Pulpits of the Past
"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20
Like so many immigrants in the late ninteenth and early twentieth century, the Lutherans who came to Canada's West- from Eastern Canada, Europe, and the United States- brought with them their hopes and dreams for a new life; their willingness to work and to sacrifice; their fath. Finding themselves largely isolated by vast spaces and a harsh environment, they nonetheless come together to worship, to pray, to marry, to baptize their children, to bury their dead. In hundreds of places across the province, Lutherans from many different traditions- Augustana Synod, General Council, Icelandic Evangelical, Lutheran Brethren, Lutheran Free, Missouri Synod, Norwegian Synod, Ohio Synod, United Norwegian- organized themselves, raised money, called pastors, built churches and parsonages.
More than 700 communities of Lutherans which at the time existed in Saskatchewan eventually disbanded over the course of the last century or so. Pulpits of the Past provides a record of the life of those churches, the charter members and early leaders, and the pastors who served them.
ISBN 0-9735234-0-9 - 296 pages - 2004
$30/book + postage
Review by Keith Foster:
In Pulpits of the Past, Lois Knudson Munholland shares the joys, sorrows, and hardships of everyday church life in rural Saskatchewan. She covers the full spectrum of births, baptisms, weddings, social events, and deaths as told through the histories of the province’s Lutheran churches that no longer exist.
Compiling and documenting the material for this book was a massive undertaking for Knudson Munholland, one that almost became a lifelong project. She notes that, for most of their young lives, her children couldn’t even remember a time when she wasn’t working on this book.
All the former churches cited in Pulpits of the Past are located in what is now the province of Saskatchewan. Not only have these churches closed, some of the communities are now ghost towns. Garden Valley Lutheran Church at Instow is just one of many examples.
Sometimes services were held in homes until a church could be constructed. Services at Attica were conducted in the school, but only about twice a month. Two pastors had to come from a nearby community, and neither of them had a car. Knudson Munholland doesn’t say how they got there.
Pulpits of the Past shows how, out of necessity, church members found homegrown solutions to their problems. One carpenter in Estevan was called upon to build a church of old lumber and cardboard boxes. The congregation finished the walls with gunny sacks, using the “burlap wall” method they’d learned in Norway, then painting over them.
Members of Scandia Lutheran Church in Henden purchased brand-new lumber from nearby Paswegin and hauled it back by oxen. The wagons frequently got stuck in mud. Drivers had to unload the lumber, push the wagons out of the mud, then reload the lumber and carry on until the next mud hole.
Knudson Munholland takes readers through tough times. The original Trinity Lutheran Church at Esk was destroyed by a prairie fire in 1908. In 1924, when the new church showed a year-end deficit of $26.32, William Braitenbach, who served as treasurer for twenty-nine years, made up the shortfall out of his own pocket.
Aside from Christmas concerts, annual picnics were a highlight of rural congregations. Knudson Munholland describes one at Trinity Lutheran Church at Buchanan. Like “miniature sports days” with races, baseball, and games, these picnics featured five cent ice cream cones. The grand finale was the supper.
While memories of prairie churches may fade away after they shut their doors, the records of Saskatchewan’s closed Lutheran churches are fortunately preserved for posterity in Knudson Munholland’s Pulpits of the Past.
Bread to Share
Bread is a powerful image on the Saskatchewan prairies. Wheat has long been a staple of the prairie economy and Saskatchewan is still recognized as the "bread basket of the world." Bread shared is a symbol of hospitality and of the cooperative spirit that so characterizes this province and its people.
Bread is a powerful image, too, in the context of Christian faith. Hospitality is a significant part of our call as Christians, and breaking bread together is important, whether at the supper table or at the communion table.
These stories are a tribute to Lutheran pastors and their wives who shared the Bread of Life and broke bread with the people of Saskatchewan in the early years. They shared the joys and hardships of those years, often travelling many miles in challenging circumstances to bring the comfort and hope of the Gospel.
Volume 1: ISBN 0-9735234-1-7 - 351 pages - 2006
58 stories of pastors and their wives.
Volume 2: ISBN 978-0-9735234-2-3 - 338 pages - 2009
54 stories of pastors and their wives.
$30/book + postage
Reviews by Keith Foster:
A sequel and companion volume to Pulpits of the Past, Bread to Share is a compilation of stories of Saskatchewan’s early Lutheran pastors and their wives. What sets this book apart is the prominence of the pastors’ wives and their families who are often relegated to secondary roles or neglected entirely in many church histories.
The pastors are listed alphabetically by surname. After relating the experiences of the ministers, Knudson Munholland devotes space to their wives, lists the names of their family members, and provides references. Sources include interviews as well as history books.
Although Knudson Munholland focuses on Saskatchewan, she also touches on other parts of Canada and the United States as pastors often transferred to various locations. Indeed, one pastor virtually toured Saskatchewan as he constantly relocated throughout the province.
One of the strengths of Bread to Share is Knudson Munholland’s descriptions of the hardships pastors and their wives had to endure. During the Dirty Thirties, spouse Christine Stollee would routinely place dishes upside down when setting the table so they would not be coated with dust before they were used.
Winter brought its own set of horrors. In 1915-1916, Pastor Arthur and Anna Fuhr’s first winter in Spring Valley, SK was so cold and brought so much snow that the trains weren’t able to run. Living in two rooms above the church, they confined themselves to bed to keep warm and survived on frozen bread and honey.
Munholland points out that ministers were often required to serve several congregations, which made a vehicle necessary. Getting stuck in mud was one of many hazards. If it wasn’t the mud, it was road conditions. The light soil between Bulyea, SK and Govan, SK would drift so badly and pile up so high on the road that Pastor Carl Jothen had to use gunny sacks so his tires could get traction.
Since ministers often served a wide area, they would sometimes stay overnight with obliging members. One pastor, who could usually sleep like a log, said his bed at one location was the most uncomfortable he’d ever encountered. He later found out he’d been sleeping in a coffin.
Knudson Munholland doesn’t shy away from controversy. German-born Pastor Edmund Krisch wanted to preach in English because many of the younger people in his area no longer spoke or understood German. Although the Davin, SK church council approved, the next day two members of the council said they had “reconsidered” because they feared losing their German language. They not only forbade Krisch from preaching in English but, to reinforce their point, withheld their congregations’ portion of his salary.
The stories in this 351-page book are supplemented by more than ninety black and white photos of pastors and spouses. In Bread to Share, Knudson Munholland not only pays tribute to Saskatchewan’s Lutheran pastors, she also gives wives of pastors the prominence they so fully deserve.
In volume 2 of Bread to Share, Lois Knudson Munholland shares more experiences and hardships endured by Lutheran pastors and their wives, primarily across Saskatchewan, but also in other parts of Canada and the United States. A Lutheran pastor herself, Knudson Munholland spent decades compiling the material for her books.
The pastors are listed alphabetically by surname. After relating the experiences of the ministers, Knudson Munholland devotes space to their wives, lists the names of their family members, and provides references. Her sources include personal interviews as well as local history books, supplemented by more than ninety-five black and white photos.
Knudson Munholland explores the rigours of ministering to the needs of rural communities. Pastors would travel by wagon, sleigh, or on horseback as the need arose. One minister travelled by bicycle, with his wife riding on the crossbar. Those lucky enough to own a vehicle often had to travel on roads that were neither paved nor gravelled, and the gumbo soil brought its own set of perils, occasionally snaring unwary drivers.
Lack of adequate funding was a constant problem. In 1946, Pastor Carl Daechsel was offered a position in the Govan, SK area for a salary of $1,800 per year. But at the first church council meeting, the council decided that his salary was unrealistic and unilaterally lowered it. To supplement his income, one minister took up barbering. Unfortunately, his customers were as negligent in paying their bills as was the congregation.
Parishioners tried to support their pastors by supplying them with produce. Pastor Oscar Edwin Olson Olmon received a gift of onions, but by the time he got them home by sleigh, they looked frozen, so he dumped them outside in the snow. Next spring, he and his wife had a thick patch of onions growing in their yard.
Knudson Munholland regales readers with entertaining episodes. At the first worship service Pastor Ferdinand Oswald conducted, no one showed up. Well, one man came to light the fire, but he left. The next Sunday, the worshippers numbered three – his wife Frieda and two other women. “Frieda remembered watching her husband deliver that sermon with tears running down his face.”
At Meadow Lake, SK, Pastor Frederick Knebel had five preaching points to visit. Since his car couldn’t negotiate the gumbo roads and swamps, he walked. It took him fifteen hours to cover thirty-five miles.
Later, as a chaplain heading to Bermuda by ship during the Second World War, Pastor Knebel remarked to the captain, “Look, that must be a whale coming towards the ship.” It turned out to be a torpedo!
As Knudson Munholland points out in Bread to Share, pastors and their families faced many hardships and privations. Yet in spite of all obstacles, with persistence and perseverance they continued to provide the Bread of Life for their flocks.