Today on the North Dakota prairie, a church will celebrate its 125th anniversary.
The church was founded by Norwegian immigrants. They brought their faith and church with them to Aneta, North Dakota and Sundahl Lutheran Church was born.
Every pew will be filled by 10:30AM this morning. The choir will sing from the choir loft off to the right which you cannot see. The choir will include my mom, sister, two brothers, grandpa, uncle, cousins and son, Hunter.
See those white sheets of paper hanging from the balcony in the above picture? The children will sing their song from the front of the church and will know every word thanks to those lyric sheets that my mom starting writing and hanging many years ago.
At the front of the church there are two altar vases with fresh flowers in them that my mom placed picked up and place on the altar yesterday in honor of our 104 year old great-aunt Iris who is the oldest living member of Sundahl. She will be in church today to celebrate.
My mom spent five hours decorating the church for this celebration, repurposing many decorations from the recent wedding of my sister Kirsti to Mike. My mom has also spent countless hours on a Sundahl blog to capture the church’s history and memories.
I was first carried as an infant through these doors and have walked through them for decades since as a child, teenager and adult. It is a church steeped in tradition and deep faith. It is a part of my family roots, traditions, the foundation of our faith and full of memories.
It is just a building but it is the place we have gathered for generations to praise, celebrate and mourn together. It is the people that have made this church succeed for the past 125 years.
I could tell many stories how this prairie church has positively impacted me. One in particular experience impacted me as a pregnant teenage mother.
At that fragile stage of my life, I was ashamed to show my face in church. Pregnant teenage mothers are often looked at, judged unfairly and not spoken to in many settings. People are not sure what to say and don’t want to ask questions. Or they ask the wrong questions. What I learned from the Sundahl church family is that when you are struggling and the chips are down, they do not shun you. Instead they rally around you.
A few church ladies hosted a baby shower for me after my son was born. It was held in the traditional Lutheran location, the church basement, complete with ham sandwiches, Glorified Rice and Jello like every good Lutheran shower has on its menus. Little old ladies, church members, co-workers of mine from our local nursing home to women who didn’t belong to our church but were neighbors and community members attended. Over 80 women signed the guest book that day. Less than 300 people live in Aneta. It was a day the defined my faith and made me love this church family in way I had never before experienced. They each supported me through their presence. Norwegian Lutherans don’t talk or share a lot of their deep faith. They quietly demonstrate it to you.
That experience was the encouragement I needed to keep going, feel accepted and loved and not judged. They showed me they supported me, my son and my family.
Hundreds like me have entered this church in state of unsettledness and left with an overwhelming sense of God’s peace. Attending church is a dying tradition in my generation. I hope the traditions, beliefs and faith the generations before me instilled in me combined with God’s grace and power will be enough for our children to reverse this downward cycle and trend and encourage more to attend and support their local churches and missions. For the sake of the Christian church’s vitality, our families, our schools, workplaces, government and world, we need our churches to continue on not just for another 125 years but until this earth ceases to exist.
It is a Living Word we base on our faith on yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Whether it is read in Norwegian or English, in 1885 or 2010, it is the foundation our faith.
Today this bell will ring like it does every Sunday in Aneta, reminding us of this foundation that started 125 years ago and continues to flourish on the prairie today.