Country churches get it done

Published 7:24 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

I got my T-shirt and more at Six Mile Grove Lutheran Church’s 150th celebration last Saturday (Sept. 5).

The official SMG T-shirt announces, “It all began under the big elm tree.”That’s where they celebrated last weekend.

I listened to church talk, and I heard a church talk. It all reinforced my belief that country churches are a real treasure.

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SMG celebrated its own rich history with two days of events Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 5, 6, where it all began in 1859.

It’s been a summer of church sesquicentennials at Blooming Prairie, Johnsburg and Sargeant as well as Lyle. This weekend Little Cedar Lutheran Church at Adams will celebrate its own 150th anniversary.

Say what you will about mainstream religion today. There’s proof that it is as strong as ever in small towns and rural areas.

With hard work and sacrifice, prayer and hook or crook, country churches get it done.

I prepared for a visit to “Norsky-land,”where either you are a Norwegian or a Norwegian-wannabe by visiting Glenn Aanonson, a life-time member of the church, who talked church to me.

He will be 91 years old Oct. 20.  Before moving to Austin, he spent his entire lifetime on a farm midway between Rose Creek and Lyle.

A farmer, carpenter, gravedigger, and sewer and water contractor, he and his wife Irene, raised two sons, Leland and Larry, on their farm.

He was the chairman of SMG’s 125th, 135th and 145th celebrations.

“I’ve gone to that church all my life,”he said. “The congregation was bigger in the old days.  Sometimes we had to put out chairs in the aisles on Sunday mornings.

“I’ve got an old church organ, an organ stool and a little pulpit they put up behind the church alter form the old days,”he continued.

“We had lots of good preachers through the years,” he added. “When Einar Unseth was there, I think I only missed two services in the seven years he preached at Six Mile Grove. He was a good one, all right.”

An hour’s visit with Mr. Aanonson passed quickly. When I leave, the impression I take with me is that I heard a church talk to me through one of its most loyal members.

On my Saturday afternoon visit to the church, there is more church talk.

Larry Aanonson, Jeff Helle, Kim Carroll, all wearing the official SMG T-shirt, greet me.  Helle and his son, Marty, were about to entertain the large crowd in attendance with tales of church humor.

Among the audience members were “foreigners”such as Everett and Mary Hansen.  “We’re not Norwegian,”joked Mrs. Hansen.  “We’re Danish.”

Kelsey Korfhage and Brandon Sampson, sister and brother, entertained with music. Brandon is the lead singer and songwriter of the popular band Six Mile Grove.

Fred Langrock, curator of the Union Hurst Gallery Atlanta Sampson Museum, relaxes before conducting a segment of the highly anticipated Cemetery Walk to visit the gravesites of prominent church families. His assignment: Narrate the history of the — I’m not kidding — Ole and Lena Sampson family.

Inside the church, Alice Rohne greeted visitors.

“When I started going to church here in 1938, the men sat on one side the women on the other,”she observed.

Russell Sampson, another respected member of the congregation with deep family roots in the church, wandered inside and told a visitor about the elevator that makes the sanctuary accessible to the handicap.

“It’s for the old folks who can’t get around so well,”he announced.

I can’t tell if the 90-something man is talking about himself or others.

Outside again, Kim Carroll is giving rides in a horse-drawn wagon and Larry Aanonson is cruising around in his restored 1925 Ford Roadster.

Brian Klouse and the Polka Masters band are playing old-time music.

Beneath the big white tent, members are sharing memories.

More church talk.

The next day, Sunday, there will be a special morning worship service.

Music, messages, memories.

I swiped a Sunday church bulletin.

On the front it proclaimed: I love to tell the story.

Me too.