Rural church family lives on

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“Salem Lutheran Church was a little country church on the edge of Spragueville, a village that claimed fewer than 100 residents. Most in the congregation were farm families like ours. The church backed up to a field and whether planted to corn or hay or oats, the field was a reminder of our connection to the land. When Mrs. Strohmeyer pulled out the stops on the organ — something she did with gusto and at a volume that blew the sleep out of our brains — and led us through all the verses of ‘Bringing in the Sheaves,’ I felt a particular connection to God and those fields.”

— Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl

By Carol Bodensteiner

The little country church of my childhood was modest in every way, but it was large in love and glory for all who gathered there.

All these years later, I still have dreams that center around that church and the sweet people who made it such a welcoming place.

It was a holy experience, simple and sacred, as we sang along to the very old hymns from battered hymnals that had managed to stand the test of time. Some were held together with heavy tape, and no one minded that a bit. In fact, it added a reverence to it all.

Paper fans with pictures of Jesus, children and lambs were tucked behind the hymnals, and I felt it was my job to fan my mother and myself, no matter the weather outside.

I can still name those who attended church every Sunday, and I could list them off easily in the order of the pews in which they always sat.

Though I can only think of one couple we were actually related to, most of the people inside that old country church felt like family. There was no doubt about the genuine caring among its membership. It was small, but it was mighty.

Carry-in dinners were extra sweet, and I tore through the ham or chicken with all the trimmings so that I could get my turn at the dessert table.

There was every possible variation of colorful Jell-O with ribbons of real whipped cream and marshmallows. Fruit pies made by the finest dessert makers for miles around looked so lovely in deep dish pie plates, the ones reserved for special occasions. Past the pies stood the perfectly tall layered cakes, covered with fluffy frosting, so lovely it made the choice of just one seem nearly impossible. Cookies and bars and sweet drink rounded out the grand and colorful selection.

Every year on my birthday, I still think of the little white church bank. We were to walk up front and drop our coins in, a penny for each year of our age. I felt so big as the coins added up to something worthy.

Dwight Donelson, one of the elders, patted me on the head and wished me a very good year as his exceptionally sweet wife, Hazel, played Happy Birthday on the church organ nearby.

When the occasion called for a piano, Mabel Stauffer could play almost anything. She was a tiny little woman who owned and operated her own farm, and it seemed she was born old, so she never aged.

There will never be another gathering quite like that one. The church was nothing fancy, but it was lovely and special to us.

The thundering church organ, playing such tunes as In The Garden or How Great Thou Art all still have the ability to pick me up and carry me back in time to that wonderful little country church.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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