"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)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Roots of Morris' Federated Church go way back

Federated Church is the church across from the high school. I remember looking at the steeple during cross country workouts. I must have figured that looking at something would divert attention from the toll of the workout. Let's be frank and call it "pain."
My weight in the fall of my senior year was between 140 and 150. "Williams, you're a mere skeleton," my English teacher said to me on the first day of school.
Many kids were thin by comparison to today's kids. A "fat kid" would stand out. Today I think there's very little stigma associated with being heavy or "fat." That's nice in a way, as no kids should be stigmatized by physical characteristics. Michelle Obama wants kids to be healthy though. The perfect ideal is elusive.
It's OK to be heavy as long as you're vigilant about health issues. Set a goal to establish an ideal weight. Your physician can help you. Food temptations seem all around us today, e.g. those frosted rice krispie bars at the checkout of the convenience store. It wasn't always like this. Unlimited refills of soft drinks were unheard of when I was young.
Anyway, this post is about Federated Church, that fine structure across the street from our public school. It's now an old building.
I can remember when Federated Church was across the street from a different school. Federated Church was a venerated building across from the old Longfellow Elementary in west Morris. Us kids saw it every day when arriving and departing from school. I knew nothing about it. I first entered that building years later when covering a Republican political event for the newspaper. I remember getting to know legislator Dave Fjoslien and his wife there.
The building looked quite grand from outside. Typical of old buildings, it looked bigger on the outside than it seemed inside. Our Carnegie library was like this.
Some background for those of you younger than me: Longfellow Elementary was the building where today St. Francis Health Services offices are housed. It went through a phase as an apartment building. In the bottom level was the gymnasium, a rather small one obviously, like the one at today's St. Mary's School. I had "Mr. Grant" as phy. ed. teacher there. I enjoyed him.
I was in the third grade at Longfellow when my teacher, Mrs. Pedersen, later to be known as Lillian Ehlers (living to over 100), informed us that JFK had been shot. I remember her being called out to the commons area briefly. She returned with a most somber disposition. She informed us of the grave news, and for the next several days we were consumed with the tragedy. This was the first event where I remember continuous TV coverage.
I have previously written about First Lutheran and Assumption Churches of Morris. I enjoyed delving into their history. Federated Church has a most significant historical niche. It grew out of a merger of two congregations. One was the Congregational Church, which had a building across from the Carnegie library. Today the old library building is preserved as part of the Stevens County Museum complex.
My mother used to walk me to the library when I was a kid. Its amenities were limited by the standards of today, but it seemed truly a place of wonder to me. Rows and rows of books! Margaret Grove was the pillar as librarian.
The Congregational Church had roots going back to Morris' earliest days. It was the first organized Christian effort in this community. A meeting at the school house on August 8, 1874, saw the congregation get formed with The Reverend J.L. Fonda as pastor. There were nine charter members. Morris was only three years old. There were only 75 inhabitants here.
Congregational Church services were held in the railroad depot and the school house until a building was completed in 1879.
Today's Federated Church incorporates the Methodists. A Methodist church was organized here in 1877 with The Reverend J.P. Oakey as pastor. Services were held in private homes until 1881 when a small wooden church was built on the later site of Federated. The 1880s were a prosperous time for Morris. Victorian homes sprouted.
In 1897 the small Methodist church was replaced by a larger brick structure. That's the building we saw as kids from the old Longfellow Elementary. Kids played the old playground game "pom pom pullaway" at the Longfellow playground. "Come or else I'll pull you away!"
Clusters of boys liked throwing rubber balls up against the side of the school building, and then fighting to see who could catch it. It was a badge of age and strength to be able to throw a ball up on the roof (as Marvin Schultz could).
Federated Church was organized in 1928. It was one year after Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. Our nation was on the cusp of the Depression and hard times. The '20s were stable and placid. I'm sure that like today, the people felt the good times would go on indefinitely. We take for granted today that the stock market is a reasonably secure place, even for ordinary folk. Well, you all might be right, but. . .
The Congregational and Methodist churches joined hands as the '20s came to a close. The merger had been contemplated for a while. Serious efforts to achieve this were made in 1914-19. The marriage was painstaking to accomplish. We shouldn't be surprised, since we're talking about religion!
What finally nudged the two groups together? According to the Diamond Jubilee publication for Morris (1947), it was "a combination of circumstances." Yes, that's nothing but vague. Sometimes the messy details of church doings are best left unspecified.
Methodist Pastor Lee Workman is credited with helping lead the merger to a large extent. Federated Church had its home in the old Congregational Church building until 1940. The congregation was growing.
In 1939 the decision was made to remodel and enlarge the Methodist Church building. Ground was broken for a new addition in May of 1940. The building was dedicated in November of 1940 as Federated Church. America was now on the cusp of World War II. The church's pastor was C.S. Sowder. The pastor at the time of the Morris Diamond Jubilee, 1947, was E.H. Podoll.
Today Federated Church has its home along Columbia Avenue where we find that annoying sign telling us what speed we're going. It's there because of the school, naturally. The nature of Columbia Avenue tempts you to drive a little too fast.
Country Day Nursery has long had its home at Federated. Sarla Agarwal was in charge at CDN for a long time. Her son Sudhir was a contemporary of mine. Sarla charmed with her use of an old record player playing vinyl records. It did the job.
The history of Federated Church is "the history of two traditions," according to the Diamond Jubilee article. "Its strength is the strength of two communions. This is remembered with high regard and deep appreciation. In the spirit of the pioneers, the church continues to uphold God and his righteousness."
I find the design of the sanctuary interesting. The pews get progressively narrower as you go back. An example of faddish 1970s architecture? Perhaps.
I'm a member of the generation that has questioned why so many different Christian denominations are needed. Us boomers became highly skeptical of organized religion itself. We saw the many rituals as mysterious and rather unneeded. Most of all I think we found it strange that people fixated on these traditions when there were so many problems in the nation, such as Viet Nam and Jim Crow. We felt our mainstream denominations had become "irrelevant" in trying to deal with all that unpleasantness.
Many of us saw churchgoers as "hypocrites." That's a longstanding critique.
Today we have taken a deep breath and tried to move on. I still don't see why so many denominations are required. But church seems OK. Let's strive to make it "relevant."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

No comments:

Post a Comment