Little white church comes to life
Do you hear it? Close your eyes and listen. Listen for the distant sound of hoof beats and wagon wheels echoing down a valley road, the pitter patter of feet shuffling up wooden stairs and the dull ring of a bell signaling that it is time for services to begin. Nearly a century of time cannot drown out the sound of precious history. Here we stand, 92 years down the road, but history whispers; the little white church in the valley, Immanuel Lutheran, she has not seen the last of her days.
The church itself was not built until 1924, but the heart of the Immanuel Lutheran Church congregation was alive long before. Starting in 1907 several area women founded a group by the name of “United Lutheran Ladies Aid” and they began holding meetings in area schoolhouses and homes. As homesteaders began moving into the Van Metre area, the meetings began being held regularly with several pastors and missionaries stepping in to preach the gospel.
In 1914 the Ladies Aid began the tradition of holding annual church bazaars. Members of the Ladies Aid worked tirelessly sewing and knitting quilts and garments for auction at the gatherings. The bazaar held in 1917 was one to be noted as a handmade “Friendship Quilt,” created by the Ladies Aid, brought in the record amount of $80.15. The bazaars were continuously held each year with the exception of 1918 when the first World War was in progress. Eight local men were called to duty and members of the Ladies Aid made the decision to knit and sew for the Red Cross during the duration of the war. Of the eight young men who left their Van Metre homes to serve our country, only two returned. The fallen were buried in the cemetery beside the Immanuel Lutheran Church and are honored with memorial services every Memorial Day.
Between the years of 1924-1930 the little white church on Van Metre began to plant its roots. Funds totalling over $1,700 had been raised over the duration of several years of bazaars and fund-raisers. The money was put to use funding the church’s construction. The purchase of pews, a pulpit, an altar, song books and other necessities brought its completion. It was noted that every member of the Immanuel Lutheran community was proud to have built the church in the freedom of indebtedness and unto to the glory of God.
The “United Lutheran Ladies Aid” soon became the “Immanuel Lutheran Ladies Aid” in concordance with the official name of the church. In 1928 the Aid purchased a picturesque altar top that remains above the church altar to this very day. The year of 1928 also delivered light to the church building, light in form of the flip of a switch! In the year of 1940 a piano was also donated to Immanuel Lutheran with the condition that it remain as a belonging of the church and that it never be sold, the piano also remains in the church to this very day. 1940 proved to be a progressive year for Immanuel as a church bell was also purchased and raised into the steeple. Progress served as a great blessing for the congregation, but trial followed shortly behind.
Due to the coming of drought and grasshoppers, the passing of beloved members and homesteaders, the fight of World War II, hard winters and members of the community moving away, the church gatherings slowed their pace. Regular church services, memorial services and bazaars were held when possible into the late 1960’s. An occasional baptism, confirmation or funeral was also held following the official closing of the church in 1978. Although the building sat empty of a congregation and of regular services, the church and landscape remained well kept by community members.
It was beginning to show its age, but by golly, that church building was not going to weather to the ground! A group of local community members joined together to form a restoration committee. The committee donated their time working endless hours restoring and bringing the church building back to life. In 1988 the building was moved from off of its basement onto a foundation in prevention of decay. The roof was re-done, the plaster walls were replaced with paneling, new windows were installed and the original furniture was polished and restored to mint condition. Now, not only is the church an icon of local history, but the cemetery that lies beside, also bears the history of the years. Those who have worked tirelessly restoring the church in this day and age, bear the same last names as those upon the grave and those who founded it 100 years ago. The great grandparents, grandparents and parents who planted the church’s roots, now smile down upon the relatives who have brought the beloved church back to life. History doesn’t have to lie in the past, it can serve as a passion that lives on and on.
The roots of Immanuel Lutheran remain planted strong within the ground and it is time now for it to bear fruit once again. The first regular service after the church had been restored was held on Sunday, July 24. Over 50 people gathered to worship in the little white church on Van Metre that has housed over a 100 years of history. Pastor Arlend Rusche shared the gospel at the first service and hopes to begin holding regular services once every month. (Stay tuned to the Murdo Coyote for the announcement of services.) The work of restoration may be complete upon the building, but it has only just begun within the hearts of its congregation.