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Report - Bethel Lutheran Church, Rural Wildrose, ND USA - May 2013

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by Ghostbase, Feb 25, 2014.

  1. Ghostbase

    Ghostbase 28DL Full Member
    28DL Full Member

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    A visit to North Dakota in May 2013, rural Wildrose is a very remote area on the State Highway 50 in Williams County. I had not planned to stop here however a white church steeple was visible from the road so we made a detour to take a look. This was our destination:

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    Small churches of this type are quite common in these rural areas, the strange thing is that many sit by themselves with no townsite nearby. This was the Bethel Lutheran Church which used to serve the rural Wildrose area in North Dakota, the congregation would be made up of ranchers and farm workers from a large surrounding area. It was a beautiful day and this small white church shone against the deep blue sky and the huge rolling green fields. The church yard was well maintained and contained a small cemetery:

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    However, take a closer look and signs of decay can be seen, the brick chimney stack has collapsed and the windows have been boarded up.

    'Infiltration' was easy - I just opened the door! It is a point of pride in many of these remote locations that their church doors have no locks and this was one of those. This was the view inside from the doors:

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    My first reaction was that the church was still in use. The wooden pews were still in situ as was the altar however I could see that plaster had come away from the north facing side wall. The altar was bathed in sunlight:

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    The altar looked to be intact however there was a small tin of rat poison placed on the right hand side. This was the pulpit:

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    And the view from the pulpit back across the nave to the main doors:

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    There was a door to the left of the apse which led into a vestry and it was immediately clear that the church had been abandoned for some time, the vestry had been ransacked and vandalised:

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    Nothing left here...

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    We went back outside to look round the church yard and the small cemetery. The majority of the gravestones clearly indicated a community that originated in Denmark, this is quite common in North Dakota which also has many German communities. There were two stones which marked the resting places of veterans of the World Wars, this was one:

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    Looking up to the bell tower there are signs of damage, also the wooden roof shingles are starting to look a bit rough:

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    And one last photo:

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    These small rural churches and the communities that support them are slowly dying. We have visited several in the last couple of years and their congregation numbers are often down to single figures and to a point where they cannot function any more. Each church is expected to make an offering or a contribution to their denomination area and if this 'target' is not met then that church risks being closed. The Sunday Schools are the first to close as young people move away and as farming becomes more and more mechanised people move away to the larger towns such as nearby Williston. North Dakota has enjoyed an oil boom in the last decade and now 'fracking' is the new wealth generator and employer.

    Yet the odd thing, the church had clearly been visted many times, why was it that the vestry had been vandalised and ransacked yet there was absolutely no damage to the main church?

    And a postscript. We sat quietly for a few minutes on the pews inside the Bethel Lutheran Church in the middle of nowhere. The sun shone on the altar and we could hear and feel the church gently moving and creaking in the breeze. It just felt right.
     

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