Category Archives: Blogging

A Church on the Prairie

 

Before we move on from the Jefferson Prairie Settlement to new interesting things about Clinton Township the story about a Church on the Prairie must be told.

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When people move from one country to another to begin a new life they don’t always leave their beliefs and traditions behind, these things are a part of who they are as a people. This held true for the Norwegian community that formed in the southern part of Clinton Township. Their strong religious beliefs were very much a part of their lives.

At the time that the Natesta brothers came to America, Norway had been a Lutheran country for about three hundred years, previous to this the main religion was Catholicism. In 1536 King Christian III of Denmark ordered a conversion to the Lutheran faith, and as Norway was ruled by Denmark they were also ordered to convert. All other religions were shut down or forced out of the country and Lutheranism became a state religion. Being Lutheran was mandatory and so was church attendance.

Now there are state religions all over the world, this is nothing new. Some are very rigid in their belief systems and structure while others give their members more freedom. In this instance though, the state religion was as oppressive as the social structure of the time. All matters of governance of the church was held by the state. Ministers were assigned and paid by the state and had complete control over educating their parishioners. As a government employee they had a great amount of public authority beyond guiding the faithful. Members of the congregation had no voice in what happened within their chruch and were not allowed to participate in any way.  This seems out of line for us today, but we must remember that this was the process of faith that had been in place for generations, it was the norm and accepted for the time. Things did change, constitutional amendments were passed allowing more freedom and less governance by the state and other religions were eventually allowed back into the country.

There were no Pastors here in America for those first settlers so prayer services were held in the homes of various members of the community. By 1844 Jefferson Prairie was the oldest and largest Norwegian community and they worked to help form three main congregations. Rock Prairie here in Wisconsin, Long Prairie near Capron Illinois and Rock Run near Durand Illinois. Other churches were formed of course as communities spread but these were the first.

Pastor C. L. Clausen was the first to serve these congregations. In February of 1844 he held two services in Jefferson Prairie in the homes of Erik Gulbrandson Skavlem and Thor Helgeson Kirkejorden. He didn’t do any work to organize formal congregations beyond suggesting the idea. He limited himself to his ministerial functions.

Another Pastor that made his way through the area in 1844 was J. W. C. Dietrichson. He did organize a formal church in Jefferson Prairie and a requirement of inclusion into this congregation was the signing of a document stating four things.

  1. They would belong to the Norwegian Lutheran Church.
  2. They would submit themselves to the Norwegian established church procedure.
  3. They would be obedient to the ordained Norwegian Lutheran Minister in his authority as pastor and spiritual advisor in conformity to the Norwegian church ritual.
  4. That by signing, they are being added to and acknowledge joining the congregation under the above conditions.

This seems a bit excessive really, these families were already members of the church. Jefferson Prairie welcomed both Mr. Clausen and Mr. Dietrichson to lead their services until 1846 when they joined the Rock Prairie congregation and asked Mr. Clausen to be their pastor.

In 1847 the members of Jefferson Prairie began to think it was about time they had a church of their own. In March of 1848 the decision was made and 55 members pledged a total of $476.31 to build one. They bought two acres of land east of town for $3.10 and drew up the plans. Members of the church provided all the materials and labor. The small church on the hill was dedicated March 28, 1849.

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Over the course of the next few years membership in the congregation grew to the point that in 1860 a larger building was needed. This time 53 members pledged a total of $1649.50. Land closer to Bergen was acquired, plans were drawn up and again all the construction was done by church members. It is not known when the church was completed and dedicated but it was said that it came in over budget by $11.00 in 1861. To cover this debt, it was decided later that year at the annual meeting that having an established minimum charge for ministerial services should be put in place.

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It was around this time that a split began which would break the church apart. The initial cause of the split was within the church doctrine. The pastors brought in to lead their congregation were trained in Norway. It is only natural then that they would be leading the church under those beliefs and rituals held sacred to the home church in Norway. Although their faith was probably strong, these pastors did not see that by the 1860’s many of the immigrants had been here for over 20 years. They spoke English, they were settled onto well-established farms. Their children were American Citizens, and they were in the process of becoming citizens as well. Living around people of differing faiths may have advanced ideas and attitudes toward the process of their faith. Perhaps a service in English rather than Norwegian.

One of the beliefs in question came about when the pastors formed a synod and joined with churches from the south where slavery was accepted. The Jefferson Prairie pastors agreed with the southern body that slavery was not necessarily a sin as well as other theological doctrine relating to school and laymen performing devotional services. Some of the congregation were not pleased with this.

The slavery issue did not go away with the end of the civil war, as a matter of fact it continued to be a sore spot for many members. At the annual meeting in March of 1869, the pastor was asked to explain his stand on the question of laymen participation within the chruch and that of slavery. The response was that they wouldn’t discuss slavery openly anymore. But, it did come up again, more than once and the pastor said it was a fortunate thing that they were brought here to America where they could be converted. Eventually the question of slavery went back to Norway. The response that came back didn’t answer the question.

As time passed other issues came up to divide the congregation even deeper and ultimately in 1871 the church split into two groups and then three. Members of the community remained friends and neighbors for six days a week then separated on the sabbath. Little by little the issues that divided the Jefferson Prairie church faded. Talk began between the groups and as there were no real differences in their core beliefs the church became one again in March of 1892.

After all the legal matters were said and done it was decided that the reunited congregation needed a new church to worship in. The two church properties were sold and that money went to purchase a piece of land across the road from the present church. When construction of the magnificent church that sits at 23184 Bergen Rd was ready to happen, the land was sold and the church built.

 

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I have had the extreme pleasure of visiting this beautiful church and talking with several of its members. They were very open, kind and welcoming to this stranger asking questions. I appreciated their patience and kindness. If you would like to visit, Sunday worship services are held at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. with Sunday School and coffee hour at 9:30 a.m. The Jefferson Prairie Church has come a long way but they continue to be good people doing good work.

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Lee Park

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a Rock County Park post, so I thought it was time to get back at it. As I am focusing on Clinton Township at the moment, Lee Park seems the perfect place to start. Lee Park can be found about four miles south of Clinton on the east side corner of highways 67 and 140.  The main entrance is on Hwy 67. 

The park is named for the Lee family, who sold 40 acres of land to the township on the promise that it would be used as a park. In 1966 the township donated the land to Rock county with a couple caveats including improvements to the park. A small amount of land was added in 1975 by a Mr. Newhouse to create a north entrance to the park. Which can be found just north of the ball diamond on 140.

This is a lovely, peaceful place with many beautiful mature trees to provide shade. A short distance from the entrance is a nice picnic area and a small parking area.

At one end of the parking area are trash containers. The park also has picnic tables and grills for use by visitors, as well as water pumps at both ends of the park.

As you follow the road north you pass a well-maintained pit toilet rest room, a picnic shelter and finally a baseball field and finally, the north entrance.

This is a one lane road and on my visit to the park I stopped my car to take a picture because there was nobody behind me or coming at me. Well of course when I did this there was suddenly a car on both sides! Fortunately, there is just enough leeway to maneuver this type of situation and we all successfully got going in our chosen directions without a problem. 

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The ball field at the north end of the park was provided thanks to donations of materials and time from the 4H clubs of Clinton, Turtle. Another donation to the park is the picnic shelter. Rock County provided the materials and volunteers provided the time and muscle to build it. It’s wonderful that the township was willing to put in the time to help create such a beautiful space. 

There are hiking trails through the park and it’s eight acre arboretum at the north end opposite the ball field. I would have liked to explore these trails but unfortunately I didn’t see any of the access points. They are either not marked or I just didn’t see them. The park is open to the public from 5am until 10pm daily.

The only real downside to the park is that there is very little parking available. Beyond that it’s a beautiful addition to our County Park system and I will certainly be visiting Lee Park again. For more information or to rent the picnic shelter or the ball field contact the Rock county Parks Dept. at 608-757-5451.