It's Our Turn - All are welcome in this place
Work is currently under way on the Echo Press' fifth edition of The Churches of Douglas County. We typically come out with an updated version of this publication every three years, and I have been fortunate enough to work on all five of them.
I love working on this piece because churches intrigue me - especially historic ones, and Douglas County is blessed with many of these treasures.
Many of today's new structures - office buildings, schools and even churches - are built to be convenient, efficient and cost effective. While I understand the need for that, I admit that I miss the intricate styles and detailing of the architecture of the late 1800s and early 1900s - especially when it comes to churches.
In the early years of any Minnesota community, churches were one of the first things organized. The first church service on record in Douglas County was an Episcopal service held in 1859, and the first actual church building constructed in the county is believed to be Oscar Lake Lutheran Church, built in 1866.
By 1916 there were an astounding 73 congregations in the county that had filed articles of incorporation. While many of those congregations held services in homes or public buildings in their early years, erecting a church building was often a priority.
It was up to the members to donate whatever they could - land, building materials, labor - so that the dream could become reality. A lot of sweat and love and hard work went into those structures. The members took ownership. Perhaps that is why those historic structures are so different from today's modern buildings. Even the simple, modest churches of that time have something richly unique about them.
Being a life-long resident of Douglas County, I've actually been in many of the churches in the area. I'm not sure what it is that intrigues me so much - perhaps it's the combination of history and architecture and sacredness.
Some of them are majestic and stately - like the massive Catholic brick structures of St. Nicholas in Belle River, Our Lady of Seven Dolors in Millerville, Immaculate Conception in Osakis and St. Mary's in Alexandria.
Others are so close in style on the outside that when looking at pictures of them it is easy to get them confused, such as the Lutheran churches of East Moe in rural Garfield, West Moe and St. Petri in rural Brandon, Chippewa in Brandon, Ebenezer in Leaf Valley, Oscar Lake and Trinity in Holmes City, Fahlun in Nelson and Trinity in Millerville Township.
But you step inside the doors and quickly realize that each of these churches has its own unique style and personality. From the balcony housing a 1903 pipe organ in Ebenezer to the catwalk seating and ornate organ at West Moe to the intricately carved statues at St. Nicholas to the unique stained glass you can find in most of the churches - each has its own loving touches.
Even though all the religions had and still have different beliefs, customs, styles and preferences, they all shared the same mission, and still do.
I've often heard it said that a church isn't the building, but rather a church is the people. But there is something within me that can't completely feel that way. I will never be able to look at an old church and see it only as a building - to me there will always be something sacred about it, even when it stands empty or has been converted into something else.
An old church seems to have a unique solitude about it, and seems to be a place where you will always be welcome. Kind of like coming home.
Learn more about area churches in The Churches of Douglas County, due out on Good Friday, April 22. If your church wants to be part of this publication and did not receive the mailing, contact Tara Bitzan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (320) 763-3133.