 6th enjoyed the coffee and the delicious tastes of the Norwegian cookery. People could select from an offering of Swedish meatballs and gravy, potatoes, cooked corn, coleslaw, bread and the usual assortment of Norsky goodies. That would be krumkake, fattigmand, rosettes, lefse with butter or sugar, and rummergrot.
Needless to say, the volunteer kitchen crew was tremendous. So too the youth (both girls and boys) who so willingly cleaned tables, assisted with refills, and simply pitched in anywhere needed. You quickly gather a sense of the love and spirit of this church simply by observing the generous help and interactions of its members.
Some members of Rock Dell have a genuine history. For example consider that spirited ‘welcome’ from host Bob Donner. Bob is a fifth generation farmer with his family dating back to those early challenging days of getting this new country church up and running. Donner cattle are almost part of the legacy of Rock Dell. Bob’s and his wife Kateri’s Hereford cow/calf herd was generously ‘on display’ on grassy-green pasture flanking the drive way to the Church and the Donner farmstead.
“My great, great grandfather Evan Sampson bought the farm in 1872. He was here before the church and soon became very involved I suspect partly because it was almost in his farm yard,” mused Donner.
He reflected, “Today is important for many reasons but particularly because it is a coming together of former members of Rock Dell who have moved to other churches, other locations. They come back to see the church, to walk the cemetery to see where their great grandparents were buried. It’s really quite amazing.”
Rock Dell Lutheran is currently right at 100 members. “We’re encouraged. A few new people are joining and that includes some young people. We are a rural community so population is limited. But thanks to Pastor Soule, he’s doing a great job of attracting more people to worship with us.
“We have quarterly meetings to discuss our church operations. It’s been working well. Last fall we put new steel shingles on the church. We put a new cross at the top of the church steeple. Thanks to a loving congregation member, we also have four lights from each corner of the steeple. At night the steeple shines for miles around.”
People, all ages, came from throughout Minnesota, even neighboring South Dakota for this special event. Joe Ringen, a college friend of Pastor Soule, drove up from Mankato. “I’m from Maple Grove. I’m here visiting my college classmate at Bethany Lutheran College.” Nadiya Borshch, Twin Cities, attended with Ringen.
“I think it’s great for us young people to attend something like this. With nearly 150 years of history, this was an interesting learning experience for me and I would think even more so for young people in this area who know this church and many of its parishioners,” said Ringen adding, “this was a cool experience”.
Nadiya also agreed “…being here was kind of cool. I particularly enjoyed the tremendous sharing of the history of this church. Church history intrigues me. It tells so much about the people that made it happen.”
Ringen ventured, “For my generation everything is online. We don’t get to see the pictures, the illustrations and the real ‘people’ stories behind these churches. Being out here and seeing this church building out here in the prairie is good. They came here…there wasn’t a church…they got together and built one. That’s fascinating to us younger people.”
Pastor Soule agrees with Joe, his college friend, commenting, “I’m a young man…this is only my second year. I have a dual ministry here at Rock Dell Lutheran and Our Savior’s Lutheran in Belview. I’m still learning and it’s exciting for me, too. My wife, Catherine, and I are grateful to be here.”
Yes, he recognizes the challenge of growing membership in this rural area with a declining population. But he sees opportunity, too. “I think the fun and exciting challenge is with younger people. Essentially getting a new generation involved in this remarkable history is good. Showing and opening their eyes about what we have really causes them to grab hold. They think it’s really cool go to a church that started in 1872.”
Soule stands about six feet, three inches tall in a well-framed body that obviously doesn’t shrink from diligence and devotion. “I definitely think there is room for growth. We won’t ever be a big church. But we can be a church with big hearts and loving people and that is really the heart and soul of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
To wrap up this remarkable Heritage Day at Rock Dell Lutheran Church the afternoon concluded with Gudstjeneste, The Divine Service of the Norwegian Lutheran Church. Rev. Prof. Mark DeGarmeaux, conducted the Norwegian service. Pastor Soule, speaking excellent Norwegian, and Rev. Joe Abrahamson, assisted as the Klokker. A Norwegian/ English script was provided for everyone to follow the Norwegian presentations. Even the Lord’s Prayer was recited in Norwegian voice.
A most fitting bible verse with this service: From Psalm 90:1-4: Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God…a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past. And like a watch in the night.
For contact: PastorSoule@gmail.com.