"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

First Lutheran Church, Morris, keeping faith

The grass is richly green around First Lutheran Church. (B.W. photo)
One charter member of First Lutheran Church was still alive in 1947, the year when our community marked its 75th anniversary. The name was reported as "Mrs. O.C. Hanson." How quaint. The style of small-town newspapers once required that married women's names be reported like this. The woman's first name would not appear.
This practice continued all the way into the 1970s. I know because when I was researching the Morris Centennial, I found lots of names like "Mrs. Bill Dripps." Arnold Thompson was editor of the Morris newspaper at the time of the Centennial. He gave me my first break, arranging for me to cover Morris school activities as a "stringer." He was a pillar of the community, serving on the board of education. I remember when we learned of his sudden death.
First Lutheran Church, my church, celebrated its 65th anniversary in November of 1944. The horror of World War II was on. The pastor through the WWII years was The Rev. E.S. Ede. I was informed once that it's necessary to use the word "The" before "Reverend." But I'm not sure about this rule. I continue this out of habit. I typed many obituaries with pastors' names through the years.
Today, small-town newspapers don't even have an obituary department. That's because funeral homes have taken over the responsibility of preparing obits. I'm informed by a former co-worker that the paper isn't even allowed to edit an obituary!
Someday I'll write a whole post about the frustrations associated with writing obituaries. More and more I seem like a fossil with my recollections. Oh, and you should know the newspapers get paid for running the obits. Actually the families pay the funeral home which then pays the paper. My two cents worth is that this is unethical. What was wrong with papers publishing obits as "news" (and not, in effect, advertising)?
Mrs. O.C. Hanson was living in Minneapolis in 1947. She had been a member of First Lutheran for many years.
The original First Lutheran Church was a quite charming frame building. It was 28 feet wide, 44 feet long and 18 feet high, and it cost $2500. Keep in mind we're still in the 19th Century.
The commitment to build was in the pastorate of The Rev. P.A. Dietrickson who served First from 1890 to 1896. Construction began in 1891. It was on the same site as today. Formal dedication wasn't held until August 6, 1905.
At the inception 
Let's go back to the very outset of church history. The year is 1877, six years after the city's birth. On February 26, the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Morris was organized by The Rev. Marcus Koefod, then serving a charge near Starbuck. You can see a picture of The Rev. Koefod near the church office. A whole gallery of former pastors is there.
It looks like we will have another "former pastor" soon. It seems likely Pastor Paul Erdal is leaving. His wife Stacey has taken a teaching job in Brainerd (my mother's hometown). Stacey had hoped to stay here longer, perhaps permanently. However, a teacher who was on extended leave decided to come back, contrary to the expectations of many. Thus the Erdal family had to look at its options, and unfortunately they're gone or at least disrupted. That's a shame. I'm not a fan of the teacher who is coming back.
Pastor Paul gives stemwinding sermons with his authoritative voice, sermons that would easily fit in a more fundamentalist church. He would be a very effective "TV preacher" (and could be just as good at asking for money!). I will miss him when he's gone. He is Korean by ethnicity.
Pastor Cliff: pastor to the boomers
I grew up at First Lutheran when Pastor Clifford Grindland was the fixture there. He had a very long pastorate and retired there. He helped bring up the boomers of this community. Our family attended his funeral in Alexandria a few years ago.
Del Sarlette tells me that ol' Cliff had kind of a reputation of being overbearing, perhaps, asking for money. In today's culture, no one is apologetic about seeking money.
I would say that when Cliff was pastor here, and Fred Switzer was school superintendent, money was harder to come by for such institutions. (Fred was the boomers' superintendent, and Wally Behm our principal.)
Apparently it was like pulling teeth getting the high school auditorium built. Fred would later say he "almost got fired" over that. The auditorium really seems rather modest today. It has been upstaged totally by the opulent concert hall. Neither of these existed when I was in high school.
We gave band concerts in the 1968 gym, and actually I think it was a nice place for that! I remember sitting up in the bleachers and listening to an extended flute solo by Renee Schmidt (male), who was one of those prodigy musicians who comes along periodically. Terry Rice on trumpet was another of those virtuosos (who'd make us all jealous).
Looking down from the bleachers, I could actually see everyone in the band. At the high school auditorium, all you'd see is that first row of clarinet players. I have always felt the auditorium develops a stuffy atmosphere whenever a large audience is there.
It is hugely ironic that our public school has such a state of the art concert hall, when the University of Minnesota-Morris has nothing comparable! How much better it would be if the two institutions could have a fully shared concert hall or total humanities facility, rather than that stupid shared football field which sits empty and cold like a mausoleum all winter. Many of us are now shaking our head about football, a brutal sport, anyway.
The best thing to happen all year at Big Cat Stadium is when the Irondale marching band comes there to practice and perform in summer.
Sowing the seeds
The first business meeting of the First Lutheran congregation was on May 9, 1879, at which time the first trustees and deacons were elected. The Rev. Hans Johnson served the congregation from that time until 1884. He was succeeded by The Rev. A.J. Anderson who stayed on the scene until 1890. At that time the charge included not only Morris but Nora, Frog Lake, Scandia and Hancock. Services in Morris were held in the old East Side school building.
The exciting building project was under Pastor Dietrickson. Then we welcomed Pastor O.A. Dolven as pastor, and his tenure was from 1896 to 1898. Next was The Rev. Engel Olsen who served until 1915. During this period the parish was revised to include Morris, Reque, Wheaton, Hancock and Donnelly. In 1915 it was again revised to include Morris, Hancock, Alberta and Chokio, and The Rev. J. Thornell served as pastor from 1915 to 1918.
Next in the role was The Rev. Alfred Bredeson. In 1922 we welcomed The Rev. B.H.J. Habel. The parish at this time included only Morris and Hancock. It was in the early '20s that the congregation took steps toward a new brick church structure. There must have been growing pains.
The previous structure, charming and inviting as it was, was going to be insufficient. The new brick structure, which today remains the anchor, was built for a cost of $20,000. The formal dedication was held in October of 1926. The Rev. N.O. Peterson took the reins in 1928.
Trinity Lutheran Church of Alberta was added to the parish. The Rev. Peterson served until 1935, into the Great Depression. During this period, First Lutheran became a parish by itself. The Rev. Peterson guided parishioners through the very arduous challenges of the Depression and "dust bowl." It was quite a time. People learned resilience and to be content with just the necessities - not a bad mindset when you get down to it.
The Rev. H.M. Allison succeeded The Rev. Peterson and served until 1941. In December of that year more adversity would befall America, as we were pulled into World War II by the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Rev. Peterson resigned to become a chaplain in the U.S. military forces.
First Lutheran's pastor through the WWII years was The Rev. E.S. Ede. He arrived here in the summer of 1941 and continued through 1947 when he accepted a call to Fort Dodge IA.
At the time of the church's 65th anniversary in 1944, the financial indebtedness of the congregation was wiped out. The mid-1940s saw notable improvements to church property. Actually that's good and bad. Today the church has the image of a series of "add-ons," not the best thing.
The installation of a new oil-burning furnace was a big deal!
The 1950s were a time when The Rev. Lowell Larson presided. His fine reputation was such, he was invited to be preacher for the Morris Centennial in 1971. He spoke at the county fair grandstand. I was a band musician.
Pastor Grindland was the only pastor I knew through my childhood and young adult years. He was synonymous with First Lutheran.
I was confirmed in 1970 at a time when the boomer population was huge, and we assembled in several rows for the official confirmation picture. Years later the group of confirmation honorees had dwindled to a single row, or hardly even a "row." You can see this evaporation of numbers in the group photos in the First Lutheran upstairs hallway. You'll note I didn't have my hair combed straight back, back then!
I sort of broke away from churchgoing in my early 20s, reflecting the rather skeptical attitudes of my generation. Many of us saw church as irrelevant. We observed all the "hypocrites" (as we called them) who attended. Of course, we're all supposed to understand that we're sinful. But we were so idealistic. We saw lots of traditional church values as somewhat anachronistic. We felt the church was too detached from relevant social issues - civil rights, peace etc. Were we wayward? Perhaps we were.
I began attending church again when my parents, because of age needed me. I'm quite happy to be in the habit. It's nice going through the serving line at the traditional basement "pot luck!" Choose your favorite color of Jello.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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